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Photo: Slum2School.
Slum2School volunteers in Nigeria come from all walks of life and help coordinate enrichment activities for children.

One precept that the pandemic underscored for us all is that children need to be in school. We know how hard the year was for American children who couldn’t go in person, but just imagine what it was like for kids in a poor Nigerian neighborhood with no computers! In fact, the children in today’s article are lucky to have school at all. An idealistic young Nigerian man made it happen.

Shola Lawal writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “It was one of the few times Otto Orondaam was ever tempted to quit.

“The year was 2012 and Mr. Orondaam’s passion project, Slum2School, was off to a bumpy start. Here in Makoko, a low-income neighborhood on the Lagos Lagoon, many fishing families need children to stay home and help with their trade. His brand-new nonprofit aimed to get those kids into school, and for weeks, he’d planned an event, hounding a medical company for mosquito nets to hand out as an incentive.

“But just minutes before, the company called – it could not deliver the nets.

“ ‘I cried horribly,’ the young reformer recalls, laughing, sitting in a well-lit office and sporting a deep-blue turtleneck. ‘The parents were waiting and this was going to be the highlight of the event, the only thing they could take home, but there were no nets. It was a heartbreaking moment for me.’

“But Mr. Orondaam’s upbeat personality soon took over. He quickly called up friends, asking for donations. Two hours later, he zoomed in and out of a market, purchasing and distributing 200 mosquito nets – and ended up enrolling 114 children in existing public primary and high schools that the organization partnered with.

“Fast-forward to 2021, and Slum2School says it has directly sponsored almost 2,000 children. Many are still from Makoko – including Hamdalat Hussein’s grandson, Abdulmalik.

‘What Slum2School is doing for us here is good,’ she says in the local Yoruba language. … ‘I am praying to see him become somebody after he finishes school.’

“Nigeria has one of the world’s highest rates of out-of-school children, according to UNICEF – around one-third – although primary education is free and compulsory. Learning during pandemic shutdowns has been especially challenging, since only around half the population has internet access. … When the pandemic struck, Slum2School launched a virtual class for high schoolers, after distributing hundreds of tablets.

“ ‘I was able to teach myself graphics design and many things like how to make logos and flyers,’ says Habeebat Olatunde. Her siblings had skipped around her, fascinated, as she joined hundreds of children in class from their home in Iwaya, another low-income neighborhood bordering Makoko. Now in her final year of high school, Habeebat says she wants to be a human rights lawyer and fight for vulnerable teenage girls. …

“On a recent afternoon, Mr. Orondaam sat in Slum2School’s headquarters in the upscale Lekki area of Lagos, with outer walls shaped like colorful crayons. He flicked through old photos and chuckled at one of himself, thin and sunburned – one of the first times he went to Makoko, standing beside smiling parents holding nets, with the neighborhood’s wooden shacks as a backdrop.

“Growing up in Port Harcourt, a city in southern Nigeria, Mr. Orondaam studied to be a doctor but pivoted to social work, influenced by his parents. His father was the first doctor from his village and would offer free services. His mother was basically ‘everyone’s mother,’ he says. ‘Our classmates would not have sandals, and my mum would come and take yours and give them. The things I picked up from that was devotion to service, serving with your heart.’ …

“He first encountered Makoko through a documentary. … He felt compelled to visit while completing his National Youth Service Corps in Lagos – a mandatory one-year program for Nigerian university graduates.

“ ‘It was the first time I was seeing that kind of community,’ Mr. Orondaam remembers. ‘There were kids there who had never been in school and had no plans to go. I loved the energy. I knew they were happy, but I thought, “You can be happier with education; if you have an education, you can make better choices.” ‘

“He resigned from his stifling bank job and started weekly visits to Makoko, updating friends via a blog. When he came up with the idea to send 100 children to school, they supported him.” 

Read what happened next at CSM, here.

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Photo:
In a Brazilian favela, Rocywood actors pose with their screenwriter and their director.

The headlines from the slums of Brazil are hardly ever good. Between the gang violence and the police violence, there is frequent loss of life among innocent bystanders. So anytime I see something upbeat about these places — say, colorfully painted houses or musical instruments created from dump discards — I want to share the news.

This story is about the joy of making movies, even when the movies are about the harshness of life. It’s about the feeling of rising above it all.

Mariana Simões writes at Hyperallergic, ” Stacks of houses that showcase raw, exposed brick frame the rooftop view where I meet screenwriter Fabiana Escobar, or Bibi Danger, as she is known in Rio de Janeiro’s Rocinha, the largest favela in Brazil.

“With around 70,000 inhabitants, Rocinha is a vibrant community made up of low-income improvised homes built atop rolling hills that tower over Rio de Janeiro like a city within a city. Rocinha is also where, since 2015, Escobar and four other filmmakers have championed a budding film scene they call ‘Rocywood,’ combining Rocinha with Hollywood. Their Rocywood production company has one award-winning short under its belt and another short and two features in the making.

The films portray local realities, from the joys of growing up in a tight-knit neighborhood to the difficulties residents face living among drug traffickers and gun violence.

“ ‘When I was a kid, I stayed home to watch the Oscars on TV and I would marvel at every little detail. Hollywood creates that kind of magic that envelops us, even though it’s something that is so distant from our reality,’ Escobar says. …  ‘I grew up with that magic, but the industry doesn’t embrace Rocinha. We have to create our own magic. We are going to make it happen for ourselves.’

“The 38-year-old screenwriter used to own a salon and clothing store, but now rents out her shop while she dedicates her life to making Hollywood magic. But most of the people involved can’t afford to make movies full-time.

“ ‘The actors, the producers, the whole team has a second job. I am a manager at a clothing store, and I make films up here on the hill on the side,’ says Sergio Dias, Rocywood’s 31-year-old director. Dias was born and raised in Rocinha where he is known by his stage name, Sergio Mib. His one-bedroom apartment functions as a dressing room and houses Rocywood’s equipment and props, including three toy assault rifles that look impressively real.

“Rocywood’s productions cost $50 dollars (USD) on average. The filmmakers often take the budget out of their own pockets to cover transportation fees and snacks. With no dedicated financing, everyone in the community pitches in to make the films come to life, from lending filming equipment to styling hair and makeup for free at the local salon. Dias explains that Rocywood makes a conscious effort to include only people from favelas in its productions. The films, made for locals by locals, are screened on the streets of Rocinha using a projector and an improvised tarp as a screen, but are also available on YouTube for a worldwide audience to see. …

“I went in search of Rocinha’s low-budget Hollywood scene after meeting American filmmaker Alan Hofmanis by chance at a traditional Rio de Janeiro fast-food style chicken restaurant in the bustling tourist neighborhood of Copacabana. I struck up a conversation with him about his dessert and ended up learning about Wakaliwood, Uganda’s version of Hollywood, named after Wakaliga, the slum in Uganda’s capital of Kampala where the films are made.

“Eight years ago, after Hofmanis saw a trailer for a feature by Ugandan director Isaac Nabwana that mixed mafia gangs, kung fu, and gun fighting, he hopped on a plane to meet Nabwana. In 2013, Hofmanis sold everything he owned in New York and moved to Wakaliga, where he has been making movies with Nabwana ever since. Nabwana founded Uganda’s first action-film company, has produced about 45 films, and just had his feature Crazy World premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

“Fascinated by Nabwana and his ability to make kitschy action films with budgets around 65 dollars that still draw in millions of online viewers, Hofmanis searched the world for others like him. He found people in Ghana, India, Afghanistan, Peru, and even Siberia who are also making low-budget, Hollywood-inspired productions. He came to Brazil in the hopes of discovering the same scene in Rio de Janeiro. …

“The American filmmaker believes low-budget, Hollywood-inspired films are a growing phenomenon. … ‘They are taking something that is outside their reality and spinning it and making it their own,’ he says. ‘So maybe this [new movement] can be called the Micro Wave because it’s a New Wave movement, but it’s based on these micro-economies.’ …

“Escobar summarizes, ‘I decided our next feature will be a horror film to break free from that stigma that because I live in a favela, I can only make films about drug trafficking and violence. If we want to write about drug trafficking it will be a great film, but we can rock other narratives, too, and we want to break that barrier.’ ”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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Photo: Rajanish Kakade/AP
Amiruddin Shah, the son of a welder from a Mumbai slum, won a spot at the American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in New York.

Even though I know the culture shock can’t be easy for poor but talented kids given opportunities that lift them from slums, I do enjoy these hopeful stories.

Manish Mehta writes for the Associated Press, “The son of a welder from [Mumbai’s] slums had a dream few Indians dared to dream — to dance with the New York City Ballet.

“In a few months, that dream may be a little bit closer as 15-year-old Amiruddin Shah begins four years of training at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. …

“Shah began studying ballet less than three years ago when Israeli-American instructor Yehuda Maor was invited by the Danceworx Academy to teach in India — a country with no special ballet academies.

“Maor happened to catch Shah doing cartwheels and backflips as part of the Danceworx jazz and contemporary dance program for underprivileged students.

“ ‘I had no idea about ballet,’ Shah recalled. He had been dancing freestyle whenever he got the chance — sometimes he was invited to weddings to perform, sometimes he just goofed around with friends. …

“Within 2 ½ years, Shah had nailed his pointe, pirouette and arabesque, ‘which is unheard of,’ Maor said. …

“Maor bought Shah ballet shoes and dance clothes and helped him and another young dancer, 21-year-old Manish Chauhan, win scholarships in June to New York’s Joffrey Ballet School. But they could not secure U.S. visas in time. …

“Now, Shah is trying to raise funds for four years of travel and tuition with the American Ballet Theatre in New York. They have enough for his first year, beginning in August, but have set up a website to accept donations for three more years in the U.S. …

“ ‘I am so excited, but slightly scared, too,’ said Shah, who speaks basic English but used Hindi in an interview with The Associated Press. ‘How would I interact with people? New York is very crowded.’

“One day, he hopes to be a principal dancer in the New York Ballet. And eventually, he said, ‘I want to teach other children who cannot afford to pay for dance.’ ” More here.

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Photo: AP
Young ballerinas practice under the instruction of Kenyan ballet dancer Joel Kioko, 16, left, in a room at a school in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya.

The other day, someone clicked on all my ballet and dance posts without leaving a comment. I can tell from looking at my site stats.

I hope whoever it was is still checking as I have another great dance story today. It was reported by AP staff in Australia on December 26, 2016.

“Joel Kioko is arguably Kenya’s most promising young ballet dancer. Currently training in the United States, he has come home for Christmas — and is dancing a solo in a Nairobi production of The Nutcracker while he’s here. …

“Kioko grew up in Nairobi’s Kuwinda slum and took his first dance class five years ago in a public school classroom, with bare walls, no barre and no mirror, the desks and chairs pushed outside. …

“ ‘I don’t know what I could have done without ballet, without dancing,’ Kioko said. …

“He was discovered by a fellow dance student who at age 14 was teaching a class at his school and told her teacher, [Dance Centre Kenya’s artistic director, Cooper] Rust, about him.

“ ‘From the beginning, when he joined the ballet, there was nothing else he could talk about,’ said Kioko’s mother, Angela Kamene, who raised him and his sister in a one-bedroom shack shared with an aunt and a grandmother. …

“Now others are pursuing dance as a way out of poverty. … Michael Wamaya, a finalist for the 2017 Global Teacher Prize, teaches dance to around 100 kids a week in Nairobi’s Kibera and Mathare slums.

“At the end of the day, we’re not just training them to have dance for fun, we’re doing it in a serious level,” Wamaya said. …

“ ‘People say sometimes, why are you not teaching them, for instance, African dance or hip hop?’ he said. ‘Yes, it’s a Western thing coming in, but it’s dance, and dance is diverse, you know? To me, it’s not about ballet as a dance style, but it’s about the discipline that ballet has in itself as a dance technique.’

“As the only son in a family growing up without a father, Kioko laughed at the notion that some people might consider a man in tights, dancing classical ballet, to be unmanly. He was teased by some in his neighbourhood about the dancing, he said, but he never had to fight.

“ ‘Where I came from there is poverty, there is stealing, there is drugs,’ Kioko said. ‘You have to be a man to live in where we live. … It’s like a lion in the jungle, you have to show that you are the male there, you are the one who roars and everyone follows.’ ”

More here.

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John knows a good blog topic when he sees it. This tip he gave me is about minimally invasive education, which brings learning to the poorest of the poor.

According to wikipedia, “Dr. Sugata Mitra, Chief Scientist at NIIT, is credited with the discovery of Hole-in-the-Wall [HiWEL]. As early as 1982, he had been toying with the idea of unsupervised learning and computers.

“Finally, in 1999, he decided to test his ideas in the field. On 26th January, Dr. Mitra’s team carved a ‘hole in the wall’ that separated the NIIT premises from the adjoining slum in Kalkaji, New Delhi. Through this hole, a freely accessible computer was put up for use.

“This computer proved to be an instant hit among the slum dwellers, especially the children. With no prior experience, the children learned to use the computer on their own. This prompted Dr. Mitra to propose the following hypothesis: ‘The acquisition of basic computing skills by any set of children can be achieved through incidental learning provided the learners are given access to a suitable computing facility, with entertaining and motivating content and some minimal (human) guidance.’ ”

More at Hole-in-the-Wall.com. Also at the Christian Science Monitor.

And of course, I have to say a word about the program’s appearance in Bhutan, since Suzanne loves Bhutan.

“One of the major projects that HiWEL is in the process of executing is for the Royal Government of Bhutan. The project is part of a large Indo-Bhutan project formally known as the Chiphen Rigpel (broadly meaning ‘Enabling a society, Empowering a nation’). Chiphen Rigpel is an ambitious project designed to empower Bhutan to become a Knowledge-based society.” Read more.

Photograph: HiWEL
Playground Learning Stations in Dewathang Gewog of Samdrup Jongkhar District in Eastern Bhutan.

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A new exhibit organized by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York demonstrates the power of design to make life better for disadvantaged people.

“This is a design show about remaking the world … And that’s thrilling,” writes Michael Kimmelman, “whether it’s happening in Cupertino, Calif., or Uganda, where H.I.V. infects hundreds of people a day, and the latest news cellphone-wise has been the design and distribution of a text-messaging system that spreads health care information.

“In Kibera, an area of Nairobi, Kenya, and one of the densest slums in Africa, the challenge was different. Traditional wood and charcoal fires cause rampant respiratory disease there. Refuse fills the streets. So a Nairobian architect designed a community cooker, fueled by refuse residents collect in return for time using the ovens.

“From cellphones and cookers to cities: in Thailand, a public program called Baan Mankong Community Upgrading has, for the last eight years, been improving conditions in hundreds of that country’s 5,500 slums, bringing residents together with government and nongovernment agencies to design safer, cleaner places to live.”

Read more in the NY Times.

You will also enjoy reading about slum (favela) painting in Brazil and what a new coat of paint can do for building residents’ skills while lifting their spirits.

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