Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
With a generous grant from Mr. Paul Gilbert and Mrs. Patricia Romeo-Gilbert and the Tanner Fellowship, I was given the opportunity to travel to Ghana during the summer leading into my junior year. In Ghana, I volunteered in a rural orphanage and conducted a research project titled “ Psychological Acoustics: The Effect of Music Therapy on the Mental Health of Orphaned Ghanaian Children.”
Music has been used as a therapeutic tool for addressing social, behavioral, communicative, physical, psychological, sensory motor, and cognitive functioning issues in individuals of all ages. As a psychology and music major, I was interested in exploring the benefits of this mode of therapy on the children I was to be working with. In addition to the obvious need to be fed, clothed, and educated, the children need love, counsel, and therapy and I believed that music could be a powerful therapeutic tool in giving to the emotional needs of the orphaned children.
For four weeks, I interacted daily with all 91 children in the orphanage. I walked to the orphanage from my homestay every morning at 4:45 am and helped them do chores and get ready for school by 7:45 am after which I would return home and run errands (or take a nap!) until 2:00 pm when they returned from school. I would then stay until 10:30 pm during which time I would conduct my music sessions, help with homework, English, washing, cooking, do other chores, and play with the children. With so many children, it was difficult to conduct individual sessions and so I sang songs with my guitar and encouraged the children to sing with me, dance to the music, and use music as an emotional form of expression. The orphanage had recently received a donation of 5 drums and so I incorporated some of the children’s cultural music into my work, which I believed enhanced their interest and enthusiasm for the music. I found it too difficult to accurately and thoroughly document all 91 children’s progress and so I chose five individuals to do in depth case studies on. For these orphans, I rated them as objectively as possible each day on levels of fatigue, depression, anxiety, social interaction, and overall well being which I operationally defined prior to my arrival. For all 5 children I saw a general increase in their mental health over the course of four weeks.
Though I came to carry out a research project, which with no doubt progressed my research, communication, and problem solving skills, I left Ghana having learned so many more valuable lessons. The children taught me about the constructs of hope, courage, love, and faith. They had so little in terms of material possessions yet they gave so much of themselves to me from their ever-enduring spirit to their love, humor and grace. This project encouraged me to think about the differences and similarities between societies and cultures around the world and challenged me to examine what is truly valuable to my life and me.