098 Performers Without Borders

14195295_10154907760122289_8140185156089402279_oName: PERFORMERS WITHOUT BORDERS



1923657_9641181900_4394_nWhen I met Emily we realised that we both had a large number of mutual friends but despite being in the same place on numerous occasions, we didn’t meet until a few years ago. She started performing with one of my best friends and we have kept in touch through him. 

Performers Without Borders (PWB) was formed in 2006 by Matt Morris and Jonny Forbes, two friends who discovered a mutual interest in international development and juggling. They formed PWB to unite their two passions and the first tour took place in 2007 from the UK to India, where Jonny had previously been studying his degree in development studies. Emily has worked for them since their first tour in 2007. “PWB works towards giving vulnerable children the opportunity to explore their potential. We understand that, through teaching performance skills an individual’s learning, creativity and team working skills are developed. Further, it helps to build confidence, develop empowerment and overcome social barriers. PWB’s methodology of following the tradition of travelling show, and the principle of fostering long-term relationships, is ideal in not only engaging children, but also ensuring community trust in the project.”

2326659880_8280c3969c_zThe PWB teams spend up to a month with each of the primary partner organisations sharing and teaching skills including juggling, theatre, dance, puppetry and making props. They then help the children to create their own show at the end of the month which they perform for their peers or the local community.  “Watching children from such difficult and often traumatic backgrounds develop their confidence to a point where they perform to hundreds of people is something truly incredible. We have seen first hand just how much children can benefit from taking part in the arts. Not all children excel at academic subjects and there is little or no provision for more artistic learning in the countries we work in, making the work that we do extra important.” 

5400629258_2c76aaee44_zSince then there have been annual tours to India and PWB have expanded to work in Nicaragua (annual tours since 2013), Sierra Leone (2013 only, as the ebola outbreak has prevented return visits) and Kenya (started in 2016). “Every year people are invited to apply to join PWB and from these applicants we interview and choose teams of 6-9 volunteers that we think will bring joy, a variety of skills and learning experiences to the children that we work with. Many of our volunteers have made lifelong friendships since touring with each other, and even though we are scattered all over the world, the shared experiences are something that form a bond that is difficult to forget – we all feel part of an extended family.”

8752963709_43e07b8c12_zPWB return year on year to the same organisations where possible, meaning that they have formed some truly special relationships with slum schools, orphanages, communities and individuals over the years. “Our longest standing partnership is with Asha Deep Vidyashram slum school in Varanasi, India whom we have visited 8 times since we first went in 2007. The first kids show we did there was in a car park in the slum where most of the children we work with come from. There were about 200 people in the audience, mostly families of the children. We have worked with these children every year and since then their show has developed into a 4 hour spectacular, an annual event with a proper stage, lights and sound system in a popular area of Varanasi, and attracts audiences of thousands. They not only perform circus but also, comedy sketches, dance, theatre and MC the whole show themselves. One of these children, Manish, is now 20 and has taught and performed alongside the PWB teams for the last 3 years on tour. He has taught other children in his city and other cities and made money from his skill performing with fire.”

2117342764_03e0a28ed4_zThe PWB team also perform in other centres and for the local community over the course of their visit. “We try to bring the joy of circus and theatre to as many people as possible in places where access to the arts is often much restricted due to finances or location. Teams have performed in a crazy variety of locations, from city dumps, to train stations, beaches, nunneries, for deaf and disabled children, hospitals, as well as lots of schools.”

Emily is an integral part of keeping the charity running as she organises fundraisers, conducts interviews, and more, all whilst working as a full time circus performer in the UK. “I have been on 3 other tours – 1 to India which I coordinated and facilitated, and 2 tours to Nicaragua as both volunteer and coordinator. Many people who take part in the tours are circus or theatre practitioners in their home country and see PWB as a way to give something back. Some of our volunteers are looking to develop their skills and see if performing or teaching is the right choice for them, whilst other people have hobbies that they would like to spend more time doing and see it as a way to facilitate that experience.” 

2117339770_9990cd49d4_zIt’s not all plain sailing for the teams though. “We have overcome many struggles on each tour. I would imagine every team we have sent on tour (that would be over 80 volunteers, 13 teams, 4 different countries, countless locations) would have many stories to tell. Working in countries where we do not always speak the same language, travelling across India we have packed 8 circus performers and their bags, unicycles, hula hoops and assorted props onto busy trains, performing in slum areas with no toilets when half the team are sick. We have travelled 8 people to one tuk-tuk, we have taken a group of 20 children plus the PWB team across town in a pickup truck, piled high with clowns, stilts, props and sound systems, arriving to find no-one there! We have waited for trains in India for 10 hours, amusing ourselves and other travellers by juggling, and we have stopped shows due to monkeys/cows/cricket matches! Mainly we have kept the charity going purely on the love, passion, and support of a dedicated few people for 10 years.”

25599428542_a5cb8f30e6_kPWB are entirely self funded, and they do not currently receive any funding of any kind. “We rely entirely on fundraising events and solo people supporting us. We have been running for almost 10 years and we desperately need funds to continue. Expanding to working in 3 countries means we now need to cover expenses such as paying our central admin team a minimum wage; reimbursing tour coordinators for their expenses; and buying necessary equipment for the tours to operate.” PWB tours will leave in the first week of January 2017. “They’ll be traveling to India, Nicaragua and Kenya. We would love people to join our campaign to become one of our Fab500 supporters in the next month. We are in need of support and for just £2/month you could really help us!”

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