Kenyan ballet student struggles in a pandemic with no classes at the…
NAIROBI, KENYA – The coronavirus pandemic is forcing children to stay at home and learn at a distance, but in the depths of Kenya’s slums, 12-year-old ballet student Eugene Ochieng faces enormous obstacles to distance learning: no computer, no Internet access and very little space to practice.
With his closed ballet studio, he finds open spaces in Nairobi’s Kibera slum, turning and jumping in his sneakers against the backdrop of crowded metal shacks. Half a million people live in Kibera, most without running water. Many dream of a way out.
Ochieng discovered dance two years ago when teachers from the non-profit organization Artists for Africa visited his school and showed his class a few moves. He was hooked right away, bought second-hand dance shoes, and started learning to dance.
But when the coronavirus began to spread in Kenya, the government closed all schools, including dance studios.
So Ochieng had to overcome his fear of the stage and find open spaces in the slum where he could practice.
But this is hardly the only challenge the virus has posed.Restrictions on movement have put millions of people out of work, including Ochieng’s father, a bricklayer, and his mother, a tailor.
“Since the first case of COVID-19 was reported, my father hasn’t gone to work and there is no food,” the boy explained.
His mother, Gladys Akinyi, 38, encouraged his dream of ballet, but now she has more pressing concerns: how to support five children without a regular income, “Even if I want the best for him, I just can’t afford private dance lessons,” she said.
His son is not discouraged and recently took the opportunity to visit a studio at the Dance Center Kenya in the upscale Karen district of Nairobi, where he collected a pair of ballet shoes by hand.
Normally, more than 500 dancers train at the Dance Center Kenya studio network in Nairobi, and the school works with Artists for Africa to support talented dancers from low-income families.the non-profit organization also sponsors a handful of scholarship students who live in a nearby boarding house so they can attend daily classes.
When Ochieng arrived at the studio, only the scholarship students and Artistic Director Cooper Rust were there.Classes are now conducted remotely via videoconference.There, Ochieng took advantage of the rare opportunity to join a class while Rust watched and advised the young dancers.