“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.
“I am feeling very good because I eat every day and I can use a computer. Now, I don’t worry anymore about the sun.” – Fils Nzabahimana, RDDC Student & Former Rwandan Street Child
Fils Nzabahimana is a very curious young boy. He is always asking many questions about the Internet and life in general (religion, life after death). Last week, Fils didn’t attend RDDC dance class because he was “not in a good mood”. I joined him outside the dance class while he was sitting alone, contemplating the sky. I asked him what he was watching in the sky. “I am amazed by those eagles in the sky, do you see them?” said Fils. I said, “Oh yes, those birds are so amazing.” And here started my conversation with this smart boy…
“I am five years old,” said Fils in response to my question.
Eugene: How did you end up on the street?
Fils: I was tired of getting bitten by my father. I decided to join other kids on the street.
Eugene: How does it feel to live on the street when you are as young as you are?
Some think that dance is just about having fun. I am not saying that they are wrong, but according to what I have learned in my few years of experience as a contemporary dancer, dance is going beyond the stage of having fun at parties. Dance is an art of self-expression and exchange that helps people communicate. As a matter of fact, RDDC found a way of using this art as a tool for social change and international development in post-conflict countries.
Through dancing, it is very easy to feel good and confident. As some research in psycho-therapy and social science prove, dance can be a way of life – even for a non-professional dancer. When one decides to dance, one starts gaining confidence in personal and professional elements of life.
“What criteria are you using to determine that it is not your responsibility to act?”
– Lieutenant General Romeo A. Dallaire speaking about the prevention of mass atrocities
Yesterday, I had the chance to hear Canadian Senator and Lieutenant General Romeo A. Dallaire speak at The United Nations in New York. Anyone who has studied the 1994 genocide in Rwanda knows of LGen Dallaire: he was the Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) during the genocide. He has also authored the incredibly powerful book Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. LGen Dallaire’s speech was part of an UN/Kwibuka event marking the 20th Anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.
“Are Some Humans More Human Than Others?”
LGen Dallaire told a story of when he was held up at a roadblock in Kigali by a 12 or 13 year-old boy with an AK-47. Here he was, the Force Commander of supposedly the most important international body to end mass atrocities, and in a breath, he could be killed by an illiterate boy carrying a weapon equal to his own body weight. LGen Dallaire asked us, the audience, “what is the difference between this boy ready to kill me and my own son at home? Are some humans more human than others? Is my son more human than this child soldier?”
Fulgence Niyongana is one of RDDC’s top students in the Dance-IT Program for Street Children in Kigali, Rwanda. The Rwandan RDDC teachers were afraid that Fulgence might end up back on the street, but this child walks one and a half hours from home to attend the RDDC program five days a week. He now lives with his stepmother, who gives him permission to attend our programs.
As I wrote a few months ago, Fulgence was one of the kids who declared to never dance in his life, but he changed when he saw the progress of his colleagues.
Last week, I asked Fulgence what is pushing him to for so long everyday. Here is his response: “I feel so happy because I made the decision not to go back to the streets as long as you are teaching me dance and IT. Dance changed my life; I feel relaxed and free after dance class. I never thought I would touch a computer; now, I can even Skype with people around the world!”
Writing this article was an inspiration from the common question I have been asked by different persons who visited the RDDC dance program a few months ago. Those people were interested to know what the diary of a street child looks like. Many times I responded that I don’t know, but other times I responded that it depends on the kid and his background and the reason why he ended up on the street. Afterwards, I thought it is better to ask RDDC students in order to get a clear response for next time.
Most of the responses I got from kids were similar: “On the street, the main question you ask yourself is how to find something to calm the stomach. Clothes, having a shower, a place to sleep – those things don’t matter a lot. Only food matters, whether you steal or beg for it. Then comes the moments you feel depressed. You take some drugs (glue, illegal alcohol, cigarette, cannabis, etc) to be able to sleep peacefully, regardless of the place and its cleanliness.”
But for one child, Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, the response was different. This child knows what he wants in his life.
Philadelphia, PA, November 18, 2013…From Camden, New Jersey via Broadway to Africa, this week New Jersey native and dancer LaMar Baylor of Disney’s The Lion King begins his role as Cultural Ambassador for the international humanitarian work that RDDC (Rebecca Davis Dance Company) is doing in Rwanda.
For LaMar, it’s a return engagement. He first travelled to Kigali with RDDC in 2011 and his current visit (November 18 to November 25, 2013) will enable him to expand his role, teaching dance and choreography to street children and disadvantaged Rwandan youth impacted by the aftereffects of the Rwandan genocide, and creating awareness in the U.S. about the plight of these children.
“The beauty is the struggle,” said LaMar. “Seeing how Rwandan youth cope and how the country is rebuilding you realize nothing is impossible to deal with and you don’t take things for granted. These kids show up for class every day physically, mentally and spiritually, willing to learn and soak up knowledge.”
“I know how far I have come and my struggles of the past. I keep telling myself to work hard and learn many things. I am looking for a bright future.” – Jean de Dieu Niyigena, former Street Child
A few years ago, Jean de Dieu Niyigena, known by his nickname “Jado”, was a street child. Through dance and his willingness to change and improve his life, this child was selected by The Rebecca Davis Dance Company (RDDC) to attend boarding school. Now, Jado is growing physically and intellectually. In only one year, he built a great reputation at his boarding school, Sonrise. He never stops to impress his educators and his colleagues.
October 12, 2013
This month, I am in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, training future RDDC teachers in our curriculum. These teachers are preparing to go into the field to work with our students in Africa and the Balkans. Part of their training includes a daily English class since our participants come from around the world.
Tonight’s English class, however, was a slight deviation from “dance vocabulary” and “conversation practice”. We had film screenings of “Dance Up From the Street” followed by my Rwandan staging of DARFUR.
Little did I know that this would be such an emotional, special night for all of us – especially our three dancers from Ukraine.
“To dance is good, to teach kids how to dance is great.” – Bashir Karenzi
If asked to describe how dance is used to help vulnerable children, I should invite one to come and work beside the RDDC team for about three months. This is how one can really understand how dance can be used as a tool for social change. Dance can go beyond the stage and realize miracles. Through the art of dance, kids change. They gain confidence and hope in a better future. Those are the words I used to explain our mission to Bashir Karenzi, my new co-team member who joined the RDDC Rwandan team last month (August).
Bashir visited the RDDC dance program for the first time in November 2012. He was actually looking for dance space for him and his dance team from Inshoza Dance Company, which is based at the National University of Rwanda. Bashir seemed to be excited and interested in how some new kids were deeply motivated to learn basic dance steps while other kids – those not dancing – had been fighting outside. After six months, Bashir Karenzi and his friends from Inshoza were invited to attend a special dance training: “Train the Trainers” organized by RDDC to promote dance in Rwandan youth and increase the capacity of dance teachers.
“We are ashamed to see that those little kids, five years younger than us, are more advanced in IT and Dance while we could be their teachers in both fields. We want to get the same opportunity.”
– Jean D’Amour Biziyaremye
Three older students, who were among the youth we trained in 2011 when we started our program at FidesCo, came to see me just two weeks ago while I was assisting in the IT program. They were outside the IT class, waiting for me. There were three boys, all of the same age of 18 years: Raphael Bonane, Xavier Nshimiyimana and Jean D’amour Biziyaremye.
We sat down and we had a conversation for about 10 minutes. I asked them why they want to see me. Raphael, one of the kids, started, “We would like to dance in these two weeks before we go back to school. We would like, if it is possible, to learn some basic computer skills because we have never touched a computer before.”
“It is a such shame that every time we need more than one lighting designer here in Rwanda, we have to cross the border looking for some expert outside while we could be training local ones.”
– Wesley Ruzibiza, Amizero Dance Kompagnie
It is said that one of the most rewarding professions today can be that of a lighting designer working in the arts. RDDC thinks that it can be another way of helping vulnerable children improve their lives in the future.
One of the common things most street children have is their great talent and willingness to play with crafts and experiment by making new things. Based on this observation, RDDC, in partnership with FidesCo-Rwanda, implemented a new program to provide technical skills in lighting and theater craft to its students and other underserved youth living in Kigali.
The training was given by Joshua Schulman, an expert in lighting design from the United States. Over two weeks, Josh was impressed to see how much these little children were interested in his profession. He was asked many questions about lighting and electricity. Kids wanted to know the background of lighting design, how to differentiate the light obtained through gas or a generator and the light obtained through electricity on the stage. The former street children were especially excited to play with lamps, batteries and cables.
For the millions of children worldwide who live on the street, education is the most effective method of reintegration into society. In its partnership with the local organization called FidesCo, RDDC is contributing to improving the lives of street children in Rwanda through dance and IT programs by giving them an opportunity to get well educated.
On May 4th, RDDC brought the newest sponsored child to Sonrise Boarding School in Musanze, Rwanda. Zidane Ndatimana is a talented boy and was attending RDDC’s programs since their establishment in Kigali in 2011. “I have no fear. I know that once I get familiarized with the school, I will succeed,” said Zidane, “the newcomer”, as his classmates called him.
“It hurts to be rejected by your proper mother two times. I spent many years on the streets looking for my mother who rejected me when I was born. I never knew that I was looking to be rejected for the second time when I met her at the Centre.” – Moise Gakuba, one of the street children in RDDC’s Rwanda program
Moise Gakuba is one of the few kids still at FidesCo who started with our program when it launched in December 2011. Moise was not interested with dance at all, but he used to attend and watch. He would then play some games or draw outside while the classes continued.
At first, we noticed that this boy was interested in drawing and reading. He was quiet and very concentrated in his books or on his paper outside the dance class. He came to live at FidesCo because he was rejected by his mother and his stepmother as a boy. He realized that FidesCo Center would become his shelter for a long time. “After I closed myself from bad people in this world, I became mature. I thought that my future would rely on what I am doing here at FidesCo. It is important how I behave according to different opportunities offered by people that I meet here,” said Moise.
“I have a dream that one day I will be able to speak English, dance like a professional and read books written in any foreign language,” said Felix Ndayisenga, a street boy in the RDDC-Rwanda program.
Felix Ndayisenga is one of our top students. He is the first kid with a very flexible body. This kid of 14 years is amazing and magical at the sometime. When you work with him, you realize that he is very committed and he has a desire to go forward. He is distracted sometimes, but he has a willingness to learn and improve. His strong commitments drive him to keep asking questions for the things that he doesn’t understand, especially some technical dance questions and new English vocabulary words.
“These street kids told me that they never knew that one day in their lifetime, they would get a chance to learn how to use a computer.”
Dieudonne Kwizera and Jean de Dieu Tuyishimire are the youngest students participating in Rebecca Davis Dance Company (RDDC)’s dance and IT programs for street children in Kigali, Rwanda.
Since their first days in IT class, in the beginning of March, both boys captured my attention. They both seemed not to be interested in IT; they both went outside in the middle of IT class. I followed them, trying to figure out why these two kids were not interested in IT.
Croatian News Source: Glas Slavonije by Reporter Tomislav Levak
The management and the members of the dance group of Osijek’s National Theatre had their hands full – but full of doing wonderful tasks. They had to open, look over, classify and take care of the contents of many boxes that had just arrived from the USA. In those boxes were donations of ballet clothing and footwear costing approximately $51,724.
“These are two of the children whose worlds are changing as they discover themselves through dance.”
Mugisha Jean Paul and Zidane Ndatimana are two former street children in RDDC’s program run at FidesCo Rwanda in Kigali. Mugisha and Zidane are the same size and age – maybe even the same weight.
Just 14 months ago, Zidane was at the Centre when the dance program started for the first time. This kid was not interested in dance at all, but he used to come and watch through the window. I was surprised by his attention and concentration as he stared through the same window day after day; he seemed to be attracted to what was going on inside the classroom.
“Can you please explain what is happening now to me? This is a miracle.” – Patrick Bihoyiki, former street child attending school
On January 7th, 2013, the academic year started for primary and secondary schools in Rwanda. On January 9th, the fourth child from RDDC’s local partner, FidesCo Rwanda, was registered to attend Sonrise Boarding School, which is one of the most excellent schools in Rwanda according to student scores on the National Examination. Now RDDC is supporting four former street children to attend boarding school for multiple years. Patrick Bihoyiki has joined his colleagues – Jean de Dieu Niyigena, Eric Mugiraneza and Pierre Ngendananayo – in the same school. RDDC hopes that these kids will succeed.