Issue - July 2009

July 2009


In this issue: Rachel Dakin tell us about her visit to Community of Producers in Arts; Rebecca Wearmouth writes about El Hogar de Ninas San Francisco; before concluding Walter Sanchez C describes the art of Stained more...

July 2009

Changing Lives with Culture

Rachel Dakin visits COMPA´s (Community of Producers in Arts) annual Theatre Festival in La Paz, discovering a community of disadvantaged children who just love to act.

Rebecca Wearmouth
Projects Abroad - Volunteer
Stockton - United Kingdom

At the height of summer in 1991 a group of street children meet to discuss the creation of a Theatre Company. Their minds are full of questions, bubbling with excitement as they talk. “Is it very difficult to make a Project?”… “The difficulty is how to finance the Project!” They consider all of the costs; accommodation, costumes, food. Their minds race through naïve ideas. “We could steal!”… “And we can deposit the money in a bank and…” Their eyes shine while their hands express the details of a possible robbery in La Paz. Many innocent suggestions are transformed to become what is now COMPA, the Community of Producers in Arts; a group of children and adolescents living on the streets. At this moment COMPA is born.

18 years later perched on the top of El Alto, looking down over the vast metropolis of La Paz, stands the house of COMPA. The large, yellow labyrinth of a building provides a beacon of hope for the lives of disadvantaged children. Here they forget about their troubles and embrace a world of culture; drama, music, dance, art, comedy. In the buzzing hub of La Paz I met Iván Nogales, the director of COMPA. Waiting for an unknown interviewee I immediately recognised his kind, generous face beaming through the busy crowds. Nogales has worked for COMPA for 20 years, dedicating his life to the company. Nogales’ dream is to create social change by means of education, art and culture; “To feel, to think dream differently.”

COMPA works with excluded sectors of society, from orphans and street children to disadvantaged adults in need of support. Nogales intends to use culture as a tool to encourage essential development and transform the future of individuals and society as a whole. He aims to create a “supportive, democratic, participatory and fair company”.

COMPA is a non-profit cultural organization. They are completely self-financed with no other form of support. Yet they have managed to create a large network with groups in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba as well La Paz. COMPA focus on the integral development of children and the young.

In the midst of the theatre festival Ivan introduced me into the little microcosm of colour, expression, music and laughter encompassed in the House of COMPA. The truffi climbed up to El Alto, crawling up the mountain covered with buildings clinging to the rock face, occasionally baring flashes of the surreal, lunar landscape below. The founders of COMPA built the house themselves; it is a true testimony to their dedication. No two doors are the same, walls are splashed with bright colours and eclectic ornaments fill the rooms; the house buzzes with creativity.

There are many different projects within COMPA. With the help of the Dutch group “Terre des Hommes” COMPA have acquired a lorry converted into a travelling Theatre. The “Rolling Arts Centre” travels through neighborhoods in El Alto and cities of Bolivia, sharing artistic spectacles of theater, music, dance and circus. COMPA works with schools, arts centers and neighborhood committees to carry out workshops with children.

COMPA have also declared by law the first “Cultural Street” in Bolivia; enabling intercultural open air education and street art. COMPA conduct activities like painting houses, wall murals and ceiling sculptures. There are festivals to showcase these expositions, open movies and much more. Within a 50 house block it is possible to take a trip through the cultures of the world, providing the whole community with an accessible cultural education.

Theatre TRONO have been on 8 artistic tours in Europe, 3 in the United States and other Latin-American countries. Nogales wants to tour in more countries but it is very expensive and financial resources are limited. TRONO also involves the drum group “Ojalata” and circus CirCOMPA. COMPA have several influential publications such as “Tomorrow is Today” (1998) and “Memories of COMPA” (2007).

During the Theatre Festival in El Alto a Dutch group performed “Crazy Frogs”, a play aimed to show children that adults can act childishly too. A row of lurid, green frogs provided a metaphor for the audience as the actor Etienne Borgers leapt across the stage in front of them. Performing alone with self-composed background music Borgers expressed that adults too are filled with emotions, creating things as quickly as they destroy them.

COMPA staged several workshops performed entirely by children from 12-17. In one workshop the audience actively participated in the process of acting. The actors displayed the historical progression from the reign of Indigenous Bolivians to the invasion of the Spanish, who replaced Indigenous religion with Catholicism. They also illustrated the terrible conditions of the miners in an underground mining gallery beneath the theatre. We were dressed in native Bolivian dress and participated in the entire performance, immersed in their acting and culture.

The Festival reached a climax with a performance by Theatre TRONO on their moving theatre lorry. The stage was suspended high up on the mountains, looking out over the magnificent city at night time. The star filled sky reflected the shining performance. The audience was enraptured with the show, despite the night-time chill! COMPA often use culture as a medium to articulate their political beliefs. This play illustrated the Bolivian Revolution. Although the play had a serious message about history, politics and the destruction of dictatorships, it was constantly interspersed with comedy. Bright costumes and vivid expressions filled the stage with movement and colour, keeping the serious subject light and entertaining as well as informative.

The children were so enthusiastic and their talent astounding. You could never guess the difficulty of their childhoods from their happy, smiling faces, their endless interest and passion. COMPA gives these children something to live for. It introduces them into a world of culture that they otherwise would not know. When I asked them what their ambitions where they all chorused: “We want to be actors!” This hopeful optimism in the framework of poverty is a tribute to the hard work of COMPA and a reminder that this company must be supported if this great work is to continue.

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Located in Sacaba, El Hogar de Niñas San Francisco (el Hogar) is an all-girls orphanage that seeks to raise educated and well-rounded girls, thus providing them with good prospects for the future. The orphanage was built in 1993 through the work of a group of sisters from the Catholic Church and was sponsored by a selection of foundations from Germany and Italy. Orphanage director Sister Anna Kurysz explains that the main aim of the orphanage is to “support children that do not have a mother or father or that only have one parent…

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