"I teach because I believe that all children should have the opportunity of discovering their strengths. By allowing children the opportunity to learn, discover and develop themselves and their talents, we can change their perception of self-worth and they could become anything they want to be."
Michael Wamaya was forced to drop out of high school near Lake Victoria due to financial constraints, but a chance audition with the visiting Kenya Performing Arts Group allowed him to move to Nairobi and study dance. As a dance instructor, in 2009 Michael joined Anno’s Africa, a UK-based charity that offers an alternative, arts education to orphans and vulnerable children in some of Africa’s most desperately deprived areas, with a particular focus on those living in slum conditions in Kenya.
Kibera, Nairobi, is the slum home to 700,000 people, the most unlikely setting for a ballet school. But with the help of Michael’s dedicated teaching, under the tin roofs of community buildings in the Kibera and Mathare slums, of Nairobi, students here have become accomplished dancers, winning scholarships to further their education. Over Christmas some performed The Nutcracker at the Kenya National Theatre.
With Michael’s tutoring and mentorship, this alternative art project has provided a safe space for children to grow, develop their skills and access opportunities. Here he combines the teaching of dance skills with social skills, with many other teachers commenting that his ballet classes have also had a positive effect on students’ wider academic work. Michael’s encouragement of pride and self-awareness amongst his young students has also helped turn around dropout rates and teenage pregnancy rates for those attending his lessons.
His programme explores their individual human potential and creativity in a much broader sense: who they are, what they think and believe, what they want for their futures, which has brought them a lot of confidence and self-esteem. At the same time, needy children within the programme have gained scholarships, enabling them to finish their studies, and the programme has created a platform where children can engage in creative activities while developing their artistic careers.