Spark Circus grew from an idea hatched in the early 2000s at beach resorts on the southern islands of Thailand, where many of the staff are Burmese refugees. Awareness of the plight of these refugees and their families began to emerge, and one of the beach residents, Glenna Crawley, was inspired to take action and create the “Laughing for Life” circus project. Under her guidance, a talented group of fire performers and loving souls staying in the area trouped up north to the Burmese border at Mae Sot to meet and entertain the children in the refugee camps, local clinics and migrant schools, and donate toys and art supplies to these disadvantaged communities.
In 2007, this casual group morphed into Spark! Circus with Andrea Russell as its ringmaster. Andrea and her creative contingent of circus performer friends turned it into an annual visit, inviting and auditioning other skilled and compassionate circus artists to expand the project into a global cultural experience.
Burma has been in a state of civil war for over 60 years and generations of ethnic Burmese have fled to Thailand – in 2014 there were 130,000 refugees in camps, half a million stateless people, hundreds of thousands of migrants with temporary work permits, and countless undocumented workers who fled persecution and war. They lead complicated and uncertain lives without papers, without prospects, without protection. There are many NGOs and charities attending to basic needs of these refugees and their families, but very few that focus on one of the fundamental human rights of children, PLAY.
Spark Circus brings play and smiles to thousands of children every year. We gather volunteer circus performers from around the world and partner with local organizations that provide safe spaces for children – migrant schools, hospitals, community programs, and orphanages, to put on a month of silly playshops and spectacular circus. We visit tiny schools with a dozen kids rescued from the streets, and boarding schools with more than 600 students. We’ve entertained in Mae Tao clinic, at special needs’ centers, and in public parks. Our visits to Nu Po, Mae La, and Umpien refugee camps are truly extraordinary; thrilling audiences in the thousands. We have even crossed the border into Myanmar to perform for Internally Displaced People – refugees who can’t come into Thailand.
In addition to all the pure and simple FUN that the children have learning circus skills, this project is designed to help stimulate and develop their creativity, physical fitness, communication skills, teamwork, confidence and cultural awareness. Play is a fundamental part of children’s development and we are delighted to bring a big spark of happiness, love, amusement and entertainment into these children’s lives and the lives of those who work in the camps and orphanages. Every year, we travel to them to lighten their days and to bring them some magic– and find ourselves profoundly grateful for all the magic and joy they share with us!