Afghanistan’s Mobile Mini Circus for Kids
Kabul: Flinging sparkling clubs into the air, the girls showed off their juggling skills as the boys executed dazzling acrobatics and climbed into a four-storey human pyramid.
Afghanistan’s Mobile Mini Circus for Children would have been heretical under the Taliban, when music was banned by the Islamic fundamentalist movement and girls were forbidden from performing in public and going to school.
But today the circus, founded by Danish dance instructor David Mason to teach cooperation and creativity to children scarred by years of war, is one of the few projects, expanding despite a drop in international aid to Afghanistan.
“Left on the street, kids turn to bad things, becoming suicide bombers or street thugs,” said Murtaza Nowrozi, an 18-year-old juggler from the western province of Herat. “It’s better for them to go to school and join programmes like this.”
Nowrozi found out about the circus at school, but many of the members are orphans or from refugee camps. The most talented children have been on tour to Denmark, Germany, Italy and Japan, and some have stayed on with the project to become teachers.
Mason started the circus with his own money and got the first donation of $1,000 in 2002, the year after U.S-led forces invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban.
Despite the dangers, the project has grown so popular that it now runs centres in seven provinces and has about 300 regular students. With dozens of donors and workshops to raise money, the budget is close to $500,000 and its tours of 25 of the country’s 34 provinces have reached nearly 3 million people.
In eastern parts of the country, girls do not perform. In the ultra-conservative south, performances run without music.Passages from the Quran are always recited at the start.
“We are doing things in a very Afghan and Islamic way,” said Mason, noting that all of the circus staff, children and customs are native to the country. “We are not trying to come up with new ideas unfamiliar to Afghans.”