Hungry kids from Kampala dance, do acrobatics to become online stars

  • People
  • Tuesday, 12 Mar 2024

Mostly picked up from the streets, the children dancers are housed far more comfortably in a residential house in a suburb south of Kampala. Photos: Henry Wasswa/dpa

Step into one of the rooms in Kampala and it is likely to be plastered with bright photos of stars, lovingly glued onto the walls, from Michael Jackson and Tardieu Schmidt to footballer Cristiano Ronaldo.

The young people are pretty relaxed and move slowly in this area of the Ugandan capital. But the mood suddenly changes as a crowd of children clad in red sweaters bursts through the gate.

They change into their sportswear. One of them, Muhammad Mukooza, said that, "I am a very good singer and a very good dancer. I did not come here as a dancer. I only got inspired when I joined this group and realised my dream.”

Muhammad and half a dozen others head to a field and start singing and performing acrobatics for one of their dances that will later be recorded and uploaded onto Instagram.

The 10-year-old is one of the once-underprivileged children selected from the streets of Kampala by Moses Butindo to join an organisation he founded over a decade ago called Hyperkidsafrica, or Hyperkids.

Muhammad had no father and his mother was penniless. He slept in tunnels or on shop verandahs.The children have a timetable spanning school and training in the home run by Butindo, a former street child himself.The children have a timetable spanning school and training in the home run by Butindo, a former street child himself.

Now, the children are housed far more comfortably in a residential house in a suburb south of Kampala, thanks to the hope given to them by Butindo, 26, himself a former street child.

"We are trying our best to do what we can and improve the lives of these children. They have now become famous,” said Butindo, a shy man with a youthful appearance.

Wearing a T-shirt with large green and black stripes, Muhammad is eager to be photographed posing and gesturing with fingers, his good-natured smile spreading from ear to ear.

Butindo says the boy is the best "performing artist" of the whole group. His stage name "Kapiripiriti” is displayed on the group’s vans and across the walls.

Kapiripiriti is a household name in central Uganda and many other children are eager to watch him perform in parks and other entertainment centres.But Muhammad – Kapiripiriti – does not brag about his fame or feel more important. "I am only happy that I got out of the street and slums. I aim higher than this,” he said.People watch as he and the others dance, sing and do coordinated, karate-like performances in short videos uploaded on Instagram and YouTube.

"When I was on the street, I was not learning. I had fear in the past but now I am confident. My dream was to be the best superstar and I feel so good and I love my fans,” Muhammad said.The children at Hyperkids live more comfortably than before.The children at Hyperkids live more comfortably than before.

Hyperkids has two million YouTube followers and five million on Instagram, and the children have a big fan base in Uganda, performing at public, private and official events, Butindo said.

Most of the children were picked from the streets or ghettoes. Others were taken to Butindo by their mothers, starving and desperate after either being widowed or abandoned by their husbands.

Three years ago, Ivan Asiimwe was foraging through Kampala’s garbage heaps for steel scrap to sell in order to buy food when he joined Butindo’s dancing group.

"I saw Moses and others on the streets dancing for money and I told them that I wanted to join them. I like and enjoy dancing,” said Asiimwe, 12.

On Instagram, Ivan is extremely lively, dancing and singing in a black T-shirt.

"On the streets, I was collecting scrap and not knowing what to do in the future but now I see where I am going and my followers love me. With acrobats and dancing, we are famous on YouTube and Instagram,” he said.

Their boss Butindo recalls his own life on the streets. "I have never seen my dad. In 2009, I lost my mum to cancer," he said. "I yearned for a place to live. In 2011, I joined the streets and played soccer on the streets.”

He later banded together with some other children.

"We started dancing on the streets, in taxi parks and in markets and people were giving us money which we used for rent and to get something to eat.

”He recalls that his early passion was football which he played in the alleys. But he later turned to dancing and formed a dancing group in 2013 "to help street children and orphans”.

Nine-year-old Raniah is one of the girls performing dances, sommersaults and acrobatics for the videos.Cute and articulate, she smiles constantly. In the videos on Instagram, she bends her slim frame in a bow-like formation, jumps over others, performs swift somersaults and throws her arms about like an animated doll.A performance by children selected from the streets of Kampala by Butindo to join an organisation he founded over a decade ago called Hyperkidsafrica, or Hyperkids.A performance by children selected from the streets of Kampala by Butindo to join an organisation he founded over a decade ago called Hyperkidsafrica, or Hyperkids.

She talks freely but beneath her constant smile is a sadder past – one she has in common with thousands or tens of thousands of other children roaming the streets and slums of African cities.

She was picked by Butindo from one of the poorest and crime-ridden slums of Kampala.

"My mummy said she was not going to be with dad because my dad was so poor. Marvin and Desmond (Butindo’s colleagues) came to my father and asked for me to join a group called Hyperkids. We danced for money on the streets,” Raniah said.

Raniah’s dream is to become a superstar, singing and travelling around the world. "I feel good for being famous. Dancing changed my life because I go to school, I sleep on a mattress and in bed covers,” she said proudly.Butindo’s facility doubles as a dancing, singing and soccer academy as well as a boarding school residence.

It is something of a puzzle how Butindo, who did not get formal education, manages to maintain order in a facility which is home to 60 people, including 38 children aged between five and 12, plus 22 youths whom Butindo knows from his past life on the streets.

Roles are carefully allocated. The adolescents help Butindo train the younger ones. They cook, wash their clothes, take them to school and manage social media.

The pupils have a timetable. They start with breakfast in the morning, then to school, then in late afternoon they eat, and then train for two hours.

"The footballers train at school and so they have more time at home to help the dancers wash their clothes and dishes. The children read books and do homework for an hour and from there they take supper and rest because they wake up early,“ Butindo said.

The dancers train on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. The videos are posted each day using smartphones.

Butindo's children are usually hired by individuals, government and also by corporate groups to perform. Alongside donations, the money earned is used to maintain the youngsters at the centre.

"The money we earn is spent on many things. The children have to go to school, we have to pay rent as we are in a big house. We rent at 1.7 million (Ugandan Shillings/RM2,051) a month. We buy food, basic needs like clothes, sandals and hospital bills. It’s a big challenge,” he said.

Shy-seeming Shadrack Ssembogga is much more robust during training and on the Instagram videos as he performs high somersaults and other acrobatics with ease.

Before being taken in by Butindo, Ssembogga, 10, ran away from his single mother, who was poor, five years ago, to live on the streets and gather and sell scrap metal.

"Without dancing I would not be in school and I would not have had something to eat. I want to use my talent to be a trainer in the best studios in the world,” he said.

Unless asked, Butindo says little. In response to a question about his and the children's future, he thinks then murmurs, almost to himself, "I believe we will one day go professional and physically meet our fans.” – dpa

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