It started on a bright note. The sun was gentle, and people in the village were drying their bounty harvest. Suddenly everything was awry! A bullet here, a bomb there, and soon there was bloodshed in Eastern Equatorial, a province in South Sudan. Screaming with raw trauma, Emmanuel Chanwatt combed the area for his mother, but the stampede was more than he could handle.
Confused, the teenager felt a neighbour grip his hand and demand that he runs. He cast one more glance back, hoping to catch his mother, but she was nowhere to be seen. Soon he was speeding out of their homeland into the borders of Uganda and has never looked back. This was nearly six years ago, and he has not seen his mother since. Pain like that will break the bravest of souls, but Emmanuel has found an avenue to let it out.
Today, he tells of how Windle International Uganda with support from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is helping refugees like him heal through the Community Technology Access centres (CTA). He believes that the bass brand club that is part of a host of other activities at the youth centre in the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement where he lives, helped in his healing.
Passion and healing
“I didn’t even know that I liked it,” he laughs while latching onto an instrument he plays with prowess.
“But one day when I went to the Windle youth center and found them training, I knew that it was exactly what I wanted to be part of.” Emmanuel says that the melodies from the bands stuck to his head like glue, and when he asked to join, he was welcomed by the team leader immediately. “I joined the band, because I like music. I am happy about it. I like it,” he says emphatically. “When I am playing music, I feel so happy!”
It was what he said next that drove the message home: “When you are sad and you are playing music, it makes you forget about your problems.” He says that when he first played, happy memories came rushing through his mind. Through music, he explored his happy moments back home. He saw his mother’s face and delved into her tasty meals. Music sent shivers down his spine, the happy kind. “Up to now, when I play the whole afternoon, that night I dream of happy things only,” he adds with a smile.
He further says that music has helped him make more friends, a thing that refugees like him need more than anything. “The first week we arrived here, there were changes,” he recalls before drifting off into deep thought. “I had to make new friends since I had no friends, I had to get to know the area.” He also missed his mother and young brother terribly. “I used to cry a lot!” he confesses. “In the afternoon after school, I would have nothing occupying my time, so I would just be sad. Not anymore!”
Watching Emmanuel, a student of the Windle International Uganda-funded Kiryandongo High School play is indeed refreshing. His grip on the trumpet and clenched jaw tells of an ignited passion that awaits an even bigger platform. He, however, argues that the best is yet to come since he is still a novice. “Just wait for me in future, you will see,” he lets out a sunny chuckle and speeds back to the band which had been playing in the background.