April 13, 2018

Dancing and learning, the Nigerian street kids backed by Rihanna and other stars

Seyi Oluyole with some of the Dream Catchers dance group

Photo credit: Facebook / Dream Catchers Dance

Model Naomi Campbell also visited the disadvantaged children from Lagos, who are being educated thanks to a caring young choreographer.

Nigerian choreographer Seyi Oluyole found dance rehearsals were a great way to distract the street children in her care from the lack of lunch - but star power from Rihanna and supermodel Naomi Campbell has changed their fortunes in the past month.

Oluyole, 26, started the Dream Catchers charity dance group in 2014 to teach dance to disadvantaged children in Nigeria's commercial capital of Lagos while also encouraging them to attend school, hoping it would lead them to a better future.

Determined to change lives, she brought children - with their parents' permission - to live in her three-bedroom flat and paid their school fees. But the amount Oluyole earned by day as a screenwriter was never enough and on days they went hungry.

"I used dance to distract them. By the time we did a dance rehearsal, it would be time for dinner," Oluyole told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at her flat in Ikorodu in Lagos.

Rihanna shared this video

Nigeria has 10.5 million out-of-school children, the world's highest number according to UNICEF, with 60% of those girls. UNICEF said key reasons were the low perception of the value of education for girls and early marriages.

Oluyole encouraged members of Dream Catchers to attend school by day and rehearse at night and weekends but she didn't know how long she could struggle to cater for the 20 or so children in the group since 2014 with 10 members currently.

Then last month everything changed. Naomi Campbell reposted one of the Dream Catchers' Instagram videos and it went viral after it was shared by singer Rihanna. Since then more of the group's videos have been featured by celebrities like American rapper P. Diddy.

The group performed at a concert organised for British-Nigerian grime artist Skepta where Campbell introduced them.

She also visited them at their home where her picture hangs on the wall alongside other black females like Serena Williams and Michelle Obama under a banner reading "Hall of Power".

Oluyole said she can't believe things have finally changed. Her concern for street children began when she was 12 and her parents hit a bad patch, making them homeless for two years.

"It was then I met some of these kids and realised their reality. I had been through a lot in the past year or two but this was their everyday reality," she said.

She said the group has changed members' lives, such as Blessing, 15, who was out of school for three years.

"Now I can speak good English. I am no more staying at home. I feel very happy," Blessing told the Thomson Reuters Foundation

Adeyemi, 14, was begging before joining Dream Catchers. He said: "I want to go to school and read my books."

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