Many years ago, a circus came to the Bolivian town of Potosi and the circus owners invited local children to come and help. Edson Quezada was one of those children and he never forgot this experience. He dreamed of setting up a circus run by children and young people; a place where they would not be exploited but valued, a place where they could learn, not only reading and writing, but how to work together and build a brighter future.
Edson’s dream became a reality and today 250 young people are involved in Centro Creativo Artistico "educar es fiesta" (education is celebration), a Caritas Australia partner.
Edson and his team have a centre in Ushpa near Cochabamba, an area chosen because of the high number of children who have lost one or both of their parents – although they also welcome children from marginalised communities. The circus runs half-day sessions for around 60 children at a time.
The team travels around in a colourful open-topped bus (nicknamed La Chiva or The Goat), promoting the program and their circus performances.
Over the years 1,500 children aged 7 to 18 have taken part. In 2009, Caritas Australia helped Centro Creativo Artistico "educar es fiesta" buy their own Big Top and in 2011 the circus performed for 25,000 people. Edson says that hundreds of children are now living positive lives, with dignity, increased self-esteem, awareness of their rights and more ability to express themselves.
One of the circus’ most enthusiastic supporters, Raymundo joined Centro Creativo Artistico "educar es fiesta" when he was only nine years old.
“I came from a very poor family. My father worked on construction sites and my mother did knitting and weaving,” said Raymundo. “I have five brothers and sisters. At eight, I was told that I have hands and good legs, so I can go and start earning money for my family.”
At first, Raymundo cleaned mini buses, and delivered and cleaned water tanks. Later, he found work washing cars for visitors to the cemetery and carrying 25 litre buckets of water for women cleaning the gravestones.
“I used to earn 20 Bolivianos ($3) for 10 hours work. Sometimes I used to receive 50c for cleaning a car, which was a good day,” he said.
It was a hard life, so Raymundo and his friends sought escape by sniffing glue; quickly becoming addicted. The money Raymundo earned was given to his family but he was spending more time with his gang.
When some gang members started to attend Centro Creativo Artistico "educar es fiesta", Raymundo went along to be with them. At first he enjoyed the musical activities but when they moved on to street theatre, such as acrobatics and juggling, he began to see new possibilities for his life.
A few months later, the circus performed in the plaza at Cochabamba. Raymundo was the clown: “It was my first performance in front of a big audience. When I entered, it was maybe something I said or the way I walked, but people laughed and I felt a connection to them. For me it was such a change.
“At the age of nine, I had the opportunity to start learning something new that turned my life around in a complete circle. And what I’d like to do is provide that same opportunity to others here in Cochabamba and in Bolivia.”
Out of all his friends, he was the last to join but has lasted the longest. Raymundo worked hard; he worked full-time at Centro Creativo Artistico "educar es fiesta", and in the evening attended night school. He graduated to study for a degree in performing arts at university. Now, as the final part of his qualification, Raymundo is doing a year’s social service at Centro Creativo Artistico "educar es fiesta", teaching circus skills to other children. They know him as Coco the Clown.
“My wish for the kids is that no one is poor. We as Bolivians and Australians have the opportunity to work together to create new paths with Caritas Australia. You and I need to work together, however we can do it!”
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