September 10, 2014
By Caitlyn Casson
When preparing for my trip to Rwanda, I decided to bring some small parting gifts with me to give to my students when I left. I wasn’t sure what would be the right gift for adolescent boys who live on the street, but I knew where to go to look for it: my favorite store, FIVE BELOW. One can pretty much find anything that is trendy and considered “cool” by teens around the world at FIVE BELOW. And indeed, I found something…
The organization I worked for in Rwanda, RDDC, is building an IT Classroom alongside the community dance center to help these street children develop their vocational skills in one of the fastest growing industries in Rwanda today: computer science and information technology. As these teens start to learn in a formal setting, they will need the typical “back to school” supplies that we buy every year in the USA.
So, I decided to give these street youth something that would prepare them for their new school challenges and also be “cool”: brightly colored pencils, pencil sharpeners and paper from FIVE BELOW.
The boys’ reaction to this gift had both the shock of receiving a gift and the joy of ownership, something they could call their own. Naturally, their joy brought me joy, but it was not until my return to the USA that I realized the impact of this simple gift.
To most American children a single pencil, even with the addition of a really cool, neon colored sharpener, is a “standard” gift. But, to most of my students in Rwanda who have never held, and maybe never even seen a pencil sharpener before, this simple object symbolized the opportunity to “learn” and be “normal” – no longer an orphan or an outcast living on the street.
I never thought a pencil could suggest an end to poverty.
Caitlyn Casson is an instructor with RDDC and has traveled with the company to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda. She holds a BFA from University of South Florida and now works as a freelance contemporary dancer in New York.
July 31, 2014
By Eugene Dushime, Country Director for RDDC-Rwanda
“Everyone can fall anytime but it is the courage to rise up which opens doors to new life” - (Eric Mugiraneza, one of RDDC’s former street children now enrolled at boarding school)
As I wrote a long time ago, the first day RDDC met Eric, he was so hopeless. Eric was always thinking that he was going to die soon, so for him, there was no reason to work hard. His mother died beside him. This is how Eric interpreted the feelings of his memory to me two years ago: “When my mother died, I was so young and so terrified, thinking that I was going to die the following day – just a few hours after her,” said Eric.
Eric is now attending one of the best boarding school in Rwanda (Sonrise Boarding School). July 24th was the end of the second term for primary and secondary schools in the country.
Eric was so excited when I saw him on the last day of the term.
I asked, “Why are you so happy?”
Eric took the report card from his suitcase and gave it to me.
“What?!” I exclaimed. “Wow, Eric, congratulations!”
Eric said, “You see? I told you that this term I will progress!”
Eric moved from 51% to 61%. (Now, remember this is a child who was living on the streets and practically illiterate less than two years ago.) Eric once hated any kind of activities because he was so desperate and hopeless; now, he is happy about his progress.
I asked Eric how he can make such a dramatic change.
July 5, 2014
Since RDDC started its partnership with FidesCo Rwanda, a lot of kids have gone through our program. At first, it was one of the hardest challenges that we faced. We couldn’t imagine how the first group had to exit the program in order for new kids to join. We would receive a new group of kids just as our former students were beginning to show true cognitive improvement. The new kids were totally different from the previous – new faces, different attitudes and unknown behavioral patterns.
When a new group comes, we try to explore the life they have come from – street life. We learn how to handle each one of them. It’s pleasant and interesting to interact with them and discover their different personalities. That doesn’t happen immediately; it takes a lot of work to get them to open up to you – and smile. Few at first respond, and others don’t seem to understand what you are up to, so you have to keep on doing it sincerely because some of them think that people smile only when they want something from you. Some think they are not worthy; they cannot amount to anything at all. However, through our dance classes, I came to realize that personal change is not only brought by big things; if compliments and encouraging words come continuously and patiently, change can be achieved if one is willing.
In her TEDxFulbright Talk at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC, Rebecca Davis outlined how she transitioned from a high school student who loved literature to founding an organization that teaches dance to street children in Africa.
TEDxFulbright Talk at US Chamber of Commerce, April 2014
June 11, 2014
By Eugene Dushime
FidesCo Rwanda is a non-profit association that takes care of street children in Kigali by providing a full rehabilitation process, leading to the reunification of children with their families. RDDC is in partnership with this local organization since the end of 2011. RDDC programs (Dance and IT) are integrated among other rehabilitation programs. Kids at FidesCo Centre are attending dance class three days a week and IT class two days a week. Once the rehabilitation process is completed, which is after just 4 to 6 months, kids are reintegrated into social communities.
Before I became informed that some kids are leaving soon, my team and I were surprised to find some of our top students crying in the corner of our dance space after class. We asked them why they were crying, and the kids gave us different reasons. Mainly, they were wondering when and how they could find such opportunities to learn again.
“I never thought that I could do a complete split in my whole life. It is time for me to go home now, but I wish I could stay much longer so that I could keep dancing and learning,” said Samuel Birukundi holding my hand and crying.
April 23, 2014
“I am quite sure that the discipline I learned from dance, the endurance from that physical exercise, and the good advice I received from dance teachers, will help me to succeed.” - Jean Paul Mugisha, former RDDC street child now attending Sonrise Boarding School (Lamar Baylor Scholarship Fund 2014 Recipient)
Many people think that street children will never go to school, and even if they do, they will never be able to compete with other “normal” kids at school. Some people told me that, even when street children succeed in class, they don’t have good discipline and they will quit their studies before they finish their studies. I respond to these concerns simply: “Kids will make their choice. Everyone is born free to choose his destiny.”
RDDC does its best to utilize its available resources to help those children who most want to improve their lives. The contribution that RDDC provides is guidance and support, but we don’t force street children to do anything. We want them to choose what they think is best for themselves. When working with these children, I often recall a quote from Jet li, the famous Chinese actor: “One cannot choose how one’s life begins, but one can choose to face the end with courage.”
April 11, 2014
“I told Passy that he can become a famous artist, but not without an education.” – Rebecca Davis, RDDC
Pacifique Gakimane, known by his nickname “Passy”, was among the first group of street children that Rebecca Davis met when she visited Rwanda for the first time in 2008. Passy was part of a group of hip hop dancers who lived on the streets of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. Passy is one of the former street children whose school studies are now sponsored by RDDC. He is attending one of the best primary boarding schools in Rwanda, Hillside Day & Boarding School, which is situated in Rwanda’s Eastern province.
I (Eugene Dushime, RDDC Country Director) first met Passy when he was 10 years old, back in 2009. On stage, the audience was amazed by the dance movements of this talented, little boy. His hip hop group was invited by the USA Embassy in Rwanda to perform and entertain its guests. Everybody was asking if Passy would ever go to school.
February 26, 2014
“I am feeling very good because I eat every day and I can use a computer. Now, I don’t worry anymore about the sun.” - Fils Nzabahimana, RDDC Student & Former Rwandan Street Child
Fils Nzabahimana is a very curious young boy. He is always asking many questions about the Internet and life in general (religion, life after death). Last week, Fils didn’t attend RDDC dance class because he was “not in a good mood”. I joined him outside the dance class while he was sitting alone, contemplating the sky. I asked him what he was watching in the sky. “I am amazed by those eagles in the sky, do you see them?” said Fils. I said, “Oh yes, those birds are so amazing.” And here started my conversation with this smart boy…
“I am five years old,” said Fils in response to my question.
Eugene: How did you end up on the street?
Fils: I was tired of getting bitten by my father. I decided to join other kids on the street.
Eugene: How does it feel to live on the street when you are as young as you are?
February 9, 2014
Some think that dance is just about having fun. I am not saying that they are wrong, but according to what I have learned in my few years of experience as a contemporary dancer, dance is going beyond the stage of having fun at parties. Dance is an art of self-expression and exchange that helps people communicate. As a matter of fact, RDDC found a way of using this art as a tool for social change and international development in post-conflict countries.
Through dancing, it is very easy to feel good and confident. As some research in psycho-therapy and social science prove, dance can be a way of life – even for a non-professional dancer. When one decides to dance, one starts gaining confidence in personal and professional elements of life.
By Rebecca Davis
“What criteria are you using to determine that it is not your responsibility to act?”
- Lieutenant General Romeo A. Dallaire speaking about the prevention of mass atrocities
Yesterday, I had the chance to hear Canadian Senator and Lieutenant General Romeo A. Dallaire speak at The United Nations in New York. Anyone who has studied the 1994 genocide in Rwanda knows of LGen Dallaire: he was the Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) during the genocide. He has also authored the incredibly powerful book Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. LGen Dallaire’s speech was part of an UN/Kwibuka event marking the 20th Anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.
“Are Some Humans More Human Than Others?”
LGen Dallaire told a story of when he was held up at a roadblock in Kigali by a 12 or 13 year-old boy with an AK-47. Here he was, the Force Commander of supposedly the most important international body to end mass atrocities, and in a breath, he could be killed by an illiterate boy carrying a weapon equal to his own body weight. LGen Dallaire asked us, the audience, “what is the difference between this boy ready to kill me and my own son at home? Are some humans more human than others? Is my son more human than this child soldier?”