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Love & Loneliness: Gente Que Avanza

Love & Loneliness Fancy a year on the road with a travelling show? Mark Perera and Ellen Doherty describe what happened when they encountered forty Latin Americans 'on the move'.

There are times in your life when you have the privilege of encountering truly special people, people who really touch you. It happened to me this summer...

The brief period that I spent in the company of Gente Que Avanza was one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences I have ever had. Anyone who has been to Caux in Switzerland will understand what a special place it is, but the arrival of this forty-strong group of Latin Americans injected a warmth and energy which was difficult to ignore. From the moment they stepped off their coach (following a 27 hour trip) and happily treated the accumulated throng to an impromptu renditi on of their eponymous signature tune, it was clear we were in the presence of wonderful people.

Gente Que Avanza (People On The Move) was formed in January 1970 as a platform for Latin American youth to work together to help construct a more unified and progressive society. Through a training program, centred around cultural, spiritual and ideological development, the group aims to promote values and personal change. Focused on increasing integration between Latin American countries, the group's main activity is a two-hour show of music and dance. July '99 in Switzerland was their European debut.

What struck me was their wisdom - young people my own age, and younger, whose insight and knowledge was at once awe-inspiring and reassuring. Sipping 'mate' and chatting into the early hours in broken Spanish/English, we discussed everything from God and the future to football and music. I quickly realised how much I could learn from my Latin friends who, despite their years, had experienced so much. The honesty and willingness with which we talked was due to the fact that all of us, whether European, Latin American or African, realised we were experiencing something important. Growing up in our respective parts of the world, we found we knew little about the lifestyles of our counterparts. Living in England, I do not hear about the struggles and issues facing people living in Latin America, and vice versa. Convinced they would have a cold reception, many of the group were fearful of coming to Europe. On the contrary, and despite the language barrier, we found we had more similarities than differences.

As real friendships developed, not only was I offered guidance, help and support, I was actually asked for it. This was both unexpected and humbling. There was a real sense among us that we had been brought together for a reason and, however trite that may sound, it is something I certainly believe. Gente Que Avanza touched many, and will doubtless continue to do so. I for one have been permanently changed - watching them overcome cultural barriers was quite simply an education and an inspiration.

Mark Perera, UK

Life shone from every corner of the Caux Cafe. Music filled the air along with laughter and conversation. As I stood there watching, I wondered if my heart could possibly accept such an influx of pure life all at once. It could, and it did. Gente Que Avanza left a prominent mark on me. Their philosophy of constructing a more positive society has been shared by many through the ages. So what makes this group different? It is simple a strong belief that they can make a difference, a conviction that together they will.

One of their bigger objectives is to help bring about change on a world- wide scale. The words of Fabian Herrera (cast member) really spoke to me 'If I want to change the world it has to start with me, in my own heart. How can I change things if I cannot change myself? It would be hypocritical to tell people that they can change their world if I have not been able to make changes within myself first.'

The group's achievements are remarkable. Twenty-nine years ago Gente Que Avanza were received by the President of Chile. This year the current group met his son, now President also. According to one of the founders, who still travels with the group, they went 'with nothing to hide, nothing to ask for, just to express appreciation for the people who care for us'. Another example of the group's impact is the story of how one of their seminars changed many lives. The father of one cast member changed dramatically having taken part in a seminar. The relationships changed in his home and then at work. As a result, the work of many people in Chile who were about to lose their jobs, was saved.

As you will have gathered Gente Que Avanza are not the kind of people who sit around and wait to be entertained. 'Introverted' is not a word which applies to them. Even on that first night I knew I would not be allowed to sit on the sidelines in the cafe and watch them dance. So how does an Irish girl learn to do Latin American dancing? All I know is that someone who couldn't speak a word of English had the courage to grab my hand and teach me - I think I may have been the comedy element of that particular night!

Coming from a country where religious and racial barriers are paramount, it was very special for me to join an English person, a Croatian and a German and to learn one of the songs from the show. 'Ahora Ya' means 'Right Now':

New times are starting  ...     right now!
Another chance          ...     right now!
Be brave, come with me,
the world can't wait.

Don't run away from uncertainty ...     right now!
In your life you will find      ...     right now!
more colours in the horizon     ...     right now!
purity in every look.

Your passion, your blood and strength   ...     right now!
Your tomorrow, your strength            ...     right now!
Your tireless search for something better.

Their tireless search for something better has taken them far. Here's hoping we see more of them in Europe in the future.

Ellen Doherty, Republic of Ireland

The minimum age for joining Gente Que Avanza is 17. Completion of highschool and parental consent is mandatory. Applicants must be willing to give a minimum of one year (including a three-month trial period). They are not chosen for their musical ability, rather their willingness to be trained as leaders, and the desire to do something for their countries. The 'norms' which they have to agree to before joining are no alcohol, no smoking, no flirting. This helps the group dynamics. It is more than a musical show; it is a way of life. The seminars which can last up to five days are taken by the young people themselves who share their personal experiences of change.

For more information on Gente Que Avanza...

Last update: 2000-02-06 16:12:00 (EEST).
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