Visit the new AsenaTv Website

Ethiopia: dancers bring rhythm to their lives in exile

Mai Aini, 18 July 2016 – Luwam was once at the centre of her nation's spotlight. In Asmara, as a member of the national dance team, she performed for government officials and her fellow citizens

Mai Aini, 18 July 2016 – Luwam was once at the centre of her nation’s spotlight. In Asmara, as a member of the national dance team, she performed for government officials and her fellow citizens at national celebrations, receiving cheers and accolades for her captivating talent.

“People came from different villages and towns. Big crowds always gathered there. I used to perform both the Tigray and Tigrinya dances for the crowd,” she recalls.

After her family fled the same government she performed for, she too followed. Her father was one of the 400,000 Eritreans forced to serve an indefinite military sentence. Growing up, she only saw him a handful of times. Eventually her family decided it had been enough and left to seek refuge in Ethiopia.

Luwam remained with her aging grandmother for some time, until she decided it was time for her to also seek safety abroad. Along with one friend, she took an arduous 16-hour journey through the mountains and snuck past Eritrean soldiers to meet them in Mai Aini refugee camp.

She left behind her friends, her school, her home, her dance group and her beloved grandmother, but there was one thing she did not lose: the opportunity to share her love of dance.

“On my second day in the camp, my sister gave me a tour. We stopped at the JRS centre because we heard music and saw people dancing there. We were very surprised. We didn’t know such a place could exist, especially in a camp,” Luwam said.

In two camps in northern Ethiopia, the Jesuit Refugee Service provides Eritrean refugee youth opportunities to learn and express themselves through fine and performing arts. Thousands of unaccompanied minors live in these camps. JRS believes that through art, youth will be able to heal from the persecution they fled at home and find hope in their futures and joy in life after losing so much.

Since her second day in the camp, Luwam has been a dedicated member of the Semai dance crew. She teaches and practices traditional Tigrinya dances – frequently putting on shows for refugee and host community members at cultural events in the camp.
Her role in the camp is more than just a dance teacher, she is a role model to hundreds of children trying to start a new life. Her and her fellow dancers lead their community in the preservation of Eritrean culture.
“Youth, especially, need to preserve the identity of refugees. They must know their culture, because it’s part of who they are,” said Naomi, another member of the Semai dance crew.
In addition to cultural dance, Naomi has led a new dance craze in the camp – salsa dance.
“In the beginning I was the only one interested in salsa dance. I used to always watch movies with salsa and copy it at home with my friends in Eritrea. In the camp, I would meet my partner Michael before our normal classes to rehearse, but now everyone wants to salsa dance,” Naomi said.
Today, every cultural event in the camp includes a few salsa routines to Latin pop hits thrown in the mix.
“I dream of being a professional dancer without any limits. I want to be able to dance all kinds of dances. Ten years from now, I see myself starring in a film and making art for others to enjoy,” said Naomi who is set to be resettled to the United States of America in the coming months.
She is extremely lucky. Most of her age-mates will never have this chance. In fact, only one percent of refugees in the world have the chance at resettlement.
Instead, with limited options to integrate in Ethiopia, resettle to another country, or return home, most will remain in the camps their entire lives.
Two of her fellow dancers have decided to take matters in their own hands to try to make a new life for themselves in Europe – paying smugglers to take them across deserts and seas. Naomi followed their journeys through their Facebook posts and knows now that both have made it safely to Germany.
Thousands of others from the camp, however, have disappeared on this same route. Luwam’s brother is one of these missing souls. After leaving for Sudan months ago, neither she nor her family members have heard from him and they are devastated.
Opportunities for youth to learn and express themselves in exile are paramount to their mental and physical well-being, but only can sustainable, long-term opportunities to study, work and contribute to their families and society keep them from taking dangerous routes for a better life.
Angela Wells, JRS Eastern Africa Communications Officer

Review overview
  • berhane July 21, 2016

    I can not believ it her grandmother also being a refuge at 87 years old.
    May be her grandmother starts giving break dance or hip hop dance teaching in the camp.
    This people all of them are not real refuge but economy shortage refuges and making story lies and lies.

    • berhane July 21, 2016

      Did i understnand right that her grandmother is a refuge at 87 years in Ethiopia?
      If it is right so people in Eritrea are becoming more and more mad and crazy of laptops/mobiles.

      • berhane July 21, 2016

        The bigest quostion is did the grandmother left her villege in a contract taxi or
        on a motor bike with a hemlet or on a parashut? Whichever way do not blame the
        Eritrean goverment for peoples tsigab.& ebidan.
        Why are the Eritrean villeg girls all ugly? Ethiopia villeg girls and all are very beutiful.

        • Eritreawit July 23, 2016

          berhane, why are you here ? you sound HGDF Zombie and on the Other hand you call name Eritreans, the elderly grandmother and the beautiful Eritrean teenager are looking for liberty ? I feel so sorry for my people they have to deal with your kind of people; psychopaths with Identity crisis. I urge ASSENNA Moderator to see in to this confused animals and not to post their garbage here in this forum.

      • Sol July 22, 2016

        No, you did not understand the article reread it.

  • k.tewolde July 22, 2016

    It is like the Indian reservation model.The generation that is growing up there will never look back,it will be assimilated to the host society,it is a well thought out,systematic undoing of a nation,the tyrant is a hired hand,yes, he will deliver a Singapore eventually but with the endogenous population outside looking in.

    • Shikor Eritrea July 22, 2016

      Brother K Tewolde ,

      I agree this poor girl has to assimulate ,she has to learn the tigray language as she only knows the hizbe tigrinya she will have to familiarize herself with that bean that the Ethiopian roast ,it is on the tip of my toungue,…It would have been ethier for this poor Eritrean girl to assimilate in Egypt or Saudi Arabia. But as the Amharic saying goes “qin sitaTTa yimelemelal gobaTTa”/ When those with strong back are not available ,those with twisted (weak) back become soldiersrs.
      This poor Eritrean girl is in the middle of Tigrawot who do not understand her language and culture..forexample when the tigrawot say ሔዚ how is she to know they mean ሕጂ ,or when the tigrawot say ኣይኾንይ how is she to know they mean ኣይከውንን…God help her ,she is in a foreign land.

      • k.tewolde July 23, 2016

        Shikor,you cracked me up!you put a little humor to otherwise a sad situation.We need a divine intervention.God help us.

  • abe July 22, 2016

    What a sad story, even the grand mother is a refugee at the age of 83 ?

    • Sol July 22, 2016


      She left behind her friends, her school, her home, her dance group and her beloved grandmother, but there was one thing she did not lose: the opportunity to share her love of dance…………

      • berhane July 22, 2016

        Are you her Tebeka or agent for her dancing? Who asked you any quostions about her or her grandmother? Is it any of your busines to reply to all peoples to comments?
        You reread it on the video because it says in the end “A month after she talks to us,
        she was reunited with her grandmother in the camp”. So that means her old granny
        also joined her in the camp of refuges. They all just want the latest designs of cloths
        and laptops/mobiles noting more nothing less all greednes.

        • AHMED SALEH July 23, 2016

          Why are you irritated for someone who tries to clarify and set
          the information straight ?
          You also said Eritrean village girl are ugly while in Ethiopians side they all are beautiful .
          That is not a problem just leave our national issues alone for Eritreans . .

  • hp July 22, 2016

    ኣይትብከ ኢንድዩ ዘብክየኒ፡ናይ ውልቀ-ሰባት adventura ወይ adventure shoud not be an ussue here.ዝኒኣሰ ይኩን ዝዓበየ ኩሉ ዘይመንፈሱ ወሪድዎ ብያቲ ዓዲጓና የልምጽ ኣሎ።ካባኡ ዝገደደ’ውን ኣሎ ኩሉና ከምንፈልጦ።ይኹን’ምበር ህዝቢ ኤርትራ ኣይጠቆየን።ስኣን ሓንቲ በትሪ ወዮ ተመን ዓንዲሩን ገቢሉን።ኣሰና ዳት ኮም ከኣ ብዝበለጸ ዓንቀጻት ክትእንግደንና ይላቦ።

  • AHMED SALEH July 23, 2016

    Eritreans arrogance created their own monsters . And inside the country our people’s fate is at the
    hands of their leader because his blind supporters chose to look another direction when it comes
    on safety and well being of civilian population .
    For long time we neglected the sign of dangerous future until it took its course higher to unanticipated level that confused our expectations . Well it is what it is .
    Crying like a baby for more than twenty years was negative life experience . Lets hope for better outcome .

  • Hazo July 23, 2016

    እንኳዕ ብሰላም ካብ ሃገረ ባርነት ባርያነት ዓቢድነት ጥሜት ግፋ ጓሂ ሓዘን ትካዘ ግዱድ ዕስክርና ሓሳረ መከራ ማእሰርቲ ሞት ኤርትራ ኣውጺኡ፣ ብርሃን ኣርኤየኪ። እምበር እዛ ኩሉ ሰብ ኩቦ ደርብይላ ኩሉ ጠንጢንዋ ዝኸይድ ዘሎ ኤርትራስ ኣብ ኣፍደገ ድነ ሞት ኮይና ትልኽ እያ ትብል ዘላ።
    ገለ ሓሰውቲ ምሱልያት ኣብዚ ኣብ ኣሜሪካ ሽወደን ብሪታንያ፣ ጀርመን ነርወይ ኣውስታራልያ ምስ ደቆም ተሓቢኦም ብዛዕባ ገድልን ኤርትራ እንተተወራዘዩልኪ ንዕቕ ኣቢልኪ ግደፍዮም፣ ሓሰውቲ ስለዝኾኑ።