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Song Exchange Project - adventures 2017

I have been home for a little over a month but I am still feeling exhilarated by my recent travels for the Song Exchange Project and I am excited to share some stories and photos.

My first stop this year was once again in Nanyuki, Kenya at Daraja Academy.

This was my fourth visit to Daraja which means that the girls who were first year students when I met them are now in their final year of secondary school. It is very rewarding to have an ongoing relationship with these extraordinary young women and to hear them singing the songs I have shared with them over the years. In the dining hall at breakfast on the morning of my arrival on campus one of the older girls lead a four part round that I had taught at school two years ago - a welcome song in Haitian Creole that I had learned from a five year old at an orphanage in Haiti! I love the intermingling and exchange across cultures through song.

The images below were taken during a team building afternoon - fostering connection between new students and old through group singing.

Spending time at Daraja is always a rich experience for me especially as my relationships with the girls have deepened over the years. They are all so alive and vibrant!

Daraja girls dancing and singing at church which is held in their dining hall

Singing and dancing in church

A group of girls sings me a favorite song

A group shares a favorite song

These girls are writing song lyrics down for me in my notebook so that I can learn and teach the songs at home and elsewhere.

In addition to spending time with the girls teaching songs and learning new ones I was excited to witness the staff and student's respond to a visitor to the school named Christine Vulimu. The world is indeed a small place! I met Christine through a friend who sings with me on Martha's Vineyard. My singing friend had met Christine, who lives and works in Nairobi, Kenya, at a conference in San Diego and knew that Christine and I would enjoy each other. Christine and I met via Skype last year. I introduced Christine to a young friend in Nairobi who needed a mentor as she started up a new business which I had raised the money to finance. Christine and I have been communicating via Skype, What's App and Facebook but met for the first time in person at Daraja in February. It turns out that she had already met staff and students from Daraja at a conference and wanted to visit the school. We were all thrilled to connect with each other. Christine's mission is to help girls and women in Kenya to become strong leaders - basically the same mission as Daraja Academy. As you can see from the images below Christine was a big hit!

Christine Vulimu working with girls at Daraja

Another group that I have gotten to know during previous visits to Kenya are the staff and children of the Simama Project.

Singing "Dog Dog", a song from the civil rights movement in the U.S. which asks the question - if our dogs can get along and play together - why can't we?

Some girls at Simama sharing a song.

In addition to visiting and singing with the Simama gang I had the opportunity to stop in at a school called Springfair Academy, a primary school in Nanyuki. I had visited with them briefly last year and I was excited to see them again. They remembered the songs from my previous visit and enthusiastically jumped right in for more singing and dancing.

Teaching Haida Haida at Springfair Academy

Sharing Haida Haida - a jewish song form called a Nigun

The director of Springfair asked me if I knew any children at home who would want to exchange letters and/or emails with his students. I am in the process of connecting the director of the MV Charter School with the director of Springfair to get an exchange going.

I was sorry to leave Nanyuki but happy to be headed to Nairobi where I had the opportunity to spend time with some new friends - Kaari Njeru and John Sibi-Okumu who are the parents of a young man I met in Boston. Jason is a graduate of Berklee College Of Music and we were in a concert together with the Mystic Valley Chorale directed by Nick Page, a couple of years ago. Jason and I got to talking and he suggested I should visit his parents on my next visit to Kenya. It was really lovely to be with them and to see and experience their Nairobi. With John's help I connected to a wonderful school in the Kibera slum which has a program that exposes their students to all of the arts. I was able to observe the students working with their music teacher, a young Kenyan musician, and then had a blast teaching them all some songs from my repertoire. Images from my visit there are below.

One of the teachers from "Anno's Africa" warming up students of Spurgeons Academy

Singing with the music class at Spurgeons

Classroom building at Spurgeons

We had fun!

Links to the school and info about the art program are below.

I am very much looking forward to spending more time at Spurgeons and to connecting with other schools and programs in Nairobi on my next visit to Kenya.

Onward to Roma!

My younger daughter is spending a semester in Florence on a study abroad program and since I was flying through Europe anyway on the way to and from Kenya I decided to stop and see her and explore doing work on the Song Exchange Project in Italy. Why not?!

With the help of an old friend, Lucina DeMartis, who I met when we were both dancing in NYC in the 80s, I was able to set up several workshops in Rome. Lucina had studied Haitian dance in New York at the Ailey School and when she returned home she began teaching. We have stayed in touch over the years and I was delighted to reconnect with her. I taught at the studio where Lucina teaches and at an African bookstore owned by one of her students.

Teaching at The Griot Bookstore

Teaching at San Lo' Dance Studio

After class at San Lo'

Now that I am home and have had an opportunity to reflect on my recent experiences I would say the most important thing I observed was that the material I have to teach is enjoyed equally by children and adults in an impoverished area of Kenya, at a dance studio frequented by upper middle class Italians or back at home on Martha's Vineyard. Singing together easily and joyfully connects us all.

My next steps with The Song Exchange Project and BeWellSING involve working to bring that sense of joyful connection to groups, events and organizations in the U.S. Please get in touch if you have any ideas or contacts to share which might help me move forward.

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