Circus and music therapy uplifts kids in Kenya

The drumbeat gets louder. The kids toss and turn. Their bodies contour in different shapes. They use their strength to build human pyramids. The crowd applauds. The performers bow down. The smiles are priceless. It seems like a good show for a circus, but it’s a breakthrough in a children’s home. 

By Ayen dela Torre, republished with permission from Global Gratitude Alliance

Maisha, our children’s home partner in Kenya, cares for twenty-two children who were orphaned mainly by HIV/AIDS, conflict and extreme poverty. They are provided with shelter, food, and education in a semi-rural farm environment outside of Nairobi.  These kids have gone through immense grief and trauma. Aside from basic necessities, they have unique psychosocial needs.

In 2013, Maisha introduced weekly drumming and acrobatic classes taught by local Kenyan professionals. One of the teachers they partnered with was Peter Waithaka, more commonly known as "Doc". Doc was a former member of the Kenya national acrobatic team called African Sakata Acrobats. He is currently a social entrepreneur, working on other projects that address educational and life skill needs among Kenya's underserved youth.

With the help of Doc and local drumming teacher, Robinson Owino, or "Robbie", the project has been a success. The classes not only help the kids learn how to do somersaults and synchronize the beat of the drums, it also helps develop their self-esteem. The kids learn about teamwork and the value of support in a community. These classes are also good for the community because they provide employment to the locals as well as inspiration. "The smiles they give us after learning a new acrobatic stunt or pyramid give us strength to persevere and be there for next class," said Doc. The teachers have become role models for the kids to look up to. And the experience brings joy to the children’s lives by providing a fun and healthy environment for them to heal.
One of the Maisha girls was homeless, orphaned and exploited by the age of nine.  Five years later, despite making overwhelming progress in adapting to home life at Maisha, she still suffers from deep emotional trauma. She has a difficult time focusing in school and at home. Yet for the first time, her teachers are seeing her blossom in the acrobatic class.

They observe that some of the other youth, who are academically challenged and started school at a later age, are also doing well in these classes. Acquiring new skills and thriving in a new environment has helped them believe in their own potential. Our hope is that these experiences will guide them to make positive choices in the future.

In other parts of the world, Circus therapy is proving to be an effective tool for psychotherapeutic healing. Clowning about has helped boost confidence and encourage camaraderie among Finland’s disaffected youth as well as the elderly. Women in London who are suffering from depression are learning to fly trapeze while building their confidence and strength, and moving them towards employment. Young people at risk have discovered a safe haven to find their balance at Halifax’s Circus Circle.

Life can be a great balancing act and at some point, people find themselves walking on a tightrope. But it’s inspiring to know that there are many ways to help people make it all the way across such as teaching acrobatics to a little girl in Kenya to help her believe in herself.