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Musical mission in Uganda inspired by bagpipes

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Trew Morris and girlfriend, Catherine Blair, helping children at Mama Jane orphanage in Jinja, Uganda (Photograph supplied)

In Uganda, Trew Morris was surprised to find schools without instruments or a music programme.

Filled with happy memories of the time he spent learning the bagpipes, he returned to Bermuda and immediately began crowdfunding.

His hope is to raise $540, enough to buy the keyboard he wants for students at Mama Jane orphanage and St Patrick Primary School in Jinja, two hours east of Uganda’s capital city Kampala. He has received $100 so far.

It is the type of thinking that led him to Africa as a volunteer last month.

A junior at the University of Western Ontario, he decided to go simply because he “wanted to do something good”.

He was 13 when he first visited Uganda with his father Christopher, an accountant on a business trip.

It left such an impression that two years later he returned on his own to volunteer at an orphanage, staying with family friends.

The 19-year-old unsuccessfully tried to get university friends to go with him in June. Their reasons for not doing so varied from fear of catching the Ebola virus to getting shot in the streets.

“People really have a warped perception of Uganda,” said Mr Morris, who ended up travelling with his girlfriend, Catherine Blair.

“People give it a bad rap. They really have a narrow view of what Uganda is. Uganda has structure and cities. Things are not great, but they are OK.”

He was disappointed that the teachers he met in the East African country held the view that maths and English were more important than music. They believe it is integral to their development, which it is,” he said.

“However, music is also a very important educational stimulus that shouldn’t be overlooked.”

He credits his lessons on the bagpipes with the self-discipline he has today.

“You have to practise to get better,” he said. “And that transferred to my academics.”

Additional benefits for children are it gives an outlet for their energy and creativity and helps them to relax.

“Not many kids have a passion for English or maths, but music is more encompassing and can lead to fulfilment,” Mr Morris said.

He did not know how to help the Ugandans see that until he met Edward, the man who drove him and his girlfriend around Jinja.

“He was telling us that before he became a driver he was a musician,” Mr Morris said. “He plays guitar, bass, piano and organ and was telling us he couldn’t make money playing music; there wasn’t much of an entertainment industry in Uganda. He knew he couldn’t keep up that lifestyle, so he got a job as a driver.”

Edward promised the teenager that, if he bought an electronic keyboard, he would teach the children himself.

It filled Mr Morris with hope as did the many improvements to the region since his last visit: a playground in Kamuli, a town an hour north of Jinja; a newly built orphanage for children under 3, Sonrise Babies’ Home. He and Ms Blair spent several days there playing and singing to the little ones and painting.

“We painted the bedrooms Bermuda blue, although that was just coincidence,” he said.

“There were three or four children to a room and a nanny slept in there with them. It was a little stuffy as there was only one fan and no air conditioning, but during the day the children played outside.”

Computers were their focus at Mama Jane’s and St Patrick’s where they helped teach students aged six and older on Lenovo ThinkPads.

“They were using Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing,” Mr Morris said of the software programme designed to teach touch typing. “I can remember using that programme at Saltus.”

Despite having visited twice before, he believes he learnt a lot on this trip.

“The first time I went, I didn’t appreciate it,” he said. “I think it was because I was lonely. Being a bit older and seeing how I could impact these kids a bit more, it was a great experience.”

He thinks his experiences in Uganda will help once he starts at Western’s Ivey Business School.

“I feel it gives me a more global view of the world,” Mr Morris said. “It seems like the Western world depicts Africa as an economic pit that sucks money in.

“However, from me being there I’ve seen the potential for economic growth first-hand and how emerging industries can thrive if the correct political power is stabilised.

“Ivey prioritises its ability to prepare students to join firms moving at a fast pace and I believe my experiences in Uganda have made me a more well-rounded person but also made me more aware in seeing opportunities that others might pass on.”

Global view: Trew Morris helps out at Sonrise Babies’ Home in Kamuli, Uganda
Bermudian Trew Morris travelled to Uganda to work as a volunteer in June. He has started a crowdfunding page to buy an electronic keyboard for students in Jinja (Photograph supplied)