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Beating a Message of Peace in Uganda

The Power of a Drum

Beating a Message of Peace in Uganda

by Vicki Garlock

“If you want to do peace-building, you need all ages.”
- Buyondo Micheal      

In a country often known for unspeakable violence and political strife, Buyondo Micheal offers a beacon of hope to those desperately seeking peace. As founder of Faiths Together Uganda (FTU), Micheal uses dance, music, and art to unify and delight. Inspired by global interfaith initiatives, he provides the funding and the energy for events that cross religious, cultural, and tribal divides. School kids are major players in those endeavors. Together, they offer a story of hope and perseverance that speaks to young and old alike.

Peace Drum Initiative

“In Africa, we believe that everyone can drum. You just listen to the rhythm and then play!” Buyondo explained. I met him at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions where he was drumming for interfaith harmony.

He began his peace-drum work with two instruments: a drum made from the hide of a white cow and a drum made from the hide of a black cow. They were clear symbols of two different races, but they also represented a kind of unity for tribe and religion. As a child who attended both Muslim and Christian schools, Buyondo is well aware of the potential for division, but he also knows that the arts transcend social boundaries. In sharing his drums, he encourages people of all ages to march to the beat of harmony.

During World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW) 2015, Buyondo visited numerous schools in and around his home city of Mukono, Uganda. He and his volunteers were able to reach hundreds of children ranging in age from preschool through high school, including a group of students with special needs. Everyone was encouraged to sing, drum, sign the peace banner, and fill out a tag to hang on one of the drums. In some schools, Buyondo and the other volunteers identified student leaders representing the various faith traditions, including Muslim, Born-Again, Anglican, Baha’i, and Seventh Day Adventist. Each leader was invited to play the “sound of peace” on the drums. The sounds were recorded and then used to create a composite “sound of peace” for that particular school.

Buyondo took a version of his Peace Drums Initiative to the 2015 Parliament. Since he was flying from Uganda to Salt Lake City, he used slightly smaller drums for his workshops, highlighting the versatility of his approach. Participants could beat a drum, learn a few dance steps, clap their hands, or sing out loud. In Buyondo Micheal’s band, there is room for everyone.

His Majesty King Abdullah II with award winners following the 2014 World Interfaith Harmony Prize. Buyondo Micheal is second from the left in the top row.

His Majesty King Abdullah II with award winners following the 2014 World Interfaith Harmony Prize. Buyondo Micheal is second from the left in the top row.

The Parliament was not Micheal’s first appearance on the world stage. A year earlier, in 2014, he was awarded the WIHW’s bronze medal for his multifaith gathering at the Goma Health Center in the Mukono district. His event brought together the imam from the local mosque as well as local Pentecostal and Anglican ministers. The jam-packed program included interfaith calls for peace, cultural dances performed by youth, an honoring of the midday Muslim prayer time (either with silence or salah), the presentation of paint supplies for the maternity/children’s wards, and health counseling. Having the health center as the backdrop served as a powerful reminder that everyone deserves access to medical care, regardless of religious affiliation, and that interfaith harmony can effect real change in the community.

A Decade of Interfaith Efforts

Like all great artists, one idea leads to another for Micheal, and these projects are only his most recent endeavors. Micheal’s interfaith work actually began with a “SolidariTEA” event in December, 2010. As an ambassador for Tony Blair’s initiative, Faiths Act, Michael invited folks from all walks of life to come together and share a cup of tea and a bit of conversation.

A couple of years later, Faiths Together Uganda (FTU) was born. Micheal’s first campaign was a “solidarity walk” from a local mosque to a Pentecostal church as a sign of interreligious harmony. Members of both faith communities, as well as university students from Uganda Christian University, took part in the event. Although the idea seemed both inexpensive and simple, nothing is easy when it comes to interfaith work in Uganda. It is illegal in the Mukono region to gather people together for a march, and Buyondo didn’t want his event to be confused with a similar campaign (Walk to Work) that had been launched by a leader of a political opposition movement. Even a relatively humble “march” in Uganda requires dedication and a bit of ingenuity.

Buyondo Micheal with his tagged peace drums

Buyondo Micheal with his tagged peace drums

FTU maintained its ties with Faiths Act by participating in their Where’s the Net? campaign to raise awareness about malaria. Five symbolic anti-malaria nets traveled more than 200,000 miles around the world as nearly 8,000 messages of interfaith commitment were attached to them. Written by Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, and Baha’i supporters from 21 different countries, the campaign demonstrated the power of interreligious harmony and resulted in the donation of 1,500 nets to Ghana and Tanzania. Buyondo took his net to Jewish, Muslim, and Christian houses of worship as well as numerous secondary schools, throughout Mukono. Participants attached their tags to the communal net, and became part of the worldwide effort to solve problems peacefully and cooperatively.

In 2012, FTU became a Cooperation Circle of United Religions Initiative (URI). Soon after, Buyondo founded the AmCultured Troupe. About 25 people, ranging in age from 5-21, live together in one home. They travel to neighboring villages where they dance, drum, and play a variety of musical instruments as they talk about peace-building and respecting other cultures. With over 50 tribes in Uganda, moments of misunderstanding and conflict arise easily. Micheal and his young volunteers work tirelessly to counter those tendencies with their message of peace.

Buyondo hopes to continue his interfaith work – whenever and wherever it’s needed. As he put it, “Interfaith is a calling. I gave up my job to concentrate on Faiths Together Uganda. Interfaith work is in me.”                                                                                                 

For Buyondo Micheal, the band can never be big enough. You can follow him on Twitter at @FTU_buyondo.