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Saturday, 29 July, 2000, 19:24 GMT 20:24 UK
Nairobi's ballet kids step forward
Street kids
Nairobi's street children: From beggars to ballerinas
By Cathy Jenkins in Nairobi

The sight of street children in Nairobi, many of them begging and sniffing glue, is a common one.

It is a stark reminder of how much poverty there is in the Kenyan capital, and how many parents are unable to care for their children.

Now an orphanage in the city is trying out a new idea to inject some fun into the childrens' lives.

As well as being given an education, they are offered the opportunity to learn ballet - not a dance form much practised in the region.

Begging

Teacher at Shangilia Orphanage, Anne Wanjugu
Wanjugu has restored hope where there was none
At the Shangilia orphanage, children who have never had the chance of going to school are introduced to education.

They were living in the centre of Nairobi, surviving by begging outside hotels or on street corners, either alone or with their destitute mothers.

For the past six years Ann Wanjugu has dedicated herself to helping them and running the home.

"They have had very tough lives. When they were babies they are used to being left alone or being on the backs of drunkard mothers. Or just being dumped somewhere and they learn to beg very early and also to fend for themselves", says Mrs Wanjugu.

But learning to read and write is only part of the story.

To teach them how to be children again, the orphange introduced them to theatre.

On a stage built in the middle of the yard, the children dance, sing and perform plays.

a young ballet dancer
Street urchin turns theatre hero

As an actress herself , Ann Wanjugu knows how performing can bring confidence as well as fun.

She says: "we have a motto here. We do not remember about you or what you were doing before you came here. What we do is we put you on stage. We make you act or dance or something."

For ten year old Rebecca Wanjiku that "something" means going into the centre of Nairobi for a special weekly class in ballet dancing.

Ballet basics

It is not something that these children have ever seen before.

But Rebecca and the other girls from the orphange have been getting the basics.

young ballet dancers
It's all fun picking up the principles of ballet
"Some of them immediately picked up the principles of ballet, pointing toes, stretching knees, deportment, standing up straight.

"Some of them it's taken a little bit longer because it's a new idea to them. But they are keen to learn", says ballet teacher Sheila Barker.

Shangilia has built a tradition of taking its theatre and dance into the community - performing around Nairobi.

Ballet is not only new for the children - its new for many of their audiences too.

FundsWhen these children perform their ballet shows, they are helping to earn money to keep a roof over their heards.

The distance from the dance studio to the streets where the children used to earn money by begging is merely a matter of a few steps.

The ballet lessons are helping the children to put a little more distance between their old and new lives.

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