Social Circus in Thessaloniki
Anais is a passionate young leader from Berlin, Germany, whose experience with education was anything but ordinary. While most children went to a school and received a ‘formal education’ that revolved around grades and exams, Anais spent most of her life in a circus. To her, education and learning often exist outside of the school system in a space that encourages individuality, promotes talent and accepts people as they are, regardless of their background, mental or physical ability or financial status.
Her experience led her to become deeply passionate about circus pedagogy. She enrolled in a program at the Circus Academy of Berlin where she learned about the benefits of cultural education on children’s personal development and well being, and how it provides therapeutic benefits and joy to people of all ages. Anais understood her non-formal education through the circus as a privilege which marginalised communities did not have access to. This realization became more vivid when she interned at an alternative art space, Fix in Art, in Thessaloniki, Greece, where she was developing circus arts programs for the local community.
Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, is known by Greeks as the ‘Mother of Migration,’ owing to its centuries long history of providing refuge to those fleeing persecution and conflict. Today, it’s home to 16,000 asylum seekers and refugees. A population in flux, many struggle to adapt to Greek culture, or learn the language. Anais witnessed this and grew very concerned about the children and adolescents in these communities. Deprived of play, isolated and often lacking basic reading and writing skills that would allow them to be considered for any form of formal education.
This is when she decided to create a two months long circus arts program, teaching the Roma and refugee communities about the pedagogy of the circus, helping them develop social competencies while having fun at the same time. The ultimate goal was to develop a circus network that brings together the Roma and refugee community with the locals through the circus arts. “By including Roma and refugee children and adolescents and Greek locals in the activities community bonds can be formed and stigmas can be overcome,” remarked Anais.
In the pilot sessions she taught participants skills like juggling, body expression and aerial silks for beginners. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Anais then launched a Circus Carousel Workshop series offering different disciplines and ways of learning so that everyone can find something they like to learn. She had been paying for the tools needed out of pocket, but as the workshops got bigger, she needed more tools and more trainers. This is when she found the Peace First platform and applied for a mini grant to help fund these costs.
Anais feels the workshops are succeeding in creating a culture of equity and inclusivity in learning. “Everyone should have the opportunity to feel appreciated as part of a group, to be picked up where they are, to expand skills and further individual talents and interests - to achieve personal fulfillment - in favour of a society that values diversity,” she said. The workshops provide a space for developing both skills and personal, human connections. “We’re learning but we’re also building a community.”