Spirit of the Zebra
26 Sep, 2016 | Jacob Klein
Photo: Ellen Weaver
An Exhaustively Happy Philosophy
‘¡Actitud, Cebra! ¡Acción, Cebra! ¡Espíritu,Cebra!’, shouted a herd of students, dressed to the neck in zebra suits, holding long snouted hats in the crooks of their arms. The shouts intermingle with gales of laughter and voice-stopping grins. They had just spent the day as volunteer traffic monitors and the culture and vision of their host organization was evident on their smiling faces.
‘When you take off the suit you still wish to help.'–Soledad
Only a half-an-hour before, these young volunteers were assisting the elderly to cross dangerous street corners, chiding cars that ventured too deep into the walkways and dancing under the semáforos of La Paz, bringing order, if ever so briefly, to busy intersections near Plaza Murillo. Under the trained eye of their equine-dressed paceño peers, first-time and temporary participants followed fulltime zebras, who were aggressively happy and helpful. They led the newcomers by example. Waving at pedestrians as they passed, stopping to hug timid toddlers, and high fiving intrepid teens, their positivity was endless.
Beyond their eccentric uniform, all employees strive to embody the core philosophy of the organization: the spirit of the zebra. It begins with disposition. 'We teach them to always be positive with their words and with their actions,' says Soledad, a community organizer for Club Zebra. The traffic monitors are encouraged to speak without negative connotations, greet everyone they come across, and throw away any trash they find. But the spirit of the zebra transcends these friendly gestures.
'The spirit of the zebra is the desire to help,’ continues Soledad. ‘When you take off the suit you still wish to help.' The philosophy runs deep for the zebras, and has been imprinted on those who have left the programme. 'There are thousands of youths who no longer wear the suits, but go on to demonstrate themselves as zebras,’ Soledad says. ‘They are always greeting, always helping, always being leaders.'
The joy and mirth provided by the city’s 265 zebras is known for educating paceños about street safety. Their mission, however, expands beyond the chaotic streets. ‘We work with different themes like street safety, bullying and littering,' Soledad explains, claiming that ‘bullying is down, conductors are driving safer, cars are stopping at stop signs and people are making safer decisions in the streets.'
Though the presence of the zebras is profound, in their absence the chaotic pace of the city seems to resume, calling to question the true extent of their impact. They certainly bring moments of safety to daily life on the city streets, but the reason for their celebrity is their exuberant positivity. Their smiles and demeanor have made the zebras a welcome government outreach program. 'People always thank the zebras,’ concludes Soledad. ‘They are grateful for the work they are doing to change the city.’
"The philosophy runs deep in the Club and has been imprinted on those who have left the program."