Rene is a former street child. When I first met him, he was completely lost. He was not even strong enough to stand under the sun for a few minutes. Most of the time, he was talking in a sitting position avoiding eye contact. Now, when you engage in a conversation with him, he immediately smiles and shares his current feelings and his past. I cannot believe how far he has come, and he tells me he is very grateful.
“I was lost, totally lost. Now I realize how crazy I was. Can you imagine yourself not being able to differentiate days and nights? When you are high [on drugs], they both look the same. I am still wondering how I survived in such bad conditions…The street is a hell,” Rene told me. He also added that there is no future on the street, but sometimes, street children do talk about it – as if it belongs to others not to them. “On the street, you just get high and you sleep. The only thing you have in mind is how you are going to get the next dose of a drug. Whatever you find is fine as long as you just get high.”
His name is Fiston Sindambiwe, and he arrived at MindLeaps in January 2015. As he told me, he was just passing by the center. Fiston ended up on the streets because he wanted to stay away from the problems in his family. He could not afford paying the last three years of secondary school; just to find something to eat was a very big struggle.
He didn’t have any intention to stay in the MindLeaps program. He came because all his friends joined MindLeaps. He could not stay alone on the street. He thought he will come along and just fake it or “pretend” to be a part of the program in order to stay with his friends.
When we started this program, there were just about four to six kids who used to dance on the streets and wanted us to teach them something. They were the very first youth to access this program and help us structure it for the future. Youth were attracted to the program because of the free dance classes, but they also asked for English lessons. Their ambitions grew and we saw the need to provide essential nutritional support through a meal program too. These youth dream of becoming professional dancers and traveling the world (using their English skills). Their dreams motivate them to change their lives. read more…
Late last year, MindLeaps launched a new girls program with the support of American Ballet Theatre’s Misty Copeland. This program was implemented with the aim of serving girls at-risk in Kigali. Like the boys at MindLeaps, classes of 15 kids at a time are recruited. Fifteen girls were received in the program with a warm welcome from Misty. This also marked a first for Misty herself – her first time to Africa!
Our girls were so excited to hear a superstar talk to them and share life lessons. Misty gave them a short summary of her long path to become the first female African-American principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre. Misty told the girls that she is still dancing, and through her experiences, she understands how dance can change one’s life and help one to follow his or her dreams. She said that dance teaches discipline, perseverance, teamwork, and confidence. She also added that dance will help young people believe they are worth something. As a formerly underprivileged girl, she proved that hard work and perseverance produce results.
There’s a saying: “Sometimes you have to kind of die inside in order to rise from your own ashes and believe in yourself and love yourself to become a new person.”
I have heard some regular students at MindLeaps speak of who they were before, and then change to become proud of the person they are now. I would like to share the story that shocked me the most during the last two years: The Story of Claude.
There was a boy, Claude, and his brother who were abandoned by their mom when they were little boys. While they were both coming from school, the boys realized that their mother was not at home. She moved without telling them where she was going. They told me that they “waited for her for a few days but the landlord didn’t let them keep waiting for their mother to return. The house was re-rented.” This is how Claude and his brother became street children.
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…