Serious Fun at Social Circus Yangon
Jules Howarth, an eccentric and enthusiastic Welshman, is spending his second winter in Yangon donating his time towards the Social Circus Yangon as a member of the Serious Fun Committee.
Social Circus is a concept based on the motto “everybody needs to have fun.” This is pertinent in Myanmar, a country emerging from 50 years of military rule where children’s rights are still a big issue.
Social Circus Yangon use circus skills to engage and empower at risk and disadvantaged children and youth living across the city. Circus training teaches new skills, team building, confidence, and most importantly how to have fun, laugh at one another and enjoy the moment.
Soon Jules realised that “kids who did not get on well in formal education, or thought they were dyslexic or were not reading or writing particularly well would love what we were doing”. It was due to the risk taking and the potentially dangerous nature of playing with fire, slack lining or stilt walking. Circus found a role with young people who wanted to take risks.
Jules recounts that “on circus project I worked with in South Wales, they started it [Social Circus] in their own community and they had lots of problems with arson, stealing vehicles, smoking dope etc.. After a few weeks of the circus club opening the police came round and said ‘oh this is where everyone is’ as all the arson and car thievery had dropped in the valley”. Social Circus gave the young a positive outlet for their creativity and allowed them to channel their energy into something that gave them self confidence that people respected.
The Serious Fun Committee first wanted to come into Myanmar in 1998 due to it being under martial law, however the timing was not right. 2014, however was the right time, and Social Circus Yangon delivered the first ever international juggling festival to Myanmar. It was a hit and gained national TV coverage. Moreover, in the three months leading up to it they were focussed on doing outreach to different groups of disadvantaged children.
Jules notes Myanmar “is a country that needs to have fun because it has been suppressed for a long time.” Social Circus engages with kids who work all day to support their families and have little time to play. The United Nations, Jules reminds me, has stated play is a universal right which so many kids miss out on.
Social Circus Yangon is all about inclusiveness, everyone is involved and welcome, regardless of race, age, class or ability.
The long term aim is to build a locally-led programme. Jules wants Burmese people to “continue and to run the programme and make it in their own way.” The real value in the idea is to get the local people behind it, to provide a way for them to make some income out of it while helping each other.
There are obvious challenges to operating in Yangon. Getting around Yangon, a chaotic city with overloaded roads proves costly. Finding the time to work with children is difficult due to school and their work commitments. Often working at night is prohibited due to power cuts. Space to work, particularly with disabled participants, is in short supply. Increased funding would greatly ease some of these issues.
Jules came round to crowdfunding through TheaterAid’s free webinar about how to make a successful crowdfunding campaign. From the webinar Social Circus Yangon went to StartSomeGood for “the good social ethic they have in the work they do” and their low commission fee of 5%. Jules says they have been very supportive: “when we proposed our campaign they reviewed it and we received a personal email back suggesting a few improvements that we could make.”
The money people donate towards Social Circus helps with the travels costs, translators and the ability to meet and extend its impact. Jules donates his time to this great cause. It will allow Social Circus Yangon to become more established and keep on doing its great work.
If you would like to help ensure at risk and disadvantaged children in Yangon have fun you can contribute to Social Circus Yangon’s crowdfunding campaign here. A dollar in Myanmar goes a very long way; the average wage is $3.50 US per day.
Author’s Note: Some minor adjustments have been made for clarity.