Partnerships working with street children and refugee youth

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 M-Lisada, Refugee & Hope International, REHORE, and Save Street Children Uganda (SASCU).

In 2018, 100 refugee children are currently accessing the MindLeaps dance program each week – all being taught by Ugandan and refugee youth who have completed the Train the Trainer program.

Beyond Kampala

Refugee settings are an expanding area of MindLeaps’ work. Looking ahead to reach larger refugee populations, MindLeaps’ goal is to combine Kampala-based community programs with in-depth programming in more refugee settlements across Uganda. 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.

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.”