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Home / My Man

I teach ballet in the slums to give hope, not to gain fame says KSh100 Million Global Teacher nominee Mike Wamaya

 Mike Wamaya teaches ballet in Kibera and Mathare slums

You look smaller than you appear in photos...

Oh really, now you know exactly how I look, but I hope it’s not far from what you saw in the photos.

You didn’t attend high school right? But your English doesn’t betray you...

As much as I wasn’t lucky enough to acquire secondary education, I was lucky to have interacted with people who taught me English. Also, my teachers at Marura Primary School in Kariobangi, Nairobi did a good job.

Let's get into what brought us here — Sh100m, where would you start if you are the lucky one this year?

Of course drink more and more whisky (Anyway I’m kidding). I was brought up in a slum and I know firsthand the challenges children who are raised here face. In everything I do, my major motivation is making a difference and making things better for such children. A big chunk of the money would go into putting up social amenities like proper dance studios.

We use classrooms and every time we have a lesson, we have to remove the furniture to get space. I would also want to set up a reward system for community teachers who are not recognised by the Government. They do amazing things in slums but no one ever gives them a pat on their backs and hey, who wouldn’t mind a bone to chew or just feeling appreciated?

Ballet is such an elitist thing, you say you lived in Kariobangi...

I’m artistic by nature. I got those genes from my great grandma who died a performing artiste. But before I discovered I had these genes, I thought I would be a ‘mechanical engineer’ even though I knew very well I would never get to a university to study this. I was once a spanner boy in those jua kali garages in the village in Siaya.

From a spanner boy to ballet...I need to get this right...

Well...in one of my spanner boy days, I got to know of some dancing auditions that were being held in Kisumu. I enrolled and that’s how I got recognised and my journey to teaching ballet started. I however begun as a performing artist and transitioned to ballet after training. I might have stumbled on it but I like it as it is transforming lives in slum areas such as Kibera and Mathare.

You refused to go to high school to be a spanner boy?

No no no...my dad died and that’s how my education dreams ended. My mum was a house wife so she couldn’t manage to raise fee for the five of us. Being the first son, I had to take over from where my dad left.

So is your mum aware that her son is this close to being a millionaire?

She has been fasting from the moment the news broke.

I snooped through your Facebook page and saw a photo of you carrying a baby in a pub in a foreign country...

That’s my son Dion, he’s about one year now. We were on holiday in Holland and he couldn’t sleep so we had to carry him to the bar.

Oh, so any girl eyeing you right now should forget about you?

Can I set the record straight here? I’m married to one woman, she is Dutch, she’s also a dance teacher and I’m a father to one son and many more to come. If our son was to follow our route, he will even be better than us as he has a 100 per cent dancing genes.

So how come your hair is not locked...'wazungus' love that plus you're in the right profession’...

I cut them after achieving what I wanted.

And that is?

Marrying a white girl... (laughs). Anyway I had my reasons though, but don’t I look hot?

You must have met her in one of your dancing escapades?

Well, I once danced in her school in Holland, so she might have noticed me. I don’t remember very well what happened. She came to Kenya, we met again and she decided not to go back to Holland.

I hope she knows how to make ugali...

Trust me she would beat you to it, she is a fast learner. She knows how to cook almost everything in the Kenyan menu that you can think of. I’m also a fantastic cook and very experimental. I cook most of the meals in our house as I get home before her, plus my working schedule is flexible.

Does dancing really pay all your bills?

We are simple people, we don’t make much but we try to live within our means. For instance, our wedding budget was Sh20,000. We went to the Attorney General’s Chambers and later invited a few friends for dinner and that was it.

Don't you think ballet is just a waste of time for these kids... what’s in it for them?

You don’t know the wonders ballet is doing in slums. It is like therapy, these kids need to escape from all the drama and go into a new place even if it is for a short period. They share a lot with me and  at times I go the extra mile and get to the bottom of issues they are facing.

There’s this girl whose parents kept fighting, the marriage was just not working. I talked to the mum and now she is back on her feet and her kids are happy. This is just one case. Life is hard in the slums and if it will take ballet to change things over there, I’ll do it to the end.

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