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Circus training is changing the lives of victims of sexual abuse 

June 9, 2017

Digital Reporter

Cover art Samantha Gonzales

The circus came for the girls of Cameleon Association Philippines, a Visayas‑based non‑government organization (NGO) founded by French National Laurence Ligier in 1997. Through contortion, unicycling, acrobatics, juggling and hula hooping, the girls, who were abused sexually in the past, realized their strength and control of their bodies. On stage, they saw themselves beyond the trauma.

“We began the circus training program around ten years ago, and little by little we discovered that the girls who were quite introverted—sexual abuse survivors are often depressed or introverted—through circus training were gaining self‑confidence. They were showing their talent on stage, and to see people admiring them for what they are capable of, not talking about them just because of their past,” Ms. Ligier told SparkUp after the Metamorphosis circus performance held at the Mall of Asia Music Hall on May 29, which featured not only the girls from Cameleon but also self‑trained and professionally circus performers from France and Canada.

Art Samantha Gonzales

It was a French circus that contacted them first, she recalled. Around ten years ago, they told her that France was using circus training as therapy for sexual abuse survivors and asked if she wanted to do the same thing in the Philippines.

“I said why not, but we are not equipped to do that, because here in the Philippines the circus is not as well known as it is in other countries,” she said. “So I told them to come to Iloilo with their equipment and we'll see if our girls and our staff like it. Filipinos like stage performances and dancing, so I knew it would work.” Cameleon built up on that program, inviting more professionals to train and work with their beneficiaries through workshops on different circus skills and how to set up a performance for a large audience.

Art Samantha Gonzales

During the She and She forum held on May 16, Cameleon Association Executive Director Claudine Sabio said that there are currently 110 girls between the ages of 6 to 23 under the organization’s Personal Rebuilding program, which aims to protect sexually abused girls and help them rebuild their lives through providing shelter, education, physical and mental health services, and legal service, among others. In approximately half of the cases that they handle, the perpetrators are members of the girls’ families.

In her presentation, Ms. Sabio shared testimonies of the girls that they have worked with who have regained their strength and their identities through circus training.

“When I performed during the circus—when the audience clapped their hands, when other people smiled at me, shook my hands, congratulated me—it was like I found myself again, I regained my identity. And at the back of my mind, I saw a little light of hope, and little by little, I built myself up again,” shared a girl named Joy.

“The circus has helped me to communicate with other people, because during the practices I need to communicate with the other girls to create a concept, we had to have team work and unity when practicing for the shows,” shared Tin.

Art Samantha Gonzales

While circus training, on its own, does not completely free her from her anxieties and the haunting memories of her abuse, for Ana it was the focus needed to perform circus acts that helped her. “All the negative energies were being pushed away from my mind subconsciously. And then I realized that I was opening myself up again, starting to be myself again, just like an ordinary child would,” she said.

But one does not need to be well-versed in circus training in order to help Cameleon with their noble cause. Ms. Ligier told SparkUp that volunteers who are skilled in sports, handicrafts, performance arts and the like, could go to Visayas and share their talents with the girls and their staff. For volunteers who prefer to stay in Manila, they could help through fund‑raising projects, translation work, writing articles, and raising awareness.

“There’s many ways to help, as long as they have a deep motivation,” Ms. Ligier said.