Student Leadership Initiative, Africa

Seven members of SMU’s recently formed Student Leadership Initiative (SLI) are in Rwanda, Uganda and Johannesburg during May 2012. The students are researching human rights issues and empowerment solutions for three African countries recovering from decades of genocide, war, famine, disease and apartheid. Pat Davis, associate director of the Embrey Human Rights Program, is accompanying them on the program.

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Last day in Rwanda (Part 2)

An update from Katie, a sophomore majoring in dance, international studies and human rights:

Leaving Urukundo was tough – I wish we had been able to stay longer… I have a feeling that I may be back sometime in the future. Those children’s sweet faces and prayers will forever be imprinted on my heart. After leaving, we headed to our last stop in Rwanda, a non-profit pertaining to Allison’s research on community arts programs. This program in particular was started by Rebecca Davis Dance in partnership with FIDESCO, an international humanitarian and development non-profit. The program offers dance classes to street boys (kids who don’t attend school and survive alone on the streets), as well as basic IT courses.

Rebecca Davis, an American ballerina, started this program out of her desire to “use dance as a tool of community revitalization.” This really affected me…. For the past semester I have been greatly struggling to understand who I am as a dancer and what I am even supposed to do with it. I asked myself more than once, “What’s the point? What can I do for the world with a degree in dance…?” God has continually given me peace through these times of frustration and encouraged me to continue pursuing what I love. Because I truly, truly love to dance. Seeing what Rebecca Davis was able to do with classical ballet training combined with a highly successful academic resume (Fulbright Scholar and a Master of International Relations) really encouraged me. I had hoped that dance could be used in this way, but up until this point, I never actually experienced it.

As we walked into the area where the classes are held, we heard music and my heart just about skipped a beat from excitement! We hadn’t expected them to be holding class on a Friday afternoon, but God’s timing proved to be perfect yet again! They were stretching and warming up just as we walked in.

I adore the universality of dance. Those boys spoke not a word of English and have probably never seen a ballet performance in their life, but who cares? We speak the same language. They stretched in the very same way that I would in a jazz class at SMU. We all have the same body, 2 feet and 2 hands. Cultural differences seem to set us apart, but in reality – we are all dancers. Mirrors and pianists and leotards – those are not what define a dance class. Half of them were shirtless, wearing tattered shorts and dirty from head to toe. But everything inside of me smiled to see them do the very same things I do every single day. A dance class for street boys in Uganda is no different from a dance class for students in an American university.

 

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After warm-up, the boys lined up to go across the floor one at a time. They started out with their battements, striving to press their shoulders down and stretch their knees. By the time pirouettes came around, I couldn’t stand it any more. I had to join them. After my first time across the floor, giving my very best triple pirouettes, I got cheers and thumbs up from lots of the boys. Somehow, approval from these boys gave me infinitely more satisfaction and joy than an A in ballet class….

We jumped and leaped and spun across the floor over and over and over again. I had the time of my life…. I ended class with hugs and high-fives. With each goodbye, God whispered to me that He blessed me with the gift of dance so that I could bless His children through it. I will be back, I have absolutely no doubt. Yay dance!

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