Saturday, July 17, 2010

Fighting fundamentalism with circus skills

When the Nomad Theatre Association was formed in 2006, its founders, Mohamed el-Assouni and his wife, Soumia, probably didn't expect opposition from "the bearded ones" - Moroccans' derogatory term for the countries small but ultra-conservative Islamic fundamentalists. Yet as soon as the company installed a water and electricity connection to their workshop in Rabat, it was dug up and destroyed. As Assouni recalls, ""The bearded ones ripped out the pipe and cable in the night," he said. "Yes sir, we are in conflict with those people. We don't deliberately disturb them, but they say we corrupt the local children."

This "corruption" involved tightrope walking, trampoline skills, puppet making, tumbling and street theatre - dangerous stuff. And all this activity supported by up Morocco's National Human Development Initiative (INDH), Germany's Goethe Institute and the French government.

Yet the theatre school has gone from strength to strength with more than 250 enrolled students and is now getting accolades for its work. And the children can not get enough. "Even when the school is shut you'll see lots of the kids nearby, practicing their dance moves or stilt walking," says 25-year-old dance instructor Khalid Haissi, who turned down a circus job in Europe to join the school.

Photo: Eve Coulon-Pfeiffer

What is impressive about this venture is that it is located in the neighborhood of Douar Mika (Plastic Village), one of the poorest areas on the outskirts of Rabat. Douar Mika is not a pretty area and the poverty is endemic.

For Assouni and his fellow teachers, the local children are at risk from all sides. On one hand the dangers of drugs and alcohol and on the other, religious fundamentalism imported from the Middle East on the other.

As Assouni tells it, "I tell myself that if I save four or five of these children with every residence we do, that's enough. Save? Yes, I mean that. They are at risk of being lost to the streets."

1 comment:

tagalong said...

What is wrong with those people to object to this??? It is a very creative thing. I would rather see youth involved with this rather than drugs, crimes, gangs and so many other destructive behaviors. I used to dress my daughter as a clown when she was little and let her entertain the toddlers in our apartment complex. I joked and told her I would send her to clown college when she grew up. She ended up getting a masters in physics degree instead, and I doubt that her clowning around hurt her in any way.