To.org, in collaboration with Playing for Change and SINA Loketa, will build the Bidi Bidi Arts & Culture Centre in Uganda’s Bidi Bidi refugee settlement on the border with South Sudan. The centre will break ground in mid-2021 and will formally open in early 2022.
We chose Bidi Bidi because it’s unique. Unlike many other refugee settlements around the world, basic necessities such as food and shelter are already in place. However, the community lacks access to cultural and creative resources and areas for young people to play and create. It is well established that music and dance help people process trauma, empower new beginnings, and establish community. Bidi Bidi, a community of refugees who have fled civil war and violence in South Sudan, is a perfect place for cultural and creative programming to deeply impact lives and futures.
Bidi Bidi is the largest refugee settlement in Africa, and one of the youngest refugee settlements in the world. Officially recognized in 2016, Bidi Bidi now covers 250 square kilometres and hosts 250,000 refugees, 86% of whom are women and children. 65% of the Bidi Bidi community are under the age of 18, with very limited access to education and creative outlets.
This is not a traditional humanitarian project. While old development models have failed to harness the power of creativity or to holistically approach opportunity, our new model incorporates entrepreneurship, creative arts, and play.
An area of land has been secured for this Arts & Culture Centre, where programmatic elements will include a music classroom and recording studio, an open-air performance & community gathering space, a vegetable garden & tree nursery, community bathrooms, and a 2-bedroom residence.
This project will be completed by local construction firms, and will employ local music teachers and administrative staff to provide instruction and support in a safe and welcoming environment.
We know that music is a powerful tool for young people to express themselves and is crucial for healing and education. South Sudanese culture is steeped in traditions of musical culture; this Arts & Culture Centre will provide connections to important cultural traditions as well as bridging between communities throughout Bidi Bidi and establishing necessary creative outlets for young refugees.
Everyone deserves a safe place to play and learn, and there’s no reason these spaces shouldn’t be beautiful too. To achieve this, to.org has partnered with Hassell Studios, who have offered their design services for this project pro bono. Xavier de Kestelier, Hassell’s Head of Design Technology & Innovation, will lead the research and design team, building a space that considers sustainability and culture in every step of the project. Using local builders, materials, and inspiration, this Arts and Culture Centre will be one of a kind.
The Playing for Change Foundation was established in 2007 as a 501(c)3 non-profit to create positive change through music and arts education. Over the last decade they have launched 15 music schools across 11 countries in the developing world, using music as a tool for education and social change.
SINA Loketa, a Ugandan registered non-profit, is our local partner in Bidi Bidi, offering professional training opportunities to the refugee community. We will also be working with a refugee community organization, The Ministry for Useless Affairs, who will be involved in all aspects of programming at the Arts and Culture Centre.
Zex Bilangilangi, affectionately known as the ghetto prime minister, is a rising star in Uganda with 2020’s #1 hit song Ratata. A longtime to.org collaborator and Creative Activist, he is dedicated to helping both Ugandan nationals and refugees rise up in the arts. Zex, alongside a number of other local and international stars, will lead our curated network of teachers and collaborators whose talent and passion will be a cornerstone of the Bidi Bidi Arts and Culture Centre.