Dance Offers Street Children Path to Education

    05 March, 2014


    From VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report.

    American LaMar Baylor spends most of his time in New York City, he works as a performer in the Broadway musical - The Lion King.

    But since 2011, he has also spent weeks in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. There, he teaches dance to boys who live on the street. His teaching is part of an effort by the Rebecca Davis Dance Company. The project helps young people learn more about dance and learn how to behave in a classroom environment.

    Dance Offers Street Children Path to Education
    Rebecca Davis and LaMar Baylor (seated left in white) teach ballet to street children in Kigali, Rwanda. (Courtesy Rebecca Davis Dance Company)

    LaMar Baylor describes his students as genocide survivors. They have lost all of their families, some have been in jail, others have sold their bodies for sex.

    "They have been through things that no one should ever have to go through," said Baylor.

    He says, dance classes provide the children with structured learning and self-expression that they've never had before.

    Rebecca Davis is the founder and director of the dance company. She says she got the idea for the project after she visited Rwanda in 2008. She remembers meeting a large number of street children who were dancing, and she thought that dance could be used to get them off the street and into a safer place. Rebecca Davis believes that learning to dance is a step toward education.

    "When you start to play music in Rwanda, these kids come out of nowhere and they enter the center. And it's because of dance that they have a way of exchanging their physicality, their survival skills that they learn on the street, and their strength, into something that's actually artistic and aesthetic," said Davis.

    She says children can take classes in information and technology after they have learned to attend classes and follow directions.

    Boys who have done best in the classes win scholarships, and are sent to the Sunrise Boarding School, about 30 boys have won this kind of financial aid. She says all the students are male, because few girls in Rwanda live freely on the street.

    The Rwanda program is the largest one set up by the Rebecca Davis Dance Company, but Ms Davis has also set up dance programs in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Guinea. About 2,000 children in the three countries have taken part in the project since it was launched in 2010.

    As for LaMar Baylor, he knows from his own experience how dance can lead to a better life. He is from Camden, New Jersey. Camden has sometimes been called America's poorest and most dangerous city.

    Mr Baylor says that growing up in Camden, it took a long time for him to find out what he want to do. He now thanks dancing saved his life.

    And that's the VOA Learning English Education Report, I'm Bob Doughty.