Circus training helps break down barriers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 April, 2008, 12:00am

Charitable organisation Treats has established a circus team to help children with special needs overcome prejudice.

In the past year, Treats, an organisation dedicated to the development of integrated education in Hong Kong, has recruited 80 children with mental handicaps, autism and learning difficulties.

The children teamed up with 40 volunteers from local companies to form the circus, giving performances in hospitals, elderly homes and at carnivals.

Kris Tong Sung-man, director of Treats, said the circus aimed at breaking down barriers between special-needs children and society.

'In a positive and joyful atmosphere, friendship and trust among special-needs children and ordinary people can be built up much more easily,' Ms Tong said. 'The government policy of settling both ordinary and special-needs children in a classroom would simply intensify the pre-existing bias.'

In a series of training workshops, children and volunteers have been taught the basic skills of diabolo top juggling, spinning plates and ball juggling by a professional circus artist.

Parents and volunteers found the training and public performances boosted children's social skills and confidence.

Nine-year-old Lau Cheuk-tung started to learn circus skills last year and can perform the different tricks skilfully - particularly the art of plate spinning.

Cheuk-tung's mother could not hide her excitement when describing how her daughter progressed after joining the programme.

Mrs Lau said beforehand her daughter could concentrate for only 15 minutes when doing homework, but now could work for more than an hour, and her social skills also have improved.

The circus training has also had a surprising impact on volunteers' families.

Manuel Wong-juan was one of the volunteers. He was initially concerned with communicating the emotional problems of children. However, he was impressed by the children's learning abilities after spending months with them.

'Definitely, they play better than me. And I think they can play much better than most ordinary children,' Mr Wong said.

'I think the performance of the children [with mental problems] has opened many people's eyes.'

Joining the team was also a good learning experience for Mr Wong's family. One of his sons will join the volunteer team next year.

'This will give him an opportunity to learn the importance of acceptance and appreciation of others,' Mr Wong said.

Ms Tong said children with mental problems should have the same rights as other people. But she said the government had ignored their needs.

'The importance of recreation facilities is just as important as medical and rehabilitation services for special-needs children,' she said. 'Sadly, we can rarely find such facilities for them in Hong Kong.'