Dancing for all the ‘rights reasons’

two Uganda dancers, male and female, simulate running in opposite directions (outdoors, grass and red earth)

Picture: Dancers filming a video tutorial aimed at helping Ugandan children understand and express their human rights

It’s not about pointing toes or about making the most beautiful twirl. Helen Kisakye’s dance instruction brings human rights into focus for children in Uganda.

Inclusion and inspiration through dance is the life’s work of mission partner Helen Kisakye

Helen is passionate about using dance to bring change. As the founder of SPLASH Dance Company, which focuses on promoting inclusivity for persons with disabilities, Helen usually works independently, but was excited to be asked to join this project which uses the arts to help children learn their rights.  

The small team, working under CRANE (Children at Risk Action Network), is piloting a project to educate children about their rights through music, media (photography) and dance. The idea is to use these art forms to help children connect with the concept of their rights on a deeper level in a fun way.

The team started their project before they’d even heard about coronavirus, but now that children in Uganda are spending more time at home due to lockdown, they are more vulnerable and it is more important than ever that they know their rights.

Having initially planned to start their teaching in March or April this year, things were delayed by Covid-19. In addition to causing a delay, Covid-19 restrictions have added an extra layer of complexity to this project. The team planned to deliver their teaching in person, but have had to switch to a video format. This makes it harder for Helen to demonstrate anything she wants the children to do.

Helen Kisakye, second from right, directs a video tutorial on children’s rights

In addition, Covid restrictions mean any partner work for the children now has to be adapted to avoid any physical contact. A video format does have its advantages, however, allowing the message to be spread more widely after initial testing.

Helen’s focus is not on teaching the children a specific routine or asking them to do a cultural dance, but on encouraging the children to come up with their own movements that connect with their rights in their own mind. Helen might offer a stimulus or a prompt, asking them to look at their movement and letting it relate to a right, for instance a movement that makes a sound like rain to symbolise their right to water.

This makes the learning creative, personal and kinaesthetic.

Even if their dance moves don’t clearly express specific human rights to others, what’s important is for each child to connect the meaning with the action in their own minds, solidifying their learning through dance.

The project is in the early stages, with the team sharing their videos for the first time at the end of August before making adjustments and continuing to refine their content based on feedback from the children who engage with their materials.

The videos are initially being released to 40 children in 10 different communities, with a mentor in each community who will share the videos and accompanying assignments with the children.

The teaching is focused on four basic rights, each of which is further broken down into sub-topics: the right to survival (food/water/shelter/healthcare), the right to protection (against neglect, physical abuse, being made to work or go to war), developmental rights (education, including for people with disabilities) and participation (your right to religion and your right to a voice). 

Each video is made to teach three things: a creative skill (dance/music/media) emotional literacy (e.g. confidence-building, team-building or problem-solving) and a specific right. Come December, the children will get to showcase what they’ve learned through performing their own songs or dances expressing their rights.

Even though the project has been so delayed due to Covid, and looks different to how they first imagined, the team are encouraged to see God’s timing at work and are looking forward to the children having fun and learning their rights.

Published 8 September 2020

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