In Afghanistan: Mobile Mini Children’s Circus

Kabul, Afghanistan. Last month, for the third year in row, children from five provinces gathered in Kabul at a remarkable venue filled with color, creativity and energy – all focused and organized by an inspiring organization called the Mobile Mini Children’s Circus.

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From a tennis ball juggling championship

Normally, inside the sunlit “tented” room at the MMCC’s center, children would be learning how to juggle, tumble, walk the tightrope, sing, dance and generally clown around.

But during this week, the children worked with staff from MMCC, the Afghan Educational Children Circus (AECC), along with Aschiana, and several camps and organizations for disabled children to help lay out an agenda for change in 2012 which they later presented to ministers and members of Parliament.

MMCC started in 2002 with a $1,000 donation, and since 2002 has successfully reached more than two million youths nationally in 22 provinces with educational and entertaining performances, workshops and teacher training. In addition, the children have made several tours abroad to Europe and Japan. MMCC children perform for more than 75,000 people in schools each year””in 2011, audience numbers totaled 82,202.

“We are creating a community of artists,” director Berit Muhlhausen explained. “The children and their teachers we have had the honor to support are now going on to bring their love of expression and entertainment to countless Afghans, and as our expansion continues so that we can reach all provinces, we also have been asked to bring this special form of education and enlightenment to other countries.”

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To helping Afghan Parliament juggle priorities!

For a full week, 120 children from five provinces gathered in Kabul to participate in the 3rd National Children’s Shura (Shura-e-Atfal) organized by MMCC and AECC. Children invited from Aschiana (Center for Street Working Children) participated on an equal basis with the other children, as did disabled children from Baghlan Camp, Taqab Camp, CCD and Save the Children Afghanistan. Each child represented many more children in Kabul, Heart, Bamyan, Jalalabad and Ghor. After several days of workshops, the children presented the results of their discussions to Ministers, government officials, Members of the Parliament and the media (detailed information about the messages and priorities the children brought forth can be found here). Representatives from the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Economy, Ministry of Refugees, Ministry of Culture, Kabul Municipality, Members of Parliament (Women’s Affairs Commission) and ILO (International Labour Organization) were witness to the children’s organization, determination and passion for improvement.

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Fauzia Kofi (MP and Chairperson of Woman’s Affairs Commission and role model for
millions of Afghan girls) helped organize the event in Parliament.

“We will always work from our core and hearts,” said director David Mason, “bringing the joy and energy of the circus to children, particularly orphans, street children, and disabled kids as a way to break through the pain. But we are also a deeply rooted educational and advocacy organization, and these annual, national gatherings are an opportunity to bring together all these facets, including performance as the children are able to speak publicly and with great confidence to national leaders.”

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Future Afghan journalist and community leader in the making

MMCC’s strategy is to “introduce and stimulate self-sustainable educational and entertaining systems that will be followed and practiced as community based activities. As an International organization registered in Afghanistan, there are more than a dozen well-trained adult Afghan staff, with supervision and capacity building (and fund raising) provided by Muhlhausen and Mason. Regular artistic workshops are given by a large and growing network of volunteer international artists, with past support from natural partners like Cirque du Soleil. With a modest annual budget around $1,000,000 US, the MMCC is becoming increasingly self-sustaining by selling educational entertainment services, but continues to benefit from donations from individual donors, sponsors and foundations in 15 different countries.

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The Chidlren’s Circus troupe performs at an Agricultural fair.

While always colorful and great fun, every performance includes messages about the importance of health, landmine awareness, and transformation towards peace in a country at war for over 30 years. Classes that include Circus, Theater, Painting, Journalism and other performance and presentation artsreach an average of 120 children ages 5-16 during the school season. In addition to performance training, children are given a healthy lunch and basic education (Quran; literacy in English, Dari, and Pashto; math, computer skills and more).

There are weekly performances at schools in Kabul, larger community performances (that have reached over 50,000 youths nationally) and tours abroad in Europe, Japan, and the US.

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Making friends in Italy, 2010

“In Afghanistan, where all kinds of cultural expression have been suppressed and forgotten for decades, developing a children-circus required enormous considerations and some risks,” Muhlhausen said. “We’ve learned so much and have been so re-inspired by the progress and accomplishments of the children, the volunteer artists and our staff that we’re ready to leverage this model as a source of inspiration for similar creative educational activities in other countries. So far, research and networking in Tajikistan, Pakistan and Nepal are expected to start within the next year.”

“These children – many without parents – many who otherwise would be working on the streets – are unstoppable,” Mason said. “They are the future of a country that survives and can thrive based on the strength, culture and determination of the Afghan people. Bringing these talented, happy children and the hard-earned successes of our circus out to the rest of the world shows the real Afghanistan.”

 

AN AMERICAN IN AFGHANISTAN

Cynthia Artin is an entrepreneur and humanitarian currently living and working in Kabul, Afghanistan.   On assignment for the  Noori Foundation Afghanistan, and helping to establish a center for war widows and their children, Cynthia will be publishing weekly profiles of interesting people doing good things in what she calls “one of the most beautiful places on Earth.”   Cynthia is a Global Advisor to The James Jay Dudley Luce  Foundation and a new contributor to  The Stewardship Report.

About Cynthia Artin: An American in Afghanistan

View all posts by Cynthia Artin: An American in Afghanistan
Cynthia Artin: An American in Afghanistan
Cynthia Artin has been writing for The Stewardship Report since 2011, starting with her column AN AMERICAN IN AFGHANISTAN. Back from Kabul, but still very active in supporting Afghan social entrepreneurs, she is now inking a weekly column on leaders in humanitarianism who are creating innovative and efficient models for positive change and sustainable impact. Cynthia is Founder and President of Artin Arts, and a James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation Global Advisor.

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