Performing arts

Proud parents

Over the past 25 years, El Alto has grown from a suburb of La Paz to a city of a million people, located in the Andes at 4,000 meters above sea level. Most of its residents are indigenous, either Aymará or Quechua. Unemployment is high. Young people have few opportunities of social advancement and higher education. The Centro de Comunicación Cultural Chasquí (CCC Chasquí), a local cultural centre, is providing valuable educational services to children and youth. Its director and co-founder, Jorge Cruz Quispe, discussed his work in an interview with Sheila Mysorekar.
CCC Chasqui

What drew you to cultural education?

My own experience of discrimination. I was born in El Alto. The city is home to poor people who have moved here from the country and often work in La Paz. My father was a simple labourer and my mother was illiterate. The knowledge of our people, the Aymará, was considered worthless in Bolivian society at the time. When I was growing up, we indigenous people were not respected. Young people from El Alto had no opportunities. I wanted to change that. In 1988, with the support of others, I founded the CCC Chasquí.

What do you want to achieve?

We want to give children a chance to develop – in particular children with problems who are sent to us by four surrounding schools. The kids must know what their rights are and be enabled to participate in society. Above all, we promote a culture of peace.

Why is that necessary?

El Alto is still a marginalised place. Even though we all campaigned for President Evo Morales and the "cambio" ("change"), the local government does nothing for us. Water and electricity services are unreliable. The people are very poor. Children must work for their families’ survival.  

Is there violence?

Yes, it is widespread. Conflicts arise for various reasons: poverty and social deprivation matter, and so does the dissolution of families because of labour migration. Rural migration is another issue. Many of El Alto's residents come from remote villages in the Andes. They come to El Alto looking for a better life, which they don't always find. Discrimination of indigenous peoples also plays a role. All of these issues create conflict. Young people are confronted with different forms of violence every day. We want to show them how to resolve conflicts constructively and how to live peacefully with one another.

What do you do?

In CCC Chasquí, we try to promote a culture of peace ("cultura de paz"): we help children develop self-confidence, we work to improve communication between the generations and, most importantly, contribute to a sense of collective community and cooperation through teamwork. Our cultural centre trains children and young people to act as mediators so they help resolve conflicts in their schools. In 2011, with support from the international Christian peace service EIRENE and Germany's Civil Peace Service, we published a manual on our approach to achieving a culture of peace.

How is the CCC Chasquí organised?

In the beginning, CCC Chasquí was self-financed, but now we get support from EIRENE and Terres des Hommes Germany. We have a 600-square-meter complex, comprising a multi-purpose hall, workshops, an auditorium, a library and a kitchen. We have Internet connectivity. We have 16 employees - educators and other staff – as well as volunteers. We take care of around 120 children and young people per day. They participate in three-hour workshops that take place either in the morning or in the afternoon. Some are helped to do their homework. We offer sports programmes and teach leadership skills ("liderazgo"). Performing arts are important too – we have music, a puppet theatre and stage plays.

How do you stage plays?

We have been offering theatre workshops for young people at CCC Chasquí since 2009. At first, parents were very prejudiced and said: "They won't learn anything; play-acting is for drunk people." But that attitude has changed. As soon as the children get on stage, they find they can make a contribution to something and show who and what they are. And their parents are proud of them. We have discovered that theatre is especially important for children who have problems. It allows them to tackle issues they are familiar with, violence for instance. Over 20 young people are involved in the theatre group, seven of whom form part of the permanent team. A few months ago, GIZ invited to us to go on tour in Germany. That was really something special.

To what extent does a youth theatre group have an impact on life in El Alto?

Staging plays teaches young persons to co-operate well with others, and that boosts their self-confidence. The theatre group often uses traditional Aymará stories, providing lessons on indigenous culture and ancestral knowledge. The older people are walking libraries: we learn a lot from them at CCC Chasquí. The children learn that we do not have to be slaves to technology, but rather that we belong to Pachamama, our Mother Earth. In this poor district, 80 % of the people speak Aymará. It is their cultural heritage. Both in the theatre group and at CCC Chasquí in general, we want to teach people the values of "Vivir bien".

What does "Vivir bien" mean?

Generally speaking, this is the Andean worldview. It is also one of the cornerstones of the Morales government. "Vivir bien" - living well - roughly means peaceful coexistence in harmony with nature and its diversity. The main idea is respect for our Mother Earth and all living things. In practice, it means that we shouldn't pollute or contaminate the Earth, for instance. Living collectively is another central principle. The focus isn’t so much on the individual, the “me, me, me”. The idea is to share things. So if you need something, I will give it to you, without any strings attached. And when I need something someday, you or someone else will give it to me. Reciprocity is vital – but so is diversity. We are not all the same. Just as there are many different kinds of potatoes in the Andes, there are many different kinds of people in the world. Accordingly, our programmes allow people with disabilities to participate. We do not want to make everyone homogeneous. There are 36 different ethnic groups in Bolivia. They practice different religions, which the judicial system approaches as if they were all the same. Here at CCC Chasquí, however, we emphasise Aymará culture.

What problems do you face?

Well, to move forward, we are forced to support the government. Moreover, people from the neighbourhood come to us with their problems. Sometimes I act as a mediator for infighting families.

What are your hopes for the future?

We are trying to educate children thoughtfully and considerately so that they learn to love and respect their fellow people. I would like to apply what we are doing here in CCC Chasquí to the entire city of El Alto. That is my dream.

Jorge Cruz Quispe is the director and co-founder of the Centro de Comunicación Cultural Chasquí. Together with EIRENE and the German Civil Peace Service, which receives support from Germany's federal government through ENGAGEMENT GLOBAL, the centre published a manual on its approach to achieving a culture of peace.

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