RWANDA – Project Archive
The Water Project
The Water Project is an annual program run by RDDC. Every year, RDDC works with 100-125 children in Rugerero, a survivor village near the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ethnically diverse children participate in daily dance workshops and social dialogue sessions discussing safe water practices, water conservation and basic health. At the conclusion of the program, the children perform a dance-theater choreographic work that portrays good and poor water practices before an adult audience. Thus, the children become community educators.
Unfortunately, the program was temporarily suspended in 2012 due to the conflict on the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. RDDC hopes to re-commence the program in 2014.
Project Partners: Red Cross Rwanda, Engineers Without Borders, Amizero Dance Kompagnie
Project Location: Rugerero, Gisenyi
Story from the field…
Jean Bosco Rukirande of Red Cross Rwanda…
“The problem in this community is health and water,” Jean Bosco told Rebecca Davis Dance Company as we toured the survivor village of Rugerero in Northern Rwanda in 2009. “Engineers Without Borders has come here every year. They build water systems and latrines for us, but the people think ‘I have water today’, and forget about conserving it for tomorrow. We need to change the mindset of our villagers.”
“What about using dance to teach youth about health and water conservation?” Rebecca said.
The following year, Rebecca Davis Dance Company partnered with Red Cross and Engineers Without Borders to bring two dance instructors (an American & a Rwandan) to Rugerero to run a program for a diverse group of children that combined dance exercises with lessons on community water practices and sanitation.
On November 29, 2010, 64 children performed dance, drama and song to demonstrate good and bad water practices. They presented their work before the District Sector Office and the whole community attended. After the performance, Jean Bosco turned to me and said, “Yes – that’s what we needed – dance. This is the first time our children are thinking analytically about how they use water. It’s spreading to their families and throughout the community because it’s fun for them. Now we need to do this in all our villages…so when is your company coming back?”
Is it possible to change people’s conceptions and daily lifestyle in order to promote water conservation and sanitation? The RDDC’s recent program in Gisenyi, Rwanda, would seem to suggest the answer to that question is “yes” (or “yego” in Kinyarwanda).
RDDC works with Red Cross, Engineers Without Borders, and Amizero Dance Kompagnie to implement annually an educational program on water and health for disadvantaged youth in Rugerero, Rwanda. Rugerero is home to a village of genocide survivors and their children. There is also a neighboring community of the nation’s economically-disadvantaged ethnic group known as the Twa. This project targets Tutsi and Twa children.
Building on RDDC’s previous dance work focused on reconciliation in Rwanda, this theme-based program addresses a particular community problem: improper use of water leading to greater disease and widespread health concerns. Water is wasted during daily chores, such as cooking and washing, because there is a sense that water is either “available” or “unavailable”, without thought given to saving, managing or conserving a water supply. The lack of good water practices makes the dry season particularly difficult and sanitation levels drop, thereby increasing health risks throughout the entire community.
With a daily program involving 64 children between the ages of 7 to 18 years, RDDC uses dance as a method to engage youth in the community through a regular daily activity. The class time is split between teaching ballet and jazz technique and engaging in group discussions about current community water practices. The program culminates in a public performance showcasing an ensemble choreographic work that depicts proper and improper health and water practices. Presented outside the Rugerero Sector District Office, the performance stimulates discussion throughout the community.
When two of the 2010 participants, Eric and Vedoste, were talking, they remarked that their families had already started to ration their water after hearing the boys discuss at length “their daily dance class” at home. If dance can impact perceptions and practices to improve the health of children, there is no reason not to foster the growth of such a unique, powerful tool in the fight against global health risks.
Cross-Cultural, Cross-Training Exchange for Professional Dancers (2010)
Project Partners: Amizero Dance Kompagnie, US Embassy
Project Location: Kigali
In the second year of its professional partnership with Amizero, RDDC carried out a cross-training, cross-cultural dance program with 14 Rwandan dancers and 3 American teachers/dancers in Kigali in 2010. The program was designed to increase professional dancers’ exposure to a variety of dance genres in order to broaden their movement vocabularies. Consequently, the Americans taught classical ballet, modern and hip hop, and then learned traditional Kinyarwanda (Rwandan) dance from their peers.
Representing RDDC were Rebecca Davis (ballet), Victor Lewis Jr. (hip hop) and Tracy Vogt (modern). This was the first time professional dancers from RDDC had joined Rebecca in Rwanda for a project. In fact, it was also Tracy and Victor’s first experience traveling to Africa. They each reflected on their impressions of the program upon its conclusion:
“My trip to Rwanda representing the Rebecca Davis Dance Company was an extremely challenging but most rewarding endeavor. I was at first worried the language and cultural differences would be vast and difficult. I instead learned we shared a special bond and a deeper way of communicating through our shared love of dance. Basic comforts that we take for granted on a daily basis, such as running water and electricity, are in some places nonexistent in Rwanda. This simplistic living brings forth what is genuinely important, which is the triumph of the human spirit. The dedication, passion and perseverance of the Rwandan dancers, and people in general, was unlike anything I’ve experienced throughout my previous world travels. After learning of the difficult and horrendous atrocities these young dancers had experienced during the 1994 genocide, the endless joy and sheer happiness they exuded while dancing reminded me of the power to change lives and heal souls through dance. The limitless amount of energy and passion with which they embraced the various styles of dance we taught was profoundly inspiring to me. I am extremely grateful to have had this amazing opportunity to learn, share and experience this truly amazing country and to represent the Rebecca Davis Dance Company.”
Victor Lewis Jr.:
“Words can’t express how blessed I am to have been a part of this experience. This was my first dance teaching experience in Kigali, Rwanda. As an African American male, I feel very privileged to teach in my ancestral country. Teaching Rwandan dancers was so much fun because the dancers were not afraid to step out of their comfort zone with traditional dance and learn something new – like jazz and hip hop. The dancers made an excellent effort to imitate the different dance styles that they were taught. It was a pleasure for me to learn traditional dance and it took me out of my comfort zone. I learned that traditional dance is not about “dancing it”, but it is about capturing the style and dancing it correctly. This experience has changed my life: it has taught me how to appreciate everything that I have and not take life for granted. Our lives are special and every moment we should cherish. ”
Beyond the actual training, this program was an important step in furthering the partnership between Amizero and RDDC. The companies are exploring further possibilities for collaboration: mounting RDDC’s Darfur ballet in Africa with a mixed American/Rwandan cast, and presenting an evening about dance focused on reconciliation work in the USA. The daily training and mixing of dancers is a necessary step in achieving the larger shared vision of these two international dance companies.
The work of this program will be continued in 2012 when Rebecca Davis teaches the professional Rwandan dancers at The National University Cultural Arts Department in Butare for six weeks.
Project Archive: 2009
Project Title: Differences (2009)
Project Partners: Amizero Dance Kompagnie, US Embassy
Project Location: Butare & Kigali
In 2009, Rebecca Davis was commissioned to create an original contemporary ballet exploring interrelationships between different groups within a single society. The work was set on the principal dancers of Amizero Dance Kompagnie and performed in Butare and Kigali.
The concept of “Differences” emerged from a dialogue between Americans and Rwandans in the summer of 2008. We posed a question to one another: “what would it be like to live in a world where people were not divided and ostracized by their character traits, but rather had these peculiarities celebrated and praised for their uniqueness?” So often, we try to suppress or ignore differences, but in reality, it is those very elements that make life and cultural sharing an engaging and rewarding experience.
This 25-minute ballet with Rwandan dancers tells the story of the challenges and rewards of building friendships across historical cultural divisions. Whether those differences be based in religion, ethnicity, language, gender or otherwise, there is a way for us to be simultaneously different and united as demonstrated in our story.
A partnership between Amizero Dance Company of Rwanda & The Rebecca Davis Dance Company of the USA
- Project Coordinator & Dancer: Wesley Ruzibiza
- Dancers: Viateur Benimana & Eugene Dushime
- Choreographer: Rebecca Davis
- Photography & Documentation: Celesta Duivenvoorde
- Translation: Emmanuel Munyarukumbuzi
- Costumes: Francine Baughman
- Lighting: Steve Rukongi
- The American Embassy, Rwanda
- University Centre for Arts & Drama, Butare
- Leeway Arts & Change Foundation, Philadelphia
- Positive Production, Kalaos Media Design, Goethe Institute, Ishyo Arts Center in Rwanda
Project Title: Kids of Unity Hip Hop Group (Ongoing)
Project Location: Kigali
Kids of Unity was formed by a group of teenagers who were orphaned during the genocide. They had previously be living together in a safehouse sponsored by a local organization. However, when that organization closed from lack of funding, the children were sent back onto the streets. They use hip hop dance as a way of supporting themselves by performing at entertainment events and cultural festivals throughout the city of Kigali.
The RDDC and friends of the organization are sponsoring individual boys from the Kids of Unity Hip Hop Group to attend boarding school and receive an education. Most importantly, this gives them a safe place to sleep at night and ensures they will receive a meal everyday.
Project Archive: 2008
Project Title: 1994 in Philadelphia
Project Partners: Parkway High School for Peace & Social Justice, Leeway Foundation (Philadelphia)
Project Location: Kigali & Philadelphia
When Rebecca Davis returned from her first trip to Rwanda, she described the experience to her American ballet students at home as “the most powerful, emotional experience I have had thus far in my life.” Although she may still consider Russia the pinnacle of classical ballet and home to the heralded Vaganova Ballet School, traveling to Rwanda taught her something equally important about dance: it has the power to rejuvenate spirits in a post-conflict country.
For Rebecca, the experience brought her face to face with the devastating effects of the 1994 genocide in which the Great Lakes African nation lost at least 10% of its population in three months. Fourteen years later, 42% of the population was under the age of 14 years, and only 0.5% of the population held university degrees. There were 1,500 doctors for a population of 10 million. Within these difficult conditions, Rebecca witnessed people’s monumental efforts to rebuild their nation and wrestle with the question of reconciliation.
Inspired to share the impact of her international experience with American youth, Rebecca selected ten teenagers from public and charter schools across Philadelphia to create a community project entitled 1994 in Philadelphia. This creative movement work was inspired by stories of genocide survivors and generously supported by a Leeway Foundation Art and Change Grant. The group of American youth presented the work at several schools across the City of Philadelphia.