Lecturer in Music Helen Bond and a student mix drumming skills with goodwill toward friends in West Africa

Lecturer in Music Helen Bond and her intern, Matt Cunliffe ’13, traveled to Guinea, West Africa during winter break to install a biosand water filter. It’s one of many undertakings Bond and her 501c3 Non-Profit, Motherland Rhythm Community’s Benkadi Project, have completed in the region over the past 10 years with the help of her drumming talents.

For Bond and Project co-founder Amy Lusk, their commitment to Guinea started with music. Bond began studying the djembe drum and the bass drum orchestra called a dunum; both are native to the area. She felt such a strong connection to the music that “it was clear to me I wanted to go there to study.”

Over time, the music also connected the duo to the people, and they decided they wanted to do something to help. Among other efforts, the Benkadi Project has funded the building of a school, a youth center, and wells as well as paid for emergency medical health care, paid annual city school fees for various students, and the installation of a solar power unit.

“They’ll come to me and tell me what their need is and I’ll take a look at it and see if it’s something I can help them with,” Bond said. “Many times we’re just providing financial aid for the supplies, but they do all the work themselves.” 

Cunliffe is a project coordinator for the next big task, the installation of a biosand water filtering system that will provide clean drinking water to the community.

Cunliffe first met Bond when he enrolled in her West African Drumming Ensemble class as a sophomore. Because of his experience and interest in fundraising and not-for-profit organizations and his intention to work for a not-for-profit after graduation, he approached her about an internship for the fall semester.

He was familiar with the Benkadi Project because every year the ensemble performs at a benefit in Round Lake Beach at the Cultural and Civic Center. This year’s benefit was on November 10 and it raised more than $6,000. Bond says she is happy that he had an opportunity to see the other side of what the Benkadi Project accomplishes when he traveled there.

Bond and Cunliffe stayed with Bond’s friend Fode Camara and his family. Camara has visited Lake Forest College to perform and speak with students, including Professor Cynthia Hahn’s French students. He is also the one who made most of the drums the students play, Bond said.

On the home front, Cunliffe has helped Bond to build a relationship with UMOJA, the African cultural awareness student organization.

“What I love about teaching here is the students are very intrigued and enthusiastic,” Bond said. “They love learning about the culture and playing the drums.”