KABUL, Afghanistan - After more than 30 years of civil war, the people of Afghanistan are trying desperately to rebuild their country and lives.
In a corner of the Afghan capital, there's an effort to reach one of the most vulnerable groups in the country- the children.
So They Joined the Circus
Naziar Nazera can't think of a better place to be on this Monday morning than right here - at the Mobile Mini Circus for Children.
"If it wasn't for this place, I'd be out on the streets begging for money, washing cars, or selling cigarettes," said Nazera.
Instead, this 12-year-old, who has walked a couple of miles from her home, has a chance to pursue her dream of being an actress one day.
"I want to be the future of this country," Nazera said. "I want to work hard so that Afghanistan can be a better place."
Tucked in a corner of the capital Kabul, Nazera and 120 other young people, are part of Afghanistan's first-ever circus. The Mobile Mini Circus for Children campus is their home away from home.
David Mason founded Mobile Mini Circus for Children in 2002 to reach the children of this war-torn nation.
"The children who come here, they get motivated to have enthusiasm for life," Mason said.
The real goal for Mason is to bring hope into the lives of these kids. This nation has seen 30 years of war and in some ways their culture as children has been lost.
"Yeah, they have survived but now it's a time for living and for living you need art, you need jumping, you need singing, you need acting, you need to be happy," Mason said.
Beyond the Glamour
Mason says it's more than a show. The kids are trained by professional Afghan artists in 44 different subjects including, circus, theater, painting, math, computer skills, journalism and English.
They also get life-saving lessons like how to recognize and avoid land mines. The best part of it all says 13-year-old Noor Shah, is that it is free.
"My parents cannot afford to send me to school," Shah said. "They barely make enough to survive so coming here is a big deal."
Funding for the circus is sponsored by individuals and foundations in 15 countries, including the United States.
The circus has performed before more than half a million children in 16 Afghan provinces. They've also taken the show overseas to Europe, Japan and the United States.
Honoring the Culture
Afghanistan is an Islamic country and so performances must meet strict Islamic codes. For example, the boys and girls are taught in separate classrooms. But they perform together on stage. Mason says the acts should also reflect Afghan culture.
"If we Westerners come here and try to realize our dreams and ambitions for ourselves - that's a wrong way to go," Mason said. "We should first of all understand the Afghans and part of that understanding is that Afghans are Muslims and have their own culture."
The shows are often done before conservative Islamic audiences that view such entertainment as un-Islamic. But more and more Afghans are opening up.
"They start to enjoy it and even they approve it by clapping," Mason said.
And that is music to the hears of this one man from Denmark who's trying to breath new life into the building blocks of Afghanistan's future - it's kids.
*Original broadcast November 11, 2008.