Kayla Mernoff stops by to let us in on her summer music volunteering in the Galapagos! Within minutes of arriving on the island of San Cristobal for my music volunteering program in the Galápagos, I had already seen a beach,…
Join a group of established and skilled local musicians providing music lessons and training to children and communities who do not currently have access to resources, lessons, or instruments. As a volunteer, you will help local people develop self-esteem, provide purpose, and spread happiness in the community through sharing your musical skills.
The volunteer program helps our partner organization in Mbarara, Uganda expand their reach to help more communities, encourage confidence in their students, and creates cross-cultural exchanges through the universal language of music. You will stay with a local family homestay, and spend your days either assisting in teaching music in the field or at our headquarters. You will attend vibrant performances, traditional weddings, teach workshops at schools, and conduct 1-1 trainings.
The opportunity to work with marginalized communities, such as battered women’s groups and orphanages, will highlight the power of music in transforming lives. You will be challenged and inspired by the groups you’ll work with during your time in Uganda, and you will come away with a new perspective both on your artform and the arts in your home community.
I spent 3 months on the music volunteer program in Uganda. I was the only volunteer at the time and the experience was so immersive. The staff here are warm, welcoming and enjoy having fun! I feel I have made friends for life. I’m going to miss living with my host family and learning how to cook local foods! To attend traditional Ugandan weddings was a wonderful experience. It was truly transformative working with such resilient and strong groups of marginalised people, and witnessing how music increased their self esteem and brought joy to their lives.
Performing Arts Points of Interest
Coffee Bar, Besania Road
Coffee bar plays host to local bands performing every Friday night. It is a popular event with a lively audience.
Mbarara is a town that loves music and loves to dance. Ice frequently throw huge events such as silent discos that foster the party atmosphere.
This social hotspot hosts open mic nights on a Monday, where all the muscial talent in Mbarara get together for an evening of performances!
PAA Home Base
Our headquarters is with the Living Music Foundation, found in a large grassy compound a short walk from the Mbarara town center.
About the Location
Uganda is called the Pearl of Africa for good reason; it is dripping in natural beauty, incredible topography, biodiversity, and culture. An equatorial country in East Africa, Uganda offers volunteers the chance to explore the rainforest, mountains, volcanoes, jungle, savannah, Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile, and incredible wildlife parks.
Just a short drive from our office you can see zebras and the beautiful Watusi Ankole cows with their identifiable long horns.
Find yourself surrounded by the breathtaking green hills that surround Mbarara, a town in the Western region. We love going hiking together on this program! Uganda has yet to be hit by mass tourism, and Mbarara has a very small expat community, so during your time at the placement you will often feel like the only international visitor. Being a PAA volunteer will deeply immerse you in local life!
Performing arts are integral to the culture in Uganda, with incredible traditional dances unique to each tribe. Singing and dancing is a part of daily life, as almost every event calls for song and dance, from hymns in church and at school to live local music in the evenings. In the villages, people often gather to make music. Homes often have traditional instruments, such as drums. Uganda has a vibrant and inspiring culture when it comes community gatherings and performing arts.
During your music volunteer abroad program, you will live with a local Ugandan host family, within walking distance to Mbarara town center. You will eat breakfast and dinner together daily. Host homes will provide drinking water and a mosquito net. You will stay in a private single room. All of our host home families are friends of our partner music foundation in Mbarara.
You will have your own room in a local homestay. It is common for you to be the only Performing Arts Abroad volunteer during your program. This is a great opportunity to create deeper more meaningful relationships with the onsite staff, as we are a young and social group of people!
A Day in the Life
The Participant Experience
Your first experience of Uganda will be driving through the beautiful countryside. From Entebbe airport to your placement in Mbarara, you will notice the vivid colours, the dramatic scenery, and the wildlife that Uganda is so famous for. The rolling green hills and the orange dust roads are iconic. Upon passing through every little town, booming music will reach your ears, with groups of people dancing and singing to Afrobeats.
Every day at work is different. Driving the bumpy dusty roads to reach communities out in the villages, you will meet a group of women at a refuge centre. You will learn of their stories, their backgrounds, and there they are, singing and dancing with you. Singing about female empowerment and the value of women in society. Then we go to visit the orphanage where we take the children out to have fun with some instruments, and to see the pure joy as we all create music together. You meet these incredible organizations that give these kids a place to be, and the opportunity to learn skills like music!
That evening we are performing at a Ugandan wedding, where you are invited to take part in the dancing and eat a huge authentic meal filled with local dishes. The colors and patterns of the ladies’ traditional outfits and the incredible dancing are unforgettable.
Warm memories of your evenings will live on forever in your memory, watching the sun setting over Mbarara town, going home to spend time with your host mother who teaches you to peel Matooke and cook GNut Sauce. Your house is filled with laughter and sharing (and amazing natural food). One weekend, your host family will take you to the village where you can try your hand at picking fresh avocados and chopping sugarcane.
You’ll notice how time slows down here, no one is rushing and the day isn’t dictated by the clock. You have time to forge meaningful relationships with everyone you meet. The warmth and hospitality of the Ugandans you meet is not something you can forget.
With Performing Arts Abroad, we want you to enjoy Uganda, as much as you enjoy your time at work!
When you arrive at Entebbe International Airport (EBB), near Kampala, one of our onsite staff will be there to greet you and travel with you to Mbarara. They will take you to your homestay, where you will meet your host family, and to have a brief orientation about the local area and our organization from our Director, Disan. Then you can take time to unpack and relax. The next day Disan will lead an in depth orientation including health and safety, and the volunteer work you will be taking part in throughout your stay. Disan will be your main contact for anything you may need and is always available.
A Typical Day
It is hard to dictate a ‘’typical day’’ for this program. The relaxed culture of Uganda means activities can be scheduled on the day, and you will need to be flexible to work in this context!
Performing Arts Abroad volunteers can expect to be involved in the following activities on a day to day basis:
- Teaching music skills in local schools
- Training community outreach groups with music skills such as women’s refuge groups or orphanages.
- Teaching music skills to local underprivileged people on a 1-1 basis.
- Attending formal performances (for example weddings) with opportunities to perform too.
- Enjoying your evenings with your host family
The Living Music Foundation is a group of young people who grew up in difficult circumstances, but found their lives were transformed through music. Our director Disan has a remarkable story from a young orphan to a well respected and recognized musician today. All of our staff have experienced how music has uplifted them and wish to share this with other youths in the same position, through our programing.
As a group, all the staff are young and fun loving people. We enjoy hiking, aerobics and going to watch live music in the evenings. While our office space is basic, we have a number of acoustic guitars, electric guitars, keyboards, a drum kit, brass instruments such as trumpets and trombones, flutes, and more.
Founder and Executive Director
Reynolds graduated summa cum laude from Washington University in St. Louis in 2008 with a degree in Theater and African and African American Studies. For an honors thesis Reynolds filmed, edited, and produced a full-length documentary in Kenya with Haba na Haba, a group using performance for education and social change in the slums of Nairobi. This project earned him the Forum on Education Abroad Undergraduate Research Award. A year later, Reynolds organized a trip to bring Haba na Haba to the United States for a tour of St. Louis and Washington University. Immediately after graduation, Reynolds worked in Rwanda as a filmmaker for Millennium Congregations, an interfaith organization connecting communities of faith in the United States with development projects in Rwanda’s Bugesera District. Reynolds then served two years with Teach for America, teaching in the South Bronx and receiving a Masters Degree in Education from Hunter College. He completed a second graduate degree in African Studies from Indiana University in Bloomington, and his Masters thesis focused on the impact of donors on the creative process of Theatre for Development (TfD) groups in Kenya.
Reynolds has traveled extensively in Africa, spending time in Ghana, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He also studied acting, voice, and movement at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. Reynolds is a two-time Rhodes Scholarship finalist, the inaugural recipient of the Dred and Harriet Scott Award for the Advancement of Human Rights, and the winner of two research fellowships. He was also a Dialogue Fellow for the Xenia Institute, has twice served as the co-director for the Roosevelt Institution’s International Diplomacy Center (Washington University branch), and was president of the Graduate Students of African Studies (GSAS) at Indiana University.
Reynolds lives in Northampton, MA with his wife Julia who is a professional costume designer and his daughter Lily who is a cute baby. In his free time Reynolds likes to play his guitar, go hiking, act in local productions, hit the karaoke bars, sing with his dog Captain (the best doggy singer in the universe), and play various yard games such as KanJam, cornhole, “cups”, and Kubb.
Uganda Site Director
Disan supports all participants on our Uganda programs, acting as the main point of contact throughout their stay in the country. He coordinates airport pickup, arranges housing by vetting homestay families and building relationships, leads cultural excursions, and manages the 24-hour onsite emergency phone. He is also the director of our onsite partner, the Living Music Foundation.
Disan Kato was born in 1983 to the late Mr. Samuel Kato and the late Mrs. Kobusingye Merab at Mabaare Masheruka Sub-county Sheema District. He grew up at the mercy of good samaritans, an orphan of HIV, having lost two brothers before he was yet born.
Generous people helped him through school until one man identified the music in him and chose to develop it, teaching him to play musical instruments and vocals over 12 years!
This enabled Disan to continue at school, using income from his musical endeavours. He did begin studying computer science at Mbarara University, however failed to raise the tuition fees and was forced to drop out.
He decided to concentrate on his music career, working at Train the Youth Effort where he trained nine children to create a school band. During this time he wrote and recorded songs that propelled him towards fame in Western Uganda.
Currently his live band, the Vessels, are very popular. He trained the members himself from having no musical experience into professional performers. Their music is on all local radio stations and television. Because of Disan’s inspiring story, schools, universities, NGOs, churches and other youth organisations invite him to explain how music has transformed him so others can learn through him. He is also invited to radio and TV talk shows to inspire the public. Disan started the Living Music Foundation as a way to improve the lives of other vulnerable children through music.
Disan is happily married to Alum Catherine with whom they have two children. They chose to stay in Mbarara and raise their family.
“I never thought I would be about to travel to a new country, much less do so while studying what I love. This is an experience that I will keep with me for a lifetime.”
“The in-country staff were incredibly friendly and helpful and supportive. Just great!”
“Performing Arts Abroad (PAA) is a wonderful organization that allows you to gain valuable work experience, contribute to a new community, develop lasting relationships, travel and (in my case) learn a new language. PAA creates a comfortable experience abroad with their assistance and support.”
Just one unforgettable experience. I made friends for life and I discovered what kind of path I want to make in my career. I also discovered things about myself I didn’t know before. I wish it never ended.
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How it Works
The information on this page provides details for a sample group program. Note that every group is different, and we will work with you to cater the experience to your group. To connect with us and begin organizing a program for your group, please follow the “Get Started’ button below and submit an initial questionnaire. We will then contact you to set up a discovery call where we can go into more detail about your group’s needs and what we can offer.