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Observations placeholder

The Thembalethu AIDs/HIV support centre in South Africa – Music and dance to help the carers



Type of Spiritual Experience


We have picked this extract because it shows that there are numerous people in the world already using music as a means of coming to terms with life.  They don’t need ‘music therapy’, because they have not removed music and dancing and being spontaneous from their lives.  Music therapy has a real role in helping those with various mental handicaps or physical disabilities, but those with the wherewithal to help themselves can simply use music and this is what this lass is saying.  These selfless ladies, doing a wonderful but deeply distressing job, use music and dancing to help them cope and carry on.

A description of the experience

From Community Music Therapy – edited by Mercedes Pavlicevic and Gary Ansdell

This ….describes work over a period of three days at Thembalethu in South Africa. Thembaletthu is a non-governmental organization (NGO), that is, not for profit and relies on donations, and is based in Mpumalanga, which is the South African province that borders Mozambique on the east, and the kingdom of Swaziland in the south. Traditionally, this corner of the country is poor, unemployment is rife, and the HIV/AIDS statistics horrifying. Thembalethu trains home-based care-workers and also oversees home-based care for hundreds of persons who are ill at home, as well as HIV/AIDS orphans who often need help in managing their households. The work was part of a community arts project set up by the Dedel'ingoma Theatre Company, which is committed to developing a community arts model in disadvantaged communities across South Africa.

We arrive at Thembalethu hot and thirsty, nauseous from the anti-malaria medication, and late. We are taken to the case conference in the pre-fab building, in which are seated around 70 women, in rows behind tables. We sit on the chairs set out to face the women, and listen. There is a song to welcome us, and then we are formally addressed, through an interpreter, and thanked for coming all the way from the city to be here, in this tiny forgotten rural corner of the country. Each of the women then introduces herself and we take this as a cue to introduce ourselves: Kirsten is the drama therapist, Lauren the clinical psychologist, Hayley is the art therapist, Maria is to do massage, and I am the music therapist. For the following hours, the five of us listen to various stories from the women, to do with their work as home-based care-workers, caring for people dying of HIV/AIDS. After the 'case conference' we are taken to surrounding villages, accompanying the care-workers as they visit their 'patients'. In small dark huts we see and smell thin bodies, some blind, some coughing, some covered with sores, and we witness the care-workers talking, holding a hand, washing a wound and, simply, being there, with the dying person.

After the visit, we five drive to the lodge, where we will spend the evening discussing how, as arts therapists, we can contribute something to Thembalethu's work.

This may sound melodramatic and sensationalist. It is a tiny window into the days that follow.

During the next three days, we hear constant sawing, drilling and hammering in the wood workshop across the small parking area. Occasionally, a coffin is carried out of the workshop and loaded onto a waiting van: another HIV/AIDS statistic in South Africa.

At the beginning and end of each session, the women sing with depth and fervour, often shifting into spontaneous dancing, and the energy in the group and in the room changes palpably as a result. ……, they say that they want to 'sing and dance to de-stress'. I hardly know where to begin and how- there is already so much music in the group, and do they really 'need' music therapy? In the few days that follow our arrival at Thembalethu, I feel increasingly de-skilled and un-useful.

The source of the experience

African tribal

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps