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!

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