7 December 2012

Kenya: Mighty Jambo Circus Academy - Where Students Defy Gravity Every Day

Said Mwinyi builds strength by balancing a rock on his head. Strength training is an integral part of the practice at Mighty Jambo.Photo/Jennifer Huxta

Winnie Migalusya texts a friend while Milkah Wanjai balances on her head. With limited equipment, students get creative and work together for strength training and balance exercises.Photo/Jennifer Huxta

In synch, Magdalena Njeri and Dorcus Nyambura dance suspended from aerial silks. Edwin Mutesia and Enose Madaga chase each other around the hall on unicycles. This is Mighty Jambo Circus Academy, where students defy gravity every day.

Edwin, 23, was born in Kariobangi South. Orphaned, Edwin was sent to Tumshangilie Children's Home but he ran away and lived in the street. "I started hustling--carrying groceries, working on matatus, washing cars," he says. At the home, Edwin had worked with Mathias Kavita, an acrobatic trainer, and Mathias found him and encouraged him to audition for Mighty Jambo.

This was in early 2010, when the fledgling school was looking for students for its two-year professional acrobatic training programme. Since then, Mighty Jambo has provided an alternative space for kids and youth to engage in art and sports and learn a trade.

Students get room and board, and from 5.30am to 6.30pm, they practice handstands, juggle, and perform acrobatic acts on the aerial silks, unicycle and tight rope. Via the outreach programme, the students teach workshops with younger kids.

Mighty Jambo Circus Academy is based in Githurai slum, a busy residential and market area, 12km from central Nairobi. Sukuma wiki, mangoes, roasted maize, blankets, and calendars of Jesus are sold from rickety stands.

Yet, half of the population (of about 320,000) lives below the poverty line. Residents deal with a lack of adequate housing and sanitation issues.

Many families cannot afford to pay school fees for their children. Mighty Jambo seeks to improve the socio-economic status of Kenyan youth directly affected by poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy.

Magdalene Njeri grew up in Kayole and attended Shining Hill High School. "I dropped out because of school fees," she says. Njeri is more self-confident since arriving at Mighty Jambo. "I can perform in front of a crowd. Before I was shy, I could not talk. At Mighty Jambo, I was chosen as captain so I had to sometimes lead [the group] if the teacher isn't there."

Enose Madaga, 16, grew up in Kayole. Enose says his behavior has improved since arriving at Mighty Jambo. "I'm different. Where I come from people use... drugs, alcohol. At home, I was disobedient. They taught me good behavior and ... professional skills." Enose's family encourages him. "When I go home, they say, this boy is now tough, an acrobat."

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