June 2007, When Children Say “We Can Do That”
For over a year, a theatre performance on domestic violence and its consequences for children staged by young actors from Bishkek Rehabilitation Centre for Homeless Children in Kyrgyzstan has been playing to enthusiastic audiences. Do they play or recollect from their memories? Or probably, they yell trying to keep their peers away from the cruel destiny that can happen to any child. “We can do that!” is their motto.
The troupe has visited many schools in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, and beyond. They perform in front of schoolchildren, parents, teachers and civil servants. Sometimes the group has to perform in small classrooms or even corridors, but they have also appeared in the Philharmonic Concert Hall and the Sports Palace. The reaction is always the same. The young actors sometimes have to perform two shows a day to cope with the demand. From one performance to another, their energy is not fading but growing.
“Why do they all cry? Even the men?” perplexed young actors try to answer the question. “It is probably because they dare to look into our eyes. When passing by in the streets, everybody tries to look aside and not into the eyes of a street child in rags.” In this performance, street children themselves play the parts of street children and their alcohol dependent parents.
Currently one of the most popular youth theatre groups in Bishkek, it was formed a year ago when UNICEF and some Red Crescent volunteers invited the Bishkek Rehabilitation Centre for Homeless Children to stage a play on domestic violence. This difficult topic did not deter the new actors. Each of them had their own ideas for the plot.
Finally they all agreed to use the story of Oleg, a 6-year-old boy. His once loving family fell apart rapidly when his father began to drink alcohol heavily and left his mother. Soon his mother lost her job and turned to drink to forget troubles. Oleg could not go to kindergarten any longer, his home was full of drunks and with nothing to eat he was forced onto the harsh streets to survive.
Oleg himself did not perform, but attended every rehearsal, advising and commenting. After every rehearsal the managers called a halt and consulted psychologists. But their concerns were needless. It was clear that the experience of acting out their own lives seemed to help in shedding some of their deepest fears and dark memories of the past. The young actors acquired more confidence and become stronger as a result.
“Parents, do not drink alcohol. Children, do not run away from home,” said Shavkat Mamedniyazov, the theatre director and caregiver to a silent audience looking through a veil of tears at the final scene of the play.
In May 2007, for the first time in the KVN School League – the most popular game among students from the former republics of the Soviet Union – a team from Bishkek Rehabilitation Centre for Homeless Children was invited. Some initial confusion was swept away by the thrill and excitement that “We can do that”.
At the beginning of the game, the 30 voices of their fans could hardly be heard above the chorus of hundreds from the strongest schools in Bishkek. At the end, everyone in the hall stood up to applaud the new team – an absolute winner of the game. Now, they are invited to play with teams from universities, with those who have been on stage for years. And their answer is “We can do that”.
Every evening, all the residents of the centre gather in a small hall to try out new short song and dance performances. Theatre started as part of the "Art Therapy” classes introduced with support from UNICEF for the first time in Kyrgyzstan, has become a part of their life – a way to acquire new ideas and strength to cope with the memories of the past and get ready for the future, a way to feel happy and needed in the present.
Alongside the KVN games and many joyful performances, the child performers are very keen to continue to tackle serious topics on stage to try and change the situation of children for the better. In June the theatre group began rehearsals of a new play depicting bullying and discrimination at school. It is one of the biggest concerns of teachers, school managers and ministerial workers but very little has been done to confront it. UNICEF will support the new performance as it strongly believes in the children’s statement: “We can do that”.
UNICEF’s support in the area of child protection
UNICEF supports the Government and NGOs in establishing alternative services for children living without parental care or in difficult situations. It directly supports centres such as the Bishkek Rehabilitation Centre for Homeless Children all over the Republic. UNICEF helps managers and caregivers as well as wider society to understand that the best place for children to live and develop is with a family or in a similar environment. Services like family support centres, respite centres for children from families living in difficult situations, or children with special needs, small family-like children homes, and foster families are a real alternative to big residential care institutions that impinge on almost all rights of the child. It is one of the main principles of the newly adopted Code of the Kyrgyz Republic on Children which provides a legal framework for introducing such services all over the country.