A (Social) Circus Troupe Unlike Any Other

When you think of the circus, most people would think of Barnum & Bailey or Cirque du Soleil. Circus acts are usually comprised of acrobats, clowns, animals and death-defying acts. Most people go to the circus to be wowed and entertained, but what if a circus gave back to the performers as well as the audience?

In Ethiopia, Circus Debre Berhan is known as a “social” circus troupe. The acts may be similar to what can be seen in any circus, but the performers stand out. The performers for Circus Debre Berhan are all physically handicapped in one way or another. While circuses have had their share of acts that could be classified as “freak shows”, this is not the case for this troupe.

One of current performers, Tameru Zegaye, was born with his legs turned inward, a physical disability that should have hindered him from being active, but instead propelled him to get past it. Zegaye started out begging on the streets in order to survive, but his persistence to overcome his physical limitations paid off when he was discovered by an American doctor who performed surgery on his legs that made it possible for him to walk. The success of the surgery enabled him to get to Addis Ababa where he was asked to be a part of the circus troupe. For Zegaye, the circus changed his life, providing him with a future which would not have been possible had he remained in his village.

Circus Debre Berhan is seen as a “Social Circus” because it promotes the idea that “young people develop a sense of belonging, freedom, creativity, perseverance and discipline”. One thing that separates this troupe from others is that they don’t use ropes and nets as part of their acrobatic acts. Instead, they rely on their fellow acrobats to help them perform their acts, trusting them to be each other’s anchor.

To date, Circus Debre Berhan continues to employ children who are deaf and have physical disabilities because it gives them a sense of belonging and purpose. Their commitment to bring joy and entertainment to audiences everywhere proves that their disability does not define them, it only strengthens their resolve to be the best they can be for themselves. That’s my view on this, what’s yours?

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