More than Survival: Music therapy restores an orphan’s hope in the DRC

Aug 09, 2021
“We have suffered a lot. 
We have been left orphans. 
Father had his head cut off. 
Mother has been kidnapped. 
We have no place to live. 
We have no food. 
We have no clothing. 
And we have no education.”

Muhindo, 11, delivers his healing song like a soft lullaby, expressing through lyrics devastating experiences he is not able to talk about. 

His song is jarring and sad. But it has been instrumental in his emotional recovery. 

“I come here to sing and to be healed. I remember my parents. It helps me forget what has happened,” Muhindo says. 

Watch Muhindo share his story now: 

Muhindo joined a music therapy pilot project that supports children and women who have experienced physical and sexual violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. 

“I like it here,” Muhindo says. “I like it because I am part of a group and I’m with others. The music makes me feel happy.”

After nearly 30 years of conflict in the area, where atrocities are a regular occurrence, stories like Muhindo’s are all too common. Most of the children in the program are also war orphans who have lost one or both parents in the fighting.  More than six million people have been forced from home in war-torn eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Half of them are children.

Most children like Muhindo express feelings of isolation and stigmatization when they first join the program. Their symptoms are broad, many are either quiet and withdrawn or are extremely restless, often lashing out with unprovoked aggression. Most have trouble eating and sleeping. 

The music therapy sessions follow multiple steps starting with assessments and then talking both individually and in a group. When they are ready, they work closely with a trained therapist and music producer to write lyrics about their emotions and experiences which are professionally produced into songs. The songs are eventually played on local radio and in public concerts by the participants themselves to remove stigmatization in the community.

a young boy from DRC sits on bench with a microphone beside him.
Since joining the music therapy program, Muhindo, 11, has made a lot of progress. Photo: Brett Tarver

The environment created is one of joy and healing, turning negative feelings into positive ones through the solidarity of shared experiences with other children. The process isn’t linear, often the children break down, requiring individual sessions with their therapist before returning to the group. 

While music therapy is a new approach to the psychological treatment of children in conflict zones, it is proving to be successful in combination with more traditional therapy. Recognizing that emotional healing is critical for their recovery and essential in combination with educational opportunities for girls and boys to have a chance at a better future.

Muhindo’s therapist says his psychological state has stabilized, but his emotional journey continues. Now living with his grandmother, he still expresses a lot of sadness about his parents, but also talks about the joy of soccer and being with friends.

“I want to be an engineer,” he says hopefully. But the many challenges he and other children face are ongoing. Muhindo is currently out of school because there isn’t enough money for school fees.

Musical Healing Success

The project that Muhindo joined resulted in significant changes to the mental health scores of participants, including:  
  • 54% decline in depression
  • 67% decline in anxiety
  • 53% decline in PTSD
Music therapy programs are being scaled up in eastern DRC through the Government of Canada funded EGAL grant implemented by World Vision, Make Music Matter and the Nobel-prize winning Panzi Institute.

Learn more about how you can help children in war-torn DRC and other dangerous places do much more than survive through World Vision’s Raw Hope initiative. 

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