Building a community through music: HAPLOS Ukulele Club

When searching for an activity to bring people in the bleeding disorders community closer together, the Hemophilia Association of the Philippines for Love (HAPLOS) chairman John Sarmenta knew of no better way than through music.

“HAPLOS was looking for a youth program that would engage the youth and develop their talents, and at the same time would be a productive outlet for their expression,” Sarmenta said.

The only question left was which instrument suited their needs best. “My parents and family had always been musically-oriented. We bought a ukulele in 2011 and soon realized how accessible and appealing it was, and started bringing one for entertainment during community gatherings,” said Sarmenta who then brought up the idea with his colleagues and in September 2013, the first HAPLOS Ukulele Club lessons got underway.

The ukulele was the perfect instrument for the program in that it is popular, affordable, allows for an expert to display technical skill while also being easy for beginners to pick, very portable, and because of its size and relatively low cost when compared to a guitar or perhaps a violin.

Coming Together

For the people in the bleeding disorders community, having a place where they can meet other people like them and share in a group activity is essential but the program does have other benefits.

“Something as simple as a ukulele club can be many things. Music in itself is gaining popularity in psychological interventions, especially in dealing with children, noted for building rapport, relieving stress, allowing for safe and productive self-expression, which is vital to mental health. In between actual lessons, club meetings are opportunities for members and their accompanying families to form new bonds and strengthen relationships with other members,” said Sarmenta.

For Sarmenta, music has a way of bringing people together like nothing else and in addition to all the benefits for the individual, the club has given HAPLOS a way to raise funding for its programs through concerts and builds a sense of pride with the younger members, hopefully leading them to inspire others and become possible future leaders and champions of advocacy.

The program is currently funded by private donations, but to kick start the project in its first year the cost of the ukuleles was shouldered by the members of the board. This is the club’s only major expense as the venue and the lessons are donated and run on volunteer time.

Reaching Out

The reaction from those involved in the club has been incredibly positive. While the club was first conceived as an activity for the younger members of the community, some of the older members have enrolled and love telling and impressing their friends with their new abilities. For the young children with bleeding disorders the club has been a resounding success.

“Young children who have attended several sessions have visibly improved confidence and sociability with other members. Some children who were shy and also others who were initially hard to get along with, can now be found sitting at the same tables with their friends from the ukulele club during HAPLOS gatherings,” said Sarmenta. “Parents say that their children share the day’s lesson with them and some children are even bringing their ukuleles to school. Overall response has been very positive.”

Some of the most popular songs played by the club are Rainbow Connection from the Muppets, Let it Go from the soundtrack to the Disney movie Frozen, I’m Yours by Jason Mraz and many popular Filipino children songs. The Haplos Ukulele Club has officially played two concerts. There biggest show was during the HAPLOS Christmas party where they played in front of a crowd of over a hundred people