On the road to Nu Po camp
For me, one of the experiences I was most excited and intruiged about on my Spark Circus adventure was the opportunity to perform, teach and spend the night in a refugee camp. Nu Po camp, about 6 hours away from where we are in Mae Sot, is home to approximately 14000 refugees, some of which have been living in the camps for over 10 years. Those who were born here haven’t known any other life. Thanks to the amazing work of Andrea, our circus leader, and her friends both within and outside of Nu Po, this year we were giving the honour of actually sleeping overnight in the camp.
After taking the very hilly and windy journey through the mountains, with 3 trucks piled full of hoops, fire tools, toys as well as all of our group, we arrived at Nu Po.
I had no real preconception of what the camp was going to look like and yet I was still surprised by what I encountered. It was like a large village, with small packed dirt roads lined with bamboo houses on stilts.There were lots of shops selling beautiful traditional Karen skirts (which I gladly bought) as well as food,personal items, electronics and cooking equipment. Goats and ducks and chickens and dogs and cats and pigs wandered about, adding to the general background noise of the place. Tea shops and little cafes served food, coffee and desserts.
Everywhere I walked, I saw people walking together – families, mothers and babies, friends – and of course, being so foreign and colourful, I got lots of stares. But one smile or silly face from me and the stares turned into smiles. I immediately felt so welcomed by everyone that I encountered where ever I was in the camp, and this continued throughout my entire stay.
Rocking the day show and teaching workshops
We headed over to a massive open area to find a lovely sandy stage set up for our next to a massive mountain. We had hundreds of kids and adults surround our 360 stage, including groups that climbed up the rocks and trees to watch from above.
Our show was our clowniest yet, in my opinion, and we got lots of laughs and smiles throughout. My finale was a big hoop stack, where Emily, Bags and Ariel all split multiple hoops then threw them onto me.
We took our toys out into the crowd afterwards and began to teach workshops. It was very intense to carry out a big armful of hoops and have hundreds of children grab them in a mad frenzy! But once I started to teach, all the kids were so responsive and really open to learning how to hoop. They all learned my beginner hoop sequence and we danced around like maniacs for about an hour.
Fire spectacular! Performing for thousands
We were so lucky to have an amazing concrete stage to perform on for our fire show! My hoop act was the opener and I spied a few hundred people cheering and clapping along, but by the end of our hour and a half show, there were thousands watching. The energy was crackling through the audience and through us as we spun hoops, staffs, poi, fans, candles and other toys to rocking tunes. The big finale which included a fire skipping rope, dragon staff, a fire umbrella on stilts and much more, went off with a bang, and we took our bows to rapturous applause.
Our team has come together so beautifully throughout this project and I felt this show was the culmination of all of our hard work, determination and passion for what we do. Spark rocks!
After coming down from our fire high, we all bedded down in a massive bamboo hut on stilts and crashed out, exhausted.
The beautiful people of Nu Po
I woke at the crack of dawn and joined a few of the Sparkles on the trek for coffee. We found a little tea shop serving hot chinese donuts, which we dunked in sweet coffee, and watched a troupe of baby goats skip around on the street in front of us. I walked up through an amazing little market, where fresh river fish flopped in buckets next to squarking chickens and rows of vegetables sat next to hot plates cooking up delicious roti.
I drank chai in another tea shop and chatted to a lovely Karen man who learned all of his English from watching films. He told me he thought the Aussie accent was the most difficult to understand, and that he finds it so funny that we pronounced ‘mate’ as ‘mat’, as in “Howyagoingmat?”
I joined a few other Sparkles and was invited into the home of a Karen woman, Susan, who has spent the last 3 years in the camp. Her English is excellent – she studied history at University in Burma – and she was so welcoming of all of us, giving us coffee, playing us music and adding us as friends on facebook!
On the walk back through the village to where we were staying, I was honoured with another experience. A lovely man who we were chatting to about football/soccer (a super popular past time for teenage boys in the camp), gave me a football shirt from the Burmese National Association of football – the team he used to play for in Burma. The team was sponsered by the foundation created by Aung San, Aung San Suu Kyi’s father. I am going to treasure that shirt. Thanking him, I looked through my bag for a suitable item to gift to him – a big red clown nose! We both put on our respective gifts and continued walking down the street.
Sadly, it was time to leave Nu Po camp. We donated about </span>200 hoops, 80 sets of poi and many staffs, which will be distributed fairly among the schools in the camp. After packing our trucks (much easier after donating all our toys), and saying our goodbyes, it was time to wind our way back to Mae Sot
These two days at Nu Po are the highlight of my trip so far, and are up there with the most amazing experiences I have had in my life. I wish I had much more time to spend with the children in the camps, teaching them skills and just playing with them. And more time to connect with the fascinating adults who have been through so much, and have so much to share and teach me.
Interestingly, while in the camp I didn’t see any extreme examples of abject poverty, or any problems with violence, drugs or criminality. However, I do realise that my experience was cushioned by the people who were showing us around and looking after us. From what I hear, Nu Po, just like so many communities around the world, has it’s bad and dangerous side.
I really hope that next year’s Spark Circus project will have that chance to spend a longer time in Nu Po. I would absolutely love to be a part of it – whether that be in my physical presence (hopefully!) or by supporting the project as much as I can in fundraising and general awareness.
We have one more week left of the project – touring more schools, including one built on a dump site – so stay tuned for more updates.
And, as always, you can donate to Spark via the website www.sparkcircus.org
Love to you all,