Inspiring Through Hip Hop and Sustainability in Uganda
BY Gabriel Rosales
My name is Gabe AKA VNON Rosales. I am a professional musician, global activist majoring in Criminology at UCI, and a Blum Center Student Ambassador. My life path has led me on global music tours, from meeting celebrities in private planes over Europe to working with former gang members in a Southern California correctional facility. These experiences have given me extensive experience with many aspects of our national and international community. I have traveled around the U.S. documenting the plight of Native Americans in impoverished parts of America, as well as working in cultural exchange programs with international hip-hop artists to stop the influx of impoverished youth into exploitive organizations. Currently, I am working with youth through music programs, raising funds for children’s charities with my own band, and working with a variety of human rights and nonprofit organizations.
Recently, I have had the honor of working with two amazing nonprofits called Love A Community, started by Uganda Native Lydia Natoolo and Lego Africa started by Micah and Sequoia Slentz. In December 2015, we organized a trip to the impoverished district of Kumi in Uganda. Over the past year, Love A Community has raised over $30,000 to give a clean well water system to Atutur Hospital which serves 200,000 people from the Kumi district and neighboring districts. This hospital lacked basic necessities and a full staff to address all the incoming patients. Despite the clean water system, consistent electricity was still an issue. On this excursion, we were on a mission to present new solar panels to the hospital and donate funds for new medical supplies. The hospital is not only dilapidated but has one operating table that is borrowed.
Lego Africa is a nonprofit started by a close friend of mine and his son to collect unused Lego from around the country and donate them to impoverished youth in Africa who do not have access to such toys. Legos are great learning tools and foster critical thinking and building skills in developing children’s brains. Along with creative seminars and a donation of 50 lbs of Legos, there is a pen pal program set up with a local Southern California private school to give students in Atutur a direct link to communicate with students in the United States. Few people in the Kumi district have access to internet or computers so pen and ink is the only option.
The entire trip was an enormous success as we built life-long connections and made an impact on the small community of Kumi. Having the opportunity to walk around the town, we were greeted with many thanks for getting clean water to their hospital. Children and adults alike were ecstatic about the Legos. It was not about the accolades however – it was about the hope we witnessed. People in Kumi were inspired that people on the other side of the planet, were willing to leave their comfort zones to come to help when even their own Ugandan government were unable to provide for all their needs.
Being the Southwest District manager of the conscious hip hop organization Universal Zulu Nation, I met with the local Zulu chapter on the last part of the trip in the capital city of Kampala. The work they are doing with the youth in the city and incoming refugees from North Africa is inspiring. They facilitate classes on each element of hip hop culture to give the kids a creative outlet. One of the main instructors also has a program called the Tunga Project that teaches adolescents clothing design and manufacturing trade. They sit at old sewing machines and create amazing articles of clothing with a distinct flare of individual artistry and culture. In Kampala, I had the opportunity to give a speech on how to unify the hip hop community and I talked about hip hop roots dating back to the South Bronx NYC in the 1970’s. I compared the street gangs of those days to the separation of the community occurring in Kampala and the importance of solidarity in overcoming the division to create a cohesive, sustainable atmosphere to foster youth personal growth. The information was taken well and we had a great building session.
These trips will continue in frequency as we are building an infrastructure to help the community sustain themselves through new methods of farming and grazing their livestock. We documented both of the organizations’ actions to help raise more money for the next trip. The idea is not to throw money at issues but to help Ugandans with means of sustainability through aquaponics and alternative energy. Uganda is abundant with resources and deserves much opportunity for growth. I was happy to be able to report back such positivity for our organization and this is just the beginning, as I am also working with Native Americans to build a model for sustainability in various reservations. I firmly believe we can reach greater heights technologically and scientifically, evolving our compassion as a species if we all move up together. That is why this kind of work is so significant.