The street academy
an academy for children and adolescents from the street
a street academy should be everywhere where children and adolescents end up on the street
1. Background of the idea
The army of children and adolescents living on the streets keep growing and growing all over the world. Possessing neither the power nor the means to fight for their rights, they fall prey to abuse and crime. In Lima, the capital of Peru, an estimated 5,000 children and adolescents earn their living and that of their families on the streets; an estimated 1,200 finally do not return home anymore, stay living on the streets; another 800 stay in institutions. Some turn to Generación, an organization that ever since its foundation in 1988, together with those from the street, has been fighting for their rights and offers them a refuge from the streets where they are treated as equal among equals. (On 20 November 1989 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the convention on the rights of the child, it came into force on 2 September 1990.) It was through Generación that in 2000 I came into contact with these children and adolescents.
images of the photoreport of George Hsia about the children and adolescents of the street in Lima
Since 2005, once ore twice a year for a month I have been doing theater with those of the houses Generación ran in those days; theater based on their lives. Accompanying themselves on Peruvian flutes, string instruments and percussions, they rap, sing and perform their experiences. We called the play 'nana de la calle' (lullaby of the streets). Since 2007, we have been including children and adolescents permanently living on the streets downtown, working with them in one of Lima's downtown parks. In 2008, the children and adolescents from the street started to present their lives at high schools, followed by a discussion with the students. A core group from among the children and adolescents sees to it that these performances and discussions can always be held.
Certain continuity is guaranteed: throughout the year, ever since its foundation, Generación sees to it that those staying at her houses learn to play instruments, to draw and to express themselves in potters' clay. And for those children and adolescents permanently living on the streets, several times a year, a day of sports, music and performance is held in one of Lima's parks; about a hundred are attending these events.
In September 2009, we resume working twice a week with the group of downtown Lima and start working with children and adolescents living some four kilometers off the center under one of the bridges crossing the river Rimac; the musicians will go on working with both groups.
The influence the children and adolescents have on the theater and the influence this theater has on the children and adolescents
2. How is the street-academy supposed to work?
- The theater-text is based on an interview with an ex-street-child.
- We make use of their images, movements, melodies and rhythms.
- The first reading of the theater-text with all of them together was their first encounter with their own every day lives from a distance. (Their own every day life being their normality.)
- Being able to experience from a distance enables people to play with their lives - with the elements of their lives - to laugh at it and to effect changes.
- Passersby in the park would stop and keep watching, the audience at the theater rose to their feet applauding.
- Finally this theater has become their proper instrument, an instrument in their fight for a better life.
A street-academy is in the center of the city. It is an adequately equipped place where children and adolescents from the street are welcomed the way they are. Based on their experiences they can express themselves in the fields of theater, arts, crafts and music with theater-people, artists and musicians supporting them in their process.
From the very beginning children and adolescents from the street take over assisting tasks and prepare to run the academy themselves one day.
Performances, exhibitions and open days for the public contribute in understanding the world of children and adolescents who end up on the streets.
Artists who work as instructors at the academy can be asked to initiate or accompany these processes at homes or directly on the streets.
Artists from outside will be asked to hold workshops and art-students can do their practical studies at the academy.
It is important that working at the academy is based on the experiences of the children and adolescents from the street.
Together with the artists supporting them they get to know the alphabet and grammar of their own everyday lives. They experience the limits of this grammar and alphabet, get to know, control and improve the possibilities of their talents and capacities.
Many may not turn out to be artists, but will be supported in finding areas that suit them.
3. Which are the target-groups?
Primarily the children and adolescents from the street, descendants of the poorest of the poor, those who are looked upon as wandering garbage; whom you may kick, hit and abuse, and who are not able to break through the vicious circle of poverty by themselves.
Not only they benefit but the community they belong to, as well.
4. Where do we want to start a street-academy?
There should be a street-academy everywhere where children and adolescents end up on the streets. It should be adapted to the situation and place, provided that it is based on the experiences of these children and adolescents and not on the wishes of the mighty ones.
In Lima, a street-academy is the logical consequence of the steps we have taken so far; it should serve as a study-project.
5. Who is paying?
The community these children and adolescents belong to, which is beneficiary as well. Should this not be possible in the beginning, the international community, international organizations in the field of education, or NGO's operating in the field of education.
In the meantime we just go on.
Sabine Vess, Foundation Bruno Schulz Institute
Zaltbommel, October 2009