GUINEA – Program Launch
RDDC and The Association of Benka-Fissa Launch a Dance & School Program For Children in Guinea
When you walk into the barren stone building called “Maison des Jeunes” (Youth Center/House) lacking electricity, furniture and plumbing, you would think it was deserted and abandoned for years. But, at 9:00am each and every morning, it fills with 24 street kids who have come to pass their long, isolated days with acrobatic lessons…and now school lessons.
On August 3, 2011, The Rebecca Davis Dance Company (RDDC) and the Association of Benka-Fissa officially launched their partnership creating an ongoing dance and academic program in Kindia, Guinea. The program’s first cohort serves mostly boys from the ages of 10 to 19 years who face economic and social challenges each and everyday. The Association is designed to provide unique opportunities to keep such children safe by involving them in productive physical and mental activities. Six days a week, the students attend a four-hour training program of classical ballet, modern dance and acrobatics; thereafter, they attend two hours of academic lessons after receiving meal provisions.
One of the first girls who entered the program is Fatoumata Kombassa. At the age of 20, she is one year older than all the other participants. She has never attended school in her life, but she is interested in dance and therefore willing to come to Maison des Jeunes daily. After three days, this diligent, strong young woman was given an exercise book for the first time and asked to read the French alphabet. She did not recognize any of the letters and stared blankly at the page. However, after continuing to come every day for two weeks, Fatoumata can now read the alphabet and write six words…in addition to doing a single pirouette!
The RDDC is excited to be working alongside a Guinean organization that shares its mission of developing talented youth into educated, multi-skilled professionals capable of improving their own living standards over time. To this end, the academic program is designed to reinforce basic reading and writing skills in French while also incorporating lessons on entrepreneurship, youth leadership and English language. Michel Mansare is the Educational Director and lead teacher of the RDDC academic program.
Working alongside Ibrahima Bamba (BBL) and Ibrahima Mara of the Association of Benka-Fissa, the joint program has recently received office space at Maison des Jeunes in Kindia and has acquired school materials for fifty students. The empty, raw building now fills with chalk boards, exercise books, benches and work tables everyday at 1:00pm as the children move from their dance-acrobatic classes to their academic school lessons. This hollow building now bursts with creative physical and intellectual expression generated from the bodies and minds of young people. Just giving these children the slightest opportunity, the smallest glimmer of hope, results in an abundance of learning and the potential for a stable future.
During the initial launch of the program in August, daily dance classes were taught by three RDDC instructors: Rebecca Davis (USA), Tracy Vogt (USA) and Eugene Dushime (Rwandan Dancer & Rwandan Program Director for RDDC). Rebecca and Eugene will return in October to build programming capacity and deepen the technical dance training component.
This program plays a critical role in implementing RDDC’s current strategic plan of developing educational opportunities alongside dance training in the company’s three focus countries: Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Guinea. Moreover, the program in Guinea involves a team of four local staff and is an important step in providing employment opportunities inside the country. The Guinean team consists of: Ibrahima Mara, Ibrahima Bamba (BBL), Michel Mansare and Rene Ifono. Given the passionate commitment and local expertise of the in-country team, RDDC is optimistic the program will grow and continue to serve more and more children in Guinea.
If Fatoumata is an example of what a motivated young person can accomplish in two weeks when given access to education, imagine what can be accomplished when hundreds of children have the same opportunity over ten years? It just requires all of us to believe in the human potential of one another.
Project Archive: 2011
Project Title: Classical Ballet Technique for Child Acrobats
Project Partners: Le Centre d’Art Acrobatique “Keita Fodeba ”
Project Location: Conakry
In 2011, the RDDC ran a short series of workshops with street children attending Le Centre d’Art Acrobatique in Conakry. The purpose of these workshops is to develop the professional ballet technique necessary for these talented children to refine their craft as acrobats and contortionists.
Project Archive: 2010
Project Title: Classical Ballet Technique for West African Dancers
Project Partners: Le Ballet de Matam
Project Location: Conakry
Modeled after the cross-training, cross-cultural program between Rebecca Davis Dance and Amizero Dance Kompagnie in Rwanda, this project involved working with Ballet de Matam. Rebecca taught the acclaimed troupe’s dancers contemporary ballet and she studied Guinean/West African dance. Moreover, Ballet de Matam has just launched its own new initiative in conjunction with UNICEF that combines schooling with dance classes for street kids. Rebecca worked with Ballet de Matam to teach these children daily.
Perhaps the main conclusion Rebecca derived from her work in Guinea will come as a surprise: the West African ballet training is very similar to the Russian ballet system. Here is how Rebecca summarizes this comparison:
“When I studied in Russia, I was inspired by the great traditional ballet lineage that is evident during every moment of technical instruction. The ballet masters evoke memories, corrections and anecdotes from the centuries of Russian dancers and teachers that preceded them to guide the next generation of students and instill respect for the art form in each and every young heart. When you train there, you understand you are part of a much bigger ballet universe and you have an individual and collective responsibility to uphold the quality of the craft.
In Guinea, our West African dance rehearsals at Ballet de Matam were always packed with an audience ranging from drummers, to master teachers, to Guinean artists, to street kids. There was a daily speech given by the Ballet’s administrator, Jacques Dantouma Soumah, about a particular topic: attention to technical details; the importance of preserving Guinean dance and culture; or the previous great, famous dancers who led the troupe. The current artists take great care to extend their knowledge to children studying there. The older masters attentively watch hours of daily rehearsals, interrupting when a dance step or drum rhythm goes askew. Training there gave me a great sense of the major role dance has to play in the lives of Guineans as well as the way it can be used to project a positive image of this highly developed cultural system in a developing country to the outside world.
It is amazing to see history and culture treated with this depth of respect from people of all ages – in Russia and in Guinea. Perhaps there is an important lesson for other countries, including our own.”