Street Symphony

Location: Ethiopia

Subject: Education

Dates: 1995

Related ACE Cultural Tours: Ethiopia

Mission/Vision

To improve quality of life in an innovative and creative way in Ethiopia through arts education and providing opportunities.

Project History

The project was initiated by Andrew Coggins who wanted to teach the street children of the most deprived areas of Ethiopia how to dance and to teach them filmmaking skills. He approached other organisations in Ethiopia to offer his programmes. One of which was the Ethiopian Gemini trust, originally set up to support families with infant twins or other multiple births. Due to the high levels of poverty and limited healthcare, such children suffer particularly high mortality rates. However, the dance project, known as Adugna, was aimed at the street children of Addis Ababa. The children had never experienced contemporary dance or classical music before and the programme gave them a sense of purpose, away from the dangers of the street, which raised their self-esteem whilst increasing awareness of HIV/AIDS, civil rights and discrimination. Under the guidance of choreographer Royston Maldoom, the children developed rapidly and, as the Adugna Dance Company, gave performances to other children, local communities, NGOs and government officials, and even toured abroad.

The second element of the project was to create a voice for the street children through the medium of film. More ambitious still, the children themselves were to learn the art of filmmaking. The project was called Gem TV and was ultimately to result in two short films. The first, Stolen Childhood, recounted the story of Kebebush, one of many child brides in Ethiopia. Married at the age of eight, she fled from the countryside to the city, only to find a life of poverty and prostitution. The film had a significant political impact and was screened to the Ethiopian parliament and received an award from UNICEF. The second film, Adugna – A Shared Gift, tells the story of the dance troupe, from first rehearsals through to performances.

Project & ACE

The lasting effects of Ethiopia’s mass famine were still rife when Andrew Coggins approached ACE with a programme for street children. The proposal seemed surprising at the time. His intention was to teach the children dance and filmmaking skills, something few Westerners have good access to and something seemingly marginal when so many other basic human requirements were still lacking. However, his enthusiasm and imagination and his positive approach and attitude resonated with our views of development which try to avoid this sympathetic, we-can-save-you, attitude that is so commonly proliferated, and rather take an equalise stance.