Spot on solidarity

Insights from the international job-shadowing project in educational circus for young refugees on on the Polish-Ukrainian border

September 2022

Agnieszka Bąk
Man in a clown dress

How to use circus techniques in a traumatic situation? It was one of the questions that participants of the “Spot on – Solidarity” project looked into in September 2022, during their job-shadowing in Przemyśl, Poland. For several days participants followed the circus artists and their workshops in the aid centres for refugees from Ukraine.

Circus is an open, creative and a safe space for working with children where kids can express themselves, their emotions, free their bodies and use imagination – says Tomasz Lubotzki, the coordinator of the project organized by Mobile Circus for Peace and SALTO Eastern Europe and Caucasus Resource Centre. The co-creation of such a space was one of the learning elements of the process undertaken by 12 professional youth workers, trainers, educators and mentors from various countries who came to Poland.

Each of us works in different environments. Some animate using circus techniques, some work in organizations for young people. During this job-shadowing project, we met and exchanged experience and good practices of working with young people, and together we thought about how circus education can help in experiencing extremely difficult times, such as war – says Philippe Teissier from France.

In the spirit of job-shadowing

For a week, the participants formed a small community. They lived in cottages in a rural setting, 20 minutes away from the city. They started each day with meditation, cooking together and circus workshops. They learned to juggle, spin poi, play diabolo, make a hula hoop, perform acrobatics or walk on stilts.

The idea of “Spot on – Solidarity” was to offer practical learning experiences, learning by observing and trying out. In non-formal education it’s called job-shadowing. That is why participants could immediately put the new knowledge and skills into action, going out for a few hours a day to meet refugees.

Changing into colourful costumes, we were transported to the world of magic. The kids were very grateful to us for this time, and it was very emotional to say goodbye to them – says Philippe. We felt that our work really helped those people. Children could present their story with the help of movement, which was not easy to tell – observes Jorge Pozuelo from Spain. In turn, Lidiia Barnychka from Ukraine adds: It was a real challenge for us to learn something completely new on the same day and immediately pass it on to others. The effect, however, was very satisfying. The circus became a playground for children who could break away from the sad reality and enjoy the moment.

Helping others and Mental health

Contact with refugees, in particular with children and their mothers, was very emotional for the participants of the project. Importantly, the organisers did not focus only on the needs of people affected by the war, but also on the well-being of the participants. An essential element of the event was the summary of activities every single day.

Young woman sitting

Every evening we met with our group. We shared the feelings and thoughts that accompanied us during that particular day. It was very important for us not to suppress these emotions – says Viktoriya Nikolova from Bulgaria and Germany. In addition to in-depth conversations, the participants also underwent a little workshop of a relaxing massage and learned how to take care of their own health after returning home. As Philippe recalls, the most emotional moment for him was the meeting on the Polish-Ukrainian border with a group of musicians from New York: Together with them, we were welcoming refugees for several hours, giving them words of support and directing them to the aid centres. We saw the effects of the war with our own eyes. At the same time, we felt sad but also joyful from the feeling of great solidarity all over nations.

Magic on the border

“Mobile Circus For Peace” has been operating in Przemyśl since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. So far, it has attracted circus performers from all over the world who wanted to use their talents, actively contribute and support.

We have received so many compliments and offers of support. People asked questions, shared their comments and ideas about the circus activities at the border. We felt a lot of understanding and openness to cooperation, which motivates us to continue the project and take further steps to maintain the magic of the circus on the border with Ukraine – says Tomek Lubotzki.

Young man writing on a cardboard

To get to know the details of the project on the “Mobile Circus For Peace” one can learn more and get an insight into the work through their website: Among the artists who appeared on the border were the acrobats Leila Koeckenberger and Thibeau Gwin from La Mule Cirque from Lesbos, the magician Eryk from Texas and the dancer Katie from “The Artist without Borders” organization.

The job shadowing project “Spot on – Solidarity” has become an extension of the work of a thriving Mobile Circus and allowed youth workers from around Europe to gain practical experience in humanitarian aid.

There is a huge therapeutic potential in the circus pedagogy. Moving to a colourful tent and learning tricks that require a lot of attention, stimulates and develops imagination and motor expression, allows children to focus only on what is here and now. For a few hours, there is no war for them, they can be children again for a while – sums up Tomasz Lubotzki.

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