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Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance

by MindLeaps
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Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance
Students Performing
Students Performing

The Jim Bell Center in Nyamirambo, Kigali was bursting with excitement as MindLeaps' students and staff gathered to celebrate the end of the Rwandan school year and the end of 2019. MindLeaps' junior trainers (high school students) along with staff were responsible for the day's successful events.

The main highlight of the day was, of course, dance performances by MindLeaps' students. The six current student groups: J, K, L, M, O, and P spent seven weeks creating, rehearsing, and preparing dances that were performed for MindLeaps' staff, parents, and fellow students. The pieces ranged in style from ballet and contemporary to hip-hop and afrobeat.

Another highlight of the day included a poem written and performed by former MindLeaps students, Ally and Jean de Dieu, entitled "Street Kid Rise Up." The poem, written in mixed language, English - Kinyarwanda, spoke about the ways in which a street kid's life can shift in a positive direction if their "hands are firmly held upward and given opportunity." Ally recently finished Primary School Level 6 and will be starting Secondary School in the new year. Congratulations Ally!

Also at the event, Rwandan staff members Salama Numukobwa (Community Facilitator), Eugene Dushime (International Coordinator), and Roger Ikuzwe (Program Manager) spoke congratulating the students and teachers on a successful year. They acknowledged the amazing effort involved to make the day's programs so successful and encouraged students to continue improving the self-esteem and teamwork skills they have been developing this year. Ikuzwe continued, crediting the 2019 success of MindLeaps Rwanda to the kids', parents', and staff's, "dedication, inspiration, and professionalism in addressing the social challenge of at-risk youth."

Thank you for your generous support of these vulnerable children in 2019. You have given them the chance to develop life skills that can ultimately lead to new opportunities and an improved life.

Program Manager, Roger, Dancing with Teen Students
Program Manager, Roger, Dancing with Teen Students
Students Performing
Students Performing
Ally Presenting Poem "Street Kid Rise Up"
Ally Presenting Poem "Street Kid Rise Up"
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Class in Masoro
Class in Masoro

MindLeaps recently expanded in Rwanda thanks to Kate Spade New York’s on purpose Fund. This allowed the program to launch in Masoro, providing 30 youth an opportunity to participate in the Train The Trainer program. This program prepares the potential trainers to continue building the MindLeaps program and promoting success for the people in Masoro. Out of the 30 participants, 8 new trainers have graduated and have begun teaching the 100 children now involved in MindLeaps Masoro. One trainer leading the program is former MindLeaps student, Fiston.

Back in 2015, when MindLeaps opened its center in Kigali, Rwanda, Fiston was hesitant to dive right in. He had never experienced dance before. He thought it was a waste of time and did not attend class consistently or focus when he did. Eventually after watching other kids find happiness and success in the program, he decided to put his heart into it and obtained school sponsorship. In 2018, after committing to improve his English speaking abilities, his leadership skills in dance classes, creativity in performance, and overall academic performance, Fiston finished high school.

Now, Fiston holds an essential role in Masoro as a MindLeaps trainer. Without dedicated trainers and the generosity of the on purpose Fund, MindLeaps' work would not be possible. We would not be able to impact the lives of so many children, improving their cognitive and social emotional learning skills preparing them to leap ahead in life.

Thank you for your generous support of MindLeaps students like Fiston over the past several years! With your help, our students are starting to graduate from secondary school and are becoming productive members of the workforce.

Fiston in Class
Fiston in Class
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Rehearsals for the Ubumuntu Arts Festival
Rehearsals for the Ubumuntu Arts Festival

This past week was full of excitement and bustle for MindLeaps dance instructors as they concluded rehearsals and performed at the fifth annual Ubumuntu Arts Festival at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Amphitheatre on July 12th. For the last five years, the U.S. Embassy in Kigali has supported MindLeaps’ participation in this festival which harnesses the power of art to highlight and embrace all aspects of our shared humanity.

The theme of this year’s arts festival is “When the walls come down – truth,” a striking image that explores the fine boundaries between deception and truth, mask and reality. MindLeaps’ new U.S. Embassy-commissioned dance work, “Bound Alone,” approaches this theme from the lens of a related dichotomy: the collective and the individual. LaMar Baylor, lead choreographer and American Broadway performer, explains his motivations behind the movement: “I wanted to show the strength and vulnerability of men. I wanted to show how we can help one another, but there’s always an underlying, personal struggle that is specific to the individual.”

The choreography, which contemplates how young men can support each other during hardships, fittingly revolves around 13 young male dancers, six of whom are Congolese and Burundian refugee youth who live in Rwanda’s refugee camps. These youth were trained in 2018 to become MindLeaps dance teachers and they currently teach MindLeaps dance classes to develop life skills in vulnerable refugee children who are living in the camps. The rest of the cast is comprised of MindLeaps dance instructors from Rwanda, Uganda and Guinea. Over the intensive one-month rehearsal period, these young dancers have been living together, working together, developing their talents, and learning about the power of dance to advance youth.

Our instructors are so grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this culturally impactful festival. Their month of training helped them build confidence, improve their dance skills, and gain teaching experiences that they can’t wait to share with the kids they teach in the refugee camps. Thank you for bringing extraordinary arts and learning experiences to these vulnerable youth in Rwanda.

MindLeaps dancers with choreographer LaMar Baylor
MindLeaps dancers with choreographer LaMar Baylor
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The work of MindLeaps Rwanda extends beyond the children enrolled in its dance classes and education programs, reaching out to their families as well. An important part of MindLeaps’ holistic approach is the Family Strengthening Program, which currently includes 100 parents as active members of five self-help groups. Through these self-help groups, parents are gaining a sense of community, are able to secure small loans to start businesses or meet basic needs, and have the opportunity to discuss issues and challenges they face. Together, the groups are also creating a security net for their families by contributing weekly to a joint social fund to support their peers who may need help to meet unforeseen emergencies.

The success of the program is best expressed by the parents themselves. As one mother, Safia, explains, “In the parents’ program, I’ve gained a new family. Apart from paying rent on time, what I’m most proud of is that by taking out small loans to expand my fruit selling business, I was able to send one of my kids who had dropped out of school back to the same school where MindLeaps is sponsoring my daughter. Before that, I couldn’t afford the school fees. Parents really need this program.”

Another mother, Claudine, had been selling avocados on the street, but couldn’t afford to rent space at the market. Through her self-help group, she was able to get a series of small loans to grow her business. She has added sweet potatoes, now sells at the market and wholesales as well. “My business has grown and I can pay back all loans on time, while still making a profit to support my family.” The group has been meaningful to Claudine in other ways as well. “I’ve learned a lot – from how to take better care of my children, to better nutrition habits for my own health. I’m part of a community that saves money together, and provides a sense of security that protects each family from falling on hard times. It really helps to have a place to share my struggles, both financial and otherwise.”

In the words of another parent, Aisha, “Being part of the parents’ program has not only given me confidence, but also allowed me to borrow money without guilt, and discuss my financial worries without embarrassment or shame. With the group savings program, I could get a small loan to start my own business, which has really helped improve my family’s financial situation. As I learn, I also share my knowledge and skills with my friends. As a way of giving back to my community, I’ve encouraged my friends to start savings groups, and I now have over 20 parents who are actively participating in the groups.”

The children who come to MindLeaps are not seen in isolation, but as part of a larger community. With your support, MindLeaps is working through its Family Strengthening Program to promote the well-being of families and the communities where these children live.

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The end of the year was marked by MindLeaps’ first-ever dance competition. The event, held at the MindLeaps Jim Bell Centre in Kigali on December 20, was exciting for all and took almost a month of planning and preparation. Just as important as the competition itself, was the involvement of the kids in the organization and planning. To coordinate all the details, MindLeaps staff worked with alumni youth – those who have gone through the MindLeaps program and are currently on sponsorship in high school. They eagerly took on the responsibilities of working out a schedule, selecting a master of ceremonies and ushers, and most importantly, selecting the music.

The competition was to be among the four current groups of dance students. The competing groups came up with their own team names – Winners, Strongers, Amazing and Humble. The dance styles they chose were a mix of ballet and hip-hop. The skills they had learned at MindLeaps were evident in how focused they were, and how committed to working together as teams to perfect their choreography. The kids’ love of dance and their eagerness to win were strong motivations to keep them working steadily towards their goal.

Watch a video from the performance here: https://youtu.be/sLjwYKHNdBM

The criteria for selecting the winner were: choreography, execution, teamwork, emotional expression and creativity. When the day of the competition finally came, all the MindLeaps Rwanda staff and some of the kids’ parents were there to watch the performances and support the dancers. It was clear that all the careful and determined preparation had paid off. All four teams were at their very best and it wasn’t easy for the judges to choose a winner. The alumni kids performed a great piece for the audience while the judges were deliberating the final results.

In the end, team Humble came away as the champions. It was heartwarming to see the group members’ eyes light up with excitement as they were announced the winners. But the day was a celebration for everyone. All four dance groups were given a certificate of participation by Pacifique Kwizera Irumva, Country Director of MindLeaps Rwanda. In addition, those youth who ranked highest in school also received gifts. Pacifique thanked the staff, the organizing team, the kids and their parents for making 2018 such a success through their hard work, resourcefulness, and commitment to excellence.

MindLeaps continues to serve more at-risk children. The year began with twenty new vulnerable youth joining the program in January, and your support is helping to make possible positive changes in the lives of these young people.

One of the top scorers in school - Josue!
One of the top scorers in school - Josue!

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Organization Information

MindLeaps

Location: New York - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @MindLeaps
Project Leader:
Rebecca Davis
Astoria, New York United States
$28,125 raised of $50,000 goal
 
402 donations
$21,875 to go
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