These children transform an all-concrete room into a studio where they demonstrate their passion for ballet.
Poverty and poor living conditions are standard for many communities in Africa, but the continent’s biggest slum, Nairobi, is so over-populated that it has long been ignored and deemed as beyond help. With 2.5 million people living there in 200 settlements, this slum accounts for half of Kenya’s city population but only 6% of its land.
Despite these crammed conditions and the children’s inability to attend secondary school for a variety of reasons, there is actually hope for children living in Kibera, one of the settlements in Nairobi. Thanks to Anno’s Africa and One Fine Day, organizations that bring programs to people living in poverty, the kids living in slums are able to access art programs that are normally only available for middle and upper class families in Kenya.
Among the classes are contemporary dance, art, music, creative writing, film, and ballet. The ballet program has excelled despite initial pushback from the community, who deemed the dance style to be too “western” and wondered what benefit it would have for their children. Now, there are dozens of students enrolled in the class and some have even graduated to a different studio in an affluent neighborhood of Kenya.
“Ever since I was a kid and watched ballet on our TV, I wanted to dance and one day become a ballerina,” said Pamela, one of the students from Kibera who was very happy when she signed up for the ballet class.
In the Kibera slum ballet class, students face nontraditional challenges to furthering their skills, like the fact that many of them don’t have ballet shoes and instead dance barefoot on the concrete floor. They train in their classroom every Wednesday, where they push back their desks, sweep the floors, change into their secondhand dance clothes donated from the affluent studio, and use the concrete wall for support instead of a barre. Though this is tough, and the students often try to find donated shoes that fit them, those that go without shoes are said to be just as talented as those in the affluent studio.
Ballet instructors like Mike Wamaya and Cooper Rust volunteer to teach the children and encouraged boys to join the group of 30 or so students, a group that is growing all the time and taking on students of all ages.
Annos Africa said that their students tend to benefit academically from learning ballet, as “it seems that the strict ballet discipline spills over into their school lives.”
Even those that are no longer enrolled in school can attend the classes as a way to still be involved in the community with their peers, and it’s likely that even these children can benefit in their home lives by learning ballet and cooperation. With such a small classroom and so many students, the children learn to carefully navigate around each other, something that applies directly to their lives.
It’s awesome that these children are able to have the same opportunities as others and hopefully these organizations are able to support the community for years to come. If you would like to donate to their cause, you can do so here.