Children's Band of Uganda Finds Musical Partner in Md.

By Bradford Pearson
Gazette Staff Writer
Thursday, November 1, 2007

About 10 years ago, Sam Watulatsu, a resident of eastern Uganda, had an unthinkable dream: starting a children's band in one of the world's poorest countries.

At first, the band had no instruments, and its members were street children and AIDS orphans. Now the band includes almost 200 children but still has fewer than 100 instruments.

Soon, that may change.

A Bethesda organization, the Women's Microfinance Initiative, has teamed with Watulatsu's group, the Foundation for Development of Needy Communities, to collect instruments for the growing band.

"As globalization brings everyone closer together, I think it's important for us to recognize other parts of the world," said Robyn Nietert, a lawyer and president of the women's initiative. "This could end up being a very exciting project."

Nietert, along with several other Washington-area women in various professions, started the initiative last fall to provide capital for low-income women to build their own businesses. They decided to focus on a micro-loan program for women in the Mbale region of Uganda.

Micro-loans are small loans with low interest rates provided to workers in developing nations to help spur entrepreneurship. People often have products they want to sell but lack the capital to start a business, Nietert said. The loans range from $50 to $200.

Through a fellow church member from Mbale, Nietert met Watulatsu, who will help oversee the operation in Uganda.

Watulatsu stayed with the Nietert family on a visit to the United States earlier this year.

"When Sam was here, we just started talking and brainstorming ideas about how we could help the band," said Nietert, of Bethesda. "Then my daughter said something about collecting instruments at Whitman."

Ten instruments have been donated at Walt Whitman High School, and e-mails were distributed to parents of students at Walter Johnson and Bethesda-Chevy Chase high schools.

Linking students and their families with the world abroad is an important goal at Whitman, said Principal Alan Goodwin.

"For Whitman, it's really important to look beyond our community," he said.

As for the band, the prospect of more instruments is thrilling.

"All the students realize that the instruments aren't available anywhere in Uganda, and they are always excited if we find them more instruments, whether new or old," Watulatsu wrote in an e-mail. "Actually, this is beyond anyone's imagination."

With money the band has made playing at community functions, the foundation has paid for some students' school fees, supported families and covered some administrative costs.

For more information or to donate any musical instrument, call 301-469-4962 or e-mailrgnietert@aol.com.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company