For a group of children that began practicing gymnastics in the streets of Awassa, Ethiopia, the reality of their daily lives was sobering. Many were hungry and unable to afford an education, while others had lost family members to AIDS or Ethiopia’s turbulent history. By 2002, however, the troupe had parlayed these experiences into performance art, delivering critical HIV/AIDS awareness messages to their community. Thus, the AIDS Education Circus was born.
Through a variety of partnerships, the group – now touring as One Love – has established the Debub Nigat Circus & Vocational Training Center, a place where others can learn the the circus-meets-advocacy trade; the Awassa Children’s Center, an orphanage for children who have lost their parents to AIDS; and the Awassa Youth Campus, where children from all tribes, religions and social strata can come together and participate in theater, music, visual and martial arts and sports, as well as receive academic support, AIDS education and social counseling. Collectively, these initiatives have resulted in a pathway to education and employment for hundreds of Awassan children.
Since 2002, One Love has performed for hundreds of thousands of people in markets and schools throughout Ethiopia, worked with the United Nations in Sudan’s Sherkole Refugee Camp, performed at the National Theater of Ethiopia, and seen graduates of their vocational center go on to star in circuses both in Europe and the United States.
Their awareness messaging has also come to include khat addiction, female circumcision, forced marriage, deforestation, and gender equality. With this AWB grant, the group will create and tour new circus works at festivals worldwide, while continuing to educate Ethiopians of all ages and walks of life about the threat of HIV and harmful traditional practices.