Last fall, I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina for a semester. I went with a group studying social movements and human rights, and had no idea what to expect. As part of my program, we were to conduct our own research and write a final paper at the end of the semester.
I have been a dancer all my life, and wanted so badly to combine human rights with dance in some way. Thanks to the optimism and creativity of my friends and my academic advisor, the project came to life in the form of teaching a hip-hop workshop in one of the city’s juvenile detention center for boys. At first, this plan terrified me. For starters, I am not a hip-hop dancer, but we figured ballet wouldn’t quite have the effect I was going for. My friend and partner for this project knew hip-hop, so it became a fake it till you make it situation for me. The language barrier was also intimidating, but it was a challenge I was willing to accept. Over the course of six workshops, we taught the boys a dance which they performed at a final show.
In reality, what went on in the workshops was so much more than just dance. Each workshop had a different theme, like leadership, free expression, or teamwork. There were three boys who were able to complete every workshop with us, and over the few weeks we spent with them, we saw such beautiful things happen. Dance was the bridge that connected my culture with theirs, and together we were able to learn how to use dance to express feelings, emotions, and to have fun.
In the last workshop, we gave the boys a prompt which was to think of something they disliked about their communities they would like to change, and express it in movement. Not only did they do this, but they wrote a rap to accompany the dance which talked about how the kids where they come from are not safe. For my partner and I, this was an incredibly impactful moment. Their final performance to the rest of the boys and staff was extremely well received, and it proved to them they if they tried hard at something, they could succeed. I don’t know if the boys will use anything we taught them in their lives, but at least they now know that they have the potential to be dancers and not just boys in a detention facility.
After Argentina, I wanted more. I felt selfish though, because I felt that even though I wanted to help others, I was the one learning so much. It didn’t feel right to be benefiting in some way from the situations of others. I vowed that I would use my new knowledge to bring awareness in some way to those who may be marginalized or go unnoticed. I feel that I have kept true to that vow.
Tomorrow, I am leaving on my next adventure. I am going to Cambodia, again with other students, to volunteer at an endangered elephant reserve as well as help in schools for Cambodian children. By now I know that “help” isn’t exactly the right word. I think something like “participate” is better. Help would mean that I have something that others should want, which I don’t believe. I like the word “participate” because it means I am working alongside those who do the things that I only do as a volunteer as their way of life.
I have been so lucky in the past four years to have the opportunity to see seemingly ordinary individuals doing absolutely incredible things all over the globe. Every time I go somewhere new, I am inspired to be a better person and better contributor to the world’s overall well being. I am hoping I can participate in Cambodia with a full heart and open mind, so that I can try my best to do my part in using the advantages I have to bring a little more happiness to others. I will let you know how it goes!

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About The Author

Kelsey Lettko's picture

Kelsey Lettko finds happiness in dancing, traveling, music, and good conversation.  She is a San Francisco Bay Area native, who loves to explore both her own community and the world. She has traveled to Swaziland to aid in malaria net distributions, Argentina to study and teach dance, and Cambodia to teach English and volunteer on an elephant reserve.  As a recent graduate from the University of Redlands, she has a BA in Sociology and Anthropology and is very excited to embark on her post-grad journey and see where life takes her.

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