CNN initiative shaping Kenya’s creative future
Inside Africa on CNN International reports from the Kibera district of Nairobi, an area which is home to around a quarter of a million people, but also a rising performing arts programme in Africa’s largest slum.
The programme speaks to teachers and students of a new artistic movement which hopes to encourage schoolchildren to see the benefits of dance and performance in an area where many struggle to make ends meet.
A figure at the heart of this new programme is Mike Wamaya, who followed a similar path to many of the children today, as he explains to ‘Inside Africa’: “During my childhood, there was really nothing so you either play football or you end up in crime… You struggle getting a decent education. You struggle with just relatives and friends. and you struggle with having role models because people are marginalised.”
Wamaya followed his passion for dance and performance, but choosing such an unconventional path wasn’t without its challenges, as he explains to CNN: “I didn't get the chance to go to high school… I wanted to be in the creative industry so I used to do a bit of dancing and a bit of singing [but] arts was never looked as something sustainable.”
However, through auditioning for the Kenya Performing Arts Group, Wamaya was offered a full scholarship to study dance – which eventually led him to him being approached by two organisations who were looking for tutors for a new arts programme.
Now nine years on, Wamaya is a fulltime dance teacher for the charities Anno’s Africa and One Fine Day, with almost 400 students having passed through his programme.
Krysteen Savane, the project manager of Anno’s Africa, outlines the work of the group to ‘Inside Africa’: “Predominantly, these kids come from the slums and they're from very poor backgrounds so they face so many challenges… Art generally enables children to express themselves, whatever they are feeling, whatever they want and most of all, they're able to have fun.”
As well as helping boost the confidence of students, there has also been noticeable changes in school attendance and class participation. Alongside this, earlier this year, Wamaya was nominated as a finalist for The Global Teacher Prize in Dubai.
Wamaya explains what this recognition means for both him and the programme: “There are lots and lots of young people my age who've given their entire lives in teaching and they never get recognized… To me, I feel enriched with this program because I see a complete different society in the next 10, 15 years because these are the people who are going to invest in Kibera. These are the people who are going to make a difference.”
‘Inside Africa’ meets students who, as a result of the programmes in the slums, are now afforded the opportunity refine their talents at the studios of former professional ballerina, Cooper Rust, and perform around the world.
One of these dancers is 16-year-old Joel Kioko, who has been offered a full-time scholarship at the English National Ballet School in London as a result of his training at Rust’s studio.
Rust explains what is so unique about Kioko’s dancing abilities, having also come from Kuwinda, another one of Nairobi’s slums: “I've never seen anyone move that balletically with no training whatsoever. He has these legs and this fire, so I invited him to come and train with me.”
Ahead of his move to London, Kioko is currently assisting Wamaya with his ballet classes in the hope of helping others access the arts and discover their potential.
Reflecting on how his work has helped influence the lives of schoolchildren in Nairobi, Wamaya tells ‘Inside Africa’: “What I do with the children is I make them understand your self-worth…
They learn the importance of sharing at a very early age and you can succeed no matter where you are. I teach possibilities. Dreaming is possible and I let children dream in my class. Dreaming, they get to where they want to get.”
‘Inside Africa’ airs Friday 28 April at 1930 EAT on CNN International