Mae Sot…it begins
After an amazing experience in Chang mai – where we performed for royalty and got to meet a baby elephant! – we headed out on the road again to Mae Sot.
Mae Sot is a town right on the border of Burma and is a refuge for thousands of migrant workers, refugees and displaced children. It’s also home to many NGO and charity organizations— and, for this month, 21 Sparkles.
A typical Sparkly day – bringing magic to the children
Wake up and have breakfast. Meet the team at 10am for a group warm up session involving stretches, group games and some human pyramid building. Eat food and get costumed up (as much glitter, colour and sparkles as possible!). Load all the gear (hoops, poi, devil sticks, staffs, water, bubble kit, performance kit, amps, computers, personal gear and more) onto two trucks and head off to the school we’ll be working at today.
As we approach, we get ready to create a magical experience for the kids. We jump off the trucks and immediately start spinning hoops, cheering, blowing bubbles, juggling, shouting, dancing and just generally being crazy. The kids go wild! Some are awestruck into silence, most shout and laugh along with us, all are smiling.
We set up a make-shift stage area and start our day show. The kids clap along to our different acts, cheer at our tricks and laugh at our clowning. At the end, we get them all into a line and send them through an obstacle course (through hoops, under parachutes, under limbo sticks and more), then play a load of group games.
Then we start our circus workshops. Most schools so far have had about 300 kids of all ages from 3 to 16, so each workshop has about 30 kids. We teach them poi, juggling, hoop, devil sticks, staff and more – all using sounds not language!
So far I’ve been doing hoop workshops (which end up as a massive dance party) and poi workshops (slightly more challenging as kids tend to want to wang the poi around and smash things up with them). Tomorrow I’m on facepainting, and from then on, who knows!
We finish up with a group dance session involving the chicken dance, the Macarena and the hokey pokey. It all ends in clapping and laughter and loads of the kids come up for hugs and high fives as we say goodbye.
I can’t believe how appreciative and responsive these kids are to anything we offer to them. Their faces light up when you smile, they laugh when you make silly faces, they get involved in all the workshops and no one is too cool to do a silly dance. As we pile back onto the trucks and head off, those with a little English shout ‘thank you, thank you’, others wave and blow kisses.
We head back to base camp, get a few hours rest, then kit up again for the fire show! We rock out almost 17 fire acts (fire hoops, umbrellas, ropes, staffs, clubs, fans, palm candles and more) to crowds of school kids and adults. Every night I am stunned by the professionalism and talent of the Sparkles – our show is of an incredible standard.
And then, as the final flames go out, we pack up and head home, ready to begin it all over again in the morning.
The horrors of the Burmese regime
Since arriving in Mae Sot, there’s been a few times where I’ve felt completely overwhelmed by the enormity of the whole situation. The Burmese military regime has forced over 1 million from their homes, jailed more than 2000 political prisoners and uses child soldiers and rape as a weapon of war against ethnic women and children.
Today, there are hundreds of thousands of people living in refugee camps on the border who are not allowed to leave the vicinity of the camp (we will be performing for around 7000 refugees in one camp next week). There are also hundreds of thousands of people who have escaped Burma and are living in the jungle on the border region.
How can such a brutal and all-encompassing military regime, which tortures prisoners, actively encourages rape and sets landmines down to deliberately target civillians possibly be stopped and brought to justice?
Meeting Ashin Sopaka
A few days ago, we were very lucky to have an audience with a Burmese monk, Ashin Sopaka who told us his story.
In 2007, images of Burmese monks taking to the street of Rangoon were broadcast all around the world — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_Burmese_anti-government_protests
Ashin was highly involved in the coordination and implementation of that protest. Of the 500 monks who were arrested by the military, almost half of those are still in jail now, with thousands of other political prisoners including students, teachers, and former MPs.
But Ashin remains positive. The action brought the Burma peace campaign to the attention of the world, and he believes the combination of grassroots activism within Burma alongside massive global awareness and action will achieve a peaceful end to the violent regime.
For my part, I know that Spark Circus is bringing joy to the children here who have been forced out of their country and away from their cultural heritage. I am seeing first-hand how important it is for all children to have the chance to play and learn in a safe environment.
And I hope my involvement in Spark has made it real for you too. The more people who understand the horrors of the regime, the more likely we can put an end to this brutality.
For more info, please go to the Peace in Burma Now facebook page here.
And as always, you can donate to Spark Circus at www.sparkcircus.org
Peace and love to you all!