Most of the street children that I meet do not perceive the immediate importance of literacy in their daily struggle for survival, but Ali Sibomana is an unusual street kid.
Ali is one of the top students at MindLeaps. He recently received a scholarship from Misty Copeland, the first African-American female Principal Dancer at American Ballet Theatre. When Misty and Ali visited the school that will host him next year, it was the first time I saw Ali happy and excited to go back to school. I’ve known Ali since 2012, but I have never seen him happy.
Ali is an adorable kid. He is quiet and attentive with a hard working spirit and a deep desire to learn. He dropped out of school when he started primary school. He didn’t even finish the first term, which means that at his level, the kid cannot write even his name.
Recently, when I was teaching IT, I realized that Ali wrote correctly his name on the paper. I asked him where he learned to write. Ali told me that he learned by himself on the street. I asked him how he was able to do that on the street. With a smile and polite words, he said “Sir, you won’t believe it. I learn from the billboards.”
Ali added that he didn’t think that he will go back to school anymore and he started trying to copy some letters from the billboards. He would ask some of his friends what was the meaning of those letters. This is how he discovered to write his name and some other Kinyarwanda words.
For someone who has seen the transformation of Ali, there is no doubt that his desire to learn drove him to be selected to go to boarding school next year. The cognitive and behavioral skills he developed at MindLeaps will take him far in his new life.
Eugene Dushime is the Country Director for MindLeaps. He is a former contemporary dancer and assists with the program in Guinea as well.