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Apr 15, 2019

Moving Ahead with Dance

The MindLeaps Center in Conakry receives over 60 children a day who come to participate in dance classes. Early in the year, we increased the hours of dance instruction to meet increasing demand as word of the program spreads in the community.

Our teachers are at the heart of our activity and they continue to motivate and inspire students. For example, instructor Ibrahima Camara teaches the younger children, 7-9 years old, which can be a difficult age group. But Ibrahima has a knack for working with these younger kids and they have shown amazing progress under his guidance. They have even begun to choreograph their own dance moves, which is a thrill to watch!

MindLeaps has recently set up a volunteer program in cooperation with the American International School of Conakry. In February, twelve student volunteers from the American International School began participating in weekend activities at the MindLeaps center. The volunteers take part in 45 minutes of dance class along with MindLeaps students, followed by leading group activities, such as reading and interactive games. MindLeaps kids are becoming more self-confident as they realize they can meet and connect with other children, sharing these moments together.

Also in February, Amara Condé paid a visit to the center. Amara was one of the first children to participate in the early MindLeaps program in partnership with Association Benka-Fissa in Kindia, Guinea, in 2011. Today Amara lives in the United States. At the MindLeaps center, he led a weekend hip hop class and spent time talking with the children about his experiences. The kids loved the class and he was a great role model for them.

In addition to dance and English classes, it is important for the children at MindLeaps to develop a sense of responsibility, so older students are asked to help out at the center. They watch over the younger kids during breaks, help with serving meals, maintaining the yard and general housekeeping. This regular commitment helps them understand that MindLeaps is like a family, where everyone has a role to play in making the family function well.

With your support, the children at MindLeaps are making strides toward breaking the poverty cycle in the aftermath of Ebola, and are moving ahead to a better future.

Mar 4, 2019

Supporting health and well-being

Thanks to your generosity, the MindLeaps program in Guinea is growing. 2019 began with over 75 children enrolled at our center in Conakry, well beyond our projection of 50 students. To meet the demands of expanded enrollment, we have increased the hours of our dance program, and of English classes as well.

The meal program at the MindLeaps center continues to be an important element in our kids’ development, making up in part for lack of proper nutrition at home. Nearly 90% of the children who come for dance classes have had nothing to eat that day. The noon meals provided at the center include porridge with milk, rice dishes, and spaghetti. For many kids, lunch at MindLeaps is their main source of nutrition for the day.

Hygiene is another important element in the well-being of the children who come to the center. Many of their home environments do not allow for the personal hygiene necessary for good health. At MindLeaps, there are facilities for them to wash properly. In addition, all new students are given a kit containing soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a towel, and basic dance clothes. The kit is of course essential for good hygiene, but is also a psychologically important boost for kids who feel they never have had anything personal of their own.

As the population of children we serve expands, your support is vitally important in allowing us to maintain tanks of water in sufficient supply, stock food items for meals, and purchase personal hygiene products.

Making a change in the lives of vulnerable youth in Guinea also means going beyond the child alone and reaching out to the family as well. As part of the MindLeaps holistic approach, we believe it is crucial to involve parents and other family members in the child’s experience. At the beginning of the year, MindLeaps staff held a meeting with parents of new students to explain the goals of the program and the importance of letting their kids come to classes on a regular basis. It was also a chance for parents to get to know staff and see the center for the first time. Staff discussed the importance of family support and encouragement, and emphasized the vital role parents play in assuring the success of their children.

The group meeting with parents was followed up by staff visits to individual homes so they could become familiar with the environment in which each child lives. Understanding a child’s family and home life better enables MindLeaps staff to make ongoing decisions in the best interests of each child, ensuring that individual needs are met. Personal attention to each child is another key to developing the skills and confidence that will carry them forward in their lives.

Feb 21, 2019

Gaining the Confidence to Speak Up

2018 ended as a success for the girls in the MindLeaps program. All those in primary and secondary school moved ahead to the next grade level, plus several girls graduated from vocational training programs and are moving on to internships. Graduation was a mark of achievement and their report cards reflect their determination to work towards their goals.

Education and training are keys to success, but at MindLeaps we know it is also important to address the particular social and personal issues faced by girls and young women. Therefore, an important part of our holistic approach is sex education. The program focuses on building confidence and communication skills, putting the girls at the center of their sexual health, and giving them tools to make informed choices.

A recent class in our sexual and reproductive health program included twenty girls ages 13 to 19, from disadvantaged families living in Kigali. Society in general does not promote open discussion about sex and reproductive issues, and girls can be quite shy about asking questions, expressing their feelings and talking openly. The class of all girls, led by women, was a safe environment, putting the girls at ease to speak more freely and share experiences. Role play was a great way to explore some of the challenges they face, and actually made thinking about difficult situations fun!

The girls played all the roles, coming up with their own exchanges. One role play depicted a young woman asking her mother for money to buy sanitary pads for the first time. The girls came up with statements like “Mom, this feels embarrassing to say, but I really need money to buy pads,” followed by the role play mother saying, “Thank you for coming to me – let’s talk about your period so you know what to expect.” In another scenario, a boy said he liked a girl, and she had to respond that she wasn’t interested in being his girlfriend, but would rather be just friends.

For such shy, tight-lipped girls, the forwardness of their role plays and the strength of their statements were amazing. The students admitted that these conversations would definitely be harder with actual mothers and actual boys, but they’ve practiced saying the words, and the statements themselves have become normalized – big steps toward removing barriers to thinking about and dealing with such personal issues.

Another highlight was seeing the increasing boldness of the girls’ questions over the weeks as the program progressed. Through the anonymous “Question Box”, where students had a chance after each class to ask anonymously about sexual health, the girls asked questions like “How can I have sex without having children?” and “What happens when you get pregnant and the boy yells at you?” These were invaluable opportunities to promote open communication, discussion of family planning, and long-term goal setting – all critical values of the program.

With your support, MindLeaps continues to address the needs of vulnerable girls in Rwanda, helping them to develop their skills, take charge of their futures, and understand how their sexual health choices can impact those futures. These girls are gaining the confidence to speak up about issues affecting their lives as women and their ability to pursue their dreams.

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