Sophia was 14 year old student when she founded Ngoma Kenya, an organisation bringing arts education to areas in rural Kenya. Ana Sandoval, caught up with her to find out more.
As a dancer, 18 year old Sophia understands first hand the importance of arts education. When on a volunteer trip to Kenya, she fell in love with the children she met and wanted to find ways to give them the same opportunities that she grew up with; “I completely fell in love with the kids and their love for the arts and music and dance, but I noticed at the time they didn’t necessarily have those resources typically in that area which is a really rural area. […] I thought, what can I do to make sure that these kids that have a love of music and dancing […] can have access to them? […] You know, I’m a dancer, what can I do?”
After that trip, Sophia knew that she had to stay connected with the young people in the orphanage. When she arrived back in the United States, she launched a fundraiser for the orphanage to ensure they had all the supplies they needed to go back to school in January. “We only needed to raise $500 but I think within 12 hours, we tripled the amount of funding we needed. They were able to go back to the children’s home and not only buy all the items for the class, but also hire a seamstress so that way, instead of ordering their school uniforms, they could have someone to make them.”
I was worrying that the guys would assume that this was just for the girls and not want to do it. But we came in one day and everyone wanted to do it!”
It was then that Sophia realised that there was power and potential in the work that she was doing and so she decided to officially launch Ngoma Kenya. She says it’s the most rewarding thing she’s ever done. One of the most surprising things to her was how open young boys were to learning ballet; “Basically in Kenya they don’t really have that notion like here, where it’s like, Oh, guys, guys can’t do ballet. When I first taught it, I wasn’t expecting that going into it, especially being a ballet dancer my whole life, I was worrying that the guys would assume that this was just for the girls and not want to do it. But we came in one day and everyone wanted to do it!”
Starting your own nonprofit organisation can be a very challenging and intimidating thing to do, even more so for a 14 year old. “A lot of people think like, Oh, that’s cute you go and teach dance and that’s it. But I was like, no, this is legit and it’s the work I want to do for the rest of my life and we can really make a difference through the arts.” With a strong mission in mind and the help of her supportive parents, Sophia was able to register for charity status and establish her own youth civil society organisation (CSO). Running her own organisation presented challenges that she had not expected, “It took me really out of my comfort zone because I really struggled with confidence, It’s something that I struggle with to this day […] I just had to constantly tell myself with the work I’m doing, it’s too important for me to back down. I can’t let my fear stop me from making a change, wanting to make a difference in the lives of these children. So confidence has probably been the number one thing with me. So I had to learn how to navigate and definitely have a ways to go, but I think I’ve come so far in the last four years. I think I’ve gotten to a point now where that confidence is starting to sink in a little bit.” Now a freshman in college, Sophia, like most of us, still gets nervous when she is called on in class but now has the courage to answer questions with her head held high.
I just had to constantly tell myself with the work I’m doing, it’s too important for me to back down. I can’t let my fear stop me from making a change, wanting to make a difference in the lives of these children.”
Sophia attributes a large part of her personal and professional success to groups of other changemakers who have built communities to support one another. In places like Ashoka’s Young Changemakers cohorts Sophia has found spaces where like minded young people can collaborate on issues and build their organisations up. “Meeting like minded young changemakers who are doing work like this that get it and understand the position I am in has been really amazing. I’m thankful for the young people that I’ve gotten to know on this journey that are similar to me and doing work in this space. We talk through things and what’s the best thing that we can do. And even some of us have collaborated on different projects and different issues. There’s a lot of really cool opportunities that come out of it.”
Young changemakers like Sophia are addressing issues head on and making tangible change in communities all over the world. It is imperative that we continue to raise the voices of young people and that we give them the support they need to address these issues first hand. There are youth-led CSOs doing incredible work all over the world. Learn more about organisations like Ngoma Kenya and see how young people are taking matters into their own hands and changing their societies for the better at the Youth Collective.