"We came from Afghanistan to put smiles on the faces of the Italian people," Fazeela Amerkhel, a 12-year-old girl from Afghanistan, told RFE/RL from Rome, where she is on a tour with the Afghan Mobile Mini Circus for Children
Formed in 2002 by David Mason, the MMCC is designed to offer a diversion for the beleaguered Afghan youth community in their war-torn land. The circus is made up of professional artists who train and develop children from the ages of 5 to 16 in acts including puppetry, juggling, and acrobatics.
Group leader Hamid Rokhan says, "We want to show the Italian people -- and the world -- that the decades-long war in Afghanistan is slowly coming to an end and Afghans are enjoying peace and stability."
The group landed in Italy on December 15 for a three-week tour that includes nightly performances (see video below) and visits to schools and cultural exchange programs.
"The kids want to spread happiness through their comedy skits, traditional dances like the Atan, and martial arts," Rokhan told me. WATCH: A compilation video of the MMCC's trip to Italy
In Kabul, the home for the circus is a muddy, brick-walled compound, where 44 different acts and subjects are taught before and after school. Areas of study range from computer science to embroidery, animation to Islamic studies. In accordance with Afghan culture and Islamic tradition, boys and girls take lessons in separate classrooms.
It was a chilly night on the outskirts of Kabul in 2001 when I first met David Mason. When I asked him why he was in Kabul, his answer was quick. "To establish a circus," he replied. His answer struck me as a kind of joke because of the seriousness of the situation following the invasion of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.
Now in 2010, hearing the words from the lips of the young entertainer Fazeela Amerkhel and seeing the photo galleries from the past travels of the MMCC, I am reminded of the words of British writer Percy Bysshe Shelley: "If winter comes, can spring be far behind?"
-- Majeed Baber