The spirited songs of South African children inspired Lauren Waldenburg to try and give something back to them.
The junior has spent the last semester in Cape Town planning, fundraising and recording a CD featuring 25 South African students who have become orphans because of HIV and AIDS, or who have contracted the disease themselves.
“We decided that we wanted to record a CD and host a final concert, giving the kids something tangible to keep and remember their time with us by, and also empowering them by showing that if you want to get something done, you can accomplish it by working hard at it,” said Waldenburg, who produced the CD with three other students as part of a capstone project for her study abroad program.
While volunteering with Yabonga, an organization that provides education, training and activities for those infected or affected by the disease, Waldenburg was assigned to a space behind a health clinic, where she heard kids singing.
The student volunteers wanted to facilitate cultural exchange and encourage the children to harness their artistic creativity through the CD, while also gaining leadership abilities. The students also designed the CD artwork and met with recording artists.
The songs are in Xhosa – one of South Africa's official languages – and are mainly of a spiritual nature, Waldenburg said. Mostly a capella, some are complemented with guitar strums or bongo drums.
South African students who participate in programs facilitated by Yabonga, ranging from 4 to 18 years old, are guaranteed one meal each day, Waldenburg said. With peer mentors and volunteers, the children lead activities including art therapy, group discussion and outside play.
“We are there for two hours each day. We get there, and eat a meal with them. We do different things each time,” Waldenburg said. “Sometimes we go outside and play games. Sometimes we do art projects, we do a lot of singing, and sometimes we will have discussions on things like STDs and HIV – what they are and how we can prevent them.”
The human services major along with her partners for the CD raised money for the project through the online funding platform Kickstarter.
The project has already surpassed its initial online fundraising goal of $500.
The girls plan to release the CD by June, putting free digital copies online and offering hard copies to those who donated $25 or more to their Kickstarter account.
Funds will go toward producing the hard copies, providing transportation to and from the recording space and supplementing vocals with percussion.
Waldenburg said she is planning a final concert for the children to celebrate the completed CD and their time together.
“We are all so excited about this project and opportunity to share the ‘Voices of Yabonga’ with people around the world, raising awareness about the effects of HIV/AIDS and increasing global connections to the people involved,” Rebecca Reed, a Vanderbilt University junior, who is also working on the project, said.