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 streets 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. John founded Performing Life in 2005 and in early 2006, Hope for the Children Foundation gave Performing Life a seed fund to get started.
John returned to Cochabamba in 2006 and opened the first class with six students. Performing Life now is legally established in Cochabamba as, “Fundación enseñARTE,” and offers: Circus Arts classes at two locations in and around Quillacollo, a city close to Cochabamba; Music classes and recording in its own music studio; a School Support Program; a Microenterprise Fund that has greatly benefited many children and their families; the Integral Health Program, Healthy Meals for all participants served in our cafeterias and many other activities such as theater, dance, and photography providing free social and economic opportunities to hundreds of street youth and families.
Many poor Bolivian children desperately want an education, a decent place to live, and hope for the future, but circumstances put them in risky, unhealthy situations. Performing Life is a proven model that successfully reaches street children to help them change their lives, together with their families, and communities. We are particularly proud that most of the youth regularly attending our programs are no longer working on the streets, attend school, have reunited with families, and are living in secure and healthy situations. Since 2006, Performing Life has empowered over 3000 youth and family members to create better futures through the arts.
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 and their families 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 demonstrate how to successfully overcome the social exclusion of impoverished children and youth while promoting their reintegration into society. Performing Life believes that, supported by positive values, children and youth can use their creative and artistic skills to 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 tools to help youth improve their economic opportunities and those of their families to achieve long term benefits.
CIRCUS ARTS PROJECTS
Activities involve: Organizing acts, teaching new skills, creating shows, design/direct skits with social themes, make costumes, etc.
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, poi, aerial acrobatics, trapeze, hand to hand acrobatics, dance, clown, etc. In 2014, PL/FE was officially recognized by Cirque du Monde as a social circus organization.
The key aim of Circus Arts classes is to teach youth skills that will increase their coordination and concentration as well /as develop 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, studying, spending time with their families, and other pro-social activities.
Take a look at this amazing video showing what youth learn in Circus classes:
Activities involve: Teaching youth how to play instruments, compose and record songs, organize and promote concerts, produce album art, etc.
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 2015 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.
Check out some of the Music Videos and Songs by clicking on the links below!
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.
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.
Watch this video and see how the Bracelet Program changes lives:
EDUCATION SUPPORT PROGRAM
Activities involve: Creative learning experiences with youth that integrate a range of subjects; engaging body, speech, mind, and the senses in a total process; encouraging youth to explore new concepts, cultures, and ways of thinking.
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. Unfortunately, most youth in Bolivia report lack of attention from classroom teachers, negative learning environments, and regular corporeal punishment. 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.
INTEGRAL HEALTH PROGRAM
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 SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM
Activities involve: Partner with the education program to help older participants develop their education goals; research opportunities for higher education, vocational or arts training, and language programs; prepare and fill out applications; identify scholarships, funding, and resources to support youth to achieve educational goals.
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 post-high school graduation. In addition to receiving information and support, scholarship program participants have the opportunity to participate in the bracelet program, earning $2000/year to be set aside for education-related purposes. The formation of this program is still underway, giving volunteers freedom to shape and design its process. Specifically, new volunteers would: partner with the education program to introduce educational opportunities and goal setting to participants; contact universities, scholarship programs, and education-based NGO’s to establish long-term exchange or scholarship-based relationships; develop an internal “application” or screening system; continue to compile a list of resources and opportunities for future participants and volunteers; maintain contact with current scholarship program participants. Building leaders is an investment for all of us in the future of the world.
ADDITIONAL VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES WITH PERFORMING LIFE INCLUDE:
COMMUNICATIONS, FUNDRAISING, GRANT WRITING, PROMOTION, SOCIAL MEDIA, AUDIOVISUAL PROJECTS, WEBSITE DEVELOPMENT, REPAIR AND MAINTENANCE.
Activities involve: Identify funding sources and write proposals; develop and manage social media campaigns; create innovative ways to reach diverse audiences with the PL story; direct and produce short films, documentaries and/or a feature film with PL youth; create sustainable support for youth projects; and other projects.
The Performing Life Cafeteria provides free healthy meals for all participants who attend classes, assuring that they get at least one full meal a day. Volunteers can help in the kitchen and share a delicious meal with the youth each day
Birthday celebrations help youth become aware of their real age and feel special on their birthday. Providing a birth certificate is required for participation in PL programs. At the end of the day’s class, we hold a birthday celebration with a cake for each child, most of whom have never had one before. This recognition has motivated youth to acquire their ID cards and other important documents that they will need in the future. Volunteers get to sing songs and eat cake with the kids!
Help build our new circus and music centers. These can be short-term projects, such as working with staff to install program infrastructure; upgrading the satellite circus spaces; creating a mobile social circus truck; building props; or simply helping with general repairs and maintenance to keep our spaces vibrant, safe, and child-friendly.