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A row of old desks lies across the road on the outskirts of Banki town in northeast Nigeria on May 1, 2019. Beyond the desks, homes and shops are deserted due to insecurity and the dangers that lie beyond.
© Marko Kokic/UN0322365/UNICEF
Education

Nigerian Choreographer Seyi Oluyole Is Using Dance to Help Children Stay in School


Why Global Citizens Should Care
The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting all areas of life for people around the world — including in accessing education. Dreamcatchers Dance Academy is just one of the incredible community organisations around the world that’s found itself on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19 and its impacts, supporting the most vulnerable through the crisis. Join the movement by taking action here to support the Global Goal: Unite for Our Future campaign, and help ensure tools needed against COVID-19 reach everyone, everywhere.

A Nigerian free arts programme called Dreamcatchers Dance Academy is using dance, music, and drama to provide educational opportunities for disadvantaged kids. 

Founded in 2014 by choreographer and scriptwriter Seyi Oluyole, in the commercial city of Lagos, the aim of the organisation is to use dance as a tool to get disadvantaged children and children from low-income families into school. 

Oluyole and a group of children from Dreamcatchers Academy showed the worldwide audience of Global Goal: Unite for Our Future — The Concert, which premiered globally on June 27, what they can do. 

The show was the culmination of the Global Goal: Unite for Our Future campaign, driving forward the development of tests, treatments and vaccines, against COVID-19, and working to ensure that these tools are available to everyone, everywhere.

The campaign mobilized more than $1.5 billion in cash grants and $5.4 billion in loans and guarantees, for a total of $6.9 billion pledged to provide equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines, as well as support for the world's poorest and most marginalized communities. 

Dreamcatchers is one of the many examples of the community efforts, highlighted during the concert, that are on the front lines of supporting the most vulnerable — including children and young people — through the COVID-19 pandemic, and mitigating the impact that COVID-19 is having on issues like education, nutrition, and more.

“I use dance to bargain with them, if you stay in school you can keep dancing,” said Oluyole during Global Goal: Unite for Our Future — The Concert, adding that the inspiration for setting up the Academy came "from my personal experiences and struggles.”

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“I saw so many children whose realities were even worse than what I had been through,” she continued. “I wanted to do more for kids out there, offer hope, and to provide a better life for them.”

According to the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, about 10.5 million children aged five to 14 years old are not in school in Nigeria. Meanwhile, only 61% of children aged six to 11 "regularly attend" primary school, the agency said. 

Although basic education and tuition is free (and compulsory) up to junior secondary school, lack of adequate funding from the government has made public schools unattractive to many parents.

Children whose families cannot afford private school tuition often stay at home or find ways to make money. Nearly half of all children aged five to 14 — about 21 million children — in Nigeria are involved in child labour, according to UNICEF. Oluyole recognised this problem and, as she told Al Jazeera, it made her decide to require the children attend school before they can be in the dance troupe. 

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With the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Oluyole and the kids are having a harder time. 

“Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, schools have been closed for a very long time and that’s definitely affected them,” she said, during Saturday’s show. “Children are our future and so I think it’s very important for everyone to play their own parts, and to unite to make sure that every child is in school, irrespective of their background.”

Five of the kids from the Academy also performed alongside Colombian singer J Balvin, during the show, for a mashup rendition of his hit songs “Que Calor” and “Mi Gente” during his set.

The idea to set up Dreamcatchers first occurred to Oluyole when her family had to move to a slum in Lagos, after her father lost his job as a banker. One evening during a church service, she realised just how much the less-privileged kids that attended the local church loved to dance, even though their parents couldn’t afford to give them an education. She decided to start holding informal dance classes for the kids.

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After completing her Masters degree in the US, Oluyole returned to Nigeria and started hosting formal dance classes. "It wasn't really an easy choice and I had people who didn't think it was a great idea," Oluyole told Al Jazeera in 2019. Twenty children attended the very first dance class.

But sending children to school in Nigeria is not cheap and despite her best efforts, Oluyole was struggling to raise the funds. In February 2015, she decided to start making videos of the dancers — a group of about 11 at the time — performing dances to hit songs in the hopes that a celebrity would amplify their work or invite them to perform. 

After several videos without any luck, Oluyole was starting to run out of options. "I just told myself I was going to give this whole thing one more year and if nothing works out I was going to drop it and move," she told Al Jazeera. 

Some months later, popular Nigerian disc jockey DJ Spinall released a track called “Nowo,” and it featured famous Nigerian singer Wizkid. Oluyole got the kids to make a dance video one Sunday afternoon in early March 2018 after church service. Gradually, the video — which was shot in a junkyard with Oluyole’s smartphone — began to go viral. 

By March 10, supermodel Naomi Campbell had shared the video on her Instagram page, garnering over a million views. Next, singer Rihanna shared the video to celebrate her success of hitting 2 billion worldwide streams on Apple Music. Entertainment mogul P Diddy also shared the video.

"It was when Rihanna posted that the video caught fire," Oluyole said. In the following months, the Dreamcatchers troupe, also known as the Ikorodu Talented Kids, performed at local events and even featured at a Children’s Day event held by the Lagos State government. 

Despite this success, challenges remain for Oluyole and the children. Obtaining financial support to house, feed, and school the kids has been difficult. According to Oluyole, the popularity "didn't bring about the change I had in mind, we got plenty of promises but no serious action. But getting donations isn't as hard as it used to be before; we have more followers now who are interested in the kids."

MOOD ALL WEEKEND @dreamcatchersda

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To put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic globally, we need to urgently develop tests, treatments, and vaccines, and we have also got to ensure that these anti-COVID-19 tools reach everyone, everywhere, equally. 

Join the movement to fight COVID-19 by taking action here to support our Global Goal: Unite for Our Future campaign, to help ensure that no one is left behind in tackling this pandemic. You can also learn more about COVID-19, its impact on the world’s most vulnerable people, and what we can all do to help stop it through our COVID-19 coverage here.