Acrobats of the Road

Traveling the world since 2005, Acrobats of the Road Juan Villarino and Laura Lazzarino have enacted their Educational Nomadic Project in communities all over South America, southern Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The project is dedicated to documenting and spreading world hospitality to help overcome social issues domestic to different regions.

Juan Villarino is a writer and photographer originally from Argentina who has spent the majority of his life traveling the world and writing about the people he has met. Laura is a nomad who spent much of her youth traveling solo through South America, Western Europe and southern Asia. The pair met while abroad, and after traveling for a few years, they decided to team up and start Acrobats of the Road.

For each community the group impacts, Villarino self-publishes a book to inform readers about the importance of hospitality and social justice in rural villages throughout the world. His most recent book, Hitchhiking in the Axis of Evil, was picked up for proper publication and will be distributed internationally. The book follows Villarino’s journey through Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan and his contributions to increasing social justice in communities affected by war.

Acrobats of the Road have traveled to over 60 countries, crossing more than 1,500 borders and travelling over 160,000 kilometers. Throughout their journeys, they have stayed in monasteries, hostels, campgrounds and with locals. These experiences have allowed them to encounter firsthand the generosity that inspired them to create Acrobats of the Road.

For their Educational Nomadic Project, Villarino compiles slideshows of photographs and the pair present lectures and workshops on a variety of topics including the intrinsic goodness of human beings, community involvement and cooperation. In collaboration with the People’s Health Movement, the pair travels with a projector to teach to these communities.

While travelling, the duo has received a lot of love and care from people of many races, religions and backgrounds, and the project focuses on giving back to those who have helped them along the way. The project was started in 2009 and has been used to spread empathy and care. Villarino’s photographs capture the everyday life, kindness and cultures of communities he has encountered while hitchhiking. Acrobats of the Road hopes that with this project, they can promote equality and happiness and show that the world can become a more harmonious place.

Julia Hettiger

Sources: Blogspot, Mangomanjaro, Matador Network

Photo: Acrobatsoftheroad

In 2011, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said, “A squirrel dying in your front yard may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.”

Three years later, Zuckerberg’s quote still deeply resonates and brings to light a major issue in the United States: many people simply do not care; they are more concerned with local interests in their ‘bubble’ than rampant human rights abuses in other parts of the world.

The rise of social media, the “Facebook Effect,” is turning everyday events into news. Thus, while someone might see a friend’s dramatic post about the squirrel falling off a branch in front of their home, the fact that four million newborns worldwide die in their first month of life remains largely invisible to the public eye.

This bubble must be popped; people must become more educated about what is happening abroad so that tangible change can happen to overall make the world a more peaceful and equitable place.

The media is certainly instigating this trend, with extensive coverage on dramatic, sensationalized events while other events are routinely ignored.

For example, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 dominated national news publications for over a month after the plane disappeared somewhere over the Indian Ocean. It was a “mystery,” coupled with images of mourning relatives, puzzled government officials and the gripping realization throughout the world that innocent people on the plane may indeed be gone forever.

I am obviously not trying to downplay the atrocity of the incident, especially for family members of the passengers. Yet, while hundreds of thousands of Americans were glued to their TVs to learn about any updates from the plane crash, the 1 billion children living in poverty never had their screen debut. Many people did not care to hear their stories.

According to the World Programme, hunger is the number one cause of death in the world and ends more lives than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Nearly one-half of the global population—more than three billion people—lives on less than $2.50 a day. And 101 million children are not attending primary school.

Furthermore, when the media does briefly address such struggles, they often universalize the “third world person” as uneducated and in need of saving. However, these monolithic assumptions only reinforce the status quo, support Western dominance and ignore culture heterogeneity and the individual experiences that people face globally.

We need to hear their stories, we need to listen, we need to understand other cultures and local concerns. Billions of people are deprived of basic political and socio-economic rights daily, yet we stay silent on their struggles. We refuse to understand, and instead remain close-minded in a bubble of luxury, of Facebook, of squirrels dying in the front yard.

In order to build relationships and better understand people of other cultures, Americans must recognize their own biases towards others in order to consciously make an effort to better communicate with and understand peoples that reside outside of their own groups. While many people are informed about foreign affairs and various cultures, too many remain ignorant on these matters. Especially for international development agencies that specifically address socio-economic issues throughout the world, it is imperative that these workers listen to local issues and provide individualized help, as opposed to offering blanket policy advice that fails to recognize cross-cultural concerns.

People must expand their worldviews, try to become more educated about issues and help in the fight to make the world a better place. Prove to Zuckerberg that he is wrong; prove that we do care.

— Nicole Einbinder

Sources: The Borgen Project, Do Something, The Huffington Post, The Nation
Photo: Magical Nature Tour