Mzuri Dance ArtisTree Fund

Using dance and cultural workshops to build connection and belonging for young African Australians living in Melbourne public housing estates.

Grant Type
Pitch In
Focus
Social Cohesion
Date
2023
Partner

More than 20 years ago, choreographer Suzie Watts was approached by the former African Communities Foundation Australia to lead a cultural dance project at Atherton Gardens Housing Estate in Fitzroy, Melbourne.

Having trained at the Bagamoyo College of Arts in Tanzania, and with extensive experience in regional African dance and music, Suzie began working with young African families in the Estate. The experience laid the foundations for what would eventually become the Mzuri Dance ArtisTree Fund (MDAF).

MDAF’s work has expanded and Suzie and her team now deliver dance projects, life skills programs, leadership programs and pathways to self-employment for young African Australians living in four public housing estates in the City of Yarra (inner city Melbourne). Known universally at ‘Suzie Mzuri’, her aim is to harness the rich resources and self-determination of the African Australian community, along with securing funding, to help young people gain a sense of belonging, access opportunities, and believe in themselves to pursue their dreams.

“All our projects are community-driven and co-designed with local residents and leaders in the African Australian community who have first-hand experience of the economic and social barriers faced by young people of African backgrounds,” Suzie says.

“Many of these migrant families come from areas of conflict and have experienced significant trauma. They experience marginalisation, racism and racial profiling that leads to self-doubt and social isolation.

“All of this was exacerbated when the COVID pandemic locked down high-rise public housing estates. There are now higher rates of disengagement among school aged children and at-risk youths experiencing fear, anxiety and disconnection.

“MDAF programs address these problems by building community, relationships and trust, and they set up a pattern in young people's lives that provides stability and consistency.”

MDAF secured funding at the Bennelong Foundation 2023 Melbourne Pitch In for its Culture Club. This is an after-school club that engages families in African dance, music and cooking (on Saturdays) to promote healthy eating, active living and self-empowerment.

In 2023, the program engaged more than 85 young people across four public housing estates in 30 activities and events, for a collective 90 hours of creative sessions. It supported two new activities in the Carlton and Collingwood Public Housing Estates, and continued a more established program in the Fitzroy Estate.

"The children keep coming up to me and asking when we are going to do the after-school program again - they really loved it,” says Aisha Darawish, CEO of Horn of Africa in Yarra in the Carlton Public Housing Estate. “It was so good for the kids to build more confidence through social connection and has increased their sense of belonging.”

A highlight for the program’s participants was performing at Melbourne’s African Music and Culture festival at Federation Square in November, in collaboration with the Nurturing African Generations dance group.

“The journey of our dance group from humble beginnings to the prestigious stage of the Federation Square and the African Music Festival is a testament to the power of mentorship and opportunity,” says Apuot Bol, CEO of Nurturing African Generations.

“After being mentored and paid to perform at the festival, our lives were transformed. The children gained confidence and a sense of pride in their cultural heritage through the validation of their talents on a public stage.”

Read more about Mzuri Dance ArtisTree Fund here.

Impactful results

Making positive change

Mzuri Dance ArisTree Fund has enabled young African Australians living in Melbourne housing estates to participate in education opportunities.

Outcome

More opportunities for young African Australians to learn, work and connect with others, and to have a voice.

Outcome

Greater willingness among young African Australians to cooperate with each other in order to prosper.

After being mentored and paid to perform at the African festival, our lives were transformed. The children gained confidence and a sense of pride in their cultural heritage through the validation of their talents on a public stage.

Apuot Bol

CEO, Nurturing African Generations

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