Our first Q & A took place with one of our Apprentice Teachers, Florence. Florence is 25 years old, a mother of a young girl, and plays the baritone. In 2017, she joined Brass for Africa as a music student at Kawempe Youth Centre in Kampala, Uganda.
Florence, tell us a little bit about yourself!
Hello! My name is Florence Nakachwa. I was born in Kampala, Uganda, where I currently live with my young daughter, siblings and grandmother. I play the baritone and work as a Music and Life-Skills Apprentice Teacher at Brass for Africa.
I was born in Katwe, one of Kampala’s largest slums. My parents died when I was young. Life was difficult; the only way we could survive, was for me to work 12-hour shifts in a hotel, cooking and cleaning. I wasn’t able to go to school, or to make friends. Before Brass for Africa, my life was just about surviving.
Things changed when I joined Kawempe Youth Centre – a local community centre supporting disadvantaged children and young people at risk. It is during this period that I was first inspired by music. I joined the Brass for Africa programme and, ever since, my life has completely changed.
Why did you choose the baritone?
Have you ever seen a baritone? It is a very big instrument! The thing I like most about it is that it has that big, bold, ‘bassy’ sound.
As a young girl, I wanted to be seen. In Africa, the society – the way it trains us – it trains us to be, like, ‘we women are nothing. Boys are the ones who go to school. The girls are supposed to be home’. There was a moment where I was playing and someone said “You are a girl. What you’re doing is for boys. Stop playing!”. I said “No, it is not for boys. What boys can do; girls can do”.
I love Brass for Africa because we are all a big family. For us, it is not about age, gender or race. What matters the most is the music. We play together to make one beautiful sound.
Any achievements you’d like to share since you joined Brass for Africa?
The first achievement was joining the Brass for Africa Student Volunteer Programme. It is a 12-week scheme which focuses on training young people to develop their teaching skills. Anyone over 18, not in full-time education, can apply. From this, I joined the Apprentice Programme. This programme prepares us to become good Music and Life-Skills Teacher. I have health insurance with BfA, so I don’t worry about any sickness which comes my way. It is really very different from other organisations to have insurance. I am very grateful for Brass for Africa.
We are now in the midst of COVID-19. How are you finding the lock-down in Africa?
We are living in very uncertain times. In Africa, the virus has spread to dozens of countries within weeks. I have seen a lot of people in my community suffering. Our healthcare is not the strongest, so I am worried about what will happen when coronavirus cases escalate.
At first, I thought this would all be over within weeks. But the moment I really accepted we were in lockdown, was when Brass for Africa had to shut down all our programmes and our Director of Music Education, Lizzie Burrowes, had to go back to the UK. So that’s when my mind was like ‘Okay, I know Madam Lizzie loves Uganda and she doesn’t want to leave us, she wants to be with young people, she wants to be teaching music lessons with us everyday’.
Tell us about the E-Learning Programme!
A few weeks ago, Brass for Africa provided all of the Teachers, Apprentices and Student-Volunteers with 3G data and mobile devices. So, every week, we are able to keep receiving e-lessons, activities and assignments. It’s great!
We are making the most of this time to do our practice, and to grow personally and professionally. By the time we return, I am very sure that we will all be more experienced and more advanced. So it is kind of boring, but with music you can’t be bored, we are learning very many things.
For you, what is it about learning music that is special?
If it wasn’t for music, I don’t know where I would be.
Through music, I have learnt many useful transferable skills – communication, perseverance, determination, teamwork… To play in a brass band you have to work as a team. You also have to be resilient, and persevere when practice doesn’t go to plan. This resilience is now helping me to get through the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the most special thing for me is to learn new things. For example, I’m very proud to be able to read music! In Africa, many people cannot read music – songs and tunes here are often learnt off by heart. I enjoy it when I overcome a challenge, especially when it’s something that people think I can’t do.
I want to be a changemaker. I have been through a lot and I have been desiring to share what I have gone through with the young people in the community, or the children who are facing the same challenges as I did.
As I said, I grew up as an orphan. Many of the people we are working with are vulnerable children, some of them are orphans, and some are street children. So I think that if I stand in front of them, and they hear what I have gone through, I can lead as an inspiration in their life, Hopefully, they can grow and be like ‘one day I can be like teacher Florence, because if she is able to be where she is now, then I am also able to do that’. This is the main reason I decided to join Brass for Africa.
What’s your message to the world, during the COVID-19 crisis?
Stay safe, stay positive, keep your mind active. Find something you love and focus on it. Soon, we will all be together again.
By: Anna Thorne, Marketing & Development Assistant