Voices: Circus for life

"We came up with the idea of 'the Water Circus.' We thought this would be a unique way to speak to all of our audience members, raising awareness and ideas about gender equality, sustainability, and water and sanitation." - Yolanda Paredes-Gaitan, UNOPS Environment and Social Expert

​"Bringing in clowns to raise awareness of key issues is not what most project managers consider when implementing a programme. Yet, this is exactly what we did under a unique programme funded and developed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

"Implemented in 260 schools and five communities in Nicaragua, the programme helped reduce the incidence of diseases attributable to the lack of water and sanitation while raising health awareness.

"The programme had a large target audience – from children as young as four years old to middle-aged adults. We wanted to raise awareness of water issues among all of them, to share with them the importance of being guardians of the 'cuencas', which is a Spanish term we use to describe the water source, or heart of the water system. But targeting such different groups is challenging, as we wanted to find a way to speak to everyone on their own terms. We were also faced with confronting the traditional gender roles which existed within the community. 

"Together, we came up with the idea of 'El Circo del agua - the Water Circus.' We thought this would be a unique way to speak to all of our audience members, while at the same time raising awareness and ideas about gender equality, sustainability, and water and sanitation.

"The circus, while still poking fun and being enjoyable to watch, expressed the importance of issues of water and sanitation. Working with the theatre company, we ensured that the main character in the play was a young girl, so that we could also address issues of gender, specifically how water solutions have a direct impact on the daily activities of women in the community.

"The responsibility of carrying water for domestic use falls primarily on women and children. They can spend from 30 minutes to 4.5 hours per day fetching and carrying water, depending on the topography, distance from the source and size of their family. Having access to potable water increases time for learning and developing new activities that contribute to their empowerment and education.

Voices_Yolanda_Nicaragua_800x416"One of my favourite scenes from the circus involves a young girl working with her mother when she realizes how difficult her daily tasks are without reliable sources of water.
"The circus was bright, and colourful – very attractive for the audience – yet it tackled serious issues with real consequences.  Another memorable part of the circus begins when the clowns come on stage. They get angry about the amount of rubbish on the ground and refuse to perform, until a young girl rushes on stage from the audience and urges them to stay. They agree to clean the town together, and through their journey learn about healthy habits and hygiene, and how to take care of their environment.

"Within our projects, we need to try to understand gender behaviour and deconstruct cultural practices in communities. Including issues of gender as a cross-cutting issue in the programme helps build a new context where equality between men and women can be a reality. The most important thing is to balance the respect we have for these communities and the way they do things with the introduction of small, acceptable changes that can have a lasting impact."

Water and livelihoods

"Our project extended beyond raising awareness. We also built water and sanitation structures, such as irrigation systems, and ensured they were sustainable by forming committees to manage the structures after completion. In many of the primary management roles we encouraged the election of women. We wanted to change the roles women have traditionally held in the community.

"At first, I was concerned that by doing this we were giving the women extra work and responsibilities. Then I realized that by doing this we were in fact helping change the way women were seen in these communities: to show that women can have important positions and make decisions in their community.
"I am inspired by knowing that we are helping communities by giving them the resources they need to develop their capacities. Every community has something they do well and talent they can harness, but they need the tools and resources to achieve it. I truly believe that! Take these communities in Nicaragua for example: they have the best coffee you can find, and with water and sanitation systems and awareness, they can use this skill to develop new businesses and new sources of income, because they have water."