Offering Circus Arts to Sensitive Populations: CircusAid - by Sarah Arriga

Photo by Jill Maglio

Photo by Jill Maglio

I taught trampolining and tumbling to youth and adults at AcroSports back in 2013. While teaching there, I learned skills that would eventually lead me to the CircusAid project at “the Jungle” a refugee camp in Calais, France. There are over 7,000 refugees currently living in poor conditions in Calais, many displaced by conflict in Syria and Iraq.


These refugees are not statistics, they are humans trying to restart their lives, having experienced unimaginable hardship to reach Europe. CircusAid offers workshops in circus skills that focus on forging a positive, joyful environment to support mental health. CircusAid is a branch of Holistic Circus Therapy (HCT), founded by Jill Maglio, and has offered me an extraordinary opportunity to share the skills I am learning with a community in need as I work on my OT Masters.


At AcroSports, I worked with circus enthusiasts of all ages and abilities. The culture of inclusion in the gym made it easy for people to not only discover strengths they hadn’t yet explored, but develop their own joyful relationship with circus. My students at AcroSports had much in common with the refugees. They all have a unique sense of joy and strength as they learn new skills. Some had experienced trauma and were starting over in their lives but came to class because circus gave them a chance to prove their resilience to themselves. What I’ve learned through teaching is how people with the most need often gain the most from circus. Through the simple acts of doing circus with other humans, I’ve seen trust, empathy, communication, reciprocity and teamwork blossom.


What do you carry with you from circus? Perhaps you’ve seen your child grow strong and confident from circus classes or you’ve learned to trust your acrobatics partner with your life. The positive qualities developed from circus activities can be transferred into real life situations. For migrants, the lessons learned from circus activities may be tools they use as they integrate into new communities. With activities like “The Mindfulness of Juggling” I hope for CircusAid to alleviate the social and emotional trauma these people have encountered and to prime them for optimal health and resilience for their journey.

To help us raise funds to buy circus equipment for refugees please see our CircusAid fundraising campaign, sufficient funding we will not be able to run our project. Please support us if you believe in the work we are doing.