Ballet versus bullets: Reclaiming the streets of Lavender Hill
On Lavender Hill’s most dangerous street, 17 little ballerinas transcend into a world of stillness. Their dance is a fearless act of reclamation in an area notorious for its violence. Children raised in this neighbourhood are desensitised to the crime, with kids as young as 10 years old working as drug mules. Ralph Bouwers grew up here. He understands their plight. It’s why he’s dedicated to their upliftment.
To break the normality of life amid gangsterism, Bouwers created The Guardians of the National Treasure in 2003. Through the NPO, he provides food, clothing and activities such as soccer and netball. Bouwers’ approach is holistic, taking into account the attention and affirmation children need. “If we want our youth to be the leaders for tomorrow, we need to invest in our youth now,” he says. Ballet is one of the most recent additions to his outreach programme. Despite practising in a garage, the dancers arrive in glamorous pink tutus and tightly tied hair. “When I watch these kids perform, I see them glow,” Bouwers says. “I can see they are children again.
The focus on fun is an active reminder for the kids that a life of crime isn’t their only option. Bouwers’ next venture is to work with ward councillors to organise sport and recreational classes on a field alongside Blode Street, known to locals as the ‘The Battleground.’ His efforts are turning this warzone into a space of possibility, one where he can raise children, not gangsters.