Opening speech 10CHILDREN Cleveland

June 21 2023. Liesbeth Coltof and Dennis Meyer


It is 1993. I am flying with the Belgian army to Yugoslavia. It is in the middle of the war and we are going to play in the refugee camps. Upon arrival, we are loaded onto a bus for a four-hour trip. We drive through a shattered landscape. Abandoned houses, twisted bridges and almost no people. I see the face of war for the first time. In addition to playing our performance, we are asked to visit refugee camps. The first time I have a hard time. I walk into the camp and feel out of place. A disaster tourist.

I enter a small room with a man, his wife and his elderly mother. The driver of the bus interprets. I ask and for two hours they tell. The old woman says nothing she

holds my hand. At the farewell I ask, a little embarrassed, why I am actually here. The man looks kindly and says, "I have lived here for two years now. If I go to my neighbor and say, "Neighbor, I had half an hour to leave my house and couldn't take anything with me. I was shot at and beaten. I don't know where my son is and my daughter". Then he says, "Just stop, neighbor. I had a farm and 12 cows and a wife..." We don't talk about it with each other anymore.

And now you come and for the first time in a long time I can tell my story. Why are you here? You are here to listen."


Since then, for me, listening is a radical choice. And by listening I do not mean take a minute and then continue on your way unchanged. For me listening is; entering the danger zone. Running the risk that your life be thrown into disarray; that what you have always believed is no longer true; being faced with the choice of changing your life, or accepting the consequence of not being able to do so. But listening is also: a sudden connection, the gift of a new insight, the feeling of looking beyond the boundaries of your own life.


And here In Cleveland we listened. We talked with families and children living in underserved communities. Families that face daily many impossible challenges.

Children that grow up very fast and have at young age seen and experienced too much.

We listened to the people trying to make their lives a bit easier, providing necessary resources or a listening ear or help when it is needed most.

And out of all these encounters a story emerged of hardship and worry, but also, of resilience and creativity. And against all odds; of love. I met amazing children overcoming, the trouble they were born in. I respect them with all my heart.


10CHILDREN is committed to make the voices of children growing up in under resourced communities heard. To share their perspective, to celebrate their intelligence and resilience. We aim to give the children and their parents the respect they deserve. And also, we seek to raise awareness within governments, organizations and communities who can provide real change.


In 10 cities in the world we work with children, families, schools, many different organizations and with local artists. We talk, we listen.

In each city we produce a theatre performance, a documentary, a visual art project and an educational program. High quality art that tells stories from the children themselves and the circumstances they live in.

In each city the perspective on the theme: children living in under resourced communities, is different. For example, in Mumbai we work on the position of girls, in Curitiba on the acknowledgement of indigenous children living in the big city, in Cape Town on children growing up without their parents, in Düsseldorf on the absence of nutritious food and here in Cleveland on the impact living in under resourced communities has on the health of children.

In every city we have a festival like her in Cleveland. And at the end of the tour by the 10 cities, somewhere in 2027, we will bring all the people and products of 10CHILDREN together in a closing festival ánd a congress to address this big worldwide problem to an audience that can change the circumstances the children of the world live in. We really believe, we know, that art can make a difference. Because it touches the heart. And when someone has been touched by the heart, real change becomes possible. So we ask all of you: join the community of 10CHILDREN. Go to our website and subscribe to our newsletter. Because 10CHILDREN Cleveland may be the first time you hear about us, but it definitively will not be the last. 


There is an old Persian fairy tale about Moella Nasroedin crawling at night on the ground, right under a lantern looking for his house key. No pose for an old man and certainly not at two o'clock in the morning. But because everyone likes Moella and soon half the village is crawling along. Two o'clock becomes three o'clock, three o'clock becomes three-thirty. And after they turned over every little stone twenty times, the villagers' patience comes to an end. "Are you sure you lost it here?" "No!" says Moella, "I lost it closer to home, but it's so dark. Here in the light, it searches easier."

Theatre is literally a way of searching in the dark. Like all art. Going where no one has gone yet. Beyond the desirable, the imaginable, the attainable. Straight into a territory that is unknown, uncontrollable, unmeasurable. And that without knowing where you will end up. No preconceived plan, in search of who we are in the time in which we live. And out of that darkness come new images, ideas and thoughts. Don’t let us be afraid to go to the places where the light isn’t shining. The forgotten and hidden places. The places we like to avoid. Because there are people and children living there. And they need our attention and support.


We are opening the first 10children episode here in Cleveland thanks to the amazing partners we found. And our gratitude is beyond words. We found such wonderful people, artists and organizations that embraced the 10childrenproject.  We cannot name them all, but in Pam di Pascale of the Cleveland Playhouse we thank everybody of this wonderful organization that welcomed us with open arms. And in Linda Jackson we thank the Metro Health System and the great doctors, psychologist and nurses who taught us so much. In Cigdem Slankard we thank the CSU Film school, and in Amber Ford studio LAND. Special thanks go out to our community dramaturgs, the families that shared their stories with us and invited us into their houses . Without them this project wouldn’t exist


Above my desk hangs a quote from the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery : 'When you want to build a ship, don't bring people together to haul wood, make working drawings, set tasks and divide work, but teach people to long for the open sea.'

Let’s give these children the possibility of an open see, where they can become who they want.