Uganda currently hosts more refugees than any other country in Africa. Of the 1.4 million refugees in Uganda, 61% are under the age of 18 years. Among these youth, there is an overall feeling that there is no hope or reason for them to survive. They are idle and lack activities to engage in. To keep them motivated to access services, resist violence and strive to become educated, they need a positive influence in their lives – something that will give them regularity, hope and a sense of family. This is just what MindLeaps does. MindLeaps offers something that is loved and requires no existing language skills, school level, national ID, money or prior knowledge – that ‘something’ is dance.
In Uganda, as across the continent of Africa, dance is widely loved and the presence of music attracts children to MindLeaps’ safe spaces, where they are offered free, energizing and fun dance classes. At the same time, the MindLeaps staff teach and measure changes in seven life skills: memorization, language, grit, teamwork, discipline, creativity and self-esteem. While the youth have a positive place to spend their time, they are actually engaging in a scientifically-studied activity comprised of movement patterns to develop critical learning skills. In refugee settings, even though youth are not always able to access education, MindLeaps observes a decrease in teen pregnancy, a reduction in substance abuse, and a deeper integration into the local community.
In 2017, in Kampala, MindLeaps partnered with HIAS an international NGO facilitating the resettlement of refugees around the world, to work with urban refugee children. Building upon this experience, MindLeaps then went on to train talented youth from the HIAS program and alumni of the Ugandan traditional dance group Rockies Troupe to become assistant teachers of the MindLeaps dance curriculum. Upon completion of the Train the Trainer program, MindLeaps partnered with local Ugandan organizations to embed the dance methodology in existing services to help at-risk youth. These organizations now include Save Street Children Uganda, Agape World Mission, Agape World Ministries, and Gangu Church.
To expand its services to more youth, in 2021, MindLeaps opened its first center in Uganda, located in Kampala.
Oruchinga Refugee Settlement
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is a United Nations program dedicated to protecting refugees who are forcibly displaced and assist in their local integration or resettlement to another country. UNHCR works to ensure that everybody has the right to find safe refuge and seek asylum, regardless of whether they have fled persecution, war, violence, or disaster in their home.
In partnership with UNHCR Uganda, MindLeaps is operating a program in Oruchinga Refugee Settlement in Uganda. In 2019, MindLeaps deployed a team to teach MindLeaps dance classes to refugee children as well as train refugee youth living in the settlement to become MindLeaps dance trainers through Train The Trainer programs. Every three months, MindLeaps teachers reach 150 new children through dance classes – taught 3 days per week, 2 hours each class. At the end of the three months, these children are sponsored into day school or vocational training in the settlement. As of 2021, 280 children are being sponsored by MindLeaps in formal education.
To do this, MindLeaps has developed a model centered on the training and support of local youth to carry the program forward. Since 2018, MindLeaps has been identifying older youth from existing dance groups as potential trainers. They participate in MindLeaps’ Train the Trainer program run by the international team over three months. Each of these participants receives 120 hours of training to be prepared to teach children according to the MindLeaps methodology. Participants study the standardized curriculum and learn how to use Tracker, the software application to collect data documenting change in critical learning skills. From this group, MindLeaps provides employment contracts to the top participants to become trainers working permanently for MindLeaps in Uganda.
As of 2020, MindLeaps had hired 8 youth certified through the Train The Trainer to sustain the program, reaching 450 children. In March 2020, Covid shutdown in-person dance classes but MindLeaps continued to serve its youth through food distributions and the Virtual Academy. In October 2021, MindLeaps was able to restart its dance classes in Oruchinga, and is currently serving 200 children in the settlement.
Through their involvement in the MindLeaps program, youth are making better life decisions and finding a productive path to improve their lives in a foreign country. As the mother of one refugee child said, “I have never seen my daughter smiling so much. She is so confident. God bless this program.”
Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement
In 2020, MindLeaps began work on a new program at a second refugee settlement in Uganda, Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement.
Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement, located in Southwestern Uganda, opened in 2012 to host refugees fleeing the DRC due to violence in North and South Kivu. The settlement currently hosts over 73,000 refugees from DRC, Rwanda, South Sudan, Burundi, Kenya, CAR, Senegal and Somalia. 82% of the population are women and children and 40% of primary age children do not go to school.
MindLeaps is building a permanent program in Rwamwanja with the goal of expanding educational opportunities and academic success of vulnerable girls and improving the mental health and resiliency of refugee youth. MindLeaps trained 10 youth leaders to become permanent community-based teachers in Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement.
In 2022, MindLeaps will launch the Virtual Academy for 40 refugee female youth living in Rwamwanja, made possible by the support of UNFCU.