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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
MindLeaps at Ubumuntu Festival
MindLeaps at Ubumuntu Festival

Throughout the summer, our students leapt to new heights – on the stage and in the classroom.

In July, our students were invited to perform at the international Ubumuntu Arts Festival in Kigali, Rwanda. The festival aims to promote peace building and healing from violence. MindLeaps Rwanda teacher Ssali Eugene and American dancer Caitlyn Casson worked with several students to choreograph and stage a new work that was performed at the festival. The piece, called “Torn Together”, was performed on the first night of the festival in front of an audience of thousands. 

After the performance, Caitlyn said, “These children have come so far. When you see them on stage, you cannot imagine that they do not go to school or have a safe place to sleep at night. On stage, they are free – and they are artists.”

You can watch a video on MindLeaps' participation in Ubumuntu 2017 here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHxCrm_vhUA

In August, MindLeaps welcomed two prestigious dancers from Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo to our MindLeaps Center in Rwanda.  Chase Johnsey, winner of The Critics Circle Best Male Dancer prize at the National Dance Awards, joined Carlos Renedo as part of MindLeaps’ Train the Trainers program. Chase and Carlos provided 40 hours of intensive classical ballet training and contemporary dance technique to MindLeaps instructors and advanced dance students.

Chase and Carlos also visited several of our kids' families to learn more about their lives and the challenging situations they face every day. After visiting one of the student’s homes, Carlos said: “The first thing that caught my attention was the size of what they call their home… a tiny bench, a mattress on the floor and a couple cooking pots against the corner. That is it… Despite it being the first time that I personally experienced real poverty first hand, Passy’s mom made sure I felt welcome... It certainly is a very humbling experience to get to see where and in what conditions these loving people live in.” 

Our partnership with Akazi Kanoze also launched over the summer. Akazi Kanoze’s mission is to provide Rwandan youth with the employability skills, capital, and support necessary to take advantage of economic opportunities. This partnership helped MindLeaps' students take the next steps in their careers. Our older students have frequently been out of school for many years, and it is too late for many of them to return to primary school.  For these youth, once they have been rehabilitated through MindLeaps dance program, we raise scholarships to send those children to vocational training centers rather than regular primary school. We have several students currently in vocational school, and several more that have already graduated. We partnered with Akazi Kanoze to provide our graduated VTC students with the employability, business, and entrepneurial skills needed to significantly contribute to the economic development of their families, communities and country. 

After a summer filled with dance, inspiring international guest artists and job skills training, these youth are taking important steps to becoming independent, successful members of their community.  Thank you for making this transformation possible!

MindLeaps students perform at Ubumuntu
MindLeaps students perform at Ubumuntu
Dance class with Chase Johnsey
Dance class with Chase Johnsey
Home visit
Home visit

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Students learning to grow kitchen gardens
Students learning to grow kitchen gardens

MindLeaps students took another step forward in their personal development this spring through a kitchen gardens initiative with the local Rwandan government.

Rwanda local agencies and 24 youth from Nyarugenge District joined MindLeaps students to plant kitchen gardens that will help our students and their families improve their nutrition. These gardens will add vegetables to their diet and excess produce will be sold to provide a much needed source of income. After spending time planting the gardens, the students were given seeds so that they can plant kitchen gardens with their families and teach their relatives what they learned during this activity. 

Additionally, the local organization Kigali Farms has partnered with MindLeaps to teach our students about the role of mushrooms in their lives. Kigali Farms is an organization that works to help fight chronic malnutrition by helping mushrooms become a meaningful part of the Rwandan diet. 

MindLeaps students are also looking forward to several exciting events coming up this summer.

Two dancers from Les Ballets Trockadero will be visiting MindLeaps Rwanda this July and August. Carlos Renedo, originally from Barcelona, Spain, has performed in musicals, TV, and in several dance companies. Chase Johnsey is from Winter Haven, Florida, and has performed in various roles with Les Ballets Trockadero over the last 13 years. The dancers will train our teachers in classical ballet technique. We are very grateful to them both for volunteering their time and officially joining our International Artists' Fund.

Also this summer, MindLeaps students have been invited to return to the Ubumuntu Arts Festival in Kigali.  Some of our students will have the opportunity to perform in front of an audience of thousands. This year, MindLeaps Rwanda teacher Ssali Eugene will collaborate with American dancer Caitlyn Casson to choreograph and stage a work for ten of MindLeaps' advanced student dancers. We are grateful for the support of the US Embassy, Public Affairs Office, for making this possible.

Stay tuned for our next report with photos from the festival and all these exciting summer happenings!

Carlos Renedo, visiting dancer to Rwanda in 2017
Carlos Renedo, visiting dancer to Rwanda in 2017
MindLeaps Rwanda teacher Eugene Ssali
MindLeaps Rwanda teacher Eugene Ssali
Contemporary dancer & choreographer Caitlyn Casson
Contemporary dancer & choreographer Caitlyn Casson
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New students in 2017 at MindLeaps Rwanda
New students in 2017 at MindLeaps Rwanda

You are receiving this Project Report since you are a current supporter of the MindLeaps GlobalGiving Program: “Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance.”

We have so many new things to share with you in this field report!

Early Successes in 2017

The MindLeaps Center in Rwanda welcomes the new season with classes in full swing.

In February, we welcomed a new class of girls. This new class will receive our holistic program: dance classes to increase cognitive skills, academic catch up classes, introductory IT and digital literacy lessons, daily meals, and health/sanitation support.  All our girls actively participate in our counseling sessions and work closely with our social worker too. The girls will remain at the center for one year.

This new class of girls was welcomed to the MindLeaps Center at the same time that we enrolled 55 students from our 2016 graduating class in training schools and academic programs across the country.  We are excited to be serving new children while seeing our graduates become independent.

The Story of Cloudina

Cloudina is one of the new girls enrolled at MindLeaps.  Cloudina dropped out of school last year even though she had nearly completed her studies.  Her parents could not support her final semester of school fees, and she was forced to drop out.

Cloudina then moved into her grandmother’s house.  Her grandmother sometimes finds temporary work washing clothes and can afford to feed Cloudina.  Cloudina’s aunt and her niece also live with the grandmother. 

In Februrary, Cloudina came to MindLeaps.  For the first time since dropping out of school, she sees the possibility of once again having the chance to learn the skills necessary to help her survive in life.  If Cloudina succeeds in the program this year, MindLeaps will sponsor her to return to formal education.

New in 2017

A new element in 2017 is the Academic Acceleration program. This program is run by teachers from the White Dove Girls’ School. This is a “catch-up” program to help our students get caught up to the appropriate grade level in every subject area: science, math, social studies, English, and Kinyarwanda.

As always, the MindLeaps Center in Kigali is open to all our students – past and current – providing a safe space where they can spend their free time. Volunteers from the area come by to help the children with small projects, homework, tutoring, and more. Below you can see a photo from this month of several of our students and alumni busy with their homework.

MindLeaps on CNN

A couple of weeks ago, CNN International filmed at our center and interviewed MindLeaps staff and students.  A 30-minute documentary about MindLeaps Rwanda aired on “Inside Africa.” In the documentary, you can hear directly from Passy, Joseph, Simon, and Rene, who are just a few of the students that your donations helped to put into school and vocational training: http://www.cnn.com/videos/world/2017/03/10/inside-africa-rwanda-child-dancers-a.cnn

Thank you for all that you do.  These wonderful kids are leaping into spring because of your support!

After-school homework time at the Center
After-school homework time at the Center
MindLeaps Rwanda was featured on CNN
MindLeaps Rwanda was featured on CNN
Cloudina (right) with her grandmother
Cloudina (right) with her grandmother

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Passy Cooking at the MindLeaps Center
Passy Cooking at the MindLeaps Center

You are receiving this Project Report since you are a current supporter of the MindLeaps GlobalGiving Program: “Leap Ahead: Empowering Street Youth Through Dance.” 

Around the world, we are celebrating a new year with our loved ones and hoping for happiness and success in 2017.  MindLeaps is grateful for the support you have provided to help rescue street youth in Rwanda.  We would like to share with you how one of these youth, Passy, is showing his gratitude.

The Words and Actions of Passy…

One of MindLeaps’ top students, Pacifique, is known by his nickname “Passy”.  Passy thinks that “thank you” is not enough unless it comes with action. Here is how Pacifique chose to say thank you…

Passy always comes to the MindLeaps Center to assist the cleaner and the cook. His brother, Jean de Dieu, is also in the MindLeaps program.  Jean de Dieu told me that Passy does the same when he visits their HIV+ mother; he helps in all ways possible to make her life easier.

Passy organizes tutoring classes for his colleagues whose literacy and numeracy is very low. He uses another part of his time to go to the new MindLeaps’ library to review his coursework and stay on track so that he can succeed in the new year.

MindLeaps Country Director wanted to know the root cause of Passy’s motivation. In a very polite and calm voice, Passy responded that he always wants to say “thank you” to his sponsors, and he found a way to transform that feeling into actions. He thinks that giving back to MindLeaps by volunteering to do some activities can help his colleagues: “It makes me feel like my ‘thank you message’ matters.”

Changing One Life to Change Many

Passy is one of MindLeaps top students, but he is representative of so many youth in Rwanda.  These children have fought against challenging obstacles in a country where 40% of the population is under the age of 35 years according to the UN. 

But, as we work to help one child become educated and lift himself out of poverty, it translates into so many actions that help others.  In this way, please know that your donation to one person is going toward changing an entire community. 

And for that, MindLeaps joins Passy in saying Thank YOU!

Jean de Dieu, Passy's brother, on the left
Jean de Dieu, Passy's brother, on the left
Passy's Mom (Right) with Country Director (Left)
Passy's Mom (Right) with Country Director (Left)

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Graph Showing a Students' Progress in 7 Skills
Graph Showing a Students' Progress in 7 Skills

MindLeaps has witnessed many success stories in our years of working with vulnerable youth in Rwanda. Students have entered our program with poor behavior, low self-esteem, and an inability to focus. Just six months later they seem like totally different children. They are confident, eager to learn, and have minimal behavioral issues. While qualitatively recognizing the change that has taken place in our students’ lives is important, this alone is not enough. 

Evaluating students’ progress:

One of the critical elements of MindLeaps’ methodology that makes our work successful is our monitoring and evaluation system. Each dance class taught at MindLeaps is taught from a highly structured curriculum that strategically targets two cognitive skills: memorization and language. It also targets five non-cognitive skills: teamwork, self-esteem, discipline, creativity & self-expression, and grit (commitment).

Students are then graded on these skills everyday through a data collection system. Through this, we are able to monitor each child’s improvement over time in each of the above listed skills. Over time, we are able to gain very important information from this data, such as whether or not the child is showing a new level of mental/emotional stability. This allows us to make critical decisions, such as determining whether or not they are ready to go to school.

In the attached graph, you will see that we typically notice a child’s skills consistently increase from week 6 – week 18 in the program (roughly the first 4-5 months in the program). After this, their skills maintain consistently high levels, which shows us that they will soon be ready to be re-integrated into a formal school environment. This period of growth for our students is very important. We’ve witnessed that students who do not go through a bridge program like this are often not mentally and emotionally ready to return to school even if given the opportunity and are likely to drop out. 

What does this look like on the ground?

We asked Bashir, one of our dance teachers and the Assistant Director of MindLeaps in Rwanda, to share his experience working with the grading system:

Overall, the grading system has helped me to be a much more effective teacher. Knowing that I have to grade my class helps me make sure that I am targeting the right skills while I am teaching. The grading system also helps me monitor the daily development of my students in a way that I would not be able to if I was simply following the curriculum without grading. When I grade, I can see certain skills that are lower and choose to focus on those skills in future classes. For example, if I see that the self-esteem grades are low in one of my classes, I will design some exercises to boost self-esteem in my next few classes.

In general, I’ve seen that the skill of "memorization" grows the fastest. Typically students struggle in the first three weeks of class, but then increase their memorization ability rapidly over the next six months. This skill is also reflected in their performance in the other subjects they study at MindLeaps, like IT.

Dance class opens up our students’ minds to retain new information and vocabulary. This skill easily translates to IT where they are then able to grasp new computer vocabulary much faster than they would have without dance training. For example, after learning directions (moving right versus left) in dance class, it becomes very intuitive for us to teach them the right and left side of a mouse. Or, when I tell them to move the pointer accurately on the computer screen, they have a natural understanding of what this means because of their training in movement in dance class. This connection doesn’t usually come naturally to someone who is learning to use a computer for the first time.

Building a stronger model

We are in the middle of revamping and fine-tuning our grading system in Rwanda this month with the help of an American volunteer, Briana Giordano. Briana is delivering training to our teachers based on the work of MindLeaps' researcher, Janelle Junkin of Drexel University.  We know that as we improve in collecting data on our students' progress, we will better be able to serve youth and ensure that our efforts create long-term change.

Thank you for being a key player in helping us continue to execute our dance program so that we can can impact the lives of 350 vulnerable youth around the world. 

Teacher Bashir with Students at MindLeaps
Teacher Bashir with Students at MindLeaps
Girls Applying Their Skills in IT Class
Girls Applying Their Skills in IT Class
Girls Dance Class at MindLeaps
Girls Dance Class at MindLeaps

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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
$28,095 raised of $50,000 goal
 
401 donations
$21,905 to go
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