This year, we’re proud to be partnering with Brass for Africa, an award-winning UK-based charity that provides education programmes to disadvantaged children and young people in Sub-Saharan Africa by using music as a tool for change. Here their Director of Development, Andrea Berbegal, introduces this unique charity and their work.
The story began when airline pilot Jim Trott MBE (Brass for Africa founder and Executive Director) shipped 30 worn-out and unloved brass instruments to an orphanage in Uganda. What started as a way to save the instruments from the scrap heap turned into a journey of hope and transformation. Today, Brass for Africa provides music and life-skills education to over 1,500 disadvantaged children and young people across Uganda, Rwanda and Liberia every week.
Working with vulnerable young people
Did you know that in Sub-Saharan Africa 40% of the population is under 18? But nearly two in five children and young people are excluded from education? The young people Brass for Africa works with live in extremely vulnerable situations: they are orphans or children living in households headed by another child; they are homeless or young girls who have become mothers. The need for transferrable skills is more critical than ever. That’s why the charity also teaches key attributes associated with learning music, such as self-confidence, resilience and problem-solving.
Supporting teachers and leaders
Having exceptional leadership is key to the success of Brass for Africa’s sustainable model; 95% of the team is African. All the Music and Life-Skills teachers are past participants of Brass for Africa’s programmes and we’re thrilled to report that 13 of them completed ABRSM Music Theory and Practical Grades in Uganda.
For tuba player Tonny establishing a consistent routine of “practising each and every day” was the key to success, while for trombonist Prossy the experience showed “that everything is possible. It gave me hope. This was my first time sitting for the ABRSM exam but with encouragement I made it. I got a distinction and was so excited. I took it back to my family and where I began my music career to inspire others.”
There were significant challenges along the way, such as using a computer for the first time for Prossy when taking her Grade 5 Music Theory, or simply taking an exam for the first time for trombonist Julius. “When I was given the opportunity, I took it,” he explains. “My first exam was Grade 8 and I passed with distinction! My next step is to continue with my practice, having masterclasses with people who play the same instrument and learning more technical things.” Cornet player Best is also thinking about next steps: “I did Grade 6 and am looking forward to doing my Grade 8 when the time comes.”
Another cornet player, Ssali, prepared for an exam while living in the BidiBidi Refugee Settlement in Uganda. 330 miles north of Kampala, this is the second largest refugee camp in the world and home to 190,000 refugees, most of whom have fled South Sudan. “I was far from my teachers. I had to take lessons online. These exams taught me how to encourage myself to pass the exams with high grades, and I did!” Talking about the exam itself, Ssali explains: “I had to travel for 12 hours to Kampala … the best part is that my teachers were excited to see me playing in person next to them.”
“The successes of the year are too many to mention,” reflects Brass for Africa’s Director of Music Education, Lizzie Burrowes, “but I must highlight the incredible achievements of a few. Firstly Best, who suffered a terrible injury to his face the year before and thought he might never play again. Being entered for the exam motivated him and encouraged him to rebuild his strength, and he passed with distinction.”
“Tonny passed with 147, which speaks for itself. Prossy took her first ever music exams and passed both trombone and theory with distinction; no small success it being her first time using a computer. Mwebe approached his first ever practical or performance exam and passed his Grade 8 with 142.”
Motivation for teachers and inspiration for students
“100% of those who were entered for Performance exams passed with distinction, and 100% of those entered for any exam passed. Seeing the development of the teachers, and how they have passed their knowledge and skills to their students, we know it has been worth it.”
“This has been hugely motivating for our teachers and inspiring for their students,” sums up Lizzie. “Thank you ABRSM for partnering with us. Your support has enabled our Music and Life-Skills teachers to gain musical qualifications that are recognised across the globe.”
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