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Crossing Cultural Barriers with Balloon Animals

June 14, 2011

From the FieldSome things are universal. When Steve Marchiuk visited SOLD’s work in northern Thailand last spring, he impressed the SOLD kids with his mad balloon-making skills. They were first speechless, then a fit of excited giggles, completely taken by the twisting and turning of the balloons into the impressive creatures Steve would make.

It was an interesting reminder of the things we so often take for granted having grown up in America. We’ve seen balloon animals since before we could walk. When SOLD hosted a birthday party for the kids and lit birthday candles on each of their cupcakes, they looked at us like we were crazy. Why are you lighting my cupcake on fire?  We forget that there are some things that were a part of our growing up–like balloon animals and birthday candles–that these children do not get to experience. When the kids began to see this long, colorful balloons become cats and dogs and birds and lizards for the first time in their lives, they could hardly believe their eyes.

SOLD’s headquarters in northern Thailand wasn’t the only stop for Steve. Recently, Steve’s hometown newspaper, Westport News, wrote an article on his balloon-making travels. Here are a few excerpts:

Since the age of 12, Marcinuk been entertaining children as a balloon artist. He can transform simple balloons into dogs, hats, mermaids, even Spiderman, but more importantly, he can bring smiles to children’s faces. Knowing there are youngsters around the world who have little to nothing, he wanted to at least give them a little something to feel good about, and so Marcinuk set forth for Israel, Egypt, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Nepal, England, Spain and the Palestinian territories.”For me, the balloons were mostly a vessel,” said Marcinuk. “A way to share joy and play with kids in the best way I know how, in a way that transcends language barriers.”

As much as his happiness mission may have had an impact on the children, they likewise affected him.

In Nepal, Marcinuk met an 11-year-old Indian boy that had a real passion for the balloons. It made him change plans. Scheduled to leave northern Nepal the next day, he “ended up spending an extra five or six days.” Marcinuk surmises that many children hadn’t ever seen balloons, never mind animals, hats or cartoon characters crafted from them. However, the kids “got it,” said Marcinuk, as they often treated the balloon creations like a stuffed animal or gave them a voice.

His visits included schools, orphanages and refugee camps. “It was amazing for me just to watch their thought process,” he said of girls he encountered at an orphanage in Nepal. “To watch them shape these balloons into hats and different abstract shapes was really amazing. It was almost exactly what I witnessed in Westport… the same process of visualization and creation.”

In Egypt, it was so hot in June that when a child’s balloon touched the sand, it would explode.

“I enjoy working with kids. I enjoy playing with kids,” he said. “I’m still pretty much a big kid at heart so it’s a wonderful thing for me that in every performance I do with balloons I’m giving them something, and I really enjoy that.”

Thanks, Steve, for your time with SOLD and your continued investment in our work!

Excerpts above from May 30, 2011 Westport News article. To read the complete article on Steve’s travels (and the strange things the kids in the Middle East asked him to make), click here.


Steve at SOLD's Resource Center (Photo by Rachel Carey Photography)

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