Transforming Patients Into Artists

2016 was a watershed year for Make Music Matter. We primarily work in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to address the prevalence of sexual violence and the subsequent trauma. We believe in, and have witnessed, music as an integral part of a community-driven, holistic healing model that values the intersection of innovation and research within the treatment pathway. At its core, our Healing in Harmony music therapy develops the potential for transformative change in traumatized populations and their communities, and in the broader community of practice. Participants include survivors of sexual violence, abandoned children, children of child-headed households and other vulnerable populations. We recognize participants as artists, not patients.

We celebrate the quantifiable healing power of music to re-stitch the soul, validate one's feeling and emotions, and cohere communities regardless of prevailing circumstance. Whether it was within our expanding programming in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with Panzi Foundations DRC and USA, or in Rwanda with local partners Uyisenga, doing outreach in Canada, or our recent exploration at the Syrian border, Make Music Matter is continuing to use this artful medium as a tool enabling individuals to recover from traumatic experiences.

We have worked with more than 1000 women, girls, and boys - each one a survivor of sexual violence or a vulnerable community member - in our music therapy program at Maison Dorcas, the aftercare facility at Panzi Foundation DRC in Bukavu with partners Panzi Foundation USA. Maison Dorcas and Panzi Foundation DRC is a sister organisation to the famed Panzi Hospital, founded by Dr. Denis Mukwege. Current trends in our research analyses reveal ground breaking and promising results with improvement across all three primary mental health dimensions: anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Women in our program are twice as likely to have an improvement in their anxiety scores and 80% were more likely to have an improvement in their PTSD scores than women who did not participate.

The songs our artists write and record have also become strong tools for advocacy over the last year. On a recent tour of local radio stations in Bukavu, I inquired whether the broadcasters had any notable feedback from listeners. One broadcaster reported that during the morning rush hour, members of the Congolese armed forces had been calling the station to state that they had not been responsible for perpetrating the rapes highlighted in the songs. They wanted to assure audiences that these soldiers who raped were a minority and that it was predominantly in the past. It is a testament to the power music has in affecting civil society and shifting cultural landscapes

Throughout 2016, we also implemented a testing phase at Panzi's field hospital in the rural area of Mulumba. The positive feedback from medical staff and the community at large during this period has led us to commit to its full implementation in 2017. This expansion emphasizes that local, culturally appropriate psychosocial models are critical for restoration of traumatized populations. It is exciting to watch our Healing in Harmony music therapy program grow and I am thrilled to return to Mulumba to construct and officially launch our latest studio in the coming year.

We were also able to launch two specific programming streams in Rwanda with our partner, Uyisenga N'Manzi. One focuses on the education of youth regarding the health risks of contracting HIV/AIDS and the second centres upon the reduction of trauma in children of child-headed households. These targets benefit not only direct participants, but also the larger community through the dissemination of the music across Rwanda. I am thrilled to report that three of the songs have been receiving significant spins on a major Kigali radio station.

A media project created by Panzi Foundation USA with renowned photographer Platon which includes the Healing in Harmony music therapy program also began in 2016 with a rollout expected to begin in February 2017. In June 2016, Make Music Matter and Panzi Foundation USA were featured by the United Nations at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul where we were able to host a wide variety of guests at an immersive booth that demonstrated our unique model of healing. At this summit I had the personal pleasure of meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and shared program objectives and methodology. He engaged with us directly, and listened to one of our signature tracks, "My Body is Not a Weapon," from our project at Panzi.

As we look towards 2017, our main endeavour is to continue expanding our reach, leverage and capacity. To that end, we are thrilled to report we were accepted, as partners of Panzi Foundation USA, for the Humanitarian Innovation Fund's Journey to Scale program. This opportunity will see Healing in Harmony expand to four sites in the DRC within the next two years. With this new level of support, we will be developing and refining our methodology towards creating a franchise model approach to replicate our program in different contexts in the hopes of eventually reaching a global scale.

Music has always helped people around the world to overcome hardship by providing comfort and consolation. 2016 was a whirlwind for me personally and I look forward to continue to use music in our methodology in the hopes of preventing violence and helping communities to address their most divisive issues.