…By Joseph Benjamin for TDPel Media.
Doreen, a 13-year-old girl living in Kibera, the biggest slum in East Africa, dreams of being a dancer.
She takes free ballet classes at Project Elimu, a community initiative that specializes in dance.
Despite the challenges of living in Kibera, Doreen is grateful for the opportunity to pursue her passion and develop her skills.
Living in Kibera
Kibera is a challenging place to live, but it is full of energy.
Doreen walks to her ballet class from her family’s cramped two-room house.
Despite the lack of space, Doreen’s family supports her love for ballet.
However, she couldn’t afford to go to school in the past, and it was difficult for her to be left out while others were in class.
But Project Elimu’s ballet classes are free, which allows her to continue pursuing her passion.
Project Elimu is a one-story building that provides classes on dance and other extra-curricular activities for children of all ages.
They offer classes for young women on sexual health, including information about periods, sexual and reproductive rights, and unplanned pregnancies.
Elimu provides food for the students, which is prepared by a group of young women on a scholarship fund.
Winnie, one of the helpers at Elimu, explains how she had to drop out of school when she got pregnant at 15.
However, getting a job at Elimu has given her back her confidence and helped to repair her relationship with her mother.
The project paid for her high school education and helped her take care of her younger siblings.
Mike Wamaya is the 38-year-old founder of Project Elimu, a former dancer who is also the main ballet teacher.
He believes that arts education is essential in Kibera, despite some people seeing it as a waste of time.
Through dance, students learn teamwork, personal expression, and being part of a system.
Wamaya has big plans for the project and has secured another plot of land to build a multi-story center for dance classes and other extra-curricular activities.
Challenges for Women and Girls
Women and girls face significant challenges in Kibera, particularly since the pandemic.
It’s home to a quarter of a million people, packed together in a warren of dirt streets and tin-roofed shacks with poor sanitation and shared toilets.
Not everyone can afford to go to school, and Covid shutdowns disrupted the education of 18 million students in Kenya.
When schools reopened at the start of 2021, only 84% of girls returned, compared to 92% of boys.
Project Elimu holds dance performances in Kibera’s main square to address stigma around subjects such as periods, such as girls not being allowed to go to church when menstruating.
Doreen is buzzing after the performance, saying that she learned confidence and how to take care of herself through Project Elimu.
She dreams of becoming a professional dancer and performing in the UK.
Project Elimu provides a place of tranquility and fun in the midst of Kibera’s chaos, where children can develop their skills, receive education on important topics, and enjoy a sense of community.
Donations to the project can help provide food support to children whose parents may not be able to provide them with basic necessities.