In 2009, Jean MacLeod first traveled to Kenya on a humanitarian mission to deliver aid and teach music in rural villages. During that trip and subsequent trips, the retired school music teacher and founder of her own music school in Syracuse, New York, witnessed first-hand the profound effect music had on the country’s orphans. “It changed their outlook and they were excited for the first time in their lives,” she says.
When she learned that there were more than 2,500 children surviving on the streets in Eldoret, Kenya, MacLeod wanted to help change the children’s lives through music education. She founded MUZIKI, Inc., a collaboration between American and Kenyan musicians to work with children who have been rescued into a group home. (Muziki means “music” in Swahili.)
Even before it was granted official nonprofit status in March, MUZIKI had already launched a program at the One Heart Children’s Home in Eldoret. “They had no music program; they had no instruments,” says MacLeod. Through fundraising and donations MUZIKI managed to gather and send 16 instruments, plus around 10 music stands. The 25 students (and growing) old enough to play share equipment. Volunteer teachers, who themselves live in poverty, teach the program.
MacLeod explains the profound effect music has on the life of orphans. “I love music and couldn’t live without music; however, it hasn’t saved my life. These children feel like they’ve been tossed aside,” she says. “Even when they are ‘rescued’ from life on the streets and brought to a group home that feeling doesn’t leave them. They still don’t think they can do anything or be anything; they don’t believe in themselves.”
“This is something they love. It brings them together. They love the sound that they are making. They are taking ownership,” says MacLeod. “Music education gives them self-confidence, and when they have self-confidence, excitement, and zeal, they work harder in school and help more around the orphanage.” Food, shelter, and schooling are not enough.
“Some people ask, for an impoverished country like Kenya, why are we sending money for instruments and music lessons?” she says, explaining that part of MUZIKI’s mission is to inform people about the benefits of music education. “It is giving them necessary skills for their future, hope, self-confidence, and a sense of caring and wanting to help others to be as fulfilled as they are. It’s feeding the soul and letting them express all the hurt and fear that’s inside them in a beautiful way.”
To learn more, visit their website at muziki4kenya.org