Bucharest, Romania
Circus Parada


Clownpower against Indifference

They live on the streets, in the sewers or in the run-down North station - the street children of Bucharest. Today their number amounts to some 2500. They live like lepers forgotten by the State and only the sewers offer them the protection they need to survive the harsh Romanian winters. In order to have a warm and dry shelter they have to put up with cockroaches and rats. The only place available for cooking is the floor and there is no water for washing. They have fled from homes or from their families in which they were beaten or which did not have enough money to support them. Society did not pay attention to the street children before 1989. Now the children have become adults. In North station in Bucharest, their second generation is on its way. Hierarchies have developed. What is worse, more than 75% of the children take drugs and sniff poisonous solvents.

This “phenomenon“ resulted from the birth policy of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu, who, in the 1970s, had strictly forbidden abortion. There were campaigns urging every familiy to have 3 to 5 children. Families with more than 3 children could hand over support for every additional child to the State, if they could not provide for it themselves. These children were separated from their families and brought to homes where some 100,000 of them are still leading miserable lives. After the revolution, some of them ran away from the homes to find a new freedom on the streets. Although the birth rate has declined drastically, the catastrophic economic and social situation in Romania is plunging more and more families into poverty.

9 years ago, on a tour through Romania, the French clown Miloud Oukili came to Bucharest on a bike sporting a red nose and was confronted with this misery. The street children kept coming to his performances. He learnt their language, he talked to them and he tried to make them stop taking drugs – and he began to teach them circus skills.

“Life is hard and so is the circus. If you are able to have success in circus, you will find your way through the difficulties of life as well. At least that is my personal philosophy. The circus is a way out of their misery. They are tempted to try it and find friends in this circus world. They are still children and children must play. In the circus they can make up for their lost playing time – for at least a little.“ (Miloud Oukili, clown)

While in 1989 the street children were still treated with compassion, nowadays they only encounter hatred and disgust. For many of them, life in the circus community is a completely new experience.

“One evening, Miloud and a friend of his came to us on the street with their bus CARAVAN and gave us something to eat. We lit a fire and drank coke. Miloud had brought some circus equipment and we began to practise - to juggle and to form human pyramids. But the pyramid thing was too difficult, it didn´t work, because we were all too stoned.“ (Liliana Voicu)

Today the small circus group named PARADA spends more and more time on tour, above all in Italy and France. There is a hard core of experienced acrobats, but each time Miloud takes new children along.

“Officially, these children do not exist in Bucharest. They do not have papers, but when we take them on tours abroad they can get papers. All of a sudden they are no longer filthy street children, but children who do circus performances and because they do them well, they are even invited to perform abroad.“
(Miloud Oukili, clown)

Make-up and aesthetics are very important for Miloud Oukili. He paints a smile on the faces of children that have already cried too much in their lives.

“I don´t want wild clowns. I want clowns who try to understand the others, who can discuss things and make the group as a whole advance. It cannot be that only the strong ones win. In our human pyramids the strongest of all carries the misery of the weakest one. On the streets it is exactly the other way round. There the weakest of all must carry the strongest one.“ (Miloud Oukili, clown)

Up to now, PARADA has reintegrated more than 300 street children. The organisation was able to rent seven flats in Bucharest, where some of the children have found a new home. They go to school again or learn a profession. Some of them have become Miloud´s co-teachers for artistry and teach the others how to juggle.

“I gave the pope a red nose and asked him to bless it. For although this nose may only be a plastic tool for us, it is also a symbol of dignity and hope. (...) The nose has a golden rule: You have to respect yourself before you can respect others. Without this respect nothing works.“ (Miloud Oukili, clown)

Clownpower against indifference. Miloud and his circus performers are ambassadors for the street children of Bucharest - regardless of whether they perform on tour or at home in Romania. Everywhere they draw people´s attention to their project and thus support the interests of children who up to now did not have a lobby at all.

“I always say: If there were fewer street children and more people who really cared for them, the clown would take his bike and his red nose and go home.“ (Miloud Oukili, clown)

In December 1999, Miloud Oukili was awarded the UNICEF prize for his work. But more than awards, active help is needed, so that the pyramid of hope for the children of Bucharest does not collapse.