So You Think You Can Dance: Rwanda

Rwanda Dancing

Happy Liberation Day! And happy USA Day too!

So… I think I’ve found my do-gooder thing to do in Kigali. I finally made it to a centre for street boys that is run by a Rwandan friend of mine and I loved it. The centre is home to about 20 boys ranging in age from about 8 up to 17. All of the kids have spent time living on the streets and many had also become addicted to huffing glue and paint which I’m told is pretty common here among street kids.

Some of the boys are orphans, some have left bad situations at home and others come from families who simply can’t afford them. All of them have extended families in and around Kigali and are encouraged to visit them during holidays but the centre is a safe place for them to live, away from the streets. They’re allowed to come and go as they please and some will head back to the streets (often to return to the centre shortly afterward), but it seems like most of the boys who are living there now are pretty amazing success stories.

They hosted a dance contest on Thursday afternoon and my friend who has already been a few times to give sex education type talks was invited to be a judge. She invited me to tag along and I ended up snapping loads of photos for the them. It was a pretty funny afternoon with eight of the kids competing for a grand price of Rwf 5,000 (about $9) and for the glory of being the best dancer and the centre. Things kicked off with short, individual rapping performances and then moved onto each of the kids dancing on their own for about 30 seconds. Then it was what seemed like an eternity of group dance-offs with various themes. The Michael Jackson round was my particular favourite, I’d have to say.

My friend and I were invited back again on Saturday because the boys wanted to cook us a traditional meal including ugali (also called casava bread which is a gooey dough-like substance that you use to scoop up the rest of your food). After getting destroyed at a few games of Uno with some of the guys, my friend and I went to help out in the kitchen which is basically two small barrels full of charcoal on the concrete floor, a table with some plastic tubs, and a water tap. They got the fires going, boiled up a huge amount of pasta and then got started on the main meat dish which ended up being delicious.

The process of making the ugali seems like it’s be a simple one… you just pour a special type of flour (or something that looks like flour) into boiling water and then stir. The problem is that the bread is so incredibly sticky that it made mixing it impossible for us. We both had a crack at it with little success. Meanwhile the guys were whipping the bread dough around like it was no problem. One boy would hold the boiling hot pot as the other stirred and I was impressed by both of those feats!

It was really great to see how well the guys worked together. My Rwandan friend tells me that they were all on their best behaviour that day, but it’s still cool to see them all pitch in together to cook, clean and serve the food. Apparently they’re in teams and alternate the duties. They all knew exactly what they were doing and made cooking over hot coals look easy!

I don’t know much yet about how the centre is funded but I’m curious to know more. They guys are able to go to school, they’re fed and also provided with clothes. They have a German guy working there, I think as a volunteer, along with my Rwandan friend and another woman. There’s a night guard and I think that’s the extent of their staff.

I’m not really sure yet what my role could be. I’ve already talked to them about building a website, so that’s on the go. They’ve asked me to show the guys some basic computer skills but with one small computer and 20 kids, I’m not sure how realistic that’ll be. But I’ll give it a go. Plus they’ve got a really messed up looking garden that could potentially be turned into something that’ll provide them with food if we can clean it up. I could also help with their English just by hanging out.

We’ll see what happens! I like the kids, the centre seems well-run, and it’s the kind of place I could see myself getting really into. It’d be a drastically different volunteer experience than I’m used to but it’s fun to get a bit outside your comfort zone and see where it takes you.

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