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3 Project reviews of Performing Life Bolivia

Project Details

Performing Life helps youth who are living on the streets of Cochabamba, Bolivia. We empower them by teaching creative arts, while improving their economic well being.

Performing Life’s mission is to help children and adolescents who are working and/or living on the streets of Cochabamba, Bolivia to improve their daily lives and create better futures for themselves through the arts. We empower youth by teaching them productive skills that keep them in school and away from drugs while improving their chances for economic independence.

Performing Life also provides participating youth with new economic opportunities, and the funds they earn are used to start savings accounts that allow them and their families to make important decisions about their educational and financial futures. Since its inception our organization has helped over 2,100 children and members of their families, and we are proud that youth interest in our programs, and desire to expand them, has never been greater. 

Performing Life’s primary goal is to use arts education as a means to achieve: youth reintegration into family life; social development of children and youth living and / or working on the streets of Cochabamba; protection against the dangers involved in street life, such as drugs, alcohol, abuse, and crime; and provision of tools to help youth improve their economic opportunities and those of their family.

Performing Life was founded as so many nonprofits have been: by one individual recognizing a pressing need in the community and choosing to act. For John Connell, Performing Life´s founder, this moment came soon after he first arrived in Bolivia in 2003. Having recently graduated from high school, John arrived in Cochabamba, Bolivia without enough money to pay his way; following the example of local youth, he decided to take up juggling at stoplights to support himself. During that time, he befriended many youth living and/or working on the street and learned about the harsh conditions and difficult challenges of their lives.

Upon returning to the U.S. in late 2004, he began writing about what he had seen and experienced as well as his desire for helping the youth he had met. His idea was that, through music and the arts, youth living and/or working on the streets could find both positive ways to express themselves and potential pathways to a brighter economic future. With this focus in mind, John founded Performing Life in 2005 and began searching for the necessary funding to launch his ambitious program. Tony Bellizzi, Director of Hope for the Children Foundation, had faith in both John and his idea and gave Performing Life a seed fund of $5,000 USD. John returned to Cochabamba in 2006 and opened his first class with six students. In the years since then, Performing Life has worked with many children in a variety of programs. 

We are always in search of new volunteers. Performing Life is a welcoming organization that gives volunteers the opportunity to bring their own ideas to the table, develop existing projects or create new ones, and make a real impact on youth and their families. We are a small organization, so any help is welcome!"
The main focus of the project is on
NPO Status
Yes, registered non-profit organization
Foundation Year
Contact Person
John Connell
Spoken Languages

Social Impact

Since 2006, when the first class of six kids practiced juggling in a Cochabamba plaza, PLI has offered free programs in social circus, music, education, health, human rights, education, and microenterprise, helping over 3,000 youth and families create better futures through the arts.

Statistics:  Two-thirds of Bolivia’s 10 million people live in extreme poverty, including 2.5 million children; 900,000 youth ages 4 to 16 work daily, of which 2%-5% live on the streets. In 2013, a study estimated that 200,000 youth currently work in Cochabamba, at least half eight or more hours a day and 60% not attending school.  Parental unemployment, poor nutrition, poor family health, and daily crises obligate youth to work on the streets, meeting degrading discrimination, abuse, and danger. 

Thousands of youth living on Cochabamba’s streets are abandoned, orphaned, or escaped abusive home situations. Although considered the most difficult to reach, PLI’s Music Program and street outreach have proven effective for unlocking their creativity, helping them gain positive recognition for communicating their stories, and, for some, to leave the streets and rebuild their lives. 

Marginalized youth are very clear about the reasons for their situations: despair engendered by oppressive poverty, unrelenting prejudice, lack of basic resources and opportunities; generational trauma that crushes the human spirit; and family dysfunction resulting from relentless challenges. Through PLI’s programs and hard work, youth can achieve an education, land, home ownership, and sustainable microenterprise, the main rungs on the ladder out of poverty.

PLI youth are successfully helping themselves, families, and thousands of others, combining ingenuity with self-determination to create better lives through the arts. They dream of bringing Performing Life to more street-working youth by establishing a permanent center in Cochabamba and outreach into rural areas. The need for this lifeline out of poverty has never been greater. 

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