11 March 2009: Viva Rio’s Youth Center


haiti-crew-walksWe piled into a van with two duffel bags, stilts and a portable amp for the show with a few of the team members of “Viva Rio” to drive to their site in the Bel-Air section of Port-Au-Prince. I can only feebly try to put into words the relatively short trip. The traffic moves slowly, motorcyclists zipping past and people spilling out everywhere: on the stoops of the most simply built concrete structures covered in graffiti; women cooking on oil filled woks over mini-propane ca mp stoves; children half naked or shoeless playing in alleyways. It is mid-afternoon and the air is a little hazy with diesel smoke and smog. We turn onto a more main road and there are two lanes of traffic, UN trucks, a few school buses and now, women selling fresh fruits and vegetables by the side of the road. This area gets intermittent electricity and in this super overpopulated area, hardly any at night, which I can’t/don’t want to imagine. We pass over a canal choked with garbage. And it is no wonder that “Viva Rio” and almost every other non-government organization (NGO) we encounter has some recycling initiative in addition to education or public health. The water flows in a light grey hue to the ocean. As I understand it, these suffocating canals can be the only source of water for thousands.

“Viva Rio” is a NGO from Rio de Janerio in Brazil and one of the most powerful programs I have encountered. Theirs is a model they started in Rio, and are experimenting with in the Bel-Air section of Port-Au-Prince. The site of the project is an old factory, warehouse site that they are refurbishing and making their center of operations. Aspects include a water treatment facility that off-shoots into a fish hatchery (eventually), a recycling program and a youth initiative, which is based on capoiera, a Brazilian martial art that utilizes music and can appear like a dance.

I am immediately impressed with the huge, clean space of the youth center. Each child, immediately takes off their shoes and sits in the ever-growing circle as we enter, the level of respect is subtle, but apparent. I don’t put my finger on it at first, but there is something different about this organization to any other school or place we have played so far. Then I realize, these kids are completely and utterly self-motivated to get to this place and this program at this time every day on their own. No adult gets them here, or maintains their schedule. It is questionable, if most go to school, but they make it here. There is a sense of self-responsibility from the smallest child to the oldest, every single one participating with alert focus and dedication, especially during the capoiera horda.

Our show goes well, with much clapping, cheering and hollering, they are a captive and generous audience. Afterward, we join them for the horda, the practice with live musicians of capoeira where two individuals play/spare in the center of a singing clapping circle. It was incredible. There are many elements of acrobatics in our show, and so the opportunity of the audience to turn around and show us amazing skills was quite beautiful.

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