PWB Nicaragua 2013 – San Marcos – Life With Los Quinchos

March 22, 2013

By Emily Ball

Our days here in San Marcos begin with various wake up calls – the morning sweeping of the yard, the first bus to Managua honking its way up the hill at 5.30a.m, or children popping their heads in to say hi on their way to school at 6.30 a.m – school here starts at 7 for some of our students. It’s early to bed and early to rise in countries like Nicaragua – and India – where the middle of the day is so hot it makes it hard to do anything, and PWB’s volunteers adapt to this lifestyle throughout the tour.

The PWB team roll out of their cocoon like hammocks or clamber down from their bunks and find their various ways to wake up properly – coffee, tea, breakfast, a stretch…Our ‘team mum’ reminds us we are leaving in half an hour for the first session of workshops, and we gather kit together and recap on the plan for the day before dividing up into 2 teams and walking opposite directions along 2km dusty dirt tracks to reach the girls and boys homes respectively. As we arrive we are greeted with smiles, hugs and ‘buenas dias, hola!’. Children make their way to the yard and join in our warm up games as they finish their morning chores of sweeping and cleaning and then workshops commence for the next 2 hours, with skills improving daily, and at quite an impressive rate. The kids have to get ready for school after our session – some have afternoon classes – so we finish and pack up, say ‘hasta manana’ (or Tom’s version, ‘pasta banana’, which some of the children have adapted with gusto) and make our way back to meet up with the other team of teachers. We regroup and exchange notes and experiences of how our morning sessions have gone, who’s learnt what and which progressions would be good for the next day.

We have some time to ourselves to train – 5 balls, hula hoop, the splits, whatever takes your fancy – relax and eat lunch and then its off to our afternoon sessions for the children who have been at school in the morning. We meet back in time to de-brief about the sessions, chat about the plan for the next day over dinner and relax (or write blogs or edit videos!) for the evening.

Weekends here are slightly different as the Quinchos who live in Granada come up and visit at the weekends, so we have some extra students and everyone gets to learn circus and play together at the boys’ home on a saturday. Last saturday we were lucky to be visited by Diego and 2 of his students from the Escuela de Commedia y Mimo in Granada, (we visited them at the start of the tour and we will also visit again at the end) who taught alongside us and then performed a show for all the Quinchos. It was received with many laughs and smiles, much clapping and even screaming from some of the girls who seemed to take a particular liking to Francisco who having attended the Escuela for 4 years is rapidly becoming a very multi talented 16yr old. Saturday evening is when the pizzeria is open, and we were asked to perform a couple of acts for the cliental- Francisco, Rob and myself were happy to help out, and I believe it is the only time I may ever perform to a remix of a Vengaboys song….

On sunday there was a further treat in store, as a small nicaraguan family circus had arrived in San Marcos and Zelinda decided to take all the Quinchos to it – and of course we came along too! The general verdict from the children was that the show was ‘Aburrido’ (boring), and that there were too many clowns. Indeed, half the acts were clown acts in rapid spanish which we understood in varying degrees depending on individuals grasp of the language! There were also some aerial acts, singing and dancing – but the children wanted to know where the juggling was and declared that our show was better – lucky us!

As for me, I have to say that going to see a circus with 70 children is one of the highlights of the trip so far for me, it was so much fun. In spite of their verdict of ‘boring’, they were laughing and clapping for the whole show and I think it would be impossible not to have fun when you are surrounded by so much of it! Other memories that will stay with me and make me smile are some of the shows we have done where we have been asked for our autographs afterwards, which is funny, touching, and a slightly weird phenomenon. Lastly, after performing a show in the school that many of the quinchos attend, I overheard one of the girls proudly telling a friend of hers that she was learning circus from us…and that’s just some of what makes me want to carry on being a part of these projects! I’m very excited to be telling the children tomorrow that they have the chance now to make their very own circus show, and can’t wait to see what Zelinda thinks of it – she said it has been a dream of hers for quite some time to have a ‘Quinchos’ circus, as she herself is originally from a circus family…well, I hope maybe we can help that dream come alive for her…watch this space!!


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PWB Nicaragua 2013 – Los Quinchos – San Marcos – Blog 1

March 16, 2013

By Moira Morrison

We arrived in San Marcos at noon on Tuesday the 5th of March.  It was a high energy PWB re-union after our mid project break – all fresh faced and still buzzing after witnessing the awesome skills of the young circus performers of El Barrilete.  What next?

First we were introduced to our new home, the Chechio Bum Bum Cultural Centre, and what a bonnie house it is!  Next we were introduced to a surprise co-resident of our casa nueva – Memo, a juggling and poi teacher based in San Francisco, who has been working with Los Quinchos for several years and couldn’t quite believe his luck when the PWB circus descended upon him!

The Los Quinchos project is the brainchild of Zelinda Roccia – a larger than life Italian superwoman.  Founded in 1991 the original idea was simple: to offer help and hospitality to the abandoned and mistreated street children of Managua.  On the streets children can be exposed to violence, abuse and sometimes torture.  Drugs, mainly inhaling glue, are also a problem.  Los Quinchos persuades children to leave their lives on the streets and helps re-integrate them into Nicaraguan society.  The motto: Nunca mas un niño en la calle! (Never again a child on the streets!)

Since sewing the seed, Zelinda and her amazing team of madres (mothers) and padres (fathers) have nurtured the growth of Los Quinchos and it is now an amazingly intricate network of homes and support.  The branches of the project stretch across the country and it operates without a penny of Nicaraguan government funding. Awe inspiring.

‘El Filtro’ (the Filter House) is the root venue; situated close to Managau’s Mercato Oriental the house offers children food, washing facilities and medical treatment.  The children are also encouraged to participate in sport and cultural activities and are signed up for school.

After some adaptation time in ‘El Filtro’ children come to ‘La Finca’ (the farm) and ‘Yahoska’ (the girls house) in San Marcos or to ‘La Casa al Lago’ (the house on the lake) in Granada, again they are enrolled in local schools.

Until this month Los Quinchos also ran a project at La Chureca, the horrific 7kmsq dump by the barrio of Acahaulinca on the edge of lake Nicaragua.  La Chureca was the largest open-air landfill in Central America – with 50% of its 1,000+ inhabitants said to be under 18.

Mercifully the clearing of the dump has just been completed.  It has been replaced by a recycling plant, offering employment, and 258 newly constructed cement houses provided by the Spanish Agency of International Cooperation for Development and the City of Managua.  

PWB are working at ‘La Finca’ and the ‘Yahoska’ until the end of March and what a joy it has been so far.  At the moment there are are around 30 boys aged 7-13 living at ‘La Finca’ and 24 girls aged 8-16 in the ‘Yahoska’.  The children have rolling responsibilities for cooking, cleaning and general maintenance of their homes. 

What Los Quinchos has done for these children is immeasurable – providing security and companionship as well as education, responsibility and opportunity.  Zelinda has built a micro community for her children in San Marcos.  As well as the two houses there is the Cultural Centre, Chechio Bumbum and the Barrio House which consists of La Biblioteca, a library with internet café, and La Osteria, an Italian restaurant with performance space.  When they are old enough the Quinchos are able to work in the pizzeria and in the office, earning money that is put into savings accounts for them. Older Quinchos members, educadores (educators), help with the running of the ‘Finca’ and ‘Yaoska’ and act as mentors for the younger and newer members.

Los Quinchos has done so much for these children but has also brought so much to the local community. Any strain that an extra 50+ children might have put on local education resources was instantly abated by the genius idea of building the Barrio house opposite the school – the library and restaurant are frequented by locals and Quinchos together.

Since arriving PWB have taught workshops and hosted open play sessions in both venues every day. We have also managed to squeeze in a show for Los Quinchos in La Osteria and 5 other local school performances. The children visit us constantly at the house, just to say ‘Ciao’, and it is emotional to see them growing in confidence and determination in just one week. Their positivity is awe inspiring and also humbling and it is a privilege to be part of their lives for this brief period. I am really excited to see how the project will pan out. Watch this space.


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India 2013: Final Thoughts Kolkata.

March 11, 2013

India 2013: Blog 5 Kolkata.

Kolkata, Kolkata Kolkata, the chaos and the clutter.

The miss-match of Colonial and the gutter.

Sprawling freely on the street, so many faces to meet.

Finding a rhythm and a beat to all the beep beep and the bizarre.

The sing-song and the Sitar.

Kolkata, Kolkata, Kolkata. 

Andy Long.


The Blind Singer.

As we were standing in our room she said to me

“Can you hear that singing?”


“It’s the blind man- he walks up the street in the evening with a serene lady by his side”

His high pitched singing, throaty, full of sadness permeated through the constant murmur of Kolkata

As they rushed down the stairs through the hotel down to the dark corridor leading to the street, then stopped. The darkness of the corridor framed the light of the street making it look like a cinema screen, out of the din of the city his voice rang out again, as he came into view his steady pace against the rush of the street around them, his dusty voice rang out, singing out to nothing in his darkness.


As they watched him slowly pass they felt goose bumps, the walking creating a rhythm against the piercing song, the honking and clanking now distant. As they passed the centre of the frame his voice rang out again, a melancholic song, his voice high and clear. The aide to the man turned slowly to the two standing in the dark corridor, she smiled at them over her shoulder, a poetic lingering on the scene, as she turned back under her veil the atmosphere clung on.

As the air blew back into the scene, warm and exotic, the street noises returned, they turned back to each other and smiled.


Abi Cooper


Kolkata, India



 Paul Sargent.








PWB Nica. 2013 – Between Projects

March 8, 2013

The Overview

By Jacob Hirsch-Holland

We have just started project number two, in San Marcos, and having spent the last few days marking the halfway point of PWB Nica. 2013 with a little break, here is a bit about my time ‘off’ with Jess, in Ocotal . . .

Anyone who has worked and lived simultaneously with a group of people who you’ve never met in a country that you’ve never visited, teaching children who speak a different language, will know that it can be fairly intense at times. So having a few days in the middle of the project to appreciate some alone time, reflect on what has been, and prepare for what’s to come, is not only rather enjoyable but also fairly necessary!

Some members of the group experienced the tourist life for a few days, some took the chance to have time with partners, however for me there was a mission on hand. In England I live (and have done for my whole life) in a town called Swindon. This town happens to be twinned with a town in Nicaragua called Ocotal and the two have a strong link through the SOL project (Swindon Ocotal Link). So this was my mission and at the last minute Jess decided to join me. And with neither of us having any idea what to expect but packing plenty of circus kit, we set off from Léon on a 5:20am bus to Ocotal.

What awaited us in Ocotal was a surprise and a delight. It turns out that over the last few years the town has been visited numerous times by a group of circus volunteers from Germany and in their wake was a hive of skill and equipment. The project, called Biblioteca de Las Abejitas (Library of the Little Bees) initiated by the German volunteers, included a library and study space, and a circus prop room (full of amazing circus kit!) and training space. It is a place for any child/teenager in Ocotal to study AND practice circus!

Apart from the wealth of circus Ocotal presented us with, we were also welcomed open-armed by the local SOL ‘family’. They took us under their wonderfully hospitable wing and offered a place to stay (with a former Mayoress, our new Nicaraguan Abuelita), took us to parties with families and friends, and showed us the ways of Ocotal. If anyone ever wants to visit Ocotal, just say you’re from Swindon 😉

Our time off PWB proper was relaxing, invigorating and inspiring. We spent it doing shows and workshops for Nicaraguan children. I guess you could say it was time ‘on’.

The Gory Details

By Jess Herman

I never thought I would ever be representing Swindon of all places and now I actually feel honoured and proud to have had this epic opportunity! On the bus to Ocotal Jake and I commented on how we literally had no idea what was awaiting us at our destination . . .

Our host Jorge had told us that when we arrive at the town we can ask anyone for him as he is a local Doctor and well known in the community – he was not wrong! The first person we met pointed to his car (which was driving away) and called him for us! The people of SOL welcomed us to Ocotal and into their homes, they fed and watered us (with rum) and showed us some of SOL’s projects as well as Ocotal’s nature and night life.

SOL is a great project that helps with humanitarian aid in Ocotal. We visited a local health centre in the community which provides a great deal of care to over 5500 patients. We also saw a ‘comedor’ (eatery) in a school which provides free food for some of the children. As well as helping children and families, SOL also helps older members of the community with much needed care.

Jake and I were amazed and exited to find OcalMena Circus (Ocotal Hive) – a place where young people in Ocotal can practice circus 4 afternoons a week. These same young people are youth leaders in the community as they run circus workshops at ‘Casitas’ in different neighbourhoods around Ocotal. How incredible to find social circus in this small pocket of the world. It was very exciting for the young people and for me and Jake to be able to share our various skills with the kids. They soaked up the new skills and tricks we had to offer and were very grateful for the enthusiasm and inspiration.

Jake and I wanted to ‘gift’ a show (this is a translation from Spanish back into English – and how beautiful it is) to the community (in the main park) and to one of the local schools where the comedor is located. We decided to call our little two person street-style show ‘Circo De SOL’…hehe! After the show in the park we passed a hat in support of SOL. Both shows were received very well, with the children at school being a particularly good audience! It sounds nauseating and cheesy but through the workshops and shows – as in PWB – we spread smiles, giggles, and inspiration and so when we came ‘home’ to our Ocotalian Grandmother-host we felt we had really earned her incredibly delicious food and coffee!

One night we were taken for a family get-together by a new SOL friend. This was such a positive and cultural Nicaraguan experience including dinner, poetry recitals, rum, beautiful singing about Ocotal and Nicaragua, and story telling jokes, many jokes! I even managed to get the family harmonising one of my Jewish songs!

Our hearts were filled with warmth by the way they opened their town to us and how they treated us like family – initially because of the Swindon link but eventually because we formed warm human connections.

As this was our time off you may be pleased to know we did manage to fit in a trip to the local mountains were they grow and make coffee. We also spent an afternoon at the Somoto Canyon where Jake slack-roped above the water on the very same place as the picture on Nicaragua’s 50 Cordoba note! However, the height of excitement was when Jake got bitten by a dog – but don’t worry – he has had his vaccinations (I am referring to the dog)!

If anything, the trip to Ocotal enthused us even more about how circus can spread joy, ambition, teamwork, confidence, smiles, communication, and forge strong links and friendships. We feel ready to embark on the second project here in San Marcos to spread the PWB joy and we are sure that we will be returning to Ocotal one day.

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INDIA INDIA INDIA! PWB INDIA! The Kolkota Nutter edition!

March 2, 2013


Hello amazing projects in Kolkota!

It is a simple fact that there are some inspiring and heartbreaking projects happening in this crazy city of Kolkota.  It has been a real joy to work with many organisations and get the chance to meet so many people doing such great work with the children and young people of the city.  This past two weeks we have collaborated with Hope Foundation, Barrackpore Schools, Aboni’s Village and Future Hope.  Ding-dong!  It has been a busy time, full power workshops, performing, improvising, exchanging, discussing, playing, dancing, walking, smiling, music, reading, meeting, laughing, and photographing.

Where to start writing about all the experiences is the sticky bit, how to share the best or most poignant stories with you.  So, I spent a week thinking about it, writing and jotting in my notebook on the train to Varanassi and concluded my thought on the Ghats.  So here is my brain splurge about our time in Kolkota, continuing from Livi’s previous blog where we left you on a cliff-hanger; about to do a show outside Hope Foundations headquarters…

We walk from hotel Maria…up the street…turn left, go forwards, down the steps and onto the metro.  Bump along…squished and smelly pong…up the steps, out onto the street, jump (literally) into a tuc-tuc and whizz down the road…leap out onto the corner and walk some more.  We turn a corner in a road we know.  Transformed!  They have decorated the street with paper chains, giant posters of clowns, stalls of children’s crafts, music and some kind of bingo game.  A team of five, we improvise the entire show.  With a crowded audience in 360°, we have many discoveries about what we like to do and what this audience likes us to do, we do it again.  And it usually comes back to the honking of the horn!  A cracking finale to our work with the Nabadisha projects spread across the Kolkota districts, the children show off their new circus skills and make our jaws drop with their incredible hip-hop dancing.

We continue our collaboration with Hope Foundation over the next few weeks.  It takes us to some brilliantly inspiring projects around the city.  We also worked in two different Girls homes, one for girls 3 years to 13 years, and the other 13 years to 18 years.  They were both equally brilliant spaces, impeccably looked after by the girls.  We had a gorgeous exchange with the young girls’ home in Caspa of performance in the setting sun on the rooftop of their home.  We are back on full power team members and perform our show surrounded by pot plants, metal cage, washing lines and wonderfully smiling young girls.  After we spin the fire dry, we are presented with a huge bouquet of flowers and a big thank you card.  So touched by this gesture, we are ushered to sit down with lemonade and crisps and they do a show for us.  Up popped the scarecrow and Traditional Indian dance totally blew me away; the littlies are so cute with one child always going the wrong way, whilst the older girls showed us some of the fastest Indian gesture dance I’ve ever seen.  Whatever sorrow or misfortune brought these girls here they are very well looked after and supported to explore their individual and unique talents.  We leave this wonderful evening so happy and appreciated, and I got the sense that this feeling was reciprocated.


A week or so later we visit the older girls’ home.  By now we are learning so much about the teams teaching qualities that we are able to respond to each new group we meet.  These girls had a strong dance and music interest.  During our day we spent with these girls we crammed in all the workshops we could.  Anke ran a cracking dance session, the girls loved it and it even got our team leader Andy grooving up and down.  Livi hula hooped it up which the girls picked up quickly whilst Andy taught spinning plates.  There was one older girl who had one of the best smiles I’ve seen.  She spent most of the day trying to spin a plate and getting so much pleasure from not doing it!  We shared a lot of laughter.  Simon ran an impromptu hip-hop dance workshop which we all thought was brilliant, popping and isolating our bodies.  Early in the day we learnt they like to sing, so I ran a singing session, ending with the classic “I like the Flowers” round.  Although a lot of these projects are one-offs and only one day, the exchange and interaction runs deep.

The team also went to the Boys Home (although I was classic India sick that day), I hear that it was a great workshop and there was some budding circus talent.  The teams’ one word responses include; loud, fun, cracking, sweet, and comrade.

The final project we visited through Hope Foundation was in the train station at Sealdah.  Cini Asha provides a safe space for mainly boys who live in the station and some girls come to the drop-in too.  Traipsing through the densely crowded station, through the bustle of people carrying huge baskets of goods on their heads, down the slither of platform between the massive parcelled goods and the train carriage, following a smiley chap in a shirt we arrive on the other side of the station to a small room with lots of big eyes waiting for us to do a show.  Sitting in a long line down the edge of the space, we prepare our props, connect with our bodies, the space and finally with each other before telling our School Daze story.  A small room, we are told to keep as quiet as possible as there are offices all around.  The twenty or so children aged between 2 years and 16 years were soooo well behaved.  It was such a joy to see their reactions to the show, throughout there was a lot of smiles, many laughs, some furrowed eyebrows and a natural transition from the show into a workshop space where I take lead with ‘follow my leader’.  So much fun to be had just with playing breathing in and out and connecting it to movement.  This naturally led into games, and wait for it……..FACEPAINTS made their debut with these kids.  As we left the train station you could see clown faces dotted between the fast moving legs and baggage.  This project was a real eye-opener to how so many children are forced to live their lives.  It is always a fast hit in the face when one moment you are engaged in flow play and sharing such genuine laughter and the next you see the poverty and hardship they experience in the reality of their day to day life.  It is relentlessly confusing how much poverty and wealth lives side by side.

2013-02-22 13.01.43


BARRACKPORE project in the manner of spoken word

Three-in-one, in between we did run.

So many children in spaces made fun.

A giants school yard, dusty and firm.

The train travelled journey, it did not arrive early.

Rush rush do a show, cut it down, don’t break our flow.

Hot hot midday heat, cram in a van, to a nursery we peep.

Tiny tiny, bambaninos, little people stayed entertain-oed.

Double lunch to spice our ears, to the sweetest orphanage.

We could stay for years.

Tucked in the side of a noisy run-way,

these open children, a safe place for a long stay.

Some sleeping Grannies stir awake,

upstairs they come for the show we make.

Together we laugh and really connect,

Ducking your goose,

All spirits runs loose.



This two day expedition was one of the most welcoming and welcomed experiences I have ever had.  We went with Aboni, who has become a dear friend but not quite sure how we were first introduced to him.  Picking up food from the market on the way to the village, we pile into a road van wagon, hoops, acro mats, fire toys hanging off the roof and an extra addition of a French man with a guitar and didgerdoo.  We trundle into the village, which is the polar opposite of city life and fall into a dreamlike state of interactions, performing outside a church, meeting the whole family and being so humbled into many people’s homes who want to look after us.  We run workshops with the curious children…

Mud huts, homecooked food, watered squares, hands no spoon.

Handed baby, climbing trees, eyes awide, inquisitive, brushing hair,

Two days divine, welcomed muchly, patted a lot, pig, dog, duck, goose,

Chicken, cat, bug, bug, bug, kingfisher, frogs, toads,

Fish, dragonfly, firefly, animals so much.




Although PWB had been to this project for the whole month in previous years, due to exams we could only come for a one day workshop and show.  It was great to meet the kids, although their chants of “Easy! Easy!” were slightly disconcerting.  We ran a lovely free flow workshop, starting with warm ups and games, having introduced poi, balls, plates and acro balance we create a space in their sandy playground where the children follow their impulses to play.  We bammed out a cracking fire show in this big space that wowed the entire crowd.  Big spin offs and a never before rehearsed poi trio between Abi, Anke and I.  At first thoughts it would have been great to spend the whole month working with Future Hope, but as this was not possible, we have been in the position where we have met a huge range of projects that run around the chaotic city of Kolkota.  All of which have benefited hugely from PWB and the playful interactions we are spreading.

Full Circle

As a lovely full circle to our time in Kolkota, on our last day before leaving, we return to the first project we began with.  The Children of Topsia.  During our week we spent with them I taught them a song as part of my movement and sound workshop, with Simon’s beatboxing.  Little Banana, composed by the lovely Verity Standon, captured the hearts and minds of Los Ninos.  Kika had told me after our week work with them they were all “Banana crazy” and “p-t-tsk-p” sound making.  YESSSS! The power of singing and the voice.  I decided to make a big poster with Little Banana words to leave in their slum classroom.  They absolutely loved it!  Simon also wrote up some beatboxing patterns that will leave them practicing for a long time.  Kika and Achktar who co-run the ship had made beautiful certificates for the children who had participated in ‘PWB in the Park’.  As we hand these out to the very proud children, I also give each child a banana badge that I designed and made out of the classic paper, card, glue, safety pin and masking tape. Watching all the children leave the space with their smiles, bananas and certificates, I really feel like we made a difference to these children, they have certainly made a huge impact on me.


As we pack up and leave Hotel Maria, we are all ready to have some cleaner air, but as always it’s really hard to leave the children.  My head buzzes with all the faces, the frustrations, the tears, the acceptance, the laughter, the stories, the traumas, the humbling welcomes we receive run deeply into us.  We have definitely made friends for life here.

Until the next blog,

Big smiles and Shiva Power!

Francesca ‘Chez’ Dunford

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