Making Music, Making History: How OmniPeace Harnesses the Power of Music

© Courtesy of OmniPeace Foundation

By Raye Mocioiu

Music has the power to change lives. Throughout history, music has brought people together and has been used as a tool for change, a rallying cry, or to build connections with no borders.

Mary Fanaro, the founder of OmniPeace, a humanitarian organization that works to break the cycle of poverty by building schools in African countries, knew it was her mission to empower youth living in poverty—but she never imagined it would have anything to do with music.

“It was kind of an accident,” Fanaro recalled. “I was in Rwanda when out of the blue, my cab driver asked me to build a music school there. He knew I built schools and said there were none. He wanted his son to learn how to play.”

Fanaro explained that she had no musical talent whatsoever. But after an epiphany during her gorilla trek, she knew exactly what she was in Rwanda to do.

Through an uncanny set of coincidences, she was connected with Richard Carrick, who was in Rwanda at the time and about to become Chair of Composition at Berklee College of Music. Carrick committed to the school from the moment Fanaro told him the idea, and he began to hire teachers from Musicians Without Borders and invite children from the Meg Foundation. Everything was falling into place.

© Courtesy of OmniPeace Foundation

Within 90 days, Fanaro returned with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of instruments donated by music manufacturers, opening up the first Rwanda Rocks Music School for children living below the poverty line. What she saw after that was nothing short of amazing.

“Music was like a defibrillator for the children,” she explained. “It breathed life into them like a hot air balloon. They connected to music like it was the missing thump in their heartbeat. We were making a difference that gave them hope for a better life than what had already been carved out for them.”

In 1994, Rwanda suffered a genocide that killed over 800,000 people in 100 days. The aftermath of this event resulted in trauma that continues to be passed down from one generation to the next. But through the power of the Rwanda Rocks Music School, the children of this generation are proving that music could be the key to transforming generational trauma into something powerful, lifting them out of poverty.

“The beauty is that when you work with kids whose DNA is ingrained with the history of genocide, music creates a connection that heals their soul,” Fanaro said. “These kids are living in poverty, rising from the ashes of genocide, and using music to rebuild what they’ve lost."

The future looks bright for OmniPeace and its network of nine schools, including two Rwanda Rocks Music Schools. In partnership with MINEDUC, the Ministry of Education in Rwanda, OmniPeace is set to launch the country’s first music education platform, training the first generation of Rwandan music teachers and building a future where music education is part of every child’s basic education.

Fanaro explained that the lack of creative education for children living in poverty could be the difference between life and death.

“When we educate children solely out of books, we create children who live inside their heads. But when we give them music to feed their souls with, we give them a voice to transform their identity—a choice to escape the poverty line—and a vision to change the world. We give them a future.”

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