Restoring children’s hope through cultural music

by Duchess Magazine
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Besides, music dance and drama, the children have other talents that the centre assists them to better. Atuhaire and Ahigika say one of their other aims is to equip the children with vocational skills.

Creativity meets talent. amazing. Such is what ushers you into Sauti Gardens, a project that houses the Elohim Cultural Dance Force Troupe in Bomb Town, Luweero District.

The gardens are a beehive of activities serenaded by amazing songs and beautiful African dances.
It is a cool Sunday morning when we arrive in the middle of children conducting their rehearsals routines. They are full of energy and will not hesitate to redo a song even more than thrice.

“Sit upright for your voice to come out properly,” Duncan Ahigika, 32, the co-founder of Elohim Cultural Dance Force Troupe, says as they smile away to the instructions before they take it on.
Dressed in an orange shirt and matched with a pair of blue trousers and gum boots, Ahigika exchanges pleasantries with us before he takes us around.
We walk through the gardens to the children’s hostels before we roll off to other projects that cover the Sauti Gardens expanse.

The start
Joan Atuhaire, Ahigika’s older sister comes off as reserved but the energy with which she takes the children through rehearsals is quite amazing. She is the founder of the dance troupe.
Before founding Elohim, Atuhaire, a graduate of music, dance and drama, was a director of culture in the UPDF for eight years.
Together with her brother, Ahigika, they have been running Elohim the result of a brainstorming process in which the two decided to establish a cultural troupe of their own.
With no structures and funds to start, the siblings were motivated by a shared passion, boosted by talent.
The project was started in a rented two-room house near Sewerage Army barracks in Mpa Akawelo Village, Bomb Town Council, Luwero District.

In 2009, Ahigika convinced five street children in Bombo Town to join the project that they had been babysitting for at least two months. The children, some of whom have stayed on up to date, took the idea kicking off the project that now boasts immense talent and fast-paced growth. Over time, the numbers kept swelling beyond the structure and holding capacity.

The project was, according to Ahigika shifted to Namaliga West in a rented four- room house. One room was given to the boys with the other three distributed among the girls.
However, with sustained growth the group acquire a piece of land last year and built Sauti Gardens their current home.
The centre, which seeks to uplift the livelihood of orphaned and disdvantaged, children has different sections that house boys and girls separately.

Boys of Elohim  dance troupe do Kinyarwanda


Boys of Elohim dance troupe do Kinyarwanda dance at one of the weekend performances. Photo by Alex Esagala

The children, who seem to enjoy their improved lives, according to Ahigika are got “through referrals from police, local councils and disadvantaged families from the neighbourhood”.
“Children range from total orphans to those that have parentswho cannot afford to look after them,” Ahigika says, revealing that all children that are admitted at the centre must go through medical checkups to ascertain their health status.
Some of the children, Ahigika says, are also assisted to reunite with their families and are encouraged to keep in touch with their parents.
Some of the children are being rehabilitated given that many of them are picked from the streets of Bombo or broken families.


Life at Elohim
“We have children who confess to have been using family planning methods. It is their parents who would encourage them to prevent pregnancies as they went out to sleep with different men to earn a living,” Atuhaire says.
However, he says, such children have been encouraged to stop the family planning treatments and are being counselled and ushered into new responsibilities.
The centre currently has 49 children out of which 24 are boys and 25 girls with the eldest being 19 years and the youngest being 12 years old.

The children are clustered. One older one takes care of at least three young ones. These “caretakers” are tasked with helping the young ones to report any issue including shortage of scholastic materials, ill health and petroleum jelly.
Such a relationship goes beyond the hostel. Nelson Nahulira, 12, one the youngest boys, says he has had to run to the brothers (the older boys) to report any challenge that he encounters while at school. “Whenever my book is used up or I lose a pen, I report to brothers.” Nahulira says.

While the older boys go to Rukole Secondary School, the young ones attend Bombo Common Primary School or Naliga Church Primary School.

The routine at the weekend
At the weekend, the children follow a timetable that involves preparing meals where girls and boys alike take charge of the kitchen. Three go to the kitchen.
Music rehearsals are done on Sunday morning as the afternoons are reserved for the Sunday Family day show at Sauti Gardens. The show, which is a free affair, showcases the children’s vocal and dance capabilities.
The children, who admittedly never miss home, have found a second home at Sauti Gardens but they are allowed time out for at least three weeks to visit their parent and guardians, especially during second and third term holidays.
“Sometimes I do not miss home because I have company and many things I like are here [Elohim],” Natasha Phionah, 10, the youngest of the girls, says.

Utilising other talent
Besides, music dance and drama, the children have other talents that the centre assists them to better. Atuhaire and Ahigika say one of their other aims is to equip the children with vocational skills.
Anoline Ninsiima and Aida Namara, have now mastered tailoring and through such activities, the children can earn an own income.
“I have now learnt how to use a sewing machine and this gives me feel confident that during holidays or in future, I will make extra money,” says Namara.

The chef and DJ
Umar Twinomjuni, alias, Double Double, is an amazing dancer whose dream is to become a doctor. Besides dancing he makes popcorn for the Sauti Restaurant, a job that earns him Shs15,000 per month that is saved in a Sacco account that Ahigika operates.
Shafic Katerega is a passionate cook and is the assistant chef at the restaurant. This job earns him Shs15,000 per month. He dropped out of school after performing poorly in PLE.
The centre also has a resident disc jockey, Frank Muganju, who displays amazing energy on the discs. He is also responsible for the safety of the Sauti music system.
A walk through the neatly kempt Sauti Garden introduces one to flower gardens that Innocent Tumwesigye tends. “I’m responsible for keeping the compound clean and I take off time every Sunday morning to check the garden,” Tumwesigye explains.

How they get funds
While Atuhaire has finished her day’s task- training the troupe for the next day’s perfomance, Ahigika still walks us around as he explains. “We get money to run Elohim from performances. The highest we have earned from our performances is Shs 2m and we charge between Shs 1.5-Shs 2m.” The money is used for the children’s welfare, school fees and medical bills.
Besides the troupe, Atuhaire coaches music in a number of schools while Ahigika runs Skylight consultancy in Ntinda, a leadership training firm. Money from their other jobs, together with the one generated from children performances is used to run the centre.

However, running the centre has not been rosy as it has persistent financial shortages that make operations difficult.
Space for the children’s residence has also been a challenge as the boys, unlike the girls, have limited space which forces some of the young boys to share beds.

What the children say

“I have been with Uncle Duncan for eight years. He found me on the street when I had dropped out of Primary Four and has since taken care of me. He supports my education and gives me all the care I deserve. May God bless and keep him alive. I try hard not to annoy or disobey him and Aunt Joan because they have been of great support to me.” Umar Twinomujuni, 19, senior four

“My mother brought me to Uncle Duncan two years ago when I was in Primary Two because she could not afford to take care of me. He pays my school fees, for my food and other bills. This place is so good, the girls like me so much and they defend me most of the time. I go out to perform which is also a good experience. We enjoy life.” Phoinah Natasha, 10, Primary Four

“I have been here for six years. Uncle Duncan had called for dance auditions around the same time I had lost my father. I tried my luck and nailed it. I’m happy and being here has prepared me for a better future because I have acquired life skills. Above all, I don’t lack education. Aunt Joan and Uncle Duncan do not discriminate us.”Lailah Nakiwala, 18, Senior Four

“I have been here for eight years. Uncle Duncan found when I had dropped out of Primary Five because I’m a total orphan who did not have support. He took me back to school and he has trained me to be a very good drummer. If it were not for him, I do not know where I would be. I would like to continue with music and also, pursue a Bachelor of Art and Design if all goes well.” Azedi Tonda, 19, Senior Four

“ I lost my dad when I was young and my mother could not pay my school fees in Primary Four so she brought me to Uncle Duncan who has taken good care of me. I have been here for three years. I feel good to be at Elohim because I have learnt a lot.” Nelson Nahulira, 12, Primary Six

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