This article is originally published in Indonesian in the May 2015 edition of Travel 3Sixty Indonesia, the inflight magazine of AirAsia Indonesia. The original article can be found at pages 74-77 of the e-magazine at this link. The following is an English translation of the original article.
By: Iman Mahditama
For many Indonesian kids, circus training may seem to be a foreign concept. But this is not the case for more than 280 students of Red Nose Foundation who reside in two dense poverty-stricken neighborhoods in Jakarta. For them, circus is part of their daily lives. Circus teaches them to develop many positive attitudes, including self-confidence, teamwork, and courage to perform in front of a huge crowd. Some of its students have even traveled the world to perform in Myanmar, Poland, and the United States!
That Saturday night, on February 14, 2015, something awesome is brewing at the Mahabandula Park in downtown Yangon, Myanmar. It was five in the evening and, as usual, the park was filled with local people seeking a calm and relaxing respite from all the bustles of the town center. In one of the park’s pathways that lead to the main street, a group of circus artists were preparing themselves to entertain the audience.
The show that evening would be the final public event of the International Juggling Festival that had been going on for a week in Yangon. Hundreds of people began to fill up spaces on the street in front of the park and cheers and whoops began to fill the air. The circus artists took turns in performing on stage, displaying their skills and ingenuity and inciting wide-eyed awes and laughter from the audience.
Among the line-up of professional circus performers in the evening show, one group stood out. All of its members are still teenagers, between 14 and 19 years old. Moreover, all of them hailed from the poor fisherman village of Cilincing in North Jakarta.
They are Wawan Kurniawan, April Yanah, Ahmad Rais, Rini Astuti, Said Parlindungan, and Rika Ulan Dari. Despite growing up in a poor neighborhood, they dare to dream the impossible dream, shoot for the moon, and strive together to reach the skies and make their nation proud.
They participated in the International Juggling Festival in Yangon, Myanmar, as representatives from Red Nose Foundation, a not-for-profit organization based in Jakarta focusing in arts and education outreach for underprivileged children. The foundation’s mission is simple: to provide a safe place for kids and teenagers growing up in poverty-stricken neighborhoods to play, explore, experiment, and get educated. The ultimate goal is that these kids and teenagers can develop their potentials and explore their interests and talents in a safe and comfortable environment to empower themselves and to create a better future for themselves and the local community.
Currently, Red Nose Foundation has more than 280 underprivileged students spread across two neighborhoods in Jakarta: one in Cilincing, North Jakarta, and the other in Bintaro Lama, South Jakarta. The foundation’s flagship program is its circus class. But this is not just an ordinary circus. Unlike the circus performances in TV shows that involve animals like elephants or lions, the circus being taught at the Red Nose Foundation is known as contemporary circus, in which all the performers are people.
Red Nose Foundation was established in 2008 by Dan Roberts, who hailed from the United States but spent six years in his childhood in Jakarta. Dan was first introduced to the world of circus when he studied Acting at the Roosevelt Universitys’ Chicago College of Performing Arts in Chicago. In 2008, he joined Clowns Without Borders-USA as a volunteer and held a 10-week solo circus expedition across Indonesia. One of his destinations in the expedition was Cilincing in North Jakarta. It was in the middle of this expedition that Dan decided to stay in Jakarta and establish Red Nose Foundation.
Why Circus? Because, through circus, children has the opportunity to develop various skills. It also has a positive psychological impact. For example, a continual practice to create a human pyramid with friends will enable you to develop courage, teamwork, and mutual trust. Juggling can train your concentration, agility, and hand coordination. Routine practice of various circus skills will also effectively become fitness training that will keep your body healthy.
Apart from circus class, Red Nose Foundation also opens a Science and Arts class, in which students can learn about various science topics in a fun way. The foundation’s science teachers prioritize science experiments that inspire their students’ imagination, in the hope of turning tedious and intimidating science lessons into fun and engaging activities. Red Nose Foundation also has English, music, and photography classes. It has a Full Scholarship program that supports its students’ journey through formal education. Out of the 280 underprivileged students at Red Nose Foundation, 269 are also enrolled in formal schools. The foundation also has the Hidung Merah Performance Troupe for advanced circus students. Troupe members practice routinely every Sunday morning and have performed in numerous local and international events.
This presence of various non-circus programs shows that Red Nose Foundation does not require its students to become professional circus performers when they grow up. Circus is just a mean to develop various positive values and character traits, but each student has full freedom to decide their own future.
The participation of Red Nose students in various international events is also part of the foundation’s educational mission. Through interaction with similarly aged friends from different cultural backgrounds, children’s horizon will be expanded and they will be in touch with a vast world of opportunities available to have a better future.
The six teenagers participating in the International Juggling Festival in Yangon, are senior students of the Hidung Merah Performance Troupe. They have been with the foundation for more than five years. Two of them, Wawan and April, have now been hired as teachers in Red Nose’s circus class. The hope is for them both to become inspiration for their juniors in circus class.
April sees the Yangon experience as something totally new for her. “I’ve never been in international festivals like this. Here in Yangon, my friends and I have the opportunity to show our skills in front of foreigners who we have just met.”
Recalling back to the shows he performed in in Yangon, Wawan said that he had been nervous before the shows started. “I was performing in front of international circus performers. They were all so much better than me so I got a bit nervous. However, after my show, they actually clapped and praised me. In the end, I thought that I should have never felt inferior. Why should I? The most important thing is to always try to improve myself.”