"Kak Dan, I can do it* I can dosaid Ipul, a 7 year-old boy who was mani-pulating a diabolo with his hands. He was excited, and kept shouting for Kak (big brother) Dan without shifting his attention from the diabolo.
His mentor Daniel Roberts replied, "Good boy. But don't forget to smile."
A diabolo is a juggling equipment that looks like an hourglass with a pinched middle, and is manipulated with a long piece of string tied to sticks on both ends. Itby rolling its center along the string, and professional clowns can juggle several diabolos on a single length of string at the same time by tossing them into the air. The other children were also eager to show their newfound skills to Roberts, a professional clown from the United States who spent most of his teenage years in Jakarta.
Ipul was among dozens of children attending a circus workshop in a slum in Kalibaru, Cilincing, North Jakarta. The workshop was organized by the Emmanuel Foundation in cooperation with the U.S.-based Clowns Without Borders, of which Roberts is a member.
"The children's activity is part of our preparations for the commemoration of the World Water Day, which we will celebrate on March 30," Mita Sirait of the Emmanuel Foundation told The Jakarta Post this past Wednesday, when Roberts held his weekly workshop for the Cilincing children.
In every session, the children learn different circus skills such as standing on a big ball, spinning plates on sticks and juggling the diabolo. The laughter and noise from the workshop drew the attention of smaller children in the neighborhood to come and see them. With the addition of the toddlers, the 4 meter- by-5 meter multifunction house grew too small to accommodate them all.
"It's fun to have this activity. I can play together with my friends. I can learn how to perform a circus show," said Inu, a 4th-grader at Kalibaru elementary school in Cilincing.
"I'm happy that Kak Dan is here," said Andre, another child at the workshop.
The children did not only learn circus attraction skills, but also practiced a short clown performance. All the children were happy and enthusiastic as they followed the instructions from Roberts, who graduated from Jakarta International School (JIS) in 2002. Circus attractions and clowning are new activities for the children, who usually play by swimming in the North Jakarta sea, which is only a step from their homes.
"I am happy to play the circus. We usually swim in the sea whenever we can. Sometimes, I also collect wreckage from old ships to make money," said 9 year-old Misno. Only a few minutes later, Misno and his friends could be seen bobbing between small boats on the seathey were swimming again.
Swimming seems to be the only recreational activity for the children of Kalibaru, so it is not surprising that they were excited when Roberts arrived to teach them circus and clowning skills.
"It's great to see them excited. I see they enjoy this activity. It is not a problem if they can perform the attraction or not. The important thing is that they are happy," Roberts told the Post.
For Roberts, working with those less fortunate is not a new activity. He frequently provides such community service activities in the United States, such as to inner-city kids and other disadvantaged children and adolescents. With his colleagues at Clowns Without Borders, he provides similar workshops to immigrant communities in U.S. cities.
In Jakarta, he is on a 12-week volunteer mission to teach circus and clowning skills to orphans and disadvantaged children, and is also teaching a comedy and character segment to high school students at JIS.
"My mother always tells me that we have to give back to the people what we have taken from them," said Roberts.
Read more about Dan Roberts in this month's issue of Youthspeak, released on March 19.