… After ten years I began to crawl without help …
…They bought a plastic alphabet for me and I began to join the letters to communicate …
… In the future I want to feed and dress myself with money that I have earned myself …
These are some lines from letters written by Tereffwerq, a young Ethiopian girl, who is profoundly disabled, and has been in a wheelchair for her entire life. Tereff, which is short for Tereffwerq and means ‘border of gold’ in Amharic, is smiley and open, clearly intelligent and able to understand English. Since 2003 she has been part of the Adugna Potentials, a dance group of disabled youngsters. They form a truly unique group, since disability is viewed with deeply felt suspicion in Ethiopia. Seen as a curse by their families disabled children are often hidden away, or worse even, abandoned onto the streets.
Tareff and her fellow Potentials are a branch of the Adugna Community Dance and Theatre Company. This is a group of dancers who formerly lived on the streets of Addis Ababa. They were given the chance to become Ethiopia’s first professional modern dance group with the help of English choreographer Royston Maldoon. In 1996 Maldoon came up with the idea to take more than 100 young kids from the Addis slums and train them for a short stretch of time to perform a danced version of the Carmina Burano in Addis Ababa’s City Hall. The performance was a phenomenal success. At that time, contemporary dance was an entirely new concept in Ethiopia and most of the young dancers wanted to learn more about it. As a result, 18 of the dancers were chosen to partake in a five-year training program and have now become highly acclaimed performing artists.
Adugna, which means ‘chance’ in Oromo, one of the regional languages spoken in Ethiopia, certainly lives up to its name and has changed the lives of its dancers for ever. The Adugna dancers feel that dance has benefited and changed their lives so much that they want to give the same chance to others. Also, they want to use dance to teach others about important social issues like HIV/AIDS prevention awareness. So, several times a week, they hold community workshops and dance classes in order to pass on their skills.
This is how Tareff came to their dance studio. She vividly remembers her first day at the Adugna studio: “It was the first time I was asked to leave the confinement of my wheelchair. I rolled over the floor, used my knees and hands, and started to move myself as freely as possible. I used every inch of my body, and even my soul. Finally I was moving on my own, which felt so light and liberating that I just couldn’t stop laughing with delight…”
Dance has given Tareff, and the other disabled members of the Adugna Potentials, the confidence to express their life experiences and artistic ideas on stage. In the last couple of years they have given highly successful performances and workshops around Addis Ababa, which has helped to change people’s perception of those with disabilities profoundly.
In collaboration with my “brothers in arms”:
Jo Parkes: https://www.joparkes.com/running-through-bullets
Adam Benjamin: https://www.adambenjamin.co.uk
Bob Maddams: https://bobmaddamstravel.com/travel-books/