Child Soldiers + Music Therapy

Sing Out! International is a music therapy non profit  organization whose mission is to promote emotional healing in traumatized communities around the world through the power of music and song. By creating a calm and nurturing environment for survivors to express and process their experiences using tried and true music therapy practices, communities can heal together and move forward.

The co-founders, Ashley Estes and Haden Minifie, are two board-certified music therapists with master's degrees in music therapy. Estes is also certified in neurologic music therapy. Together, Estes and Minifie plan to implement the international community music therapy program they envisioned as part of their graduate work. For their first program, the goal is to help former child soldiers now attending Hope North Uganda, a secondary school founded by Okello Sam, a former child soldier himself.

For almost three decades, the country of Uganda has faced turmoil at the hands of rebel leader, Joseph Kony, and his Lord's Resistant Army (LRA). Kony and his followers have pillaged towns and communities throughout northern Uganda, enlisting children and adolescents to join them. Those enlisted are faced with the decision to kill or be killed. Although the Ugandan Army has made countless efforts to limit the power of the LRA, the LRA has thrived due to support from the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Okello Sam founded Hope North after escaping the LRA and learning about the passing of his brother while enlisted in the LRA. He purchased forty acres of land in northern Uganda, in a location protected by the Nile River, and drove a truck into areas of conflict to invite any soldier he met to leave the LRA and join him in his school.

Estes and Minifie developed a passion for helping those suffering from varying degrees of trauma while working towards their master’s degrees. At a conference on trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder at the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function at Beth Abraham Hospital in New York City, they met Samite Mulondo, founder of Musicians for World Harmony and Nigel Osborne, a musician who travels the world assisting people who live in areas of conflict. Osborne communicated to them that “the time is now."

Ashley-Drake and Haden approached Mulondo and Osborne while at the conference, and shared their vision for implementing community music therapy in different areas of the world that have experienced trauma. Mulondo’s story of growing up in Uganda and

being surrounded by governmental conflicts resonated with them, and inspired them to design a music program for a specific cultural context. Mulondo suggested collaborating with Hope North Uganda, stating, “music for these kids is very healing and very powerful." After meeting Okello Sam in May, 2015 after his performance in "Forged in Fire," a play depicting life in Uganda and in the LRA, Ashley-Drake and Haden communicated their idea for music therapy at Hope North, and Okello Sam was immediately interested, inviting them to implement the program in February 2016.

Music therapy is defined by the American Music Therapy Association as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program."

Music has the potential to unite people and communities through a shared experience. Neurologists believe that music is “universal yet multifarious” in that it is a shared form of expression, it is created both individually and communally, and it is an individual experience that many can become involved with at the same time. Music plays a significant role in Ugandan culture; it unifies communities, and is a common form of cultural expression. While Hope North protects and educates former child soldiers, music therapy is not currently offered. Music therapy has the ability to provide a context for expressing feelings and emotions that words may not be able to convey. Ashley-Drake and Haden have created a music therapy program tailored to address the needs of the students at Hope North.

The six-week program is designed to utilize a community music therapy approach to foster connection within the community, equip the children and adolescents with techniques to continue personal and communal growth after the conclusion of the program, and accounts for evaluation and continuation of services after Ashley-Drake and Haden return from Uganda.

For Hope North Uganda, music therapy has the potential to address the following goals:

-Engage the parasympathetic nervous system (the brain’s healing function that counteracts the autonomic nervous system-the brain’s fight-or-flight response to a traumatic event),

-Increase expression,
-Increase positive coping skills,
-Improve quality of life,
-Improve connectedness to community, and
-Decrease stress response, using the following music therapy interventions:

-Group processing,
-Group singing,
-Group drumming,
-Improvisation, and
-Relaxation with music.

Ashley-Drake and Haden are asking for $7,000 to fund this project. Proceeds will go to the budget outlined for the program, which includes instruments that will be purchased for and donated to Hope North, airfare, lodging, and room and board.

Ashley-Drake and Haden would greatly appreciate your support towards Sing Out! International. This program will provide a unique and enriching music therapy experience that will aim to support, strengthen, and empower the children and adolescents at Hope North Uganda.


Ashley-Drake Estes
Portland, OR

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