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Dedham's Noble & Greenough hosts South African youth dancers

Posted by Dave Eisenstadter  January 14, 2013 09:13 AM

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A connection to a youth program halfway around the world is bringing traditional African gumboot dance performances to Dedham.

Thulani Madondo with John GiffordJohn Gifford, assistant head of Noble & Greenough School in Dedham, has been organizing student service trips to South Africa for 11 years. There he met with Thulani Madondo, executive director of the Kliptown Youth Program.

“They serve 350 to 400 kids in this town and they do a great deal of good in an area where there are huge needs,” Gifford said in an interview.

For the first time, a group of students from Kliptown, an impoverished village in Soweto, South Africa, have come to Dedham.

Madondo, fresh off the plane, led his group of 10 South African youths into the house of Kristen Atwood, a Noble & Greenough parent.

Atwood runs her own program called Ripples of Hope, organizing trips to Kliptown and other locations. She first visited South Africa in 2001 and it was through her that Noble & Greenough made the connection to Madondo’s community.

Nearly all the 44,000 people in Kliptown live in shacks made of corrugated metal with no electricity or running water, Madondo said in an interview. In addition to poverty, the village faces challenges with school dropouts, teenage pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS, he said.

“We felt we needed to do something to help the community recognize the importance of education,” Madondo said. “The main important thing for us is to empower or help people develop what they are interested in.”

The program serves school-aged students, helping with homework and giving children individual attention, and a place to be involved in the community, Madondo said. With class sizes of between 40 and 50 students, many slip through the cracks, he said.

But Madondo is quick to remind those in the program that they are still better off than some in the world and to be thankful for what they have.

“We are continuing to remind them about acting locally and thinking globally – how can I contribute to the global community?” Madondo said.

Kliptown Youth Program members visit DedhamNoble & Greenough students have participated in the program for more than a decade, and work with the Kliptown youths on service projects in their community, according to Gifford.

Dawn Weber, a Weston resident and Nobles parent, said her three children – Hannah, Julia, and Geoff – had life-changing experiences doing service in Kliptown.

“They are so good at community and how to be there for each other,” Weber said of the members of the Kliptown Youth Program. “We have a lot to learn from them and we’re learning that more and more as we do work with them.”

Late in 2012, Madondo was selected as a top 10 finalist for CNN Heroes, a recognition that brought the Kliptown Youth Program $50,000.

Madondo has been to the United States five times already, but this is the first time he was able to bring members of his group. One such member is 19-year-old Siphamandla Bongwane, also known as “boy-boy.”

Bongwane saw the trends around him and that many of the young people from his community would drop out of school and become thieves, he said. He joined the Kliptown Youth Program in seventh grade in 2007 to help him in school.

Now the results of his 12th grade exams are back, and the results were excellent, he said. He hopes to go on to get a scholarship and study law in college.

Bongwane enjoyed meeting members of the Noble & Greenough when they visited years ago. He said he looked forward to seeing the American friends with whom he had stayed in contact.

He also looks forward to teaching American students about gumboot dancing.

The dance was developed generations ago by lower class gold and diamond miners in South Africa who spoke different languages as a way to communicate with one another, Madondo said. It involves step-dance-like moves, as well as striking high boots that the dancers wear, he said.

“Today we feel proud it’s a dance we’re confident about and we can teach the world,” Madondo said. “We always learn a lot of things from the world, but we also have to consider ‘What do we teach?’”

Madondo, Bongwane, and the rest of the group have a rigorous schedule while visiting, according to Gifford. They will perform almost every day at schools including Milton Academy, Dana Hall School in Wellesley, Dedham Country Day School, Belmont Hill School, Dartmouth College, the Meadowbrook School of Weston, and the Lilla G. Frederick School in Dorchester.

They will also take in some of the culture of the area, including a production of “Pippin.”

By doing these performances, the group members will raise money for the Kliptown Youth Program and make more connections in the area, according to Gifford.

“This is for Noble’s one of the best examples of a long-term partnership,” Gifford said of the school’s relationship to Kliptown. “There’s a lot of trust and some great collaboration.”

For Atwood, who is preparing for her organization’s next trip to South Africa in June, it was as if a loop was finally closed.

“It is an incredible gift to have them here,” Atwood said. “This is what our global world needs.”

Check out photos from the Kliptown Youth Program's visit to Milton Academy.

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