By Jess Herman

Last year and the year before and the year before that, I watched the videos of the PWB India team and felt the familiar pangs of ‘ahhhhhh I really want to do a PWB project’!!!!! But I knew that I had to wait until the time was right for me and to see if I would be accepted. Another of my dreams was to live in a Spanish speaking country for about 3 months. You can imagine how excited I was to have been chosen for the PWB Nicaragua team fulfilling two life ambitions in one trip!

It is easy to get carried away here with the small and unimportant things that group living brings such as ‘who’s turn is it to do the washing up’ and ‘why don’t people change the bin in the toilet more often? (toilet paper does not go down the toilet here…)’. I had a reminder to put things back into perspective recently when someone was filming us teaching. I am here now, I am the person in the video teaching the children! Life can pass you by too quickly if you fail to appreciate the moment. Ahhh perspective…

We have now been in Leon for three weeks and have been teaching at El Barrilete. It is great to see the kids now honing their attention in to their favorite circus toys and improving their skills in these specialized props. In the first two weeks every child at the project had the opportunity to play with hula hoops, staffs, poi, juggling, music, acro-balance, diabolo, stilts and unicycling. These were taught in small age specific sessions with an ‘open box’ session at the end of the day involving some ‘unstructured learning time’ as they say (‘they’ in this case is Bags and Emily).

This week has been a different experience for the children as they have had the opportunity to choose two props and delve deeper into learning and playing. We finish the workshop with the open box sessions so that each child can play with any prop every day. The most popular sessions from this project appear to be acro-balance, hula hoop and diabolo.

I have been lucky enough to teach my favorite prop this week which is of course…that amazing plastic circle – you know, for kids! As well as teaching more moves with one and two hoops, we have also worked on a few partner and group moves that we may perform in the kids show which is to be performed at the end of our time in Leon.

As this is our third week here, it is noticeable how our rapport has developed with the children at El Barrilete signified by the various hand shakes and verbal greetings when we arrive and depart from the workshops. My favorite, inspired by Tom, is ‘hasta banana!’ – are we teaching the kids bad English or good Spanglish?

We have been networking here in Leon, exploring which children’s projects exist and if we can do outreach in the form of shows and/or workshops. Last week we performed our show at the first day back at school for the ‘Escuela Especial’  – a school for children with various disabilities. After the show we watched the students take turns to bash open a bunny rabbit pinata – bashing open paper mache characters and then getting high on sugar is a pretty regular occurrence over here! We had our own turn at this on Emily’s birthday – take that Mini Mouse!

The show has undergone some changes recently in terms of character and story development, we now all have characters accentuating certain parts of our personality – you could say – these characters include geeky, ditsy, cool, a natural leader, shy and vain. Very vain. This is me. Great. The characterisation has enabled us to maintain personas on stage and fits into the story, which is set in a school. This revamped version of the show was very well received and I now get to put lipstick on whilst hooping – then Emily gets to copy me and fail resulting in lipstick all over her face! Hilarious I hear you say…

Later on in the week we performed a more improvised Cabaret show at ‘Ninos del Fortin’ – a project that supports disadvantaged children, most of the children are from families who earn money via collecting rubbish. These children are given the opportunity for further support at the project especially focusing on education. The Cabaret show was a success with many giggles and laughs from the children and a worthwhile experience of performing in the midday sun on a scorching hot floor – certainly added a level of urgency to my hopping hoop routine! This week we will be returning to Ninos Del Fortin to do some workshops with the children.

At the weekend we performed two more shows; one was a Cabaret show at ‘Aldeas Infantilas SOS’ – Children’s Villages SOS, an international organisation which helps families to care for their children and provides quality care for children who cannot live with their biological families. The team enjoyed the added improvisational and clowning element of the Cabaret show including dealing with problems on stage like low ceilings and kids running on stage repeatedly.

On Sunday we performed our show in the main square in Leon. This was an opportunity to get PWB out to the people of Leon and show them a bit of what we do – although we are already getting noticed as we rehearse, practice, play and train in the local parks, not to mention walking around town with a stack of hula hoops or on the unicycle!

This week we have more shows and workshops with other various children’s project in Leon. I feel it is good to be making contact with so many children through outreach, performance and play whist delving into more skills with the children at El Barrilete.

On a more personal note I am finding teaching a great learning experience. By this I mean the challenges that come with teaching in Spanish and teaching children who often want to learn but want to play more. It is very important for us to be flexible and to use the energy of the children to their advantage as opposed to being rigid and disappointed not to teach what we have planned for them.

One of my personal goals was to use and improve my average to ok Spanish – this is of course being challenged every day in the teaching and whenever I find anyone Spanish speaking to have a chat with! I found a family of fishermen at the beach recently and ended up staying in my hammock in their ‘front porch’ on the beach, which was a fantastic opportunity to understand Nicaraguan culture, food, language and family relations. They whole family lives together, the grandparents, the mother, father and three children. At night they were relaxing together on their ‘porch’, chilling out in hammocks, chatting and joking. The youngest child was rocked to sleep in a hammock with the father, a really relaxing and beautiful sight. I practiced my Spanish with the family, my handstands withe the oldest child and my throwing and innovative game making with the youngest two!

They were a kind family who fried me a fish from the next mornings catch! All seafood is hereby ruined for me as that was the freshest fish I shall ever eat!

On other levels of personal development I am learning to ride a unicycle (and am developing muscles in strange places due to this), i have finally, after 8 years of not trying particularly hard, learnt to JUGGLE (balls and rings!!) and I am really enjoying having time and space to practice and improve my hoop, (90’s) poi, double staff and handstands. Come on 5 hoop split!!

This will sound cheesy so feel free to drink wine for this concluding paragraph:

I am constantly feeling appreciation for the fact that I am here, finally, in Nicaragua, on a Performers Without Borders project and I feel lucky to be in the position to be able to teach kids circus and other performance skills and to perform shows with this colorful bunch of ………….. (insert appropriate word here).

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  • sally

    Hi Jess
    So pleased the experience for you is so amazing! Keep up the the work you are doing wiith these delightful children.
    Lots of love Sally

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