NORTH YARMOUTH, Maine — When Holly Perkins makes a return visit to Africa next month, she’s coming equipped with ballet slippers, tights and leotards.
The 17-year-old, a senior at Merriconeag Waldorf High School in New Gloucester, visited an orphanage in the southeast African country of Tanzania with her family two years ago.
Now Perkins is going back, this time with her father, David Perkins, on March 23. She’ll stay for three weeks as part of a school service project.
The connection to Tanzania stems from Perkins’s mother, who knows India Howell, a former Portland resident who founded the Rift Valley Children’s Village, an orphanage in northern Tanzania. Largely supported by the non-profit Tanzanian Children’s Fund, the orphanage houses about 65 children.
From the time Perkins was young, her family had wanted to visit Tanzania. Volunteering at the orphanage, Perkins loved the children, the staff and surrounding countryside, and decided that she would one day return. The experience brought a sense of perspective to her life, she said.
“Being there gives me this sense of fulfillment that I never really knew existed before going,” Perkins said recently.
Adoption isn’t an option at this orphanage, she said, noting that Rift Valley wants the children to feel at home there, and that if they’re up for adoption, they might not feel as settled.
“At this orphanage, they brought these children from such shocking and destructive situations,” she explained. “I sort of imagined that it would be a much darker (and sadder) place, but it was so happy and so wonderful, and the children were just extraordinary.”
And Perkins hopes to add to that happiness by teaching the kids ballet.
Maine State Ballet in Falmouth, a studio where she has danced for a decade, has been obtaining donated tights, leotards and ballet skippers for the teenager to bring along.
And Perkins has been practicing for her work in Tanzania by teaching elementary-age students at Merriconeag with the help of her gym teacher there, John Saccone. She’s also taken classes for younger students at Maine State Ballet to learn its teaching methods, and is planning a curriculum with Artistic Director Linda Miele and School Director Glenn Davis.
Why bring ballet? Perkins said it’s long been a passion for her, one which defines who she is at this stage of life. And the girls at the orphanage, who’d never experienced ballet, were fascinated by what Perkins had to show them two years ago.
She plans to teach hour-long classes, and to introduce her students to “The Nutcracker.”