Jun 282012

Since MDMT became a registered charity in 2003, it has been superbly served by outstanding music volunteers who have worked at Starehe Boys’ Centre and Starehe Girls’ Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. Typically MDMT volunteers are in their mid twenties having graduated with music degrees from UK universities or conservatoires. Here Georgina Hardiman tells about life in the Centre, in Nairobi and in Kenya.

It’s hard to summarise two fantastic years when there are so many stories to tell. From arriving in Nairobi in December 2009 to saying farewell to my students in November 2011, my time in Kenya has been one unforgettable experience.

Back in June 2009 I was 1 month away from graduation and still unsure what to do next. I was interested in teaching but I didn’t feel ready to pursue a teaching degree straight away. It was then that I read the advert for the music volunteer position at Starehe Boys’ Centre which seemed too good to be true. It offered the chance for me to use the musical skills covered in my degree, gain teaching experience and to travel and live in another part of the world. This opportunity couldn’t be missed!

I had a few months to prepare myself, speak to ex-volunteers and to collect teaching resources. However, nothing can really prepare you to stand in front of 900 teenage boys and 100 staff members on your first day! Looking back, being thrown in at the deep end like this was the best thing for me and prepared me for what lay ahead. Living in a different country and dealing with the hectic city of Nairobi was a huge culture shock to me, but the welcoming staff and students quickly helped me settle into my new life. Before I knew it I felt comfortable in the school and city and developed a good routine.

As a music volunteer I was in charge of piano and violin lessons (teaching 40 individual lessons a week), classes on western music theory/history, training the choir for the annual Kenya Music Festival as well as organising and running musical events in the school. I also managed to host ‘Music Club’ weekly, school recitals and enter 22 students for international music exams (ABRSM). To witness students gaining their Grade 5 piano certificate after only one year of tuition proved to me just how enthusiastic and determined these young Kenyans are. My own skills were put to the test when I was asked to write a sacred composition for the Starehe Boys’ choir to sing in the Kenya Music Festival provincials 2011. I was thrilled when the judges announced that my composition had achieved first place. This provided me with valuable experience for writing choral music. My conducting ability was also tested when I had to publicly conduct the musical band (July 2011) and then a group of Starehe students in front of Prince Edward (September 2011). This is an area of music I have never attempted before and now I feel I have the confidence to use it in the future.

Georgina and the students with newly donated instruments

One of the main highlights of my time as a volunteer was directing The Lion King musical with Jamie Munn. It was a tough job auditioning and casting 60 students, organising scripts, scores, costumes, rehearsals and an 8-piece band on top of daily duties, especially in a time of the music festival and mock exams. Weekends were taken and weekdays ended at 11pm (if you were lucky!). Through the hard work and extra practice put in by the students we managed to achieve 4 sold-out performances. One audience member even deemed our rendition as “Better than the London West End!”. I felt so proud of each and every student and at this point I realised this was the career I knew I was meant to pursue.

Outside of school life I was an active member of the Nairobi Music Society Choir, performing 3 times a year. I was also able to work at the Kenya Conservatoire one day a week teaching pupils ranging from 15 – 50 years old to provide me with some additional funding. The music scene in Nairobi is at its peak with regular concerts, operas and theatre productions taking place. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved and to perform. One memorable moment for me was when South African choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo headlined the ‘Classical Fusion Concert’ in Sept 2011 and I joined Nairobi Choir to sing alongside them to an audience of 12,000 people. What a moment to treasure!

Two years in Kenya flew by and before I knew it I was leaving a fantastic place and people who  will always remain close to my heart. As I left in December 2011 I felt ready to apply for a teaching degree and take on the responsiblity that the role of an educator carries. I was then interviewed and accepted by the University of Bristol to start a Secondary Music PGCE starting September 2012. As I wait for my course to begin I have been travelling throughout the world including America, South America, New Zealand and Australia, gaining a few more incredible memories.

Working at Starehe Boys’ Centre with talented and enthusiastic young adults was an honour and I feel that I have learnt as much from the students as they (hopefully) have from me! My experience has enabled me to gain the necessary skills needed to be a successful teacher and gave me a greater sense of confidence. I would encourage anyone thinking about volunteering with MDMT to go out there, get involved and rise to the challenge. It will be the best decision you ever make!