Former Ugandan street child trains ghetto youth in performing arts

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Young people train at an arts academy founded by a former street child in Uganda's capital Kampala. The hope is for vulnerable young people to use the arts and creative expression as an alternative outlet to drugs and crime. (Photo via Xinhua)
Young people train at an arts academy founded by a former street child in Uganda’s capital Kampala. The hope is for vulnerable young people to use the arts and creative expression as an alternative outlet to drugs and crime. (Photo via Xinhua)

Clinton Kibuuka is a performing artist whose talent was nurtured in one of the notorious slums in Uganda’s capital city Kampala.

Kibuuka, 24, had a tumultuous childhood. He was the sixth child out of the 12 children his parents had.

Kibuuka told Xinhua in a recent interview that his parents could barely fend for them due to the abject poverty that the family faced.

“We had a big family and my daddy had two wives, whereby he barely provided for us enough food and school fees,” he said.

Kibuuka’s life was full of uncertainty as his father stopped paying his school fees in primary level, and his mother took up the responsibility of looking after the big family.

Kibuuka later got an Irish sponsor who managed to pay his school dues up to secondary level two.

Sometimes Kibuuka and his siblings depended on food handouts from neighbors in the shanty Kosovo slum in Lungujja, Kampala.

He would go on the streets with his colleagues to pickpocket. Consumption of drugs was a common occurrence.

“My colleagues and I would be arrested and later released by police because we were underage,” Kibuuka said.

As a child, Kibuuka had passion for acrobatics, circus and gymnastics. In his primary school, Kibuuka loved performances.

“Ever since my primary level (elementary school), I always watched shows staged in schools although then I was still an amateur. I always admired those acrobatics groups that visited schools performing,” he said.

Kibuuka used to watch acrobatic and gymnastic shows on television in the makeshift video halls in the community.

In middle school, Kibuuka dropped out of school because his parents could not afford to pay tuition fees.

This did not stop him from nurturing his talent which would later in life be his career.

“I developed the passion to try and become one of the best acrobatic and gymnastics champions in the country,” Kibuuka said. He embarked on a vigorous training schedule.

He said two years of training brought out the best of him as he embarked on performances abroad.

“I managed to travel to countries like China, Egypt, and Eritrea and even shared the stage with my counterparts in those countries. I got more exposure and even learnt lots of skills,” Kibuuka said.

With this experience, Kibuuka started teaching gymnastics and physical education in local schools.

“It was interesting to share skills with young people,” he said.

Before long, Kibuuka decided to go back to his slum roots to skill the underprivileged children in the community.

“I discovered that many street children are living in this area — Lungujja-Kosovo, which is a swampy area, inhabited by a very poor community,” Kibuuka said.

Children in this community would spend most of their time looking for scrapped metals, old plastic bottles on rubbish pits to sell and get money, said Kibuuka. “That is how I came up with an idea of creating an academy, which could help these street and ghetto children to learn arts skills for a social change.”

The school, Bwengula Art Academy, started on a slow pace but later picked up with many street children opting to enlist.

“At first I was training alone, but I got more street children joining me and the number started growing. You know children always want to adapt to new ideas,” he said, noting that the academy now has more than 70 street children. “I have helped these young children who had gone astray after running from their homes and joining the streets. Some of them had been participating in stealing women’s bags and even money on the streets, whereas others engaged in robbery.”

At his academy, discipline is one of the key elements instilled in the children who trained up to four times a week. As the children are engaged in rehearsing most of the time, they deviate from repeating their odd habits. Some of the children in the academy have been able to win scholarships which have enabled them to continue studying after dropping out, according to Kibuuka.

“We want to enlist more street children to see that they carry on their passion. At the end of the day some of them will realize that the skills they acquired helps them in future to survive,” Kibuuka said.

“I came here when I was an amateur, but now I can act and perform very well in acrobatics and gymnastics,” said Cliff Senfuma, one of the academy’s beneficiaries.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has curtailed the progress of the academy as some of the goodwill people have stopped donating funds, Kibuuka said.

He appealed to the government and civil society organizations to come to the rescue of the academy because it imparts skills to most vulnerable children in the society.

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