June 2016 - Red Nose Foundation

Diary from Cambodia

From March 27, 2016 through May 13, 2016, April Yanah and Wawan Kurniawan spent 6 weeks in Battambang, Cambodia with Phare Ponleu Selpak, a Cambodian Social Circus. During their stay in Cambodia, they taught circus classes, studied traditional Cambodian dance, and developed a 40 minute street show to be performed as part of the Tini Tinou International Circus Festival in three major cities across Cambodia. April and Wawan began at Red Nose when they were still in elementary school and now, 8 years later, are full time circus instructors for the foundation. Below is April’s explanation of her experience.


I was scared, I was nervous. It was the first time I had traveled abroad by myself. Well, Wawan and I, but there was no Ka Dedi, no Ka Dan, not any other senior teacher of Red Nose. Not to mention my limited skill in English. Everything seemed so hard. I kept wondering, “Will I arrive in Cambodia? Will I misunderstand instructions at the airport and end up on the wrong flight?”

But despite my trepidation, we navigated the airport together and we landed in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Soon after we arrived, we started our days teaching with Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS), during the 10th anniversary of Tini Tinou Festival. The adventure had begun.

My first day at PPS was hard. I was there to teach basic circus skills. But I was surprised because skills that the Cambodians called basic, were actually very advanced for us at Red Nose. I also had a difficult time communicating with the students, because I don’t speak Khmer. Thankfully, a Cambodian teacher helped us translate while we taught.

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Wawan and I taught acrobatics to the children. It was hard for us, since many of students’ skills were even better than us. Even though we had less advanced skills, I watched Wawan teach, and he didn’t look ashamed or inferior to the kids. He taught with confidence and bravery. This encouraged me to do better in acrobatics. At Red Nose, our circus classes are unique and different from the classes at PPS. We spend a lot of time focusing on soft skills like self-esteem and teamwork. Wawan and I asked the students to reflect on what soft skills they could gain by practicing acrobatics. This was new for the kids and I think they really benefited from exploring the personal development gained through studying circus. After this, the kids began to really enjoy our classes, we laughed together and shared stories with them. Things were starting to get much better than I had worried about before.

In Cambodia, Wawan and I did not just teach. We also took classes where we gained valuable lessons. Like, when I practiced handstand. I did it for a whole hour! It was really exhausting, but I then realized I could have done less than an hour if I did it in a right way. When I returned to Jakarta, I understood how to teach and do handstands the right way. I also learned contortion, which was really painful. Learning new skills is always fun, and I enjoyed these new lesson so much. Wawan also learned trampoline and advanced Diablo. One day if Red Nose has a trampoline, I am sure he will teach Red Nose kids all the skills he learned.

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During my time in Cambodia, there was a week off where Cambodians celebrated Khmer New Year. It was a nice break after working so hard for the first few weeks. We spent our holiday with other PPS teachers and students, as well as our exchange fellows from Afghanistan. Together, we had a chance to visit a number of tourism destinations in Cambodia, like Banan Temple, Thousand Islands and the center of rice paper home industry, a Cambodian-styled crepes. It was really fun to travel throughout a country I knew nothing about. Wawan and I also used this opportunity to learn a little bit of Khmer from our local friends. Sometimes we also told them a few words in Bahasa Indonesia.

A week after our holiday ended, I took a bus to Phnom Penh by myself. I was invited for Tini Tinou’s opening conference about performing arts and sustainability. There, I was speaking about how I found circus as my way of living and how it changed my life into a better way. It was a memorable experience, speaking in front of performing arts enthusiasts, sharing session with heads of performing arts schools from many countries in the world. Even better, people said my story was inspiring.


One of the other speakers was Ka Dan. He was presenting about Red Nose, as well as helping translate what I wanted to say in English. It was such a joy to see Ka Dan in Cambodia. I remembered before my departure, Ka Dan challenged Wawan and I to dare speaking English all the time. Once I met him in person in Cambodia, I greeted him in English, and we had English conversations the whole time, showing what I had practiced during a month being with all foreigners. Ka Dan looked delighted and praised my progress. It boosted my confidence to keep trying to learn more and more.

After the conference, I traveled back to Battambang, and began preparing for the Tini Tinou street parade. I learned from the leader, there would be also artists from France, Australia and Canada joining the parade. I was excited and nervous at the same time. We practiced everyday and I felt that I progressed well.

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Finally, the day of the street parade had come. We walked down the streets of Battambang city center, attracting crowds, making such a spectable that some people stopped their vehicles and took pictures. I felt ecstatic. Every time we reached an intersection, we stopped and made a big circle. Some of us then moved into the middle, showing our skills. Some Cambodian friends did awesome acrobatic moves, some played flute while walking on stilts, some others showed up their ability in contortion.

Before the parade started, Wawan and I had promised each other to go into the middle, and show some of our skills. Once we began the parade, the level of tricks others showed made us feel unconfident to do join, because they were so good!. Every stop, we kept looking at each other but didn’t go into the middle. Until the final stop, I looked at Wawan from across the circle and his eyes said to me, “let’s do it”. So I ran to the middle and he joined me! We both juggled while I stood on his shoulders, we did a few acrobatic tricks that we could do and we were amazed that the crowd cheered and applauded for us, just like they’d done for the others!

For the next 6 days, we performed at parks around the city. In one of the performances, we performed the legend of the King of Battambang, where I played the role of one of the King’s wives, and the most beloved one. To play this role, I had to learn Khmer traditional dance, which was really enjoyable. It surely gave me a new experience of learning different cultures from my own.


Six weeks flew by so fast. I, who was first afraid of this trip, ended up enjoying every moment in Cambodia. It felt really hard when I headed to the airport to return back to Indonesia. There, I learned a lot. The skills, the culture and the language. But, most importantly, I learned to be independent, to be a mature girl and to be brave! I am now ready for my next adventure: a trip to Poland, to participate in the Brave Kids Festival. But this time, Wawan and I will be the chaperones for a group of four younger Red Nose kids. A new challenge and a new adventure. And, I couldn’t be more excited!



Developing Inner Strength through Social Circus

Written by: Dan Roberts (Founder and Executive Director of Red Nose Foundation)

Social Circus refers to a growing movement around the world towards the use of circus arts as a medium for social justice or social good. Using alternative pedagogical tools to work with youth from marginalized communities, living in social or personal risk.


In practice, social circus helps build personal skills that children living in slum communities need to succeed against the many different challenges that await them. From simple benefits like increased self esteem and stronger understanding of teamwork, to more complicated ideas of learning skills, perseverance and the importance of respect and equality; social circus passes on these important lessons to children and young adults through tangible, hands on, experience based learning.

When a child is first engaged to learn basic circus skills, they’re excited to try, but terrified to fail. They often believe that if they try once and don’t succeed, they’ll never be able to accomplish the task. The job of the social circus instructor is to encourage and safely guide the child along the path of learning each new skill. Carefully crafted curriculum is used to ensure that the children are given the opportunity to succeed at early steps, before difficult elements are introduced. Each success empowers the child to confront the next step with more vigor and less fear, propelling the child into a state of ferocious curiosity, letting go of their inhibitions and learning that while each progressive step requires more concentration and an increased effort to learn, anything is possible with clear instructions, a little patience and a lot of courage.

IMG-20160520-WA0000With social circus, children are taught that their successes are shared celebrations and their failures are shared lessons. When children are learning acrobatics, if the pyramid falls, the blame doesn’t lay with the child on top who climbed with the wrong technique, or with the child on the bottom who wasn’t strong enough to hold them up. In fact, they both own the failure. They are taught to communicate about what didn’t work, and why. It is the responsibility of each partner to be better where their partner lacks, catch their partner when they are falling and stand strong together in the face of adversity. The experience of depending and being depended on by your partner shines a new light on responsibility and community.

Performance is a very important part of social circus, whether a short demonstration in front of a small class or a full length show with hundreds of audience members. The children spend days, weeks or sometimes months working on certain tricks or acts. They learn that the performance they have prepared is a gift in which they have the honor of presenting to their audiences. The level of effort they’ve put into the presentation is equated to the value of the gift, and they are proud to give such valuable gifts to their communities. When they stand on stage in front of a crowd, execute the skill they’ve been practicing, and throw their hands up in the air to shout, “tada!” while the audience claps and cheers; their understanding of self worth and hard work is changed forever. The revelation that the children experience on stage; that they are worth something more than their outfit, more than the size of their house or the quantity of their possessions, is indeed an invaluable prize in and of itself.

The lessons taught in the social circus classroom are learned through hands on, actual experiences. This way of learning gives a deep and long lasting impression. It is for all of these reasons that Red Nose teaches social circus as the introductory program for all students who wish to join our organization. Every child, from our kindergarten kids up through our young adults in the vocational program take at least one social circus class each week, because we believe that the lessons learned in this classroom build the foundation to help them succeed at anything they want to accomplish.

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