Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Bringing joy to refugees with dance

From Jessica Ellis, CNN
updated 5:46 AM EDT, Fri June 22, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chadian Taïgue Ahmed is a professional dancer and choreographer
  • He is making a difference by holding dancing workshops in refugee camps
  • The Republic of Chad is one of the poorest countries in the world
  • Ahmed also raises awareness about issues such HIV/AIDS and women's rights

African Voices is a weekly show that highlights Africa's most engaging personalities, exploring the lives and passions of people who rarely open themselves up to the camera.

(CNN) -- In a dusty corner of southern Chad's Moula refugee camp, the pounding beat of a skin drum drives a group of young men through a cluster of brick-made huts and into a makeshift soccer field.

They're summoned here, however, not to kick a football but to engage in an uplifting activity that can help them forget the tough conditions they live in: dancing

Organized by Chadian dancer and choreographer Taïgue Ahmed, these dance workshops are helping scores of displaced people to regain their self-confidence, while having fun and and finding a way of expressing themselves.

"The first time that I was at the refugee camps, the people were all quiet and in their tents. And now with the dance project, everyone came out, I think it has also changed their outlook," says Ahmed, an acclaimed dancer in his own right who has graced stages across Africa and internationally.

Chadian dancer and choreographer Taïgue Ahmed is making a difference by holding dancing workshops in refugee camps. Chadian dancer and choreographer Taïgue Ahmed is making a difference by holding dancing workshops in refugee camps.
Taïgue Ahmed
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
>
>>
Dancer Taïgue Ahmed Dancer Taïgue Ahmed

Landlocked in north central Africa, the Republic of Chad is one of the poorest countries in the world. Along with poverty and drought in the Sahara desert, hundreds of thousands of people have been uprooted, due to violence, corruption and civil war.

Chad's migrant workers pay price for Libya conflict

Dancing for development

In 2005, Ahmed, who began dancing at the age of 13, created the dance company "Ndam Se Na," which means "dance together" in Ngambaye, a local language in southern Chad.

Refugee dance workshop

He initially launched a project where he used dance sessions as an educational tool to help children abstain from violent activities while at school. The success of the sessions prompted him to take his dance workshops to refugee camps along the border with the Central African Republic, introducing the joy of dance to its traumatized residents.

"The idea came to me after reading articles about refugees in Darfur," he says. "The children were exposed to war -- seeing weapons, nothing but war, the kids are traumatized. And the idea I had was, why can't I adapt this dance workshop for the refugee camps, to give the children an outlet, a way to have fun and to have a life."

According to the United Nations, Chad has been affected by a humanitarian crisis since 2001. Statistics reveal an alarming picture as the country had more than 300,000 refugees in 2010, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

S. Africa's first black dean teaches 'reconciliation over revenge'

In 2006 Ahmed reached out to the UN refugee agency for help with his dance workshops in the camps. He was then told to launch a pilot project in Gore, an area with two large refugee camps sheltering thousands of people.

"I was asked to test the project and that there weren't any resources for it but that I had to go try and see how it could work. So when my pilot project launched, the refugees were curious, they wanted to know what I was planning on teaching them," says Ahmed.

The project was a quick success: in the Gondje refugee camp 181 people of all ages signed up to Ahmed's dance workshops, followed by 76 refugees at the Ambucu camp.

What makes me the proudest is to see them smile, dance and laugh.
Taïgue Ahmed

After the sessions ended, the refugees demanded Ahmed's return to the camp to continue teaching them how to dance.

"I see there is hope because this dance that I am doing will help me earn an income," says 19-year-old refugee Bienvenue Ndubabe who has lived in a refugee camp for the past four years. "It will enable me to carry on with my studies," adds Ndubabe, who attends school in the local village and has every intention of furthering his studies next year.

Last October, Ahmed also teamed up with friend and colleague Jean Michel Champault -- director of the African Artists for Development foundation -- to start a project together called "Refugees on the Move."

The goal is to create a chain reaction and extend Ahmed's dance workshops to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

"Through dance we are trying to bring hope to troubled youths and try to reduce violence and bring a sense of social interactions," says Champault.

Somali rapper K'naan makes songs in the key of love

Inside the camp, Ahmed's dance lessons are life lessons, teaching people of all ages important skills as well as encouraging hygiene and education. Ahmed also doesn't shy away from sensitive issues, raising awareness on HIV/AIDS, women's rights, hygiene and education.

"What makes me the proudest is to see them smile, dance and laugh," says Ahmed. "When I dance I see others who laugh and from time to time I laugh! I'm only interested in this."

Ahmed has succeeded in giving the refugees that they need as much as food and shelter -- their sense of humanity and belonging.

"I've always said that for me, dance is something magical, that doesn't have barriers. We can find ourselves in an open space like this one and dance together -- it's joy, sometimes people meet up and become partners forever."

Teo Kermeliotis contributed to this report

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
African Voices
updated 8:53 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Through a variety of exhibitions including one signed off by the artist himself, Nigeria is presenting J.D. Okhai Ojeikere to the world one last time.
updated 1:12 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
Mulatu Astake may be the father of a musical genre: Ethio-jazz. But when he talks about the art form, he tends to focus on its scientific merits.
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
U.S. response to Ebola is key for setting global example, writes global health advocate Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 8:39 AM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
ALHAJI MUSTAPHA OTI BOATENG
Using his deep-rooted knowlege of herbs, savvy entrepreneur Alhaji Mustapha Oti Boateng had an idea to help his fellow Ghanaians.
updated 8:22 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
One of the most debilitating medical conditions in sub-Saharan Africa isn't fatal. In fact, it's easily curable.
updated 10:00 AM EST, Mon December 8, 2014
Nigerian architect Olajumoke Adenowo reveals her tips for success, mentorship and what she'd like to do next.
updated 6:19 AM EST, Fri December 5, 2014
Pius Adesanmi: Activist diaspora insists on her story of Africa -- and social media has enhanced its voice.
updated 6:19 AM EST, Fri December 5, 2014
Developers, designers and big thinkers gather together on the rooftop of the Co-Creation Hub in Lagos to discuss ideas.
Pius Adesanmi: Activist diaspora insists on her story of Africa -- and social media has enhanced its voice.
updated 5:48 AM EST, Mon December 1, 2014
Amos Wekesa has seen a lot of changes in his country. Today, the self-made millionaire oversees Great Lakes Safaris, one of the largest tour operators in Uganda.
updated 6:10 AM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Photographer Ernest Cole made it his life mission to capture the injustice of apartheid in South Africa.
updated 5:36 AM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
In the largely male-dominated world of the motorsport, South African superbike racer Janine Davies is an anomaly.
updated 1:48 PM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
Athi-Patra Ruga,
For anyone that needs convincing that African art is the next big thing, they need look no further than 1:54, the London-based contemporary African art fair.
updated 9:35 AM EST, Mon December 1, 2014
He's one of Malawi's best abstract artists and now the 40-year-old dreamer is revealing his journey in to the world of art.
Each week African Voices brings you inspiring and compelling profiles of Africans across the continent and around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT