The Circus Arts class, started in 2006, is the oldest of Performing Life’s projects and forms the heart of the organization’s mission. In these classes we give free tutelage on different types of performing arts, including juggling, unicycle riding, diabolo, and poi.
One key aim of the Circus Arts classes is to teach youth skills that will increase their coordination and concentration as well as develop their self-esteem and self-determination. At the same time, the skills participants gain provide them with a way to support themselves and/or their families in fewer hours than was previously possible. This means participants have more time to focus on other areas of their lives such as attending school and studying, spending time with their families, and other pro-social activities.
For those participants who stay with the classes long enough, the third aim is to give participants a chance to become part of our performance troupe, where they will have the opportunity to share their skills with the public while earning money through regular, paid shows. They may also benefit economically by becoming Circus Arts instructors for future Performing Life classes, thus obtaining stable, and meaningful, employment.
All participants in the Circus Arts program have substantially developed their juggling skills, and those who have attended the program longer have developed more advanced techniques as well as acting skills. The value of juggling is not only in its artistic nature; all participants have also shown improvements in their ability to concentrate and to work cooperatively with others. Furthermore, participants have improved their math skills and increased their self-esteem, which are other important areas for the development of any person. They have also shown marked improvement in their behavior at school, in their family life, and in their social relationships.
The Music Program began in 2008 with a rudimentary recording studio in a closet. The project evolved to work with hundreds of youth recording more than 6 complete albums, producing a series of music video, and staging many free concerts throughout Cochabamba. In 2014 we lacked funding to successfully run the program, but in 2016 the program will start up again with the plan to set up 3-4 outreach classes working with over 30 youth in different locations around Cochabamba. The project’s focus will be initially on starting a Professional Recording Studio, which will finance music related activities with youth.
The Music Program offers classes in piano, guitar, bass, percussion instruments, Bolivian folklore instruments, singing and music theory. The Music Program also offers songwriting classes for music in the styles of hip-hop, pop, and rock. With the Performing Life recording studio, we can professionally record songs written by the Music Program participants, as well as teach the fundamentals of sound engineering and recording to some of the older participants.
Performing Life’s Music Project gives youth a creative vehicle for sharing their stories, hopes, and dreams with the public. Their work has earned them respect and recognition from top music professionals in the region. Some of the youth who lived on the street and experienced so much discrimination, say that, through their music, they feel empowered and heard by society.
This program is closely linked to the social circus program, as both work on human values and fundamental skills to develop as individuals and empower them. Whereas this program works in a more direct way, than is practiced in the social circus program which uses a a more indirect way.
These activities directly affect the development of a set of skills and abilities that empower boys and girls to have better opportunities for the future. They work on issues such as basic and advanced social skills, emotional intelligence, alternatives to aggression, coping with stress, planning skills, gender equality, conflict management, etc. All of this focuses on participatory, active methodologies and with an important recreational component to keep the children motivated, interested and participative.
The social educational program is run in the centres of Alto Buena Vista and Montenegro both in the morning (from 9 to 12) and in the afternoon (from 14 to 17). The schedule of social educational activities comprises from 9:15 to 10:15 in the morning, and from 14:15 to 15:15 in the afternoon.
This program is managed with technical assistance from local NGOs that provide specialized outreach and medical care in different areas, such as regular checkups to improve overall health. Youth go to the dentist, receive sexual education courses, and other workshops aimed at preventing disease and future health problems. As we help more families and youth improve their health and sanitation, we seek volunteers who have worked extensively with approaches that are culturally relevant, engage the whole person, and connect families with local resources for improving health outcomes.
The Bracelet Microenterprise Program is a project of Hope for the Children Foundation (HFC) funded through sales of bracelets made by youth and families who are regular participants in Fundación EnseñARTE’s social circus and music programs.
Youth invest their earnings in sustainable projects that support the physical, social, and economic well being of themselves and their families, such as:
The rungs on the ladder out of grinding poverty are land ownership, a safe and healthy home, education, and microenterprise. Youth in the bracelet microenterprise program no longer work on the streets, regularly attend school at grade level, have improved living conditions, and are physically and mentally healthier than they were before joining Performing Life. Based on our home visits and interviews, these improvements are a result of dedication to education, improved living and economic conditions, and having a safety net to meet emergencies. With a more stable life, youth can imagine a future with hope for realizing their dreams.
See how the participants use their Bracelet earnings to create better futures through the arts!
The Education Support Program, started in 2013, is an entirely volunteer-run program. Performing Life is convinced that excellent education is one of the basic human needs. The Education Program is designed to help youth broaden their horizons, to become global citizens with knowledge of the outside world and all it has to offer. The program seeks to fill gaps left by the often poor Bolivian educational system to build a life-long love of self-directed learning.
The Scholarship Program was formalized in 2015 and offers opportunities for the most dedicated youth to attain a higher education either nationally or internationally. Youth commit to helping PL by being assistant instructors; in exchange, PL helps them access opportunities to go to college, study, and become a professional in a field of their choice. Building leaders is an investment for all of us in the future of the world.
The Performing Life Cafeteria was started in 2010 to provide free healthy meals for all the participants who attend classes, assuring that they get at least one full meal a day. This also provides employment for a couple of the local mothers as cooks.
Several studies have documented the social and economic benefits for youth working with Performing Life, which focuses on using the creative process as a means for positive self-expression and confidence building. Youth-led and youth-managed groups that demonstrate respect for participants’ efforts are much more effective than programs which seek to criminalize youth work, pass laws against working youth, or coerce youth into “closed” group homes where choices and opportunities are greatly restricted.
When participating youth turn 18 they must decide whether to continue working with Performing Life. They can become instructors in our various programs, obtaining paid work that helps them continue preparing for their future. Performing Life has also negotiated agreements with various educational institutions to ensure that young people in our programs can pursue post-secondary studies in any subject they want. The opportunities for a better and more creative future are great for those participating in our programs, and greater still for those who begin at 12 or 13 years old.
The statistics and personal stories representing Performing Life youth demonstrate remarkable organizational success, but even more remarkable is how these street kids, through the creative process, have helped themselves, their peers, their families, and ultimately their communities. These are talented, kind, and caring human beings who are not waiting for the future but are creating their own positive present right now.
A 2009 Case Study of street youth programs in Latin America found that:
“Performing Life demonstrates that an assets-building and sustainable livelihoods approach to development can empower youth to create opportunities and move beyond the day-to-day survival common with most street youth. Incorporating creative skills makes work more of a game that is played with peers in the practice sessions and in front of the public audience for earning money. It fulfills the need for work as identity. By increasing their skills and entertaining the public, the children gain positive recognition for their contributions to the quotidian life of the community.”
Performing Life was founded as so many nonprofits have been: by one individual recognizing a pressing need in the community and choosing to act. For John Connell, Performing Life´s founder, this moment came soon after he first arrived in Bolivia in 2003. Having recently graduated from high school, John arrived in Cochabamba, Bolivia without enough money to pay his way; following the example of local youth, he decided to take up juggling at stoplights to support himself. During that time, he befriended many youth living and/or working on the street and learned about the harsh conditions and difficult challenges of their lives.
Upon returning to the U.S. in late 2004, he began writing about what he had seen and experienced as well as his desire for helping the youth he had met. His idea was that, through music and the arts, youth living and/or working on the streets could find both positive ways to express themselves and potential pathways to a brighter economic future. With this focus in mind, John founded Performing Life in 2005 and began searching for the necessary funding to launch his ambitious program. Tony Bellizzi, Director of Hope for the Children Foundation, had faith in both John and his idea and gave Performing Life a seed fund of $5,000 USD.
John returned to Cochabamba in 2006 and opened his first class with six students. In the years since then, Performing Life has worked with over 500 children in a variety of programs. Performing Life now is legally established in Cochabamba as Fundación enseñARTE, and offers: four Circus Arts classes at two locations around the city; Music classes and recording in its own music studio; a micro-enterprise fund that has greatly benefited many children and their families; lots of artistic workshops of theater, dance, photography, dental care, one healthy daily meal and school support classes, all for free, for all the participants in the programs, and many more activities that have provided social and economic opportunities to hundreds of street youth and families. Participants come to classes four days a week, are in school, and are living safely with their families or in youth homes. Most of them no longer depend on street work for their living. Performing Life is implementing a variety of new projects so that Performing Life can become more sustainable and help more street-working youth throughout the Cochabamba area.
Performing Life’s mission is to help children and adolescents who are working and/or living on the streets of Cochabamba, Bolivia to improve their daily lives and create better futures for themselves through the arts. We empower youth by teaching them productive skills that keep them in school and away from drugs while improving their chances for economic independence.
Performing Life seeks to show the community of Cochabamba society, and all Bolivian society, how to end the social exclusion of impoverished children and youth with limited and promote their reintegration into society. Performing Life believes that children and youth, using their creative and artistic skills and supported by positive values, can be an engine of social change and a catalyst for community development.
Performing Life’s primary goal is to use arts education as a means to achieve: youth reintegration into family life; social development of children and youth living and / or working on the streets of Cochabamba; protection against the dangers involved in street life, such as drugs, alcohol, abuse, and crime; and provision of tools to help youth improve their economic opportunities and those of their family.
Bolivia has one of the largest indigenous populations in the Americas. Approximately 60 – 70% of the population is of Amerindian ancestry while the remaining 30 – 40% is of European descent. Despite centuries of oppression, the indigenous people remain independent and hard-working while struggling to overcome the legacies of colonialism, dictatorship, corruption, and international debt. Bolivia also has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the Americas, which contributes greatly to high levels of extreme poverty. Land, resources and wealth remain concentrated in the hands of a small number of families – with the richest 10% of the population controlling nearly half of the country’s total wealth – giving the country one of the highest levels of inequality in Latin America.
The city of Cochabamba is situated at 8,375 feet above sea level in the center of landlocked Bolivia. The state of Cochabamba, with a population of approximately 1,500,000 people, is both the agricultural center of Bolivia and a leading contributor to the country’s economy. Cochabamba is made up of 16 provinces, and its capital – also named Cochabamba – is the urban center of the state with approximately 517,370 residents.
Although the state is both culturally and economically important to the country, 50% of its population lives in poverty. The poverty levels range from moderate to severe with a majority living without many necessities. In Cochabamba child labor is an accepted part of life.
There are many ways you can contribute to Performing Life. It doesn’t matter where you are, what skills you have, or how much time or money you can spare. We have lots of ways you can help! Performing Life’s volunteer opportunities are designed to allow national and international volunteers and interns to use their skills to help children and families who either live and/or work in the streets of Cochabamba, Bolivia. The current services and projects available at Performing Life have been developed and/or supported by past volunteers from all over the world.
We are always in search of new volunteers. Performing Life is a welcoming organization that gives volunteers the opportunity to bring their own ideas to the table, develop existing projects or create new ones, and make a real impact on youth and their families. We are a small organization, so any help is welcome!
We seek volunteers who are independent, free-thinking, and self-sufficient. Due to our limited staff and budget, many programs are primarily volunteer-run; therefore, volunteers must be responsible, goal oriented, hardworking individuals. Volunteering with Performing Life can be a highly rewarding experience for the volunteer, the youth, and organization. CIRCUS ARTS PROJECTS Volunteer Requirements Activities involve: Organizing acts, teaching new skills, creating shows, design/direct skits with social themes, make costumes, etc. MUSIC PROGRAM Volunteer Requirements BRACELET PROGRAM AND MICROENTERPRISE PROJECTS Volunteer Requirements Activities involve: Working with youth and their families to develop realistic investment opportunities, implement self-determined investment plans, and learn to track expenses and benefits; understand finances and savings; teach microfinance workshops with PL families and youth to improve investment income for beneficiaries and ultimately help them create tools to improve their socioeconomic status. To help the microenterprise program grow, PL must reach a wider retail audience and develop strong connections with wholesale buyers. EDUCATION SUPPORT PROGRAM Volunteer Requirements INTEGRAL HEALTH PROGRAM Volunteer Requirements THE SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM Volunteer Requirements ADDITIONAL VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES WITH PERFORMING LIFE INCLUDE: COMMUNICATIONS, FUNDRAISING, GRANT WRITING, PROMOTION, SOCIAL MEDIA, AUDIOVISUAL PROJECTS, WEBSITE DEVELOPMENT, REPAIR AND MAINTENANCE. Volunteer Requirements
CIRCUS ARTS PROJECTS
Activities involve: Organizing acts, teaching new skills, creating shows, design/direct skits with social themes, make costumes, etc.
BRACELET PROGRAM AND MICROENTERPRISE PROJECTS
Activities involve: Working with youth and their families to develop realistic investment opportunities, implement self-determined investment plans, and learn to track expenses and benefits; understand finances and savings; teach microfinance workshops with PL families and youth to improve investment income for beneficiaries and ultimately help them create tools to improve their socioeconomic status. To help the microenterprise program grow, PL must reach a wider retail audience and develop strong connections with wholesale buyers.
EDUCATION SUPPORT PROGRAM
INTEGRAL HEALTH PROGRAM
THE SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM
ADDITIONAL VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES WITH PERFORMING LIFE INCLUDE:
COMMUNICATIONS, FUNDRAISING, GRANT WRITING, PROMOTION, SOCIAL MEDIA, AUDIOVISUAL PROJECTS, WEBSITE DEVELOPMENT, REPAIR AND MAINTENANCE.
I worked with the kids for two months teaching music. It wasn’t always easy to keep their attention, but it was worth the effort to see them enjoying the music that they are playing, both in the studio and in shows.
I started volunteering with Performing Life for two months through a Northwestern University and Foundation for Sustainable Development program. What started out as just a summer abroad turned into the best experience of my life.
With two other classmates and a couple other volunteers, we expanded upon an Education Program to supplement gaps in the children’s education. We taught an hour a day with lessons ranging from English and culture to mathematics practice. At first the kids were hesitant to practice but by the end they would greet me everyday with a “Hello” and a few other English phrases.
The best part of Bolivia was the people and none were better than the children at Performing Life. Each day they came to the program smiling, laughing and ready to improve their circus skills and learn something new. They are the hardest working and most deserving and children I have ever met. Leaving them was extremely difficult; I miss them every day, but I know the connection I made with them and Performing Life will last a lifetime.
I was a volunteer with Performing Life for two incredible months. Those months I will never forget. I have started with Circus in 2010 and since then I have not stopped.
This year I wanted to work as a volunteer in a project that had both things; children and circus. I found it in Performing Life and as soon as I could I came to Bolivia and I started to work with them. It was amazing: the kids and the team who I worked with, the kids gave me a smile every day and wanted to practice more and more their Circus Skills. The children train 4 days a week juggling, acrobatics, aerial silks…not just for fun, because I am convinced that Circus helps them to improve their concentration, individual development and to trust in others. This positive side of Circus I wanted to share with Performing Life, and I did it!
Now I am far away, but I look forward to see them all again, see their improvements and their faces…
I really miss you guys.
¡Salud y circo!
“During my travels in Bolivia I made a visit to Cochabamba. While there I met John Connell, and soon after I found myself asking for a volunteer job. Working with the Performing Life crew was probably one of the most interesting things that ever happened to me.
Because I studied film and photography, they asked me to direct a music video for the latest song, “Bajo el Puente,” produced by the youth in the Music Program. I studied the song’s lyrics and brainstormed with the others involved, and we later shot footage with Favio, the singer, and several street children who appear on the track. As I got to know each one of them, I learned about their lives: their drug abuse, the discrimination and violence they face, the fear and loneliness of life on the street. The days and nights I spent with them where simply unforgettable.
The respect, friendship and gratitude you get from the youth in the program is something I’ll carry in my heart forever. Having to leave Cochabamba to start my further studies back home was hard. But I hope to go back and be able to help out more children and more families working to create better lives for themselves.”
This week we have been visiting the families homes to see how they have invested the money earned through the bracelet program! It’s been great to see how this program improves the quality of life for the families.