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.
Three weeks ago when I was passing in a village situated around 60 km from Kigali, the bus stopped at the gas station for a few minutes. I saw a man biting a kid. I asked people who were selling cookies to passengers why the man was biting the kid. With a smile, one of the guys responded that the kid had stolen money from that man.
“Hmm,” I responded but I could not believe what I was seeing. Then I asked the guy who was sitting beside me in the bus why no one intervened to stop the man. The person smiled and told me that the kid who was being bitten is a thief; he already knew the kid. I was curious how he knew that kid. The guy responded to me that all street children are thieves. I felt chocked up, but I kept my silence and did not argue with him.
“MindLeaps helped me to realize that I am the only person who possesses the key to my bright future. I just have to keep working hard.” (Eric NDUWAYEZU)
I want to tell you one of the few truths I believe. During all of the years I have worked at MindLeaps, I have realized that dance is a powerful tool that creates personal change.
When street kids dance, they become connected to their bodies and their souls. Each of their movements is executed with such an expression of happiness and joy on their faces. They don’t pay attention to anyone.
MindLeaps is a rapidly growing NGO with a significant global impact. To continue accommodating the needs of our staff and students, we host an annual, weeklong teacher training program. This program prepares dance teachers physically, cognitively and culturally to teach at any of MindLeaps’ three international outlets.
The first element of this training is physical. We start each training day with a MindLeaps dance class. This class may be designed for young street kids, but it is tough even for professional dancers. All of our students love to dance, but most do not know what a codified dance technique looks like before entering our classroom. Therefore, MindLeaps’ instructors must perform at the highest technical level. We are not only instructing verbally, but also clearly demonstrating the physicality of the movements. Physical demonstration becomes especially important when you are dealing with a language barrier. (Which we often are!)
Sometimes I take a long journey, in my thoughts, and I remember the past of some boys supported by MindLeaps to attend boarding school or vocational training school. The train of my memory takes me to a point when I first met some of those street children. I want to share a story of such a boy with you.
This boy, named Jado, ended up on the street when he was rejected by his father – just after the funeral of his mom. Jado was brought to a rehabilitation center. In the past, Rwanda had centers that took in kids with the purpose to reunite them with family. When in the rehabilitation center, Jado met MindLeaps. He was so young – just 12 at that time. He was one of our top dance students, always attentive in class and the first to ask good questions. Everyone in my team could confirm that Jado was a born leader.
This year, MindLeaps implemented a “home visit” program. In Rwanda, there are vulnerable children who work on the streets during the day, but return to a “home” at night. This might be a house that belongs to a mother, father, cousin, uncle, aunt or some other caretaker. The child will usually spend the day on the street to beg or steal for food, but may return to the caretaker’s house at night to sleep.
For our “home visit program”, we arranged that our dance and IT teachers, Innocent and Ssali, would visit the families and caretakers of these vulnerable youth twice a week.
Two months ago, a mom with a baby boy in her hands knocked on the door to the MindLeaps Center in Kigali, Rwanda. She asked to meet me since I’m the Country Director. I thought that she wanted her son to attend the MindLeaps program, but I was wrong. Her first born is already attending our program. His name is Renee Byiringiro.
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” said the Bible.
That question was in my head when I was thinking about the life of vulnerable children I met in different circumstances. Today is the last day of March 2015. March 2015 is over now and we are waiting for March 2016, March 2017, as time goes on. We will never see March 2015 again but the memory of what happened will remain, and maybe some time in the near future we might need to skim through the letters in a book of March 2015. read more…
There are things that are sometimes left undone and there are things that are sometimes left unsaid. But, using the magic word “Thank you” is something that can’t ever be forgotten at MindLeaps. This year, we celebrated Christmas with our students, who are homeless, and gave out presents while saying “Thank you for your hard work and fight against poverty.”
What makes November a great month for MindLeaps is that this period always brings new energy, ideas and changes. Since MindLeaps (formerly RDDC) opened its doors in Rwanda, at least a new project or a program is implemented each November. Last month was charged with so many activities accompanied with great emotions and intercultural exchange. It is difficult to describe all activities done last month in only one blog post, but here is a summary of three main ones in three short stories. read more…
Boys smile and laugh as they chaine turn and pas de chat across the dance floor. This is not a typical dance class in a small dance studio; it is a safe space where street children and vulnerable youth learn social values and are prepared to reintegrate into their community. Why dance and IT training? What do these boys feel that they are gaining from their time spent here? What sort of change are we creating? read more…
Omar is five years old.
He never went to the street like other kids served by RDDC, but he wished he could just to escape from being tortured by his father. One day, he was taken from his home to the hospital after he was beaten unconscious by his father. read more…
Since 2011, RDDC has been running an annual program called “Train The Trainers” in Rwanda. This past August, the annual program was held again. It was divided into two categories: training RDDC/Rwandan dance teachers in contemporary technique; and training Rwandan staff in fundraising and grant writing. read more…
When preparing for my trip to Rwanda, I decided to bring some small parting gifts with me to give to my students when I left. I wasn’t sure what would be the right gift for adolescent boys who live on the street, but I knew where to go to look for it: my favorite store, FIVE BELOW. One can pretty much find anything that is trendy and considered “cool” by teens around the world at FIVE BELOW. And indeed, I found something… read more…
“Everyone can fall anytime but it is the courage to rise up which opens doors to new life” – (Eric Mugiraneza, one of RDDC’s former street children now enrolled at boarding school)
As I wrote a long time ago, the first day RDDC met Eric, he was so hopeless. Eric was always thinking that he was going to die soon, so for him, there was no reason to work hard. His mother died beside him. This is how Eric interpreted the feelings of his memory to me two years ago: “When my mother died, I was so young and so terrified, thinking that I was going to die the following day – just a few hours after her,” said Eric. read more…
Since RDDC started its partnership with FidesCo Rwanda, a lot of kids have gone through our program. At first, it was one of the hardest challenges that we faced. We couldn’t imagine how the first group had to exit the program in order for new kids to join. We would receive a new group of kids just as our former students were beginning to show true cognitive improvement. The new kids were totally different from the previous – new faces, different attitudes and unknown behavioral patterns. read more…
In her TEDxFulbright Talk at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC, Rebecca Davis outlined how she transitioned from a high school student who loved literature to founding an organization that teaches dance to street children in Africa. read more…
FidesCo Rwanda is a non-profit association that takes care of street children in Kigali by providing a full rehabilitation process, leading to the reunification of children with their families. RDDC is in partnership with this local organization since the end of 2011. RDDC programs (Dance and IT) are integrated among other rehabilitation programs. Kids at FidesCo Centre are attending dance class three days a week and IT class two days a week. Once the rehabilitation process is completed, which is after just 4 to 6 months, kids are reintegrated into social communities.
Before I became informed that some kids are leaving soon, my team and I were surprised to find some of our top students crying in the corner of our dance space after class. We asked them why they were crying, and the kids gave us different reasons. Mainly, they were wondering when and how they could find such opportunities to learn again.
“I never thought that I could do a complete split in my whole life. It is time for me to go home now, but I wish I could stay much longer so that I could keep dancing and learning,” said Samuel Birukundi holding my hand and crying.
“I am quite sure that the discipline I learned from dance, the endurance from that physical exercise, and the good advice I received from dance teachers, will help me to succeed.” – Jean Paul Mugisha, former RDDC street child now attending Sonrise Boarding School (Lamar Baylor Scholarship Fund 2014 Recipient)
Many people think that street children will never go to school, and even if they do, they will never be able to compete with other “normal” kids at school. Some people told me that, even when street children succeed in class, they don’t have good discipline and they will quit their studies before they finish their studies. I respond to these concerns simply: “Kids will make their choice. Everyone is born free to choose his destiny.”
RDDC does its best to utilize its available resources to help those children who most want to improve their lives. The contribution that RDDC provides is guidance and support, but we don’t force street children to do anything. We want them to choose what they think is best for themselves. When working with these children, I often recall a quote from Jet li, the famous Chinese actor: “One cannot choose how one’s life begins, but one can choose to face the end with courage.”
“I told Passy that he can become a famous artist, but not without an education.” – Rebecca Davis, RDDC
Pacifique Gakimane, known by his nickname “Passy”, was among the first group of street children that Rebecca Davis met when she visited Rwanda for the first time in 2008. Passy was part of a group of hip hop dancers who lived on the streets of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. Passy is one of the former street children whose school studies are now sponsored by RDDC. He is attending one of the best primary boarding schools in Rwanda, Hillside Day & Boarding School, which is situated in Rwanda’s Eastern province.
I (Eugene Dushime, RDDC Country Director) first met Passy when he was 10 years old, back in 2009. On stage, the audience was amazed by the dance movements of this talented, little boy. His hip hop group was invited by the USA Embassy in Rwanda to perform and entertain its guests. Everybody was asking if Passy would ever go to school.