We spent a day and a half at the Imbabazi Orphanage near Gisenyi, Rwanda and it was a stark contrast to what you would imagine an orphanage being. Don’t get me wrong it was still an orphanage full of teenage children orphaned due to the genocide that occurred in 1994. Over 850,000 people were murdered in less than four months with some estimates being over 1,000,000. Thanks to Roz Carr the founder of the Imbabazi Orphanage, over 400-orphaned children have been taken in and loved over the past 17 years. During our time there we connected with many of the orphans and heard the dreams of their hearts and the concerns of the their futures. The contrast that we noticed in this orphanage compared to others we visited was that they had hope and dreams. Some of them were attending trade schools and other forms of higher education. It was amazing to see a positive situation in place we consider to be hopeless.
When you are in Africa you will hear voices and music that reaches down into you heart and stirs your spirit. That is what happened to me at Imbabazi. While hanging around with a group of the orphans on the first day they started playing the guitar and singing and I was surprised that I knew the tune… Bob Marley’s “One Love/People Get Ready”. I just listened and thought WOW that is an amazing sound. So, I asked what music they like to sing and they said, “Worship music.” As they started to play some worship music in Kinyarwanda, it was as if I understood every word. It was a moment that I will never forget. They sang half a dozen songs and I was honored to be able to record them. Below are two of the tracks so that you can understand what I was hearing.
As a photographer I go into places like Imbabazi and I always want to make sure I’m not just “Taking” photos, video or audio in this case. I want to make sure I’m respectful to the people we are connecting with and the host that allows us to be in such an amazing place. On this occasion it was clear to me what I was sent there to do. As I recorded these beautiful voices I wanted to share it with them. The next day when we returned I was able to give them a CD with all six songs they had performed. We borrowed a CD player from one the staff and played the CD. The look on the face of the young man that was playing the guitar was as if he had never heard himself play before. So I asked him “Have you ever listened to yourself play before?” He said, “No” and he just stood there and listened. Later he came to me to tell me thank you and that he wants to compose his own music. It just re-enforced something that I have always known — it is more important to give than to take. In this case it was the first time I was able to witness the result of the gift.
The young man listening to his recording.
To learn more about Imbabazi please visit their website. It is an inspiring story. imbabazi.org