On December 12, our partners in Northern Uganda at the Youth Leaders for Restoration and Development (YOLRED) hosted a community gathering attended by several hundred people in the Gulu area to showcase its new music therapy program.  This community event capped off the pilot phase of this program but also gave the community a chance to celebrate an incredibly active and momentous inaugural year in operation.


According to program director, Global Associate Geoffrey Omony, the event started in the morning by bringing various constituencies to the venue location from across civil society and government, including the honored guest Deputy Prime Minister Acholi ker Kal Kwaro, the Officer in Charge of Layibi police post Chairman LC III Layibi Division, media outlets such as the National Broadcasting Services, NGO partners including Caritas, and local community members.

Music Therapy Student preforms as part of the talent showcase for children of former combatants.


“Because there were groups which could not be ready as was expected, the program started a bit late,” noted Geoffrey. Nevertheless, upon arrival, onlookers sang both the national Ugandan and East African anthems, followed by remarks from the local secretary of education who represented the chairman LC III of the host Division. Geoffrey then made remarks on behalf of YOLRED followed by his colleague Kichi David Can, who is the chairperson of YOLRED’s finance and planning committee, and spoke for Bishop Ochola, an organizational patron who is currently bedridden at home in Pece.

A panel of judges award trophies and prizes to talented young leaders.


Finally, the stage was open for competition in four different categories, including: traditional folk dance, instrumental solo, original composition in the traditional African style and drama. A select panel was chosen to judge the event and determine the results in each performance section. Prizes were awarded for rankings one through five with one group receiving 150,000 Ugandan Shillings ($42 USD) and a certificate of participation; second place recipients took 200,000 shillings ($56 USD) with a trophy and certificate; and, the overall winner a trophy, certificate and 250,000 Ush ($70 USD).  All the above prizes were handed over to the group members by the invited guests and the chief guest. Following the competition’s conclusion, participants and attendees were provided transportation back to their respective communities.

The program concluded a highly successful year, even beyond the imagination of YOLRED’s founders. Since the organization’s inception ceremony in August 27, 2016 after four years of planning and development, its founders — Geoffrey, Charles, Janet, David and Collins — have maintained unwavering focus on supporting all conflicted-affected children and youth, women, and the poor throughout Northern Uganda. Though YOLRED was unsuccessful in its application for the IDEO Youth Empowerment Challenge, it continues seeking out opportunities and resources to reinforce and expand its capacity, including new applicaitons to the Echoing Green Fellowship and Awesome Prize, among many others.

Music and Art Therapy students created dramatic reenactments of events impacting the community, such as abduction of children by the Lord's Resistance Army, as a way to open dialogue about trauma and healing.


YOLRED is the first organization created and operated by former child combatants and has a unique mission and approach.  In this first year, they secured a four-room office space after moving between a series of Gulu restaurants. This new office holds the organization’s accounting, human resources and administration teams, as well as a large conference room, one large office space allotted for program team and community meetings. As YOLRED leader Charles Okello noted upon opening the new office:

[quote]“Now we are not seen as just a ‘briefcase’ organization that travels around to meet people where they are but also as an organization that is a safe space to visit. It’s now easier for us to be visible to the national and international organizations that need to hear the perspective of former combatants.”[/quote]
— Charles Okello


Still, the most significant highlight for YOLRED beyond Uganda and the African continent as-a-whole was Janet and Geoffrey attending Arigatou International and the Global Network of Religions for Children’s (GNRC) Fifth Global Forum in Panama City, Panama from May 8-11, 2017. Representing YOLRED and the issue of child soldiers, the two were joined by Goldin Institute Founder Diane Goldin, Executive Director Travis Rejman, Community Learning Associate Jimmie Briggs, Colombian global associate Lissette Mateus and Emeritus Associate Dorcas Kiplagat.

Geoffrey Omony and fellow Global Associate Lissette Mateus Rao from Colombia meet in Panama and plan for a joint forgiveness and reconciliation training in 2018.


[quote]“Attending the Panama forum was an opportunity for me to travel out of Africa for the first time and was an interesting experience.  It also allowed me the opportunity to meet and share with people whom I would have never met before.”  [/quote]

— Geoffrey Omony


In reflecting on the experience in Panama, Geoffrey continued: “For the organization, it was a great deal in getting people to know about YOLRED and the work that it is doing in helping the war affected community in Northern Uganda. It also led to the genesis of the music therapy program that the organization has been piloting for the period of six months, which Travis (Rejman) and I first discussed during our time in Panama.”

Following the GNRC conference, YOLRED, supported by Goldin Institute advisory board member Thomas Hinshaw, developed a music therapy program to offer an alternative form of psychosocial support to traumatized survivors and victims of war. “Tom did indeed have a very critical role in supporting the development of the music therapy which consequently led to the increased ability of the organization to use music and the arts to nurture physical, emotional and psychological healing of war victims,” said Geoffrey. “The programming priorities of music therapy are: livelihood support to former ex-combatants, education for the children of former child combatants, counseling services, and victim support.”

At present, YOLRED is partnering with Serendipia, a Colombian re-integration program for female ex-combatants created by global associate Lissette Mateus. The two organizations have worked together before on training civilians in a reconciliation process called “ESPERE.” Still, there are definite challenges, and opportunities, facing YOLRED in the coming year.

“The biggest challenges faced by YOLRED this were logistical, including transport, communication, irregular power supply, office equipment, a lack of capacity-building, as well as an inability to reach out to a larger number of ex-combatants,” says Geoffrey.

[quote]“There are quite a number of services that YOLRED needs to better address the challenges but what makes me so proud of the work I and my colleagues are doing is the demand for our services based on the community requests to scale to other areas of Northern Uganda, to assist in designing solutions to community issues, as well as our obvious high level of trust and respect in local society.” [/quote]

— Geoffrey Omony

Photos from the Community Celebration