On this week’s African Voices Changemakers, CNN highlights the work of two people empowering children through the arts. In Nigeria, choreographer Seyi Oluyole is giving kids a better life through dance and in South Africa, Gcina Mhlophe’s passion for story-telling is inspiring children to open books.
Seyi Oluyole is the founder of Dream Catchers, a dance academy for impoverished children in Nigeria. A self-taught dancer, Oluyole uses her talents to inspire and educate children. She explains to host Arit Okpo how her own experiences help her to relate to these children, “After we had the whole financial difficulty and we were living on the streets, my parents were able to gather enough money for us to move close to the slum so when I go to that area, I realised that even though I’d had some hard times, what I’d gone through was nothing compared to what these kids were going through.”
Oluyole attended college in the United States, but returned to Nigeria to share her skills, feeling that she could make more of an impact by coming back home. She stresses the importance of education to all the children telling the programme, “Some of (the kids) were not in school, the ones that were in school were not taking school seriously, so then I began to use dance as this tool to get them to do something serious with their lives. So, I would just tell them oh, if you don’t go to school or if you are not doing well in school, you can’t come to dance rehearsal.”
Oluyole also helps in other ways. Nine of the children from the academy now live with her, which she explains is offering them a better environment. She tells CNN she realised, “How important it was to have kids leave the toxic community that they were living in”, but stresses that, “Knowing that I can’t really have all of them with me, sometimes, it makes me wish I could do more.”
Funding the combined cost of the dance academy and looking after nine of the children is not always easy. The academy raises its money through donations, performance bookings and Oluyole’s part-time job as a script writer. Oluyole talks about how she found a creative way to bring attention to the kids and help raise money, “What I used to do was find songs where the music video was not out yet and dance to it and post on Instagram and try to tag that celebrity.” This led to the academy being noticed by Rihanna, and supermodel Naomi Campbell even came to visit, bringing with her food and school supplies for the children.
Giving the children hope has gone a long way to rehabilitate and transform their lives and Oluyole speaks about the impact of her work, “Dance is just a means to give these kids a better life. Things haven’t really gone as much as I thought it would, but, I would say that we are definitely not where we used to be.”
The programme also travels to South Africa where Arit Okpo meets Gcina Mhlophe, one of the country’s most talented writers. Mhlophe is using her love of story-telling to encourage more children to read. She echoes Oluyole’s message on the importance of education and highlights the need for creative subjects, “We don’t put enough emphasis or significance into how the creative arts or culture, or heritage can make a big difference in our education system. (…) There’s something empowering about somebody who knows who they are, who feels like their sense of self, their sense of heritage, and identity matters.”