Founded in 2010 by Rupal Shah and her cousin Kunali Dodhia, Street Release is a non-profit initiative that is focused on creating opportunities for children living in disadvantaged communities in Kenya to gain continuous access to dance to help further their personal development.
In an interview for FreeSpeech, with Rupal Shah shared her thoughts about Street Release, the success and the challenges faced.
What inspired you both to set this up?
Since young, I’ve always had a passion for dance and have been very much aware of the benefits dancing brings, not just to one’s physical fitness, but also to psychological well-being, so I wanted to promote this awareness to others. But on seeing how many opportunities for people to engage in dance already existed in my home country I decided to set something up in Kenya, a country where such opportunities were scarce. I started to wonder, if dancing helps those in the developed world, whose average everyday problems are not as severe, imagine what benefits it could bring to under-privileged children in Kenya who battle with poverty and high levels of social and emotional stress.
My cousin Kunali, who was born and brought up in Kenya had always wanted to get more involved in helping the local community so when I came to her with this idea it injected a fiery passion and excitement in both of us, which quickly snowballed into the launch of our first project!
Tell us more about your first project?
Our first project was a five-day dance workshop for the children of St. Paul’s Children Care Centre in Ngong, which ran from the 9th to 15th August 2010. The Centre provides refuge, shelter, education and clothing to orphaned, destitute and vulnerable children. Some have suffered severe neglect from sexually abusive, alcoholic or mentally disturbed parents. Others have lost their parents to diseases such as Malaria, or have been abandoned at birth due to poverty stricken parents not having the financial means to look after them. As a result, many of these children suffer a great deal of social and emotional stress, find it difficult to always maintain a positive mindset, and fear being drawn into a life of drugs, crime and prostitution.
So, our goal was to create an opportunity in which these kids could use dance as a channel to alleviate some of this stress and inject more positivity into their lives.
We were able to get 60 children to participate in 3 hours of dance classes per day for the duration of the project. The children were put into 3 groups, each learning a different style of dance – African, Indian and Street.
At the end of the project, we organised a dance show in which 150 guests were invited to watch the children perform what they had learnt over the week. The show was an energetic and fun mix of dances from the children and their teachers, and to top it all off, we had surprise performances for the kids from two Kenyan artists, Madtraxx and Bamzigi.
What has been your greatest success so far?
On the back of the show the kids got invited to perform at district level at the Promulgation of the new Kenyan constitution on the 27th of Aug 2010. That was a proud moment for us.
The project also had an incredible impact on one of the younger boys, Moses Isinya, who was 11 years old when he participated.
Carol, Counselor at St Paul’s, said: “Moses loved being a part of it. He actually joined the group himself as he found it very interesting considering he is more of a lonesome child. This was the only time we saw him really express himself. We have since then seen a great improvement in his self-esteem. Dancing is the only social activity he involves himself in, and he refuses to join any other group activities.”
To know we were able to help this child in this way was an incredible feeling and proved just how powerful music and dance is.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
There have been numerous challenges along the way, but, by far, obtaining finance has been the most challenging. With limited finance, we had to focus on trying to get as much donated as possible or sourcing the cheapest suppliers. This was where we found having a strong support network of people who believed in our cause really helped – if we didn’t have the contacts, Street Release would not have been as successful as it has been. These people really went out of their way and branched out to their own community to try and assist us.
What are your plans for the future?
We’re currently in the process of finalising our next project, which will be a year-long dance program. Our past projects have always been a week-long at most, and on reflection, although all were successful in their own right, we now feel that developing long-term programs will benefit the children more. Each part of the program will introduces a new set of skills, building on the children’s personal growth and psychological well-being, thereby providing them with a stronger and deeper capability to manage stress and maintain a more positive mind-set.
What advice would you give to someone looking to set up their own initiative?
As a first step, we would advise them to start talking to people. Let people know what you want to do – the more people you talk to, the more people you’ll be able to get on-board to support your idea. I cannot express how invaluable having a support network is.
Secondly, believe in what you are doing. Be passionate about it. If you don’t, how will someone else? When you deeply care about something it’s more than likely to succeed as you’re less likely to give up when things get tough.
From time to time, I come across people who have an idea, but feel their idea won’t create change on a global level and thus isn’t worth pursuing. To them, I reply by repeating a phrase I once heard – ‘I am not everyone, so I cannot do everything… but I am someone so I can do something’. To us, seeing a smile on even one child’s face as a result of our initiative is success.