Area Donors Fund Theater in Zambia

  • Britain's Prince Harry greets organizers at Circus Zambia, a youth organisation in Lusaka, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. Prince Harry is on a state visit to Zambia. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

  • Inside the newly built theater in Zambia, part of a fund-raising effort that involved several from the Upper Valley. (Brooke Ciardelli photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/27/2018 11:01:52 PM
Modified: 11/28/2018 2:03:59 PM

Lusaka, Zambia — For about three years, Circus Zambia has used performance arts to help provide children with the means to escape the sub-Saharan African nation’s slums. On Tuesday, those same children enjoyed a brush with royalty.

A nonprofit company dedicated to teaching circus skills while building other opportunities, Circus Zambia, hosted Prince Harry for a ceremony to open a 250-seat theater built largely thanks to donations from Upper Valley supporters, according to Brooke Ciardelli, a Norwich resident and volunteer Circus Zambia producer and consultant.

Prince Harry, the 34-year-old duke of Sussex and son of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, mingled with about 40 child performers in a ceremony that drew about 200 people, Ciardelli said. The prince, who is president of The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust — which aims to help enable young leaders within the 53 Commonwealth nations to accomplish their hopes and dreams — then gave a short speech, signed a newly painted mural and joined members for a series of photos.

“We were expecting something very controlled and formal, but he was so warm and effusive with the everyone,” Ciardelli said in a Tuesday phone interview, several hours after the ceremony. “He talked to all the kids in the walkway leading to the theater, shaking hands with guys on stilts. They were so fun. Some did flips off a teeter board for him, and there were clowns and jugglers. He was really impressed and hung out for about two hours.”

The visit was part of a two-day tour of Zambia by Prince Harry, who also met with a group of the country’s military veterans, toured a technology and entrepreneurial center and attended a reception celebrating ties between Britain and Zambia, according to The Associated Press. Zambia was known as Northern Rhodesia when it gained independence from Britain in 1964.

Three of Circus Zambia’s five co-founders were raised in the Chibolya section of Lusaka, a slum at the center of a 5-mile radius in which 85 percent of residents are age 14 or younger, according to Ciardelli. Some don’t know their parents or birthdays.

Ciardelli, a freelance theatrical director who co-founded Northern Stage in White River Junction, first worked with Circus Zambia co-founders Gift Chansa, Amos Malokwa and Benard Kaumba at an international arts festival about four years ago. She later was named its American producer and artistic consultant and has organized several trips to Zambia for aspiring performers from the Norwich-based Van Lodostov Family Circus Camp, most recently during February vacation 2017 (a Cholera outbreak prevented a similar trip last year, but another is planned for this winter).

In summer 2016, Ciardelli invited Circus Zambia members to stay with host families in the Upper Valley for two months and perform shows and workshops at venues such as Colburn Park in Lebanon, the Norwich Fair and Storrs Pond Recreation Area in Hanover.

“We passed around a hat for donations at these events, and we noticed that there was a lot of money in the hat at the end of the day,” Ciardelli said. “We thought, ‘This is really exciting’ and decided to start a fundraising campaign for a building we could use for a creative space. The fact that we’d be raising money for something with some permanence, we knew would generate some enthusiasm.”

It did. The campaign yielded $125,000, enough to purchase a property about a 10-minute drive from Chibolya and renovate it into an arts hub with plumbing, electricity and a small dormitory. While Circus Zambia members don’t live at the facility, they stay there when necessary.

“If a performance ends after dark, it’s really not safe for them to go home,” Ciardelli said.

After sharing stories and photos of the Circus Zambia hub with people back in the Upper Valley, Ciardelli said, the organization received “another swell of support” that generated an additional $125,000, allowing the organization to build the 250-seat theater that was christened on Tuesday.

“Almost all of the (total) donations were from donors from the Upper Valley — all but about $5,000,” Ciardelli said. “It’s pretty incredible how much support it’s gotten back home.”

Circus Zambia offers job opportunities in the form of paid performances as well as other gigs that may arise as a result of the group’s travels, Ciardelli said.

For example, teen performer Patrick Chikoloma toured with Circus Smirkus after connecting with the Greensboro, Vt.-based youth touring circus company during his stay in the Upper Valley.

In addition to fun and creative training programs ranging from basic juggling to high-flying acrobatics, Circus Zambia also stages social and educational programs, such as HIV/AIDS prevention workshops and a scholarship fund to help kids attend school.

“There’s no free public education there. It’s about $100 per year for tuition, books, uniform and shoes. A lot of (donors) like the idea of getting a kid through school for $100,” Ciardelli said.

Ciardelli said the group continues to work on developing programs that may lead to more long-term employment opportunities.

“You can capture the kids’ imaginations and engage them, but at some point they need to earn a living in order to break out of the cycle,” she said.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.




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