29/05/2015 09:07 BST | Updated 27/05/2016 06:59 BST

A Circus School That Brightens Up the Townships

How juggling and acrobatics are helping reconcile the colors of the rainbow nation

I took a plane to Cape Town, South Africa last November: I had to do an internship abroad in order to complete my bachelor's degree. I clearly recall myself emptying the tissue box placed next to me in the Uber cab and the worried driver glancing at me in the mirror. Saying goodbye is not something that becomes easier with practice. But now that I see the end of my stay coming closer every day, I am beginning to think I should plan ahead and go Kleenex shopping today.

Yes, inequalities are not a myth and unmovable townships are still facing wealthy residential neighborhoods. But many other things have changed and successful projects have been blooming for a longer time than you may think.

The only thing I knew was that I was to join a social circus school's admin team and somehow help them with the few things I had learnt so far. I did not know precisely what it would entail, whether I would be allowed leave days and if I could wear shorts to work.

I was far from imagining such a vibrant and impactful organisation, feeling so much at the right place, I who could not even juggle one ball. I reconnected with my artistic side, can juggle three clubs and do handstands now. I became familiar with sunsets on the beach and braais -the rest of the planet says barbecues.

I wanted to provide more than pure material help. The Zip Zap Circus School reaches deeper into what other NPOs barely touch on the surface, making social change a reality.

  • With more than 6 million South Africans currently living with HIV, this sickness is a real challenge for the country. The epidemic has disastrous consequences in the townships. It is in Khayelitsha, a one million inhabitants township in the suburbs of Cape Town that Zip Zap runs its flagship program. Using circus as an incentive for kids to go to Doctors without Borders clinics, literally makes the pill easier to swallow. They get the efficacy of their anti retro-viral tested and circus has proven positive effects on their health status. They get to be treated for what they are - children - and not patients. At the culmination of a year's worth of effort and training, the Ibhongolwethu (« our pride » in Xhosa) program allows all these brave acrobats to shine on stage on World's Aids Day.

  • Not only do some of their programs focus on gathering kids from different backgrounds together to learn circus skills, they also keep them off the streets, out of gangs and away from drugs. Violence seems to have become a common place thing, people getting stabbed in the face because they don't want to give up their cell phones, or simply don't have anything on them is quite frightening.
  • Circus proves to be a successful alternative way of education to reach youth-at-risk. Zip Zap provides them not only with circus skills but with life skills and instills values such as trust, honesty, self-confidence, teamwork and discipline. The young adults enrolled in the « Dare to Dream » program receive professional training and are now acclaimed artists performing all around the world.


Two new friends attending a Beginners class

December 5th 2014 was the first anniversary of Nelson Mandela's death. Zip Zap's original social initiative pursues Tata's project and participates in taking care of and reconciling all the colors of the rainbow nation.

Madiba, who watched a Zip Zap show for his 77th birthday, can be sure that good work is happening and that great things are on their way.

Remember it's all about love and trapeze.