In Arusha, Tanzania, Dave Reynolds was in unfamiliar territory.
But facing classrooms filled with dozens of Tanzanian children, the Vienna Elementary School music teacher had song on his side: In music and movement, people around the world find a universal language that transcends place, race, religion or circumstance.
"At one point a fifth grade class there stood up and sang every word to Michael Jackson’s 'You Are Not Alone,' the bridge, the chorus, everything, perfectly. It was amazing," Reynolds said.
Reynolds spent a week in the East African country volunteering with OneVoice, an organization founded by local guitarist/singer-songwriter Robbie Schaefer of the band Eddie From Ohio. The organization says it believes through music, children can make a difference by sharing their voices in a "global musical conversation."
"I have seen and experienced the ability of music to empower us, connect us, and bridge the many gaps that keep us apart," Schaefer wrote on his website. "I founded OneVoice on the premise that children, through this beautiful language that they so intuitively understand, can actually make the world a better - and smaller - place."
Reynolds and Schaefer spent a week teaching singing lessons at Shepherd’s Primary School, an elementary school that serves 1st through 8th graders. Shepherd’s was founded in 2003 by Mama Lucy, who saved what she earned from selling chickens to open up a school, providing education as an impetus towards getting her homeland out of poverty -- the only Tanzanian school of its kind.
The week was the beginning of a sister relationship between VES and the school. When they arrived, Reynolds said he was impressed with the children’s singing skills, and their understanding of English, which is the primary language taught at the school.
He also noticed the different, and larger, role music played in the children's lives.
“At Shepherd’s Jr., all of the kids sang, the sound that came out from one class was just incredible,” Reynolds said. “In that culture, singing and dancing and drumming, kids grow up doing that. They don’t have soccer practice to get to, and then piano and then a baseball game. Singing and dancing and drumming that’s just second nature, just kind of the way they pass the time.”
During his visit, Reynolds taught the students to sing the song “One Voice,” which they learned by heart by the end of the week.
When he returned, Reynold's Vienna students were in awe of the YouTube video showing Reynolds and the students singing. To see the YouTube video, click the video in the media player above.
“I came back and I was like really trying to instill in my kids like ‘You’ve got to open your mouth and sing!’” Reynolds said with a laugh. “At the same time its not like kids in our neighborhoods sit around and say ‘let’s sing,' or 'let's do a game that has a song in it,' whereas back in Arusha that’s normal. They don’t have music class, because their whole life is music, so going in to actually work with them was cool."
Schaeffer and OneVoice are combining efforts with Epic Change, a California-based nonprofit, to raise money for Mama Lucy and the Shepherd’s school. They hope to raise $175,000 to expand and improve the school, according to the Epic Change website.
Mama Lucy and two seventh graders plan to travel to the Washington, D.C. area in the near future thanks to a fundraiser headed by Epic Change founder Stacy Monk.
Reynolds hopes then, he can re-connect with his Tanzanian friends and introduce them to Vienna students.
“It's cool to see the kids kind of get engaged and excited about another culture, to see another way of life,” Reynolds said. “More than music, what I brought back was a new perspective to share with the kids here in Vienna.”