The father of five tried balancing like a circus performer at a Social Circus workshop in Peru sponsored by the world famous troupe Cirque du Soleil. Three of his daughters, who live in the SOS Children’s Village in Zarate, convinced him to try out the stilts.
“I couldn’t stop laughing,” says Francisco, who joined the event at the Village with his wife, Teodora. “It was my first time doing something like that. I felt happy and I could tell the girls were also happy. We laughed a lot.”
Happy family moments like these are something Francisco wants more of for his family.
He lost custody of his children in 2012 after a violent outburst, which led social services to send all five children to SOS Children’s Village Zarate. The two older sons, now ages 20 and 18, have left the Village and decided to return to live with their parents. The three daughters, Gina* (13), Rita* (12) and Mara (8)*, remain in their SOS family.
“They told me I needed to change so I could have them back at home. So now I’m trying and SOS is helping me,” Francisco explains.
Gina, Rita and Mara were among the children who participated in the Social Circus workshops, which cultivate soft skills through games and circus activities.
Circus tricks teach teamwork
Cirque du Soleil sponsored the Social Circus workshops at SOS Children's Village in Zarate, Callo and Lima earlier this year. The children learn to work together and encourage one another as they try to juggle, walk on stilts, do acrobatics – even build a human pyramid. Cirque partnered with a local circus, La Tarumba, to run the workshops in Peru.
Rodolfo Cornejo de Acosta (pictured above), an SOS family advisor, says the workshops show children the importance of team work as well as build self-esteem. "Usually, the children are shy at first, fearful, hesitant, dependent, but as they practised, they gained confidence and tried all the exercises, no matter the difficulty. They shifted from 'I can’t' to 'I can, I will try,' " says Rodolfo.
Having parents there to cheer and motivate them made a difference for both kids and parents alike.
Francisco with his wife and two of his daughters (Photo: SOS archive)
In Zarate, Francisco and his wife joined the fun on three occasions. “I was surprised to see how happy my girls were. I had never seen anything like that – my childhood was very different.”
Francisco participates in SOS Peru's Active Fatherhood programme, which aims to prevent violence through promoting active involvement of fathers and gender equality.
“With everything I am learning at the SOS Active Fatherhood workshops and activities like the Social Circus workshop, I am letting go of my shyness,” says Francisco. “I had a tough childhood. What has been more challenging for me is shame. My father used to punish me violently and would tell me that I should be quiet.”
Francisco is determined not to repeat this approach. “I now know I need to be gentle with my children, loving, give them advice and be there for them,” he says. “I did not have that with my parents but now SOS is teaching me to do things differently. I am learning many things, but the most important is to value myself and value my children.”
He adds, “My dream is to have them back and have a family trip to my home town in the highlands.”
*Names changes to protect children’s privacy
Building a human pyramid (Photo: La Tarumba)