Sanja is one of RDDC’s dance teachers in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In August, she spent three weeks teaching hip hop and social work methods to the RDDC team in Rwanda. This was her first time traveling to and working in Africa.
“For some of these street boys, this is really their last chance to become someone.” – Sanja
With my first steps onto African land after exiting the airplane in Kigali, Rwanda, I became aware that I was stepping into my biggest adventure yet. Even though it was night and I couldn’t see most things, I could feel through the fresh air that this is the right place for me. I couldn’t stop smiling and thinking, “So, this is how you feel when you are ready to accomplish your dreams…”
And what are my dreams about? To find myself in unknown places, to share my knowledge and skills, to share my feelings, thoughts and experience with others, and to get to know a new culture, new people, and a different lifestyle. From this, I can find all that positive energy and strength for my life that is to come.
In my mind, I had a long list of expectations – like a personal mind book – and I left lots of blank pages to be written after I would discover the real soul of Rwandan life. These mental pages were written each day with new words of wisdom as well as words of simplicity, teaching me once again basic life lessons that I keep forgetting when surrounded with an urban, modern lifestyle. I could keep writing for a long time about all new life lessons and important messages that I brought from this trip but there isn’t enough place to mention all of them – just to highlight the ones that changed me as a person.
My first and most important memory is the amazing kids that I had the opportunity to get to know, to spend time dancing with them, and to talk to them about their life on the street, their problems, dreams, goals, and vision for future. Even though they look like regular kids, they are much more than that. In their early age, they suffered more than I would ever suffer in my whole life. Living on the street gives these children some new energy, skills, knowledge and thoughts. With every new answer, they would suprise me about their mature thinking about finding food, going to school, helping their family or making friends on the street. I thought about everything that people and children in my country take for granted and complain about when I heard these little ones talking about how it’s difficult for them to concentrate in school if they don’t have anything to eat that day. I couldn’t imagine that feeling as I’m only familiar with those feelings like, “this isn’t my favorite food or dessert.”
One day I was talking with one of the children in the FIDESCO program named Mickey. Mickey, like all the children at FIDESCO, is a former street child. I asked him for advice: “What would I need to know in order to survive on the street?” He smiled at me and said, “That isn’t a good idea. Why would you choose that kind of life? You couldn’t survive on the street.” Even though I am twice his age (or even more), he was worried about obstacles that I could find while living on the streets. He didn’t think that I would be able to survive. I know that was the truth. How those little ones survive and how they must deal with life aren’t funny childish games; it is a fight to find food, protect oneself and live each day struggling on his own, alone.
Their situation makes me angry because people should be there for each other, especially during this early stage of life. Someone should help to stop this cycle of life for street children. By “someone”, I mean many different organizations should work together in order to keep these kids protected and off the street while giving them basic life necessities. They deserve their childhood. But I am also proud to say that, during my days in Rwanda, I could see some light at the end of this tunnel. Each day, two organizations are working together – RDDC and FIDESCO – in order to give these kids the opportunity to grow, to dream, and to survive. That gives me some hope that there is a future for these kids, even though such changes come slowly.
During my time in Rwanda, I also witnessed how powerfully it can be to use dance as a tool – not just in a physical way, but in a psychological way. Dance can give these children a safe environment, structure, and teach them to work together according to the same goals. It improves their self-confidence when they learn choreography and achieve a higher level of dance. We should all use more time for dancing in our soul – not just with our bodies. We should give more attention to our creativity. In order to be there for others, we need to build ourselves as strong, confident and happy people.
These children, even with all their problems and worries, are more grateful and happier than lots of kids that I know in my town, Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I just pray that one day people will begin to appreciate more what they have in life rather than worry about what they don’t have or just can’t have in life. Instead, people can make something with their given talents and skills.
With this thinking, I came to my second realization during this trip: the importance of good role models in life. Growing up without any positive examples will make it hard for children to stay on a positive track. These kids get their role models through the RDDC program: their Rwandan dance teachers. These teachers are dedicated to their role as older brothers who are trying to show them positive ways to “dance through life.” They make this program recognizable and worth fighting for because it gives positive results, changes children’s behavior, and at the end, makes healthier young generations. These teachers gave me new strength as I watched them working hard under difficult circumstances with positive attitudes and incredible commitment. It reminded me how hard I need to work and find happiness without complaining and feeling powerless.
I would like that people like these young teachers – these good role models – can be enough to solve the problems of these street kids, but there are always financial problems and needs which need to be satisfied to give this basic support for life. Hopefully over time, there will be more and more people finding out about this program and these kids who need help. I really can see a new future and opportunities for these kids through the RDDC program. For example, I heard a story from one child who was looking for Rebecca and her dance classes in Gisenyi – a city far away from Kigali – because she was the only one he trusted and this was his last chance to get his life back on track. Lots of the kids share his opinion and with these thoughts you can realize the importance of the program. For some of these street boys, it is really their last chance to become someone.
These little warriors have lots of different obstacle in their way, but they never erase the smiles on their faces. These smiles I will keep remembering as supportive messages that I need to share with all my friends and people back in my country, Bosnia-Herzegovina. I know that it’s going to be difficult for me to integrate into my society again. I always felt a little different from the majority of the population. Now, I have realized this new truth and have acquired new life values, which have made me a changed person for the better. I keep wondering if I will be able to listen to all those voices complaining – all that negative energy and dissatisfaction about life.
People are always afraid to step out and to change. But we have just one chance on this Earth – just one opportunity to make life worth living. Don’t wait too long to became aware of that.
I will keep all these new thoughts, values and friendships close to my heart, together with the memories from this trip. I had the chance to see and get to know a new culture, lifestyle, and landscape. I rode the local transportation, tasted different foods, listened to different music, and tried to learn traditional dance. These experiences show me that, if you believe strong enough, dreams come true. I’ve achieved my dream and have so many new ones that will be dreamed with my feet while dancing me into the future.
Sanja Elezovic is the lead youth dance instructor for RDDC’s program in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. She was born in Mostar and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work.