Outreach in Varanasi

February 23, 2012

Along side our regular work with Asha Deep Vydiashram  we have completed 4 outreach projects over the last month that have brought us in contact with some inspirational organisations and characters.

We ran 2 mornings of workshops at the Duniya school in Nagawa,Varanasi.  The director of the school had seen our performance and contacted us with such enthusiasm for our work we could not turn down the request.  It is a wonderful school that gives impoverished children care and education, feeding them daily and that is very keen to encourage creativity in their pupils.

We also performed to and taught at the Ashray school/clinic in Nagwa that is run by an inspirational character Father Francis who has made the area his home and the people his work since 1979.  Please look at the website for more information about the work of Ashray and Father Francis.

The second time for PWB we visited (and performed to) the Kiran center; a small village where children and youngsters with different abilities receive education, skills and vocational training and physical rehabilitation.

Finally we squeezed in one more project and went to the GuriaCenter, a non-formal education centre in the red light area (shivdaspur) for children of women in prostitution. It was possibly the most challenging of the organisations that we visited, the children most vulnerable and in real need of care and attention.

Both the children and the staff at these 4 centers have welcomed us and in some cases shown us overwhelming encouragement for our work.  A doctor commented what a powerful healer laughter is, and what an important job it is that we are doing.  Father Francis was inspired to try various circus tricks himself, from chair balancing to spinning Tom’s walking stick.  His ripe age was no obstacle for some circus fun.

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PWB, the kids and me. Emily Ball (aka Imly)

February 14, 2012

It has been 5 years since I was last in Varanasi, on the first Performers Without Borders tour.  On returning, it feels like I have been away all those years and yet no time at all has passed – the same buffalo, cows and goats meander along the same dusty streets, the familiar greetings of “ Hello, boat?” as one strolls along the ghats.   Some things I don’t recall so well– the 6 a.m bell ringing that marks prayer time in the small temple right beneath the guesthouse for example…surely I would remember something like that?

Yet life has gone on and the children we taught back then are now young adults. After the show at Asha Deep I was greeted by one familiar face, with a big smile “Imly, I am your oldest student, do you remember me? My name is Manish”. I remember a grinning 10 year-old trying stilt-walking, learning how to juggle and spin poi.   Many of the faces I remember, the names I have had to re-learn though – as well as plenty of new younger faces, brimming with energy and eager to learn new things.

Our first week passed in a blur of props and games, learning names and recognizing faces.  The older students wanting new things to do with the props that have become their favorites over the last 5 years, the younger ones completely over-excited at the sheer variety and amount of fun to be had with circus and theatre.  I am continually impressed and amazed at how quickly skills are picked up, and how much the children want to practice.  We are bombarded with requests to take props home so they can practice more – one girl spent 3 hours practicing the night she took a hula-hoop home. In the time

we’ve been here, one boy (aged 11) has learnt not only how to juggle 3 clubs, but also how to pass 6 juggling clubs between 2 people, and the day he achieved it without dropping any he told me with a big smile “ Today I feel very happy (that) I can do this”.

For me, these are the things that make doing projects like this worthwhile – happy children learning things that they are excited and inspired by.  It is great to see them come out of their shells as the days go by.  The girls, who would not even join in theatre games at first, are now (albeit rather shyly) volunteering to become the centre of attention for some games.  The hugest grins on the smallest faces – usually accompanied by shouts of “Didi, didi, (sister, sister) look me, look me!” and a hula hoop whizzing round at lightning speed, or a juggling ball thrown high into the air (sometimes caught)– right up to requests for “Didi, you show me one new thing now please?” accompanied by a well practiced demonstration of what was taught yesterday.

Having just watched the first rehearsal of the schools annual performance (there’s dances, a play, jokes and of course, circus skills), I couldn’t be more proud that PWB has been part of helping the children at Asha Deep to become confident, creative and artistic young people, as well as talented performers.


February 5, 2012

…and so the phrase “shits and giggles” has never been so apparent. Yep, as we roll with the tide of the river Ganges into the weekend a sudden urge came about me to summerise our stay in Varanasi thus far. Unfortunately with this sudden urge came the feeling many an Indian backpacker would have experienced as ‘Delhi belly’. You may have been fooled into thinking such an occurrence only happens in the bustling city of Delhi (the clue is in the name you might think) but alas Varanasi has struck, such a title has not yet been found for this holy city though the air of the Ganga guest house our humble abode for this month has been turned a darker shade of blue with many names unsuitable to repeat. Just when you were bragging to your friends at how much street food you were consuming and how you might ask Mr. street food man for more chilies next time because you’re just so darn hardcore! Pah ‘Delhi belly’ it’s just a myth you say; “think again sunshine” your belly rumbles, it’s time we got to know those Indian toilets a little better, think of it as a cultural experience, a coming of age, spiritual awareness, meditation, irrigation, whatever you want just get me there quick! The Indian toilet can be disorientating for the western eye but fear it you must not, the calming soundtrack of the traffic down below or the moo of encouragement by a passing cow can relax the mind and possibly gives you time to think about writing a BLOG for the first time, you also have the beneficial factor of leaving your first, second, third, forth experience with a slimmer waistline and toned thighs (Indian PWB fitness DVD out soon). Now you may think this would defeat many a group of people but we are not just any group of people, we are Performers Without Borders, we laugh in the face of such illness (just laugh not so hard) we fight to the death against this mystical beast (with plain rice and steamed vegetables) and we feed off the energy of the children we came to teach, smiling and forever listening to the tides of the river Ganges and not to the tides of our own bellies…now pass me the electrolades squire!