By Judy Mwongela
At 9 years old, Given James has already developed a keen interest in cultural dances. His face lights up every time he dances.
“Since his early years, Given has always been a curious and an observant child. He was always interested in learning and imitating what he saw the older children do and that’s where he developed an interest in cultural dances “says Leah Alphayo, his mother.
On a Thursday afternoon, Given is observing choreography lessons taught to youths and other children like him at a local Center near his home in Kibera called Foundation of Hope. It is from this center that Given learnt how to drum and practices his dancing skills.
Founded in 2006, Foundation of Hope was aimed at changing the lives of people living in Kibera by investing in talent development and comprehensive education. The organization was founded by 5 members of the community who initially interacted and educated residents on pressing issues such as HIV/AIDS through magnetic theatre. The team grew its audience through magnetic theatre motivating them to expand the initiative to reach different demographics of the population among them children, parents, and the youth.
“The first program we added was Family Matters which focused on the parents discussing issues affecting them and their children. By talking with the parents, we got to understand how to engage children and the youth in our programs,” says David Dinda, Programme Coordinator and Cofounder, Foundation of Hope. Parents also received training on financial literacy.
With that knowledge, the organization based in 42 area introduced another program dubbed Healthy Choices targeting children and the youth that taught them about their rights, and imparted life skills such as decision making and discipline.
With time, this program expanded to include activities that captured the interests of children and youth among them poetry, art, music and dance. “We incorporated these activities into the training as a way of not only imparting crucial life skills but also developing their talents,” says Dinda.
The Healthy Choices Program targets children and youth from the 8 villages in Kibera. During training, participants are clustered in three groups targeting those aged three to 11 years ,12 to 17 years and the youth aged between 17 to 35.
Dance and poetry classes for children are held in the evenings after school while art classes happen on weekends from 3 p.m. Girls also attend life skills and mentorship classes on weekends where they discuss issues affecting them such as menstrual hygiene, sexual reproductive health, period poverty and access to education among others. The youth that have gone through the program and completed often come back to train the younger ones.
Given who aspires to pursue dance as a career when he grows up, is among the children that are benefiting from the centre.
Through these trainings learners acquire useful skills and values. “When you look at cultural dance for example, it’s more than just dancing. It helps instill values of the community to the learners,” says Dinda.
Vincent Odhiambo, 20 is one of the youth that have benefited from the programmes. The form four student says that he almost dropped out of school because of peer influence.
” I wasn’t getting along with my parents and was at the verge of dropping out of school due to peer pressure. I came here and got through mentorship and also got interested in music,” he says.
Odhiambo reckons that the sessions that also bring parents on board have made it possible to openly discuss issues with his parents and eased tension at home. With the change of mindset, Odhiambo is looking forward to joining university to major in Computer Science once the KCSE results are out.
Other skills taught include poultry keeping, making liquid soap and detergent, bead work, and murals. The organization helps market the products of the trainees and links them to job opportunities.
“These income generating activities are meant to keep the center afloat. Proceeds from the activities also help the trainees stay in school by paying their fees and cover some of their basic necessities,” adds Dinda.
While 20% of the portion of the income generated from the sale of products and the money earned from perfoming in events goes back to the center.
The organization also raises money to cover operational costs for the center through fundraising and donations. They also raise funds through garbage collection where they charge Ksh.30 and by hiring out the centre for meetings and gatherings.
Scarcity of resources and lack of community support are some of the challenges that face the center.
“Training parents sometimes requires a sitting allowance and other times we hire external facilitators to train them on financial literacy which all require resources that we don’t necessarily have,” says Dinda.
Dinda notes that community involvement is minimal even in activities like clean ups yet their support could go a long way in boosting development. “Sadly, we live in a community that always believes in receiving help other than taking part in creating solutions,” he says.
Leah also notes that many youth and children are succumbing to negative peer influence. “Children in this generation are really difficult to handle and follow peer influence which has been a norm for most youths living in the area ,”says Leah.
Dinda believes Kibera has the potential to flourish and produce a generation that is well informed and whose talents are developed to impact the world positively. In the long run he aspires to see the center run its operations independently and sustainably without relying in donations.