JAKARTA – A group of young American trapeze artists are using their art to promote education and religious tolerance in an Indonesian slum, an epa journalist reported on Wednesday.
The 10 American artists from the organization Chicago CircEsteem rehearsed and lived for three weeks with artists of the local Red Nose Foundation – children aged 4-18 from the Cilincing slum area in the north of Jakarta – to perform in front of their families and neighbors.
“They have a different skin color, a different religion, they speak a different language, they have a different bank account, but they are people and they are circus artists,” Dan Roberts, director of Chicago CircEsteem, who had founded Red Nose Foundation in 2008, told EFE.
The performance of the two groups, that comprise acrobatics, juggling and clown acts, brings joy and laughter among the children and their mothers in the slum, where the nonprofit built an educational center in 2016.
“Social circus is the best type of circus in my mind, it not only brings together people, who usually wouldn’t be together but also uses circus as a platform to address larger issues,” said Lois Inez Plascencia, one of the US artists.
Outside the colorful and tidy building in Cilincing, where the performance took place, however, there is a different reality.
The slum is among the poorest in Jakarta, where most families depend on odd jobs like fishing, collecting clams on the coast, running small shops or driving the slowly-vanishing Indonesian three-wheeler “becak” for their livelihood.
A clam-collector, for example, might earn around $22 per month according to the Red Nose foundation.
The slum is also among one of the most vulnerable neighborhoods in Jakarta, a city where 40 percent of the area lies below sea level.
Yayeh, a mother of two, who goes by a single name, said that earlier they were happy even if the children could finish primary school, but now many children attend high schools that are free although the selection process is tough.
Red Nose Foundation’s program for the slum children, that combines formal and artistic education, has helped nine children to successfully move on to secondary education.
The program also ensures children are taught by teachers from various religious backgrounds to instill religious tolerance among them.
“It is a tactic to fight intolerance. It is easier to hate someone you don’t know,” Roberts said.
One of the program’s students, Indri Pratama Puri said the center had improved her confidence and allowed her to give something back to the community through workshops where she trains children in the art of circus.
However, Roberts also points out the challenges they face in bringing education to marginalized children, including the fact that the ministry of education in Indonesia is one of the most corrupt ones in the country and often funds meant for schools are misused.