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South Sudan Dares To Live

By Molly Rose Levine

 

Yesterday was a sad day.

I woke up to an email that I never want to get. Our partners in South Sudan letting us know that the situation in Juba has devolved violently. Our partners are on lockdown, travel blocks are in place for most travel to South Sudan, and some aid organizations are evacuating their staff. INTERSOS and Save the Children Juba can no longer guarantee a safety and evacuation plan for our artists, and it is not advisable that we plan on sharing programming in the next few weeks. Even if the situation calms down, it can change again in an instant. It’s a risk that we take when working in active conflict zones. When we confirm a project, we work under the assumption that that’s not going to happen- but this time, the assumption became reality.

South Sudan is only five years old. South Sudan officially voted to leave Sudan in 2011, and the current conflicts are a piece of a civil war that has been a conflict on some level since 2013. It is between the Government of South Sudan, led by President Salva Kiir, and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition, led by former Vice President Riek Machar. It is also an ethnic war, between the Dinka people and the Nuer people. This racial tension spills over into civilian casualties as well and is a significant driving factor of internal displacement. There was a peace agreement in August of 2015 that brought high hopes for many, and the clashes this month are something that many hoped would not come to pass. This is an extremely simplified overview of the background, and it is worth diving in to learn more about this conflict and how it affects the children and families of South Sudan. You can start here, here, and here.

With a heavy heart, we notified the artistic team around the world, in Brazil, Russia, and Colorado, that we would be postponing the project. Spent the time on hold with the airlines to cancel tickets and file insurance claims. Sent messages of support to our friends in South Sudan. So much time, energy and enthusiasm screeching to a halt, barred by violence that none of us have any control over. Each artist, upon hearing the news, shared sadness and grief at the worrisome turn the country has taken, and in the same breath re-dedicated themselves to our work: “I’m here when it’s time. I’m ready for the project. When it’s safe, we’re ready to go.”

And there’s a reason that even as we cancel flights, wait for VISAS we now can’t use, and move on with our lives, that we still wait with bated breath for the moment when it’s once again safe enough to send in the clowns.

That reason is our audience.

Sarah liane foster helps a youth stand on her shoulders. Water in the background. As fighting broke out in Juba, hundreds of civilians fled to the UN compound to seek protection. There are already more than 1.6 million people in Juba who are internally displaced due to the conflict. And just as we now cannot come, they cannot leave. Even as we postpone our program, our audiences are there, trapped in an environment of conflict, and now we cannot be with them.

Yet, the resilience in laughter is present even when we are not. The children and families living through this civil war show incredible resilience every day. They dare to live, every day. When the moment comes when we can create a performance, or tour a juggling workshop, these strong people are going to be there, ready to laugh and build community with us, in spite of unthinkable circumstances.

When that moment comes, we will be ready for them, with noses, horns, bubbles, and belly laughs, to celebrate how much these people matter. Even in an active crisis, in the midst of a civil war, in the midst of a violent conflict, the children, and families who are living in South Sudan matter. They are valuable and human – as human as any of us. They did not ask to be a part of this war. They deserve moments of laughter and levity. They deserve moments of stress relief. They deserve the basic right to safety. And we will hold them in our hearts until we can tell them that in person.

clown performs in refugee camp in jordan

Social Circus

By Nadiya Atkinson

Clowns Without Borders USA Guest Blogger

 

Grinning from ear to ear, the two children attempt to balance one plate on their individual sticks. Not an easy feat for anyone, let alone two kids from an impoverished area in Nicaragua. The pair works together and manages to stabilize the plate, smiles lighting up their dirty, excited faces. The joy is palpable, and not uncommon in CWB’s travels across the world.

Social circus, a movement that Clowns Without Borders, Cirque du Soleil, and other organizations have been embracing for some years, is the utilization of circus to teach kids in at-risk areas new skills and to improve their confidence and emotional health. Social circus is commonly used to foster change intervention, specifically in the personal and social development of those involved in the program.

multiple-person two-high technique, haiti, social circus technique
Workshop participants cheer as they maintain interlocking positions in this difficult technique. Haiti.
  • In Lebanon, CWB used social circus principles and play to teach school kids to avoid explosive materials. Bombs and mines line the Syrian-Lebanon border. These “explosive remnants of war” have caused the death of many children.
  • In Haiti, CWB shared songs and smiles with youth living in refugee camps still in place after the Haiti earthquake of 2010.
  • In Kenya, CWB partnered with UNHCR to teach workshops, offering new variety and access to different skills for the refugees in residence.
  • In South Sudan, CWB led the kids in Juba in classes, encouraging the various tribes to communicate together and have the children learn new skills that they then showed their community.
  • In the Philippines, CWB taught instructors aspects of performance and circus. The instructors utilized their new abilities to support the mental health of children who survived Typhoon Haiyan.
Human interweave while juggling. social circus technique
Trust, skill, and practice make this move possible.

Social circus is an incredibly powerful tool in allowing children to regain self-confidence, and feel as though they are part of a larger, safe community. It stresses the significance of teamwork and confidence. CWB employs social circus to create stronger relationships between youth in impoverished communities. Trust is the fundamental aspect of circus. It creates an incredibly supportive and safe environment in which the student can test their limits and explore their strengths and weaknesses.

 

Cirque and theatre demand reliance on others of the group. All participants are necessary for the effectiveness and safety of the art form, making it a vital experience for children that live in harsh conditions. Social circus teaches kids to become more connected with themselves and their society. And of course, it allows kids the most underrated reason – Fun. What could be more vital to kids than play and fun and laughter when they are struggling with emotional and physical hardships? I started circus two years ago, and even as a privileged resident of San Diego, California, circus has had an enormous, beneficial impact on my mental and physical health.

Laughter is an incredibly powerful tool in allowing individuals to overcome trauma. Social circus aims to not only provide joy and laughter but share skills with children and teachers that they can use in the future. From handstands to juggling, social circus teaches coordination, confidence, and hope.

Please consider donating or just spreading the word about CWB to allow us to continue our mission!