Empowering Tanzanian Youth through Dance and Art

Hennie Benitt Kongsøre is a street-dancer from Norway who is currently living in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. She followed her passion for dance and founded a non-profit organization – RAFIKI – in 2014 with the primary aim of empowering youth and children socially, personally, and economically through dance and art. 

In this interview with Youth Time Hennie Benitt Kongsøre devotion to RAFIKI sparkles every time she elaborates upon how RAFIKI was started and how it is helping Tanzanian youth to build a nurturing environment which enables youth and children to realize and pursue their full potential.

She believes that expression through dance and other forms of art contributes immensely to the healthy growth and development of young people.

Passionate about sharing dance and giving opportunities to talented young people around Tanzania, Kongsøre is an energetic person with a lot of enthusiasm and a positive soul.


Paving the way to a community center

Through this piece, she will share the challenges and fulfillment of working to improve the living conditions Tanzanian youth – where young people face so many barriers to achieving a basic standard of living, and so many of their resources go for the most urgent and basic needs. Although these interventions are crucial, RAFIKI challenges the mindset in Tanzania and asks: Why should children only have the right to basic needs?

Empowering Tanzanian Youth through Dance and Art
Children workshop

In support of this, Kongsøre strongly believes that children have the right to play, feel happy, and express themselves, regardless of their circumstances. She shares her inspiring journey of preparing young people, Tanzanian youth, to become strong, self-aware, and confident individuals who can contribute to their communities.

It is worth mentioning that, thanks to the Alumni Ventures Fund and the support received from MCW Global, RAFIKI has realized the dream of constructing a proper dance stage and establishing a community center.


Dancing as a life-changing process

She begins the conversation with our Youth Time contributor by recalling that her inspiration has always come from dance and from her deep passion for dancing.

Empowering Tanzanian Youth through Dance and Art
Art performance

“This passion was so important to me, and as I grew up I did not like school that much, but I had dance as something that lifted me up and that I felt I gained a bit of confidence from.

It helped me in so many ways in my life. Not only dance, but art in general is such a great tool to promote healing or feeling happy or just empowering yourself through the art form.”

In 2013, Kongsøre had the chance to go to Tanzania for the first time, where she saw the poor conditions people live in, the low incomes, and the fact that young people do not have the money to pay for higher education On the other hand, she noticed how art could empower youth and children and how talented they were.


Expressing your emotions in a dance where crying is a “shame”

How can one encourage young people to realize and pursue their full potential in life, and how is this achieved by artistic expression, movement, and meditation?

Involvement of children to the activities
Involvement of children to the activities

“I really do believe that art is such a powerful tool, especially in everyday life where there is so much stress, so much pressure on these young children and youth – they have to help at home with so many things we don’t do in the western world. I think it’s very helpful just having a place where they can feel fully free, be seen, and feel safe.”

She adds that it is in the culture of Tanzania not to talk about your feelings, especially if you are sad or angry.

I really believe that as part of healing it’s really important to express your feelings. I can see in the kids that they really express their emotions while they are dancing or drumming or carrying out other artistic expressions and creative tasks.”


The beauty of adapting and thinking new

Along the way, people need to adjust . . . sometimes even their passions. This is the case with the spread of the pandemic COVID-19 all over the world, and on the other hand with people having to adapt themselves to a whole new reality under harsh circumstances. RAFIKI immediately adapted to the situation caused due to COVID-19 by offering home-schooling programs.

“It’s amazing how when things are changing in life, we ask humans to adapt, we have to think new.

I always find it fascinating to challenge myself as well as to find new ways, to find new creative ideas about how we can do things, and how we can still carry out our mission.

The experience of home-schooling was challenging, but also really uplifting.”

“We tried our best to adapt and change our program during the time of lockdown and when the schools closed. Schools were closed for two months in Tanzania.

We visited the students using masks and taking precautions and received a great response from the community.”


Acting as a global citizen

She notes that when she is around her students all the time, it’s harder to see progress. However, she found it was different after she left Tanzania for a few months.

Return home
Return home

“When I came back it was really amazing, I almost cried when I saw the students again. I could see that the confidence of many students had been increasing, and especially among older students and girls.”

Having in mind her life and how it is divided between Tanzania and Norway, she talks about what global citizenship means to her by adding that everyone needs to see more deeply into everything happening around the world.

“I don’t look at global citizenship as just the need to live in two places, but more about the awareness in finding a role in the world and actually taking action to address the matters that are concerning communities around the world.

I am trying to stay as active as possible, not only in things happening in Tanzania and Norway, but in the world in general.

Of course, it is also about actually feeling empathy for other people and situations that don’t necessarily concern just you.”

Being in Tanzania has helped her see the world in a different way and also learn different things, hence she believes that it’s important for us as human beings to understand what is happening outside our bubbles, so we can all be part of the positive change in today’s interconnected world.

If you know any inspiring stories featuring young people similar to this one about Tanzanian youth, please feel free to share them with our Youth Time contributor by reaching out to her via Twitter.

Photos: RAFIKI

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