Guest post by Kaj-Mikael Schutt
Circus Kampot was started just over a year ago. A dream of Kaj-Mikael Schutt and his wife Yun Chantrea after working with Phare Ponleu Selpak. Their idea is to offer the local youth a place to start a healthy and fun hobby which will offer extra income for their families and possibly lead to a career in the arts.
We’re sharing Kaj’s story below.
I started to think about this kind of a project after moving to Kampot with my wife Chantrea. I had been working for Phare Ponleu Selpak for 6 months in Battambang and for Epic Arts two weeks here in Kampot. We wanted to settle in Kampot but I also wanted to use my skills as a circus artist.
I have worked with a lot of different projects involving social circuses. Social Circus means circus studies that do not only concentrate on circus technique and skills but also on the physical and mental well being of the participants. In Finland I worked with retirees, people with disabilites and children of all ages with very different backgrounds. Encouraged by the success of projects like Turun Sirkus and SirkusUnioni back home and Phare Ponleu Selpak and Epic Arts here in Cambodia we set out to start our own small project: Circus Kampot.
In 2013 we bought land on the outskirts of Kampot. A small plot big enough to build a house and a training space. We started to build our house the same year in the fall and we moved in on the 1st of Janurary 2014. We started to have circus classes in March.
Since then we have practiced juggling, diabolo, acrobatics, pair acrobatics and human pyramids. We have our classes during the weekends between 3 pm and 6 pm when it is not too hot and the students can still get back home before dark. The students are very into circus. In the beginning it was of course something new and very different for them since nobody around here has a context about what circus is. Making a difference between just playing around and circus practice was no easy task but during time it has all become clearer.
We had Sothea Nem from Phare visit us just a while ago and Clowns Without Borders Sweden are making a visit next month. In January 2015 we are looking forward to hosting some of the best Finnish acrobats – plenty of inspiration for the students.
This fall we have also started to have English lessons for our students. The English lessons are held by my wife Chantrea and her little sister Vandy. All the lessons are free for our students and are held downstairs in our house.
For the circus lessons we have 10 regular students and another 10 who come along every now and then. It is the maximum what we can have for now since we only have a small space and just me as the regular teacher. Just recently we opened a restaurant at our house and we also rent two rooms to get some income to support our cause. We sell some locally made juggling equipment as well for those who are interested.
Our next move would be the construction of a training space. I have been promoting our cause in Finland since the summer 2013 and we already have a handful of donors and partners – Thank you all supporters! All the donations are saved to cover the construction expenses of the training space later – though we will need more help.
For the students our project is a win-win. They get free education in English and in circus arts. Through English skills they have better opportunities in almost any field of work in Cambodia and abroad. By studying the circus arts they develop good skills in team work, self-esteem, endurance, willpower, body coordination and body control. They will also have the possibility to express themselves through the performances later. The project is also bringing the children and their families together throughout the village community.
Sponsors are difficult to come by in general. We have been searching for over a year for someone to financially or materially sponsor the training space, but for now nobody has taken interest.
All the work done since 2013 has been a huge success though! We have raised a lot of awareness for our project and we’re excited to see it grow and gain more supporters. We have a great time with our students and they are developing every week. We will continue our search for supporters, and the circus lessons will keep on going no matter what!