Misty Copeland with a student from the MindLeaps Girls Program in Rwanda. Courtesy MindLeaps.

Misty Copeland Launches Girls Program, Scholarship in Rwanda

As someone who experienced poverty as a child, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland has since become a powerful advocate for disadvantaged youth. And she recently found a new platform to help give back. Last week, she returned home from Kigali, Rwanda after working with the humanitarian nonprofit MindLeaps, which serves some of the city's poorest children, many of whom are homeless and lack access to school.

MindLeaps uses dance classes to improve the children's cognitive development and prepare them for more structured learning environments. Eventually it adds classes in English and IT to prepare them for either boarding school or the workplace. Until now, the program has only been available to boys. Copeland arrived to officially launch the MindLeaps Girls Program, and to award a top dance student the Misty Copeland Scholarship to go to boarding school.

Copeland admits that the level of poverty she witnessed was eye-opening. “Kids literally live on the street!" she told Pointe over email. “Dance is giving them hope, a goal, a real escape. They are connecting their memory, using their brain for physical coordination, using their words to describe what they're doing and creating."

Copeland kept a video blog to document her experience, which included meeting the girls and leading them through a basic ballet class, as well as visiting mass graves from Rwanda's 1994 Tutsi genocide. In this video, a young boy, Ali, shows her the concrete tunnel under the street where he sleeps at night. Watching his reaction when she later offers to sponsor him to attend boarding school is priceless.

MindLeaps is currently raising funds for the Misty Copeland Scholarship and Girls Program through the International Artists Fund. “Dance sets you up for life in the most beautiful way," she says, “and my time at MindLeaps was the most extreme truth of that."

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