Kenya Dream Big? Ken-Ya Dance?

A first-year computer science major who loves helping others, Nithin Jilla is also the president of UC Irvine’s Kenya Dream chapter. He’s on a mission to help the students of Kenya succeed in school.

Kenya Dream began in northern California at Cupertino High School, with the class of 2010’s spirit council. The spirit council, composed of representatives from their class and the various homerooms, decided to donate the money they fundraised from prom to a charity. An advisor of the spirit council had a Kenyan friend who recommended that the group of high school students donate the funds to local Kenyan schools that needed funds for repairs.

“We wanted to do something different,” Jilla said. “We wanted to leave a legacy at school.”With the idea hatched, the project went underway. The spirit council teamed up with the Rotary Club of Cupertino and its foundation, Cupertino Rotary Endowment Foundation. The project became titled “Kenya Dream,” with the students nicknamed the “Dream Team” and the project eventually receiving non-profit status. Led by Jilla and classmate Justin Li, the group began to plan fundraising events; the first year, they planned mostly car washes and fundraisers. Halfway through their second year of fundraising, the group organized a benefit concert with the San Jose Youth Symphony. The concert consisted of a three night show with 450 people attending.

During the planning of the music concert, one of the girls on the fundraising team mentioned her connection to Fanny Pak, a popular dance group in the Los Angeles area and contestant on MTV’s dance show America’s Best Dance Crew. One of the dancers from Fanny Pak signed t-shirts as giveaways at the concerts, and mentioned the idea of a dance fundraiser. The conversation between the two led to the idea of Ken-Ya Dance, a fundraiser consisting of dance teams from all over California. The first Ken-Ya Dance in April 2009 successfully raised $15,000. There has been three other Ken-Ya Dance fundraisers since, raising a total of $52,000.

Kenya Dream has worked to see that the money fundraised at the various events is transferred directly back to the students of Africa. The Rotary Foundation oversees the funding, transferring the money directly to Rotary Africa. The funds will be used to assist Nthimbiri Secondary School and Mukua Secondary School in fixing areas such as inadequate space in classrooms, a shortage of teaching staff and a lack of school supplies.The Ken-Ya Dance performance in Irvine will be monumental because it will be the first time the event has come to Southern California. The event will feature 25 new teams, including headlining performances by Quest Crew, Fanny Pak, Beat Freaks, Kaba Modern and Team Millennia. Kenya Dream has only had a chapter on campus since November, with the club consisting of mainly freshmen and a few upperclassmen.“I really wanted to participate because I believe that social entrepreneurship is something fun but you can still help others who might not have what we have on a daily basis,” said Christina Ong, first-year business economics major. “There’s a real mission behind what we’re doing.”

The organization has involved other groups on campus in the event as well. The Student Services division of ASUCI has partnered to help publicize the event. Announcements have been made at Student Service events such as Wayzgoose and bi-weekly movie screenings, and have been posted on the ASUCI website. Grace Poon, vice president of student services and a fourth-year economics major, was approached by Jilla in October about Ken-Ya Dance.

“It’s really cool because Ken-Ya Dance is such a common thing from where I’m around. It’s a cool event to bring to UCI,” Poon, a Cupertino native, said. “I’m excited and it looks like it’s going to be a successful event. I got to see it from the brainstorming stages to enacting it, and I’m happy to have been able to use my ASUCI experience to give to another student.”

On a personal note, Poon’s younger brother, a senior at Cupertino High, will be performing at Ken-Ya Dance with the dance group Get the Funk On (GTFO). Since there are four years between them, Poon has never had the opportunity to see him perform live and has only seen his performances on YouTube. In addition to the opportunity to see her brother perform, Poon also admires the strength of UCI students and the events they put on.

“There are so many great student run, student thought up, student created events,” Poon said. “ASUCI welcomes any organization to talk to us. We have the resources to help an organization plan an event from start to finish.”

Ken-Ya Dance Socal is scheduled for Saturday, May 21 at the Bren Events Center. Tickets may be purchased on Ticketmaster or through any Kenya Dream club member.