Feature: Chinese volunteers help Kenyan slum youth build their dreams

Source: Xinhua| 2019-08-16 22:44:19|Editor: ZX
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by Naftali Mwaura and Yang Zhen

NAIROBI, Aug. 16 (Xinhua) -- Paul Odindo is only 16 years old, but his dancing prowess has almost earned him rock star status in the sprawling Nairobi's Mathare slums, where he lives with his mother and four siblings.

The personable youngster, who is a senior high school student, developed a passion for music and dance at a tender age and is convinced that performing arts hold the key to a bright future.

Odindo and his peers were in their element on Thursday when they showcased their dance moves at a training center sponsored by Chinese volunteers affiliated with charity group Dream Building Service Association (DBSA).

"I started dancing at Grade Two school and have improved on the art since last year when I joined the talent development program supported by Chinese volunteers," Odindo told Xinhua at the DBSA Learning Center located at the heart of Mathare slums.

He was the center of attraction during a training session on various dancing genres conducted at the learning center that has become a magnet for youth from low income families keen to hone their skills in performing arts.

Odindo said that he loves dancing to African music that he considers therapeutic to a youngster residing in an informal settlement infamous for crime, drug abuse and alarming school dropout rates.

"Even my mother has been encouraging me to attend dance lessons and escape from idleness that breeds negative behavior. The August holidays have provided me with a chance to raise the bar in dancing to afro-beats," said Odindo.

He aspires to become a doctor and hopefully give back to the community where he grew up by providing subsidized healthcare services.

Odindo hailed Chinese volunteers for providing him with a space to hone his dancing skills and he is confident the art might generate an income for him once he clears high school.

Eunice Achieng, Odindo's middle-aged mother who is a vegetable vendor, said she felt inspired by her son's love for studies and performing arts despite financial constraints and social ills that have taken a toll on his age mates in Mathare slums.

"My son is an inspiration to me and I have encouraged him to take up dancing or any other extra-curricular activity that can shield him from association with bad elements in this neighborhood," said Achieng.

The mother of five has lived in Mathare slums for 30 years but has developed grit and resilience that has impacted positively on her offspring.

Chinese volunteers have in the last couple of years been at the frontline of efforts to give a new lease of life to Mathare youth grappling with poverty and negative influences in one of the largest slums in Nairobi.

Chen Hong, a 22-year-old mechanical engineering major who landed in Kenya three weeks ago, said he felt obliged to volunteer for activities that can help grow the talent of Mathare youth.

"This is my first time to visit Kenya and am impressed by the youth in our stable who are talented in music, dance and modelling," said Chen.

"We have provided a platform for the youth to showcase their talents that can help them adopt healthy lifestyles and earn a living," he added.

Two months ago, Chen learnt about DBSA from one of its leaders who visited his college and shared inspiring stories of how the charity has enabled Mathare youth to develop their talents.

In the last five days, Chen and his Chinese colleagues have been overseeing auditions for Mathare youth who will participate in a talent show slated for Saturday.

"The talent show will include dance, singing, modeling and poetry," said Chen, adding that he is keen to gain better understanding of Kenya through interaction with the people.

He said he was impressed by the vision and passion exhibited by Mathare youth despite their low income status.

Jane Wangari, a 14-year-old afro-beat dancer who was participating in the auditions ahead of the talent show, said that Chinese volunteers have been very helpful.

"I'm grateful to the Chinese volunteers who have helped our dance group grow and shape our values for the better," said Wangari.

"My parents were happy when I told them I have joined a dance group early this year that focus on developing the talent and improving our character," she added.

Davis Otatwa, a 22-year-old aerobics professional who has been training Mathare youth on various dancing genres at the DBSA learning center, said that combining forces with Chinese volunteers has been rewarding.

"I joined the Chinese volunteers in 2015 and have been part of the talent development program for children and youth in the last two years," said Otatwa.

"We have helped nurture the talent of this youth whom I can describe as positive, ambitious and ready to go the distance despite hurdles that might stand in their way," he added.