Project Jenga benefit concert uses music to support education for boys

On Oct. 30, the Kenyan Boys Choir took the stage at Mount Royal University’s Bella Concert Hall as part of a Project Jenga benefit concert, “Free the Children Meets the Bella.” Project Jenga aims to raise money for the construction and operation of an all-boys secondary school in Kenya and provide boys with an equal opportunity for quality education.

Girls are often marginalized in developing countries where opportunities for education are limited, but now that there are two secondary schools for girls in the Maasai Mara region of Kenya, the boys are the ones being left out.

Mitch Kurylowicz noticed this inequality when he travelled to Kenya through Free the Children in 2011, an organization that empowers youth to make a difference in communities both locally and around the world.

As a 17-year-old ambassador for change, Kurylowicz embodies this mission. “I saw the girls going to high school for the very first time, and I realized that the mothers and fathers were so proud of their daughters,” said Kurylowicz. “I thought, selfishly as a grade eight student. Where would I go to school? There wasn’t a place for me, and the same thing for my global peers over in Kenya. They didn’t have a chance to go to school.”

When he returned home, he founded Project Jenga with the help of Free the Children. The word “Jenga” means “to build” in the Kenyan language of Swahili.

The Kenyan Boys Choir performed at WE Day in Calgary on Oct. 27, and continue to travel across North America with Free the Children to perform at these youth-empowering events. Photo by Emily Holloway“At Project Jenga we don’t just believe in educating the boy. We don’t just believe in educating the girl. We believe in educating everyone, both genders, with an equal and quality world class education that will inspire the future leaders of tomorrow through our sustainability model,” said Kurylowicz during his closing speech at the concert.

Bonnie Kowaliuk and her husband Rob Geremia, the visionaries behind the concert, were motivated to use music to support this cause after going to Kenya with Free the Children last summer.

The organization’s founder, Craig Kielburger, knew that Kowaliuk is a singer, and he asked her to sing to the community. A member of the Kenyan Boys Choir got up and started singing with her, sparking an idea that eventually became reality.

Kowaliuk and Geremia thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to share the Kenyan Boys Choir with the Mount Royal Kantorei choir on stage?”Rob Geremia and Bonnie Kowaliuk speak to the audience at the benefit concert, which began as a vision after their trip to Kenya and developed into a multi-choir event to inspire the community. Photo by Emily Holloway

After the initial inspiration, the plans for a benefit concert began falling into place, and more choirs including the Young Canadians and the Bishop Carroll High School chamber choirs joined together to be part of the production.

Kurylowicz was also at the concert, and he was excited to work with the Kenyan Boys
Choir again after they performed at Project Jenga’s first event in 2011.

“They’re a wonderfully authentic choir from Kenya. They truly show what it means to be Kenyan, and what it means to have the culture of Kenya, and I really really believe in their power of using music to bring the masses together in support of whatever cause it may be, of course tonight being education in Kenya,” said Kurylowicz.

The choir, made up of young Kenyan men ranging from 14 to 25, first became famous in 2008 when they sang at the inauguration of United States president Barack Obama.

This fall, they have been travelling across North America to perform at Free the Children’s signature event, WE Day.

David Rombo has been singing with the Kenyan Boys Choir since 2011, and he hopes the audience at the benefit concert is inspired to do good and treat everyone with kindness. Photo by Emily HollowaDavid Rombo has been singing with the Kenyan Boys Choir for five years, and he was excited to share the stage with over 100 singers for the Project Jenga benefit concert and support a cause he strongly believes in.

“It’s important to me because as a youth myself, I would not like to see someone else who is very capable of living a better life not having that because they lack certain things,” said Rombo. “So the work that Free the Children is doing back at home is something that is dear to me and is close to my heart because they make it a point to empower communities to be able to self-sustain.”

The Kenyan Boys Choir sang their own renditions of popular songs, include Knaan’s “Waving Flag” and Nelly Furtado’s “Powerless,” as well as traditional Kenyan music. They even got the audience up and dancing later in the show as the taught them some Kenyan dance moves.

Similar to WE Day, where students cannot buy tickets to the event, but rather earn their way in through charity involvement, this benefit concert was invitation only. The planning committee attained their fundraising goal and the concert raised approximately $55,000 (net) for Project Jenga.

Kowaliuk says she hopes to hold another benefit concert next year.

Thanks to the generous support from all those who believe in the vision of Project Jenga and have supported it through the years, the Ngulot Mountain View Boys School is already being built in Kenya.

“You can always do more than nothing,” said Kurylowicz. “I’m just a regular guy that found a cause that I believed in, and I wanted to do something. You’re never too young, you’re never too old, you’ll always have the opportunity to go forward and do something that you believe in.”

Produced by: Emily Holloway

eholloway@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Zarif Alibhai Zalibhai@cjournal.ca

Thumbnail: Photo by Emily Holloway