Last month I was part of a really special project. Nicola (founder & Director of Arts Catalyst), Pervez (Live 2 Break Crew), Bret (7$ Crew) and I travelled to Rwanda on a project we set up to work with a group of street children.The roots of the project, Catalyst Rwanda are pretty unique. 19 years ago Nicola was travelling thorugh Africa and became friends with Rafiki Callixe. The lost touch in the aftermath of the genocide and only got back in touch last year when he tracked her down on facebook. Rafiki now runs Les Enfants De Dieu, an incredible centre for street kids, boys either orphaned by the genocide, the AIDs epidemic or they are run aways.Nicola and I started planning this project in January 2011 … a mere 10 months later thanks to the Ellie Maxwell Bursary (Clore Leadership Programme) and generous donations through friends, families and strangers on We Did This, we made it to Rwanda.
The trip was incredible, a totally unique and humbling experience. I think what struck me most is the joy that simple things can bring. Dancing together, sharing food together, laughing, playing football. We worked with the boys most days, and when it was a day off we ended up there anyway and played football for hours in a field full of the boys, a heard of cows and some goats.
The boys were a joy. Aged 6-20 years they have lived and experienced things that most grown adults in other parts of the world cannot imagine. Some times you would see one of the boys, so far away, lost in some trauma. It was heart breaking to see and not be able to reach them. But then something would happen to pull them back, a smile would burst on their faces and things would move on.
We taught outside on a basket ball pitch – a massive rectangle of concrete in the middle of a lush green field. 126 children learning breaking at once. It was intense but really good fun. We had an interpreter so Pervez could really get into the philosphy and technique of the dance. We all learnt a few words … I do remember ‘Omva’ … LISTEN hahahaha.
The boys look out for each other. A really community in that centre. Rafiki has a great system. The Ministers (based on the Rwandan government structure) are aged about 14 or 15 and are voted in for a year. So there is a minister for Education, one for Health and so on. These boys run the centre, making all decisions on expenditure and what donations are spent on. Rafiki said jokingly that they could sack him! What I saw was a system that is educating future leaders. This is the ultimate leadership programme. These children are not like those in the UK or most countries to be honest. They really are street wise, having survived when many did not, they are so savvy, a few minutes in their company and they have you down … your character, values, your intentions. They are learning, in simple terms they are getting a good education that they can take right through to University level or get a trade. In more complex terms they are learning self belief, team spirit, how to look after and care for themselves and those around them, long term strategic planning, how to have fun and enjoy themselves and so much more.
I called this article boys who are the future men, they will become men early due to what they have lived through. But due to the love, care and opportunities that Rafiki and his team provide for them these boys will become wise, independent, self assured men. A Rwandan man we spoke to one day said that you can build a peaceful future from a space of peace. It really felt like Rwanda has started to find its peace and I am sure that these boys, soon to be men, will be future fathers, leaders and shapers of this country. I feel honored to have met them.
Photos by Kate, Bret and Elena
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