For the past 6 months I’ve been on leave without pay from NICA and I’ve been volunteering as Artistic Director, for the Red Nose Foundation (Hidung Merah). Facilitating its Arts and Education Program in North and South Jakarta.

I was attracted to the Red Nose foundation, because it seemed rich in its diversity and the program had a strong holistic approach. Red Nose’s aim is to get to know the child in many settings. In the circus workshop, within their family, in their school and within the wider context of their community.

Hidung Merah offers English classes, Circus classes, guitar classes, writing club and tutoring (Phew) as well as seminars for both the kids and their families, on topics such as internet safety, health and sex ed. Most of the children have sponsors that contribute to their schooling costs, which in many cases is the difference between going to school and not.

We work with about 200 kids in the towns of Cilincing (North Jakarta) and Bintaro (South Jakarta).

Cilincing is a fishing village in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of Jakarta. The community life centres on fishing, primarily diving for mussels. Each day, if the weather is ok and the pollution not too bad they dive (in long t-shirts and long pants, no wetsuits here) they bring the catch along the narrow walk way to be smoked open. The smell of the fires and the mussels on some days is so strong that my eyes sting and my clothes and hair carry the smell for days…The women; children and sometimes older men then sit in the tiny pathways between homes and pill the mussels. There are mussel shells, goats, chooks, ducks, cats, rats, cockroaches and the occasional bubble tea shop along these pathways.

The noise and smell of Cilincing slaps you hard in the face the first time you arrive. The culture shock real and overwhelming. Yet amongst all of this is a door, plain and locked (very unusual) that opens into a tiny yet beautiful circus space. We have a few mats donated from a local international school and we bring our circus equipment to each workshop. The walls are painted with a beautiful mural of children juggling and building pyramids.

We’re greeted every day by a mob of small circus enthusiasts. Thrilled to have the task of taking our circus gear to our space. There’s often a tussle between them to see who can carry the most, the biggest or the heaviest gear.

In the circus classes we reintegrate the topics of the English classes, what colour plate is this, everyone get two juggling balls, let’s go over that and under this… and always, always we use songs… Hokey Pokey being an all-time favourite.

The Bintaro kids come from a small settlement built on and around a tip, the industry in this village, recycling.

We meet in the local school room, pushing desks aside as enthusiasts from Bintaro, who are incredibly proud to be part of the Troupe, clean and sweep our space getting out the rubbish left by the last school class.

Their determination, enthusiasm and patience to learn Circus and English also extends to them trying to teach me Indonesian. Smiles and nods of sweet encouragement, ‘very good Andrea’ as I try again to roll my r (I cant..)

The favourite game here, 25 Up… the favourite song… If you’re happy and you know it…

The kids of Red Nose mostly work on juggling, due to very limited space, size of classes and of course mats…

But once a week… Sunday mornings, about 30 kids from both sites, [The Performance Troupe] head to the Jakarta International School, to have a 3 hour Circus intensive. I am in my element, Cloudswing Tissu, loud music; hard core conditioning and more fun than anyone should be allowed to have on a work day…

The 7 months passed in a flash and it’s hard to believe that I am now back in the comfort of a beautiful Melbourne Autumn…..

The next step for the Red Nose ‘Australian connection’ is to try to raise funds to bring a group of 10 kids to the September MJC. This would of course not only further their already fabulous juggling skills but introduce them to a whole range of styles of performance and connect them into the vast Circus Family that is the Australian Circus Community

The kids and the staff of Red Nose embraced all I had to share, from everything circus, to improv, games, songs, the odd Cold Chisel song and my absolute favourite thing… the joy of letting down your hair and swinging on the cloudswing…

WATCH A VIDEO made by one of the interns, filmed around Cilincing, a fishing village in North Jakarta.

Andrea Ousley