Next stop…dance4life Peru…welcome on board!

Colleagues Katinka and Laura are visiting Peru for a start up meeting.  And from what they tell us, it certainly looks like dance4life Peru is on it’s way…

“Sitting with the dance4life Peru team in a cab, sweaty and dusty, we are thinking over the week. Today the press release was sent out and we have hardly had the time to diggest all the amazing experiences and how we moved forward. 

As of this week APROPO is our implementing partner in Peru. They are a family planning organisation with 27 years of experience and they are present in all cities in Peru with a focus on the vulnerable areas.

dance4life Peru will start in San Martin de Porres, a community in the north of Lima. where the programme will be implemented in schools. A network of youth leaders, linked to the local community centre will be implementing the programme and the participating youth will be involved in the youth network in order to create a sustainable programme. The team will start inspire in April.

 The local law system is very strict in sexual contacts (not before 18) and therefore the peruvian government is very conservative regarding comprehensive sexuality education in the schools. However, the changes to get into the schools in San Martin de Porres seems to be working as the education has been decentralized. 

We had excellent workshops with UNFPA, UNAIDS and the human rights department of the Dutch embassy, who all are very supportive. We also met with several corporates, the biggest press agency and the ministry of health. Last but not least: the director of the National AIDS Strategy, an interview with journalists of a big newspaper, a television interview AND we visited the youth community center where the pilot will take place. We gave a presentation at the community centre and they are thrilled to take dance4life forward and grow the movement.

 “I think it is excellent how youth are being motivated by dance and music to take action against HIV!” – Jaime, youth leader, 24 years de San Martin de Porres/Lima. 

Also, we made loads of friends, enjoyed the fantastic peruvian food, the hospitality of the peruvians and were very impressed by the experience and commitment of the whole team of our partner APROPO. And next week, they will participate at our international meeting in Amsterdam so everyone gets to meet them!

Oh and…to comfort the dance4life international team: we didn’t see any indigenous peruvian crocodiles…”


Thanks Katinka and Laura! Great stuff!

Next week, the dance4life international meeting will take place in Amsterdam. Representatives from 26 dance4life countries AND the youth council will join us to brainstorm, plan and, of course, have FUN! I will be updating you on events next week, so keep tuned!



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And we thought we’d left the crocodiles in Ethiopia…

As I wrote yesterday, my colleague Rupert is visiting dance4life kenya in Nairobi with DJ Chuckie and Duncan from Sensation.  Rupert had managed to get some more stories through to me: from testing to tour teams…and of course the crocodiles…

“Yesterday we drove to a VCT (Voluntary counselling and testing) clinic, stopping off at the Mathare slum on the way,where there was a lot of violence during the post election riots in 2007. The clinic is near the slum, and helps about 7000 people a month. The dance4life tour team have their office and equipment store there and they do various other youth activities on site. This is really important as it makes it easier for young people to come to the clinic to get tested.

We were shown around the clinic, saw how the testing is done- a small prick on your finger to draw blood and within minutes the results are clear to see on the test paper, similar to a pregnancy test. If you do test positive then there is further counselling, support groups and most importantly – medicine.

We asked about the age when young people in the area first have sex, and were told as young as 10 – not always by choice. More girls are being infected than boys because of forced sex and paid sex, some girls living on their own          have to pay the rent and other bills and so take on multiple boyfriends who give them cash presents.

The rest of the day was spent visiting an agent4change’s home and his school where DJ Chuckie raised the roof – that iswhen the electricity didn’t go off!

We went for dinner and ate some local delicacies, including crocodile. It was only at the end of the evening that our Kenyan colleagues explained that they didn’t eat the crocodile because they know people who have themselves been eaten by crocodiles, and it’s a bit like cannibalism..!”

Thanks Rupert!

Next stop Peru…so if you want to know more, watch this space next week…

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From Pakistan and Ethiopia…to Kenya with Sensation and DJ Chuckie!

Just as I say hello to my colleagues returning from Pakistan and Ethiopia, so I say goodbye to Rupert, yet another colleague going on his travels!  This time, the destination is Kenya, where together with Duncan Stutterheim (Sensation) and DJ Chuckie,  Rupert will visit the dance4life programme in Nairobi.  It’s a visit filled to the brim – with only 3 days to visit some schools, talk to the young people and “feel” the local situation. After a night flight, Rupert managed to get a few words to me…

” We  went to a school on the outskirts of a slum in Nairobi today to see the  heart connection tour. It was brilliant – the

And the crowd goes wild!

young people loved it and  we invited DJ Chuckie to play some of his music. The place exploded – the kids went wild with enthusiasm –  and  he only stopped when  there was a power cut ! We like to believe that the explosion of energy that those kids and DJ Chuckie created had something to do with it! I witnessed a pure demonstration  of the power and emotion of dance. Tomorrow we will be heading to another school…let’s see what we can do there to the Kenyan power network!”

WOW! Thanks Rupert.  We look forward to hearing some more from you…time permitting!


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Reflections from Afar…nomads, truckers, desert, crocodiles and smiles!

Luckily for us – my colleagues in Ethiopia have got an internet connection – and Colin got this fantastic account through to me! Take the time to read it…it’s worth it!

“Afar is a remote desert region in the north of Ethiopia about 300 km’s drive from the capital city Addis Ababa and where dance4life will begin its launch in the country. During our couple of days of meetings in Addis, before the trip north, we were getting slightly worried by the reactions of people when we told them where we were going. We were warned of a place full of hostile tribesmen wandering around with guns and knives, blazing heat, drought, no sanitation and ferocious mosquitoes and animals waiting to attack.

In fact some of this is true! 65% of Afar’s population is pastoralist, meaning they have no permanent base but rather move from place to place on their camels and donkeys. They will settle for a while and then move on when the water in that area dries up. They tend to be suspicious of outsiders and yes, as we indeed saw, they do carry guns and knives.

So it was with some trepidation myself and Kate (regional programme coordinator for dance4life) met up with our partners in Ethiopia, Youth Network for Sustainable Development and Amref, early on Thursday morning.

The long drive took us through some incredible landscapes, which we managed to enjoy despite the crazy driving on the roads. The main route to Afar is used by truck drivers transporting all range of goods both legal and illegal to and from Djibouti, the country on the other side of the northern border. Stopping off in a small town for drinks we were instantly befriended by a group of these truckers who insisted we joined them as they were just about to start their lunch of enjera (huge truck wheel sized piece of spongy bread covered in a variety of indistinguishable mounds of meat, veg and who knowswhat else!). It’s basically a communal free for all with everyone diving in and grabbing what they can! These guys were so friendly even when the conversation, as it so often does, turned to football. They all roared with laughter when I told them I was a Chelsea fan… Arsenal seems to be by far the most popular team over here. So we sat chatted, shared food, laughed and took photos before leaving with hugs all round and a big smile.

An hour or so later we arrived in Awash, the closest thing to a permanent town in Afar. Stepping out of the van we were hit by the heat, but it was bearable and the factor 30 sunscreen seemed to be coping. Another pleasant surprise was the hotel, not the Hilton (but then we know never to expect that when on a dance4life trip) but clean with a hard bed with mosquito net and what turned out to be a workable toilet!

We dumped our bags and went straight off to our first meeting at the local Amref office. Here we were met by a group of grinning young people from the local youth group who danced and performed amazing acrobatic tricks for us as a welcome. We met the local staff and then went off to the local elementary school. Students there have had some basic HIV and sexual awareness training by Amref and a group of them performed a short play they had developed, highlighting the need to have safer sex and also have an HIV test. It was great sitting with them afterwards. We explained that dance4life was coming and how we worked, they were so excited and were already talking about how they wanted to go out into the nomadic communities and become agents4change.

During our 3 days in Afar we met too many different groups, organisations and individuals to mention in detail but the common denominator amongst them all was the warm welcome we received and their excitement about dance4life coming to Afar.

Day 2 was one of the highlights of the trip as we drove out of Awash into the desert to try and meet up with one of the nomadic tribes. This, we hoped, would give us an idea of just how possible it might be for dance4life to operate in this context.

First impressions were slightly scary as we passed groups going to the town, on their animals, carrying large rifles. We arrived at a bore hole in the middle of the desert. Basically this is one example of some of the fantastic work Amref have been doing over the past 4 years. They have drilled into the ground and created what is hoped will be a permanent water source for the tribes people, meaning they can stay longer in one area. It wasn’t long after we arrived that we became aware of being watched and slowly but surely young faces started to appear. Some young people and children from the nearby tribe had come to see who we were and what we were doing. Cautious at first they gradually came and led us to the nearby settlement. The community lives in makeshift huts built with wood from the trees, which forms an oval frame. This is covered with woven grass and occasionally the odd bit of tarpaulin.  It is all very portable and can be dismantled quickly to be taken to the next settling spot. On average 30 to 60 people will live as one tribe and they tend to be quite insular and don’t mix much with the other tribes. At first we could only really see the children but then we heard the tinkling of bells and the rest of the village came into view across the desert, leading their goats and cows. I guess we were slightly nervous but never felt really threatened. This tribe knew the local Amref staff and were grateful to them for the work they had done with the bore hole so although wary they were welcoming. We were honoured when one of the elders invited us inside his hut. It was surprisingly roomy inside and neatly laid out with a cooking area and open fire, bed frame and even a few rugs on the floor. It was dark and somehow the construction must reflect the heat because it was actually quite cool. As are most of us he was proud of his home and seemed to enjoy showing it off to us, smiling and revealing his sharpened teeth (the Afari’s use a knife to sharpen their teeth into points) as he cackled. Outside again another elder marched purposely towards us holding a huge hunting

The SRHR alliance Ethiopia team - staff from dance4life, Youth Network for Sustainable Development and AMREF - in front of a traditional house

knife. After a sharp intake of breath I was shocked and relieved that he was offering it to me to try on! So it was strapped around my waist and I posed awkwardly for a few pictures…I’m not sure I’m a natural warrior! By the time we left, the children were clamouring around us to have their pictures taken and smiling and waving goodbye.

But can dance4life work in this situation? In the schools of Awash…for sure. The young people we met there were so enthusiastic and seemed almost desperate for opportunities to learn and take part in something which would potentially take them outside of their school and into the communities. Condoms are discussed openly in school and through Amref we can link them into local sexual health services. The tribal communities will definitely be more challenging. Only a handful of youth live in each village. Temporary schools are sometimes set up for them and it seems a few of the tribes will send the young people there even though it means mixing with the other tribes. This seems the most obvious way to introduce dance4life but as the local government health officer told us it won’t be easy to get into the schools and it takes time to build up the trust needed to gain access. Or maybe it will be those young people in the schools of Awash who will reach out in a more personal way to their peers in the tribes and bring a more individual way of inspiring, educating and activating to create some unique agents4change that will wander the desert doing the dance4life drill! Music and dance are incredibly popular across Ethiopia and we are confident that the spirit and energy of the local people will win through.

And the crocodiles!!??

On the way back to Addis we stopped off by a river in the East African Rift valley for a stroll. The fresh snake tracks didn’t fill me with confidence and then Kate spotted a crocodile resting on the other bank! Thankfully it must have had dinner as it didn’t seem too bothered by us! We were therefore able to watch it for a while before it lazily swished its tail and swam off into the river. The antelopes of all shapes and sizes hopping around us were beautiful and the baboons with their bright red backsides were…comical but the crocodile is something I will never forget.

So now we are back in Addis for some last days of meetings The above is probably already far too long and only a snapshot of an incredible trip and another beginning for dance4life.

Ethiopia is an amazing country where music and smiles surround you everywhere”


Freeze ! (desert style!)


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And not to forget my colleagues in Ethiopia…

So, we have heard from Jacquelien and Susan in Pakistan.  But what about my other colleagues visiting Ethiopia? Well, Ethiopia is proving to be more of a challenge in terms of internet connections…but Kate did manage to get this message to me yesterday…thanks Kate!

“We have had an interesting couple of days in Addis Ababa meeting with the Dutch Embassy, Packard Foundation, Family Guidance Association (IPPF member organisation in Ethiopia) and DKT, who work on social marketing. We have also been discussing with our local partner, Youth Network for Sustainable Development, about how to implement the dance4life concept in the pastoralist context of Afar.

Tomorrow we will be doing the long drive to Afar (literally!) with AMREF, our partners in the MFS II programme, to experience the area for ourselves and learn about the reality of implementing dance4life in this situation. Update to follow…”

I will be posting any more information that comes in from Ethiopia, so watch this space. Although with my colleagues in Afar for the next couple of days (apparently the place lives up to its name), I expect the wires to be rather quiet!

Want to know what else dance4life are up to at the moment? Take a look at the latest newsletter.

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Impressions from Pakistan…

Susan (manager youth involvement) and Jacquelien (regional programme coordinator Asia) are currently in Islamabad to work with our NCO RutgersWPF Pakistan and other stakeholders on the start up of dance4life Pakistan. And to start with some good news – dance4life Pakistan is definitely going to happen this year, with support from Dutch government funding !

Read what Susan and Jacquelien have to say after their first 3 days in Pakistan…

“RutgersWPF Pakistan has been trying to get us to Pakistan ever since 2008 and we are happy to learn that dance4life fame has preceded us here. Staff at the office know the drill, they have taught students as part of National Youth Day activities and even Pakistan TV showed the dance4life moodclip on World AIDS Day! Talk about fertile grounds…

Today we are having a workshop with RutgersWPF and their implementing partners in the cities of Quetta (Balochistan, near the Afghan border) and Multan (South Punjab, one of the areas which is affected by the recent floods) on how to implement dance4life in Pakistan. Talking about our project in the overall culturally and religiously conservative context of Pakistan leads to interesting discussions:

  • Talking about condoms is possible. But only in an HIV prevention context and not when talking about safe sex. Even more so, safe sex or abstinence in itself are not subjects that you’d discuss “because youth don’t have sex”. How to deal with this?
  • Islam prohibits dancing but in Sufism, the inner, mystical dimension of Islam, dancing is widely accepted and you can even see women dancing in public at a Sufi shrine. So should we incorporate Sufism into dance4life?!
  • Reversed education, i.e. where students teach their parents on life skills (never use the word sexuality education in Pakistan!) is a mechanism that proves to work really well. It could thus be that thanks to dance4life agents4change will be having “the sex talk” with their parents or even referring their mums to a health clinic!
  • Finally, do we include religious (madaris) or not? This is where the really poor people go for education as the system is completely free of charge and the schools also provide food and shelter. However, to what extent can you achieve your goals and satisfy the Mullahs at the same time? On the other hand, private schools, where your impact in number of students will be much higher and easier achieved, might be considered to be elitist and already in a privileged position. How to balance this?

Of course it is not just work and we just want to share a few impressions of what we’ve seen so far. Our very first impression arriving in Islamabad can be summarized as: grey, sandy, few women in sight, fancy decorated mini-buses… Half an hour and a few (unmanned) road blocks later we were safely tucked away in a fancy residential area.

And inside the RutgersWPF office you don’t notice the conservatism at all – very open discussions on sexuality issues and strong, vocal women!”

Thanks Jacquelien and Susan for these insights – certainly lots of food for thought.  It’s going to be an exciting year!


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dance4life:where next?

So, with 27 countries already on board, dance4life is excited to be exploring new possibilities. As promised, I’d like to share with you some news. Next week, colleagues will be visiting Pakistan and Ethiopia to talk to local organisations about rolling out dance4life there. Exciting! New countries of course always offer challenges, both culturally and as each country/region has it’s own specific HIV and AIDS issues. In Ethiopia, for example, we will reaching out to young people from a nomadic background – a VERY new experience for dance4life! But it’s great that dance4life is going to be enriched by these new cultures and environments, and that we will be able to reach even more young people to create change, pushing back HIV on  a  global level.

My colleagues will be allowing us a glimpse into their experiences …so watch this blog next week to hear more from Jacquelien and Susan in Pakistan, and Colin and Kate in Ethiopia.  It’s going to be great!

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