A team of child gumboot dancers are lighting-up the Emmanuel Child & Youth Care Centre (ECYCC) in the Karoo town of Middelburg through their creative determination and sparkling enthusiasm by expanding not only their own horizons, but boosting the potential of all the children in the home.
“The Young Little Stars”, a self-taught, self-styled team of eight gumboot dancers, who recently auditioned in Port Elizabeth for the Summerheat Model and Talent Search, have made it through to the finals at Wild Coast Sun in December, as well as for the Just You talent search in October at the International Arts Talent Showcase (IATS) in Johannesburg for an opportunity to represent South Africa at The Applause Rising Talent Showcase in Orlando, Florida, USA.
If they make it to the USA, international artists will work with them at a boot camp, which would not only be a huge development in their own lives, but also for ECYCC and for the small rural town of Middelburg.
“We are very, very proud of the children, and excited. The event will take place in Johannesburg as a black-tie occasion where “The Young Little Stars” have been asked to open the show in traditional South African colours as a welcome for the international judges,” says Carol Deysel, manager at ECYCC.
“These youngsters are making history for both themselves and our children’s home. The success of ‘The Young Little Stars’ is an inspiration for the whole of ECYCC, from staff to children. All the children are excited and fully behind the gumboot dancers,” she adds.
A safe refuge
To truly appreciate the significance of “The Young Little Stars” achievement and how much they have grown it must be seen against the fact that ECYCC provides safe refuge for abused, neglected and orphaned children.
“Our children are placed here from the ages of birth to 18-years-old by the Department of Social Development (DOSD) and the court,” says Carol.
“The children come from disadvantage backgrounds, circumstances of severe neglect, often having been maltreated in households in which there is alcohol and substance abuse.
“Some of the children come from child-headed households and many of the children have severe behavioural problems, learning disabilities and other physical and mental health challenges.
“It is our responsibility to try help and rehabilitate these children, implement developmental programmes and projects, assist them with life skills, send them to school, and give them a loving home in which they are safe and well cared for in a supportive learning environment,” says Carol.
Faith in prayer
The young dancers’ achievements are especially remarkable, because they include reinforcing all the children at ECYCC’s faith in prayer.
The eight members of “The Young Little Stars”, who range in age from seven to 18, not only pray before meals, in the mornings and before they go to bed at night, as do all the children at ECYCC, but according to 18-year-old Ashley Kleinveldt: “We pray before every practice or whenever we need to audition or dance for an audience”.
“We pray for God to go with us wherever we go and we pray for God to bless our talent so that we can bless other people,” adds Ashley, who, despite having to walk with the aid of a crutch, does not let it hinder him from being an energetic member of the team.
Cecil Botha (15) says the gumboot dancers pray together as a team for God to help them, “because He is the one helping us in everything we do”.
When pressed for reason as to why they prayed as a team, “The Young Little Stars” agreed that they pray together “for us to be the best we can and for people to witness God in us”.
The effect of the gumboot dancing team’s prayers have also had a positive impact on the rest of the children at ECYCC, according to Carol, because all the children see the gumboot dancers pray and they have become aware of how “The Young Little Stars” rely on the Lord.
“It has been wonderful to see how their prayer lives have developed outside of the ECYCC programme into their daily activities wherever they may be and whatever they are doing,” says Carol.
Ashley’s 15-year-old brother Hendrico, who is both a dancer and the coach of the “Young Little Stars”, says being a member of the team has helped each of the dancers to feel good about themselves and given them confidence to “get far in life”.
He says the dancers have had to overcome challenges, “because we were fighting a lot; but we found a solution to the problem when we started to work together as a team”.
“I’ve learnt not to think of myself only and we’ve all learnt never to think we are better than others who are not as talented,” adds Hendrico.
The whole dance troop agrees that they have learnt to work together and have built-up an excellent team spirit.
“We’ve learnt to help each other,” adds Cecil.
Ashley says they have also learned to keep going and not give up easily.
Attie Gomo (13) says he has learned to “concentrate on what you do”.
Personal development and exploration
Social worker at ECYCC, Xolani Numpume, who is the dancers’ mentor, says the entire experience has been an eye opener for him as he has witnessed the personal development in each of “The Young Little Stars” as they have had the chance to explore their potential and capabilities.
He says it has also been a lesson in discipline, not only for the gumboot dancing team, but for all the children at ECYCC who see the team practice seven-days-a-week between 3pm and 4pm.
“The experience has meant a lot in their lives and given them something to work towards. Every day they learn something new about themselves; not only about gumboot dancing but also about themselves as a people.”
Carol says one of the most positive outcomes of “The Young Little Stars” has been how it has boosted each member’s confidence.
“I can see the growth in the dancers, they have developed a belief in themselves and that they are capable of succeeding. Their sense of self-worth has grown, which is something we are constantly challenged to work on with all the children at ECYCC.”
Doing it all themselves
Carol says the best aspect of the success of “The Young Little Stars” is that they have done it all themselves.
Her husband Bertus says the entire experience has been a wonderful mixture of excitement, nervousness, pride and joy.
“The waiting for ‘The Young Little Stars’ to perform has been the hardest, because that is when the nervousness builds-up, but when it was announced that they were through to the final round with a chance of going to the USA, I didn’t know whether to cry or shout with happiness.
“The children have learned that they can get ahead, that if they apply themselves they can achieve,” says Bertus.
He says what has impressed him most is how much the young gumboot dancers have been willing to sacrifice in order to practice and rehearse.
“They have given-up many of their pastimes like playing soccer, and watching TV to practice,” says Bertus.
Carol and Bertus are convinced God called them to do this work of improving the health and well-being of the vulnerable children of Middelburg by establishing ECYCC.
The aim of the faith-based organisation is to offer a safe shelter and care for children of all backgrounds and races who have been abused, neglected, and orphaned in an environment conducive to building their confidence and self-sufficiency, and providing opportunities for them to positively grow and contribute to their environment thereby improving the social conditions and fabric of the community.
Although ECYCC is the only organisation of its kind in the wider Middelburg area and there is a desperate need for such a facility, it has been a tough journey for the child-care centre.
On June 30 2016, ECYCC celebrates its seventh anniversary, yet for its first five years it had to survive without government funding.
Nevertheless, ECYCC succeeded in being a safe environment for the children living at the centre with all the children happy, cared for, and developing a more positive attitude towards their future, which in itself is a huge accomplishment.
Today, ECYCC is an operational DOSD Child and Youth Care Centre with a permanent registration and DOSD funding for which it is extremely grateful.
However, many other running costs like managers, some care workers, cleaners, administrative fees, pre-school fees, daytrips for the children, cooks, and entering any competitions, such as “The young Little Stars’, together with travel costs still need to be funded through sponsorships or donations.
For more information contact Carol Deysel at Telephone: +27 49 842 4414, Mobile: +27 82 867 4028 or http://emmanuelhome.blogspot.com