Rwandan dance troupe brings hope, peace to Boston students
The Mizero Children of Rwanda came to the Mario Umana Middle School Academy in East Boston on Monday for a performance and cultural exchange with Boston students. Organizers of the troupe’s trip wanted the visit to encourage further understanding between Americans and Africans.
The Mizero troupe is in the midst of a North America tour to raise money to build a music and arts academy back in their home of Kigali, Rwanda. The tour started in Ashville, N.C., in October and will conclude at the United Nations on Dec. 19.
Many of the troupe’s 25 members, ranging in age from 13 to 18, are homeless and orphaned, having lost their parents to the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This trip is the first time that most of them have left their village, let alone their country. The tour almost didn’t happen because some funding fell through at the last minute. However, they decided to come anyway, hoping their positive message of peace would inspire audiences, despite their lack of warm clothing for the winter weather and adequate transportation to their different tour destinations.
Award-winning Rwandan singer and songwriter Jean Paul Samputu started the troupe last year. A genocide survivor himself, Samputu wanted to use music, drumming and dance to bring not only goodwill to the orphans, but also life skills that they can use when they grow up.
“I want to avoid further genocide in the future,” he said. “I wanted to teach them about peace and reconciliation through their performances. I think that I can bring hope to not just our troupe, but also to the 1 million orphans in Rwanda.”
That mission gives the troupe its name — in the Kinyarwandan language, Rwanda’s primary tongue, “mizero” means “hope” — and Samputu says his young charges have succeeded in bringing just that to very receptive audiences across the continent. During one performance in Canada last month, actress Mia Farrow was so moved by their performance that she donated $30,000 on the spot.
That generous donation brings Samputu closer to achieving his goal of building a university-level conservatory where students will receive general education, as well as an opportunity to learn about the musical traditions of East and Central African cultures.
Luca Amara, a seventh-grade math teacher at the Umana Academy, runs the drumming program at the school, which has a student body consisting mostly of first-generation American children from Latin American families. He was contacted by his sister, an events promoter, a couple of months ago about hosting the troupe at his school, and found it a natural match.
“It has been wonderful hosting the Rwandan kids here,” Amara said. “There is really a cultural exchange happening here.”
Troupe member Olivier Ndayishimiye, 15, said he was very happy to meet and perform with his American counterparts.
“Everyone is happy to see us here,” he said. “At the end of our performances, everyone gets excited.”
While Mizero performed, Umana students were excited by the troupe’s traditional African clothing and native drumming.
“I’m glad they are here,” said Umana seventh-grader German Bustamente, 13. “I learned different drumming beats from them. They’re really great!”
To find out more about the Mizero Children of Rwanda or to make a donation, visit their Web site at www.mizerochildren.org.
During their trip to the Mario Umana Middle School Academy in East Boston, members of the Mizero Children of Rwanda performance troupe showed Umana students new drumming beats and exciting dance styles from their home nation. (Talia Whyte photo)