Drums in the Dark was born in Nairobi, Kenya as a part of a Post-Graduate Certificate Course in Social Innovation Management at the Amani Institute. It was there where I met Santiago Cortes and Rodrigo Alarcón and began working on systemic solutions to social issues. The three of us came all the way to Kenya, after working in different countries in the private, public and social sector, to deepen our knowledge and skills so that we could prepare to tackle global challenges in our society. With that ambitious goal in mind we began perceiving that the approach both individuals and society in good economic situations have towards the social sector is generally driven by pity, internal guilt and negative emotions. Commonly, donations and help happen out of those negative emotions, which at the end of the day create certain distance among the different segments of the society. We strongly disagree with that thought, and that sparked the initial philosophy to begin approaching specific problems.
In our initial research we found a more than worrying reality. In Kenya, there are virtually no life options for blind people after they finish high school. An individual who is born with a disability or who becomes disabled often faces social marginalisation and has significantly less chance of accessing health care, education, or employment leading to poverty. This poverty and entrenched social exclusion affects not only the individual, but also the family as a whole. Nowadays, less than 0,1% of the visual impaired population in Kenya -nearly 620 thousand inhabitants- has a full time job (Kenya Society for the Blind: 2013).
Without doubt, the most significant finding from this critical situation is that there are four major obstacles for blind people to effectively integrate into society:
- (a) Access to jobs and environments. An example is the high cost associated with hiring a blind person in comparison to a sighted one (it is estimated in average ten times more expensive);
- (b) Factors arising from the vision impairment itself. An example is the lack of employable skills amongst the blind population in Kenya (only 1% are able to read and write);
- (c) Discrimination that translates into a negative perception from society towards blind people (they are seen as hopeless and dependent);
- (d) Ignorance on part of society to the potential capabilities of blind/or vision-impaired persons that leads to the lack of enforcement of the Kenyan Disability Act by the local authorities.
The magnitude and complexity of these four barriers challenged us to think out-of-the box to define an alternative solution that would overcome these obstacles and create effective change.
Additionally, we came across the fact that due to their condition, blind people have enhanced capacities with their other senses. A number of human studies show that blind persons perform nonvisually tasks better than those with sight. In the absence of vision, blind people pay attention to auditory cues and learn how to use them more efficiently. The brain adapts to the loss by giving itself a makeover. If one sense is lost, the areas of the brain normally devoted to handling that sensory information do not go unused – they are rewired and put to work processing other senses. This is called neuroplasticity, the ability of our brains to change with experience. A large body of evidence shows when the brain is deprived of input in one sensory modality, it is capable of reorganising itself to support and augment other senses, a phenomenon known as “cross-modal neuroplasticity” (Loss of Sight and Enhanced Hearing: A Neural Picture PLoS Biol. Feb 2005; 3(2): e48).
The challenges plus the opportunity inspired us to look for the best way to create non-traditional employment opportunities for blind people in Kenya based on their strengths.
We identified that the first step was to understand the market opportunity to develop an initiative that could be commercially viable, thus sustainable and with the potential of being replicated to multiply its impact. Nairobi boasts a diverse and receptive environment consisting of talented artists, art exponents, enthusiastic music lovers, a big expats community, a growing entertainment industry, and numerous artistic and musical events, which translate into a fertile ground for new initiatives.
This is how we came up with Drums in the Dark, a group of blind Kenyan percussionists that will perform in live shows with professional musicians and artists. The goal is to create a high-quality live performance full of enthusiasm, joy, and culture to perform in different venues and festivals around the world. After attending one of this performances the initial mental model people have towards blind people will hopefully change from pity to admiration, from hopelessness to recognition, and ultimately, from sadness to happiness.
The concept of creating jobs through art and music is the beginning of a holistic approach to change the vision towards this excluded population. By complementing this initiative with other activities aimed at changing the perception across all segments of society, such as workshops in schools and communities led by blind people, new generations will grow up admiring their unique talents and eliminating all those artificial boundaries we currently have among us. To maximize the reach of this change we will scale this idea by using a franchise model to be replicated in other countries and therefore addressing similar challenges for thousands of unemployed and forgotten blind/visual-impaired individuals. We truly believe that artistic initiatives combine with employment unlock new channels of expression with the surrounding world as well as reducing social exclusion, which leads to different benefits such as: increased self-esteem and higher levels of self-efficacy, healing emotions and energy, personal and collective change.
Our long-term vision is changing the perception towards blind people around the world, effectively integrating these usually excluded communities into the society. Creating at the same time a model that proves to be sustainable and that represents the opportunity of creating dignified, formal and full time jobs for blind people around the world. Further along the path, as we increase our capacity, we will start playing more active roles in ecosystem building and advocacy to address the most structural issues that are having this devastating effect in blind people’s quality of life at the moment in East Africa.
Today Drums in the Dark is registered under the Ministry of Kenyan culture and performing in various local music festivals, functions and shows!
Explore our Website: http://drumsinthedarkenya.wixsite.com/drumsinthedark
Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/drumsinthedark/
Get inspired with our videos: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqiW5kaPttjxFfBtjrA_hTw