With his athletic features and elegant attire capturing the gaze of onlookers, Mathias Kavita seamlessly blended in with the youthful acrobats during a training session at Sarakasi Dome, a performing arts hall located in downtown Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.
Kavita, 52, was among 24 youngsters who in 1983 secured a scholarship domiciled in the China-Kenya cooperation agreement to study acrobatics in China at the tender age of nearly 12, paving the way for a bright future ahead.
“I was lucky to be among the 24 out of 200 teenagers who were selected for the training in China,” said Kavita, adding that he had earlier met a group of Chinese nationals at his elementary school who enlightened him on the positive attributes of acrobatics.
While in China, Kavita was dispatched to a training camp for young foreign learners, where he was taken through lion dance and heavy lifting, the foundational elements of acrobatics. “There was a chart to show our progress. If you are climbing or dropping, it will show. It was difficult to compete among ourselves but made us want to know more,” Kavita said.
He admitted the initial two months of training were grueling, but gradually they improved on flexibility even as they benefited from Chinese language lessons in the evenings.
During the training that included jumping through the ropes, stretches and weight lifting, Kavita and his group also participated in Chinese dance lessons.
In 1985, Kavita came back to Kenya accompanied by his Chinese instructors and the acrobatics training went on, paving the way for his mastery of an unexplored art in his motherland. Chinese acrobatics, according to Kavita, keeps on evolving, and thanks to his study tour in the Asian nation, he gained a wide range of skills and use of apparatus.
Four years later, Kavita was employed as an acrobatics coach by a private company in the coastal region and opted out in the mid-1990s to start his own venture. More than 1,000 people have benefitted from Kavita’s training.
At the Sarakasi dome, Kavita pointed at training equipment like bicycles, props, and unicycles that were donated by a group of well-wishers from China where he was exposed to cross-cultural interactions early in life thanks to the study tour.
Kavita admitted that acrobatics has provided a lifeline to thousands of Kenyan youth, stressing that a structured framework for training the next generation of acrobats should be established.
One such youth is Eric Musyoka who in 2017 enrolled for acrobatics lessons after meeting Kavita and has been consistent in his quest to master the art given its promise of upward mobility.
“When I met Kavita in 2017, he was the first one to teach me gymnastics and acrobatics,” Musyoka said. He was among a group of local youth who congregated at the Sarakasi dome for early morning acrobatic lessons under the teaching of Kavita amid applause from onlookers.
Liu Libo, a 34-year-old Chinese national working for a company in Kenya, has been attending acrobatics lessons conducted by Kavita, to the surprise of many. Liu feels that acrobatic lessons have offered him a platform to interact freely with local communities and appreciate their cultures.
Ahead of the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Kenya that were formalized on Dec. 14, 1963, local youth who have embraced acrobatics have symbolized this enduring bond of friendship.
Walter Mumo, a young trainee, put up a sterling acrobatic show at Sarakasi dome, watched closely by his coach Kavita and later expressed his desire to travel to China to further hone his skills in the art.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).