Couple bring hip hop happiness to Rwanda

Hip hop in full swing at Club Rafiki in Kigali… “Young Africans love dancing, it’s natural for them, so we thought formal hip hop teaching might go down well,” says Mandy Wheen.

Hip hop in full swing at Club Rafiki in Kigali… “Young Africans love dancing, it’s natural for them, so we thought formal hip hop teaching might go down well,” says Mandy Wheen.

THEY may seem unlikely hip hop advocates, but Rwandan enthusiasts David and Mandy Wheen have been instrumental in bringing urban dance classes to Kigali, the country’s capital.

“Unemployment is high, as is teenage pregnancy, drugs and instances of HIV,” says David. “A high percentage of the population are youth – 44 per cent – and there isn’t much for them to do.”

David, a former senior Immigration officer, and Mandy, a retired treasury official, have visited every year since 2007, when David worked there for a UN agency to help the Rwandan recovery. After a few visits they knew they wanted to do more for the country’s youth.

David and Mandy Wheen... “It’s a healthy, fun activity, but the kids also learn life skills, how to work in teams, prepare for performances, outline their goals and stick to something,” says David Wheen. Photo by Gary Schafer

David and Mandy Wheen… “It’s a healthy, fun activity, but the kids also learn life skills, how to work in teams, prepare for performances, outline their goals and stick to something,” says David Wheen. Photo by Gary Schafer

“Young Africans love dancing, it’s natural for them, so we thought formal hip hop teaching might go down well,” she said.

Inspired by the Fresh Funk dance class, run by Caroline Wall at the Tuggeranong Arts Centre, Mandy and David turned their attention to finding a place in Kigali to run free classes.

“We got in touch with Club Rafiki, a youth club which already had hairdressing classes, childcare, a gym, games and a library. They were keen, they found two young blokes to teach and the classes took off,” says  David.

Two years on and it’s been a huge success, he says, thanks to support from the Indigo Foundation, an independent community development organisation based in Australia.

“There was informal hip hop dancing going on already, but very few people could afford the hip hop discos that were held,” says David. “These classes are free and there’s a waiting list as long as your arm.

“There’s a sense of achievement and it’s good for their self-esteem.”

The club also provides a family planning and HIV education program, which has formed part of the couple’s most recent area of fundraising.

“One of the club members died from an HIV-related illness, and the young teachers had an idea to take dance demonstrations around the country, and to tie it in with HIV education for people in remote areas.

“Our experience in immigration and HR means we can bring those skills to bear in the Rwandan context,” says David.

“It’s also a delight to work together after all these years – we have four children and with our busy lives and careers over the years, we often didn’t see much of each other!”

Mandy says the poverty in Rwanda is hard to understand but despite it, the people seem happy and proud.

“We see improvements every time we go there, in attitudes as well as in physical development,” she says.

“For example, there are great opportunities for girls. Everyone believes kids should be at school. There is a strong sense of national purpose.

“But the perpetrators and survivors of the 100-day genocide in 1994 have to live together now, and the people there are physically and emotionally scarred for life.

“All these children who lost parents or older siblings in the genocide – they need something. It’s a deeper thing. It’s not just about dance classes.”

To donate, visit indigofoundation.org

 

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