The advocacy circus
Five years later, the original group has expanded and developed
a unique concept, the advocacy circus. In a country like Ethiopia,
where needs are so basic, the circus has found a surprising
place. The circus children are the voices of the community
and they are being received with overwhelming enthusiasm.
The free performances are usually set in football fields,
include a wide variety of circus arts and attract thousands
of people. What is unique, though, are the messages woven
through each performance as the acts are worked into stories
about the lives of street children. Through comedy, drama,
mime, acrobatics, live music and circus acts, powerful ideas
are making their way to the general public.
The messages that have been developed so far are as diverse
as they are relevant. They include: first aid, the prevention
of AIDS and malaria, the treatment of tuberculosis and diarrhoea,
the effects of deforestation, and the causes of children taking
to the streets.
In Addis Ababa the group has become a local non-governmental
organisation (NGO) promoting the circus in general as well
as basic health issues. With more than 200 shows under their
belts, the children have raised their skills to a level of
renown in the city and beyond. A circus school was created
in response to requests from the community, and other NGOs
working with street children joined Circus Ethiopia and helped
establish a special training schedule.
After television appearances, the original group sparked
interest in other regions of Ethiopia and now Circus Jimma,
Circus Nazareth, Circus Tigray and Circus Jari all have a
performing group, training centre, circus school and performing
schedule in their respective communities.
The model has also attracted the National Union of Eritrean
Youth and Students. It formed its own Circus Eritrea and a
circus school in Asmara with the cooperation of the Red Cross
Society of Eritrea, a National Society in formation. For the
first time since the country’s independence, the Red
Cross will be able to disseminate its current activities to
the population. Each group creates shows with advo-cacy messages
adapted to its own
The idea of advocacy in the circus shows has attracted much
interest and support. Individuals in seven different countries
are now involved in promoting the circus groups. Notable among
these are the many people who organised a very successful
two week tour by Circus Ethiopia in the Netherlands with the
cooperation of the Netherlands Red Cross last June. In Washington
DC, friends of Circus Ethiopia are working with Cirque
du Soleil to organise a benefit performance in November.