Serious fun

Check it out, this is a great blog from UK based  communications and marketing professional Toby Hopwood. He and his partner have been travelling the world. That adventure took them to Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2013 and A Little Charitable Trust’s Quillacollo project. The following blog originally appeared on his own site Stories from other places and is worth checking out. Thanks for stopping by Toby!

The smallest girl in the room brandishes a tube-shaped balloon, takes a skydiver´s pose, the balloon a parachute above her head, hops sideways and shouts “HAH!” [Check out the video here].

Behind her, seven older children do the same. Facing them across the room, seven others respond with silly sayings and actions of their own. The small girl´s initial “Hah!” is a little hesitant. As the game progresses, her voice gets stronger; her grin, wider.

I´m enjoying the great pleasure of observing a confidence-building exercise developed by Performing Life, a Cochabamba-based charity. Aged between seven and 15, day-to-day life is tough for these young people. All of them live in areas of the city that lack even basic services. Many of them are made to work by their parents; a few have lived on the streets. But as they get stuck in to the game, there is no sign of the hardships many face. Everyone is relaxed and chuckling, including me.

Performing Life was founded by John Connell, an American who came to Cochabamba at the age of 16. Supporting himself by juggling in the streets, he experienced the life of the city´s street children first-hand. He returned to Cochabamba in 2006 to found Performing Life as a way of providing a positive alternative to the misery, crime and drug abuse that remains a feature of life for those young people who are without home or family.

The charity offers circus skills and a music programme to these young people, providing a fantastic opportunity to learn, have fun, and perhaps most importantly, to gain confidence in their own futures. In doing this, they also build a sense of community spirit which is clearly evident in the harmonious and courteous manner in which the young people treat each other. And they are seriously good, too ─ Performing Life´s public performances are eagerly anticipated and well-received.

They are able to attend two afternoons a week; after each session, they sit down together for a hot meal. And while Performing Life is anxious to not be seen as an alternative to school, they also offer a School Support Program to further the children’s academic development.

Not surprisingly, their services are in great demand (what young person wouldn´t want the chance to become a juggler or acrobat?). In 2011, they expanded their operation by opening an office in Quillacollo, a fast-growing and impoverished city close to Cochabamba, which I am visiting. By doing this, they are also better able to reach those in greatest need of their services, who tend to live in Cochabamba´s peripheral communities and are often unable to travel to the city centre.

Of the 80 young members of Performing Life, 30 are accessing the Quillacollo project. Besides the problem of access – and despite an overwhelmingly positive response from the children´s parents and foster families – the charity must also contend with the sudden disappearance of children whose parents, as economic migrants, leave to pursue opportunities for casual work. And some may try to take advantage of their children’s newly-honed circus skills by putting them out to busk at traffic lights and junctions – Performing Life´s jewelry-making programme aims to avoid this by helping the children and their families to gain a regular source of income. Above all, though, is the shortage of funds, which limits the charity´s ability to expand further into the areas where it could have the greatest impact.

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