Joseph Samwel Kaya and Umoja Arts Project


JOSEPH is originally from Arusha, a city in the northern Tanzania and the capital of the Arusha Region. It is a multicultural city with a majority of population descending from indigenous African, Arab-Tanzanian and Indian-Tanzanian. Over the past years, population in Arusha city has increased due to rural-urban migrations and it currently has one of the highest population densities among the urban centers in the country. This fact has contributed to worsen problems such as access to housing, transports infrastructure, water supply, youth unemployment and/or children’s education.

JOSEPH was 11 years old when he discovered the violin “I was at the church with my parents when a man gave me a form to join a new music project where one could learn how to play different instruments. That is how I started my journey with Umoja”

Umoja Arts Project was founded in 2006 by Liza Barley and David Seng’enge, two musicians that saw the need of empowering Arushan children and youth through the arts. The project has two main components, the Music School, which aims to provide holistic music education and to expand creativity by using music-based activities, and the Community Arts Trust, an outreach program based in several Tanzanian schools which also offers scholarships to study at Umoja Music School.

JOSEPH was one of the first kids to be part of the Umoja Music School and he is certain that the experience brought him many things “I am currently at the University because of Umoja. When I joined the music program I was at my primary school, and I have to acknowledge that I wasn’t the best at my academics at that time…but that changed because I received a lot of positive reinforcement from my music teachers, and thanks to that I gained a lot of self-esteem. When I did my final exams, I was one of the best students of Arusha”

At Umoja, the role of the teachers is not only to teach music, they are counsellors and coaches. Umoja becomes a safe space where kids learn to express themselves and talk about their fears, their wills, etc. “Over the years, I discovered that Umoja wasn’t about studying music anymore, it was more about me shaping my own life. Umoja helped me to explore myself, to listen to myself and made me realize what I wanted to do with my life. Now I am at the university in Mauritius, studying business management at the African Leadership University, because I want to contribute to create jobs in my country”

JOSEPH wonders what would he be doing in the present if Umoja had not come across his life “I think I would have studied something different, more related to what my parents wanted me to study, instead of discovering my real passion. I don’t think I would have been the person I am today…well in fact, maybe I would have never been able to make it to the university at all if wasn’t for Umoja. Umoja unleashed me, it opened me”

JOSEPH is very social and loves being surrounded by people. Currently, besides studying hard for his major, he has initiated a dance program at his university “I started the dance club mirroring my experience with Umoja, but instead of using music as a vehicle, I decided to use dance. At the club people share many things, not only dance: they make friends, they build trust on others, etc.”

JOSEPH’s plans after graduating are ambitious “First of all I want to expand Umoja, I want to make Umoja one of the biggest arts schools in Tanzania. Besides wanting to apply my skills and my creativity to my home country, I also feel a moral responsibility to give back to Umoja”

JOSEPH is well aware of the challenges that artistic and cultural initiatives face when trying to put them at the center of human development “People should understand that music and arts in general are something that could really take you to higher steps in your life, because in general people don’t see arts as something important, they don’t really value them” He sees a lot of potential on African cultural and creative industries, which can contribute to solve some of the problems that the continent has “I want to use cultural industries to promote youth employment in Africa. I believe arts could solve so many issues, we just need to make it happen”

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