Circus Zambia : Changing lives and perceptions

Chibolya is a community in Lusaka Zambia that is notoriously known for the sale of drugs, alcohol abuse and other social issues. A simple news web search of the township brings up numerous articles on drug related crimes, sanitation and infrastructure challenges and the need to tackle these issues. It is not all negative as among these search results is Circus Zambia a youthful, vibrant and energetic circus and creative non-profit that provides young people from Chibolya with life and academic skills to enable them to reach their full potential and to positively contribute to the development of the township.

With the community of Chibolya being negatively notorious, it comes as no surprise that there is a stigma attached to coming from the community. Additionally, for individuals particularly young people, negative social influences increase the likability of negative outcomes for their future. Founded by Gift Chansa and Charlotte Groen, Circus Zambia, works tirelessly to give back to the community while changing negative perceptions of Chibolya and also providing the youth of Chibolya with a safe space and positive outlet that allows them to be the best versions of themselves and change makers in society.  Circus Zambia is not only a platform for performers but also has scholarship programmes, an HIV/AIDS programme and more. Through performances such as “Community Speaks” that invites people from the outside to come to the compound and takes them through a journey of performances at different stations in the community, the hope is to change the negative perceptions people hold about the community and to demonstrate the power of its young people.

Community Speaks| December 2018

Co-Founder, Gift Chansa, who himself grew up in Chibolya explains that he is passionate about circus performing because his first encounter with the arts was life changing. He is beyond aware of the fact that when you come from a place like Chibolya people do not automatically gravitate towards you. Performing therefore changed everything for him. It created a safe space for him that has helped him to develop self-love and to realize the power he has to drive social change through his talent.

Co-Founder, Gift Chansa

While Gift focusses on the art aspect of the organisation, his co-Founder Charlotte Groen focuses on the business aspect and continues to seek out avenues for growth and expansion. Other team members include Jerry Kundelungu, Amos Malokwa, Benard Kaumba who are also beyond passionate about what they do.

The amount of work this amazing team puts into empowering young people through the power of art and other programmes speaks for itself through key achievements. Circus Zambia now has a physical hub in Lusaka Zambia that has a dorm, theatre, dance space, a music lab and offices. Gift Chansa has received recognition through the Queens Young Leaders Award and most recently, at the end of 2018, the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry visited Circus Zambia during his solo visit. This global recognition and continued success and expansion of Circus Zambia demonstrates how dedicated these individuals are.

Circus Zambia team during Prince Harry’s visit

The work and success of Circus Zambia would not be possible without the young people the organisation works with. Circus Zambia has reached more than 10, 000 thousand people to provide information on key themes to save lives and to change preconceived perceptions. This has been done through workshops and performances and projects such as clowns 4 condoms supported by MTV Staying alive and Breaking boundaries supported by the Prince Claus Fund.

The young people start off shy but as soon as they are comfortable, they challenge their directors and are ready to take Circus Zambia to the next level. One of the youngest performers, Patrick Chikoloma, in 2017 got selected and toured the USA with Circus Smirkus. It is stories like these that make the work all the more rewarding for the team. This demonstrates that with focus young people who would have otherwise ended up on the streets or worse can achieve their dreams through their talent and wind up in places that were unimaginable.

Moving forward, the hope is to scale up the work of Circus Zambia in order to reach more compounds. Zambia has 40 compounds with a lot of young people. If more people can support this work or create their own initiatives the more young people in these compounds will receive social skills, life skills and educational support.  The government and other stakeholder can be ambassadors for organisations like Circus Zambia. Instead of simply stopping negative behaviour and circumstances through for example removing young beggars from the streets or using law enforcement, young people need to be equipped with skills that enable them to become positive members of society.

It is without a doubt that Circus Zambia will continue to grow and help young people to overcome negative social influences and to break negative perceptions attached to where they come from.

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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