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Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance

by MindLeaps
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
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

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.

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!

Links:

Meet Pacifique, assistant dance instructor at the MindLeaps center in Kigali, Rwanda. He is known to his friends as Passy, and to see his buoyant energy as he moves, is to instantly understand his deep love of dance. Watching Passy, you can feel the transformative power of art and education. But what is his personal story?

In 2015, Passy was spending his days roaming the streets, looking for odd jobs, having dropped out of primary school two years before. He was aimless, living day to day. He had heard about MindLeaps from some kids on the street and was curious enough to join the program. At first, he found it difficult. The dance classes required a lot of energy and focus – something not easy for him. A big change came when he saw dancers performing at the Ubumuntu Arts Festival. The festival takes place every July and marks the anniversary of the end of the 1994 Genocide, celebrating healing, peace and community. Watching the dancers, he was struck by the power of dance to tell stories. He began to see dance as a creative process, and began to enjoy the energy and commitment it took.

Life on the street had been about competition for survival – not about cooperation and collaboration. One of the first things Passy learned at MindLeaps was how to work together with others. When he started dancing, he didn’t enjoy choreographing in groups and stubbornly stuck to his own ideas. Over time, however, he began to recognize how valuable the input of others was when creating together. He became better able to share ideas, collaborate and respect the people around him. His reward was a deep sense of belonging and community.

Passy fell in love with dance and realized his goal was to become a dance teacher himself. He knew he needed to continue his education to achieve his dream, and at MindLeaps he had developed the confidence, determination and perseverance to return to school. He entered Primary 6 and is now preparing for the government exam that marks the end of primary school. Though still training in dance for several hours a day, he attends school and tutoring sessions to ensure his success.

Passy’s ambition is to become a certified MindLeaps trainer. He wants to give other kids the opportunity to learn from the MindLeaps program like he did, to mentor them and encourage them to believe in their own ability to mold a better life for themselves.

The future has opened up for Passy, as he now works toward his goal of becoming a trainer, and dances with the MindLeaps Performance Group. He has had the chance to grow through working with trainers from all over Africa and meeting dancers with different backgrounds and talents. As Passy performed with MindLeaps’ international trainers at this year’s Ubumuntu Arts Festival, there was no doubt about his passion for communicating through dance, and how this passion has changed his life.

The impact of the MindLeaps program on children’s lives continues to attract the involvement of professionals in the dance world. In August of this year, Hope Easterbrook, a hip hop dancer from the Broadway cast of Hamilton, visited the MindLeaps center in Kigali and led hip hop classes. The classes were exciting for all, and as Hope summed it up, “These kids can move, let me tell you. I’m thrilled to be here!”

Passy
Passy
Passy (in the black tshirt)during teacher training
Passy (in the black tshirt)during teacher training
International Artists Fund Dancer Hope Easterbrook
International Artists Fund Dancer Hope Easterbrook
Misty Copeland visits MindLeaps Student Divine
Misty Copeland visits MindLeaps Student Divine

American Ballet Theatre Principal Dancer Misty Copeland returned to visit MindLeaps Rwanda last month. She saw the growth of the program, met Ally after he had been in boarding school for three years (supported by the Misty Copeland Scholarship), and worked with the international trainers leading MindLeaps programs in different African countries. In addition, Misty visited the home of MindLeaps' student Divine. She met her mother and younger brother and discussed Divine’s growth since starting the MindLeaps program.

Learn more from Misty’s vlog here:

Day 1:
https://youtu.be/vIqu-XndxZw

Day 2:

https://youtu.be/3H8o_yVAlL8

Day 3:

https://youtu.be/XJnDB7Go_5o

Day 4:

https://youtu.be/B_iB7FmLQrs

Day 5:

https://youtu.be/BMvSDHXgx6g

As mentioned in the previous report, over the summer, ten MindLeaps dance trainers from five African countries convened in Kigali, Rwanda.  Together, they learned the MindLeaps curricula and pedagogy over the course of three months. They had intense practice days in the dance studio as well as choreography rehearsals. In July, they performed at the international Ubmuntu Arts Festival.

Four of these trainers are students themselves at MindLeaps Rwanda: Sifa, Gisele, Passy and Abouba. We are so proud of them; they have come from extremely challenging backgrounds, attended the MindLeaps program as students, and are now equipped to become MindLeaps trainers.

Maybe in 2025 Divine will join their ranks!

International Trainers
International Trainers
MindLeaps student turned trainer, Abouba
MindLeaps student turned trainer, Abouba
Misty with her sponsored student, Ally
Misty with her sponsored student, Ally
Visiting with Divine
Visiting with Divine's family
 

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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
$25,459 raised of $50,000 goal
 
335 donations
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