Karina Strong performs at the Little Woodstock busker festival in Nanaimo earlier this year.

Clowning around

A Nanaimo circus performer travels to Thailand to share joy with thousands of children living in refugee camps

A Nanaimo woman and her family will help bring the joy of the circus to youngsters in Thailand.

Karina Strong, owner of Vesta Fire Entertainment, heads to the South Asian country in January as part of Spark Circus’s work to provide joy and play to thousands of children living in refugee camps along the Thailand-Burma border.

“My background is in social work,” Strong said. “It was a good fit for what I do with Vesta Fire.”

She discovered Spark Circus during a spinning and juggling festival in Vancouver. Strong began practising circus arts about six years ago, beginning with a poi spinning workshop at Soul Sister Studio.

“It was a hobby for about a number of years,” Strong said.

She opened Vesta Fire earlier this year, performing circus arts, like stilt walking, hula hooping and fire spinning, at festivals throughout the summer.

When the opportunity arose to travel to Thailand and share her love of the circus, she jumped at the chance.

Strong’s eight-year-old daughter will perform with her and the rest of the team of circus performers on the tour. Strong’s husband and three-year-old are also travelling.

Organizers required a minimum $1,000 contribution, most of which Strong raised, including a large donation from Cirque du Soleil. All of that money goes toward toys for the children in the camps – Strong and her family pay their own airfare and living expenses.

“Every penny goes straight to the camps,” Strong said.

The group arrives in a new camp each day, armed with hundreds of hula hoops, mask-making kits and other playful items.

The group performs a daytime circus show and then teaches the children some of what they saw. In the evening, the group performs again, this time with fire.

The toys are left behind when the group moves on.

“So that they have play as an outlet,” Strong said.

Spark Circus reaches more than 4,000 children a year, who are held in refugee camps and traumatized by the ongoing war between the Burmese military dictatorship and the region’s hill tribes.

The organization believes that in addition to shelter, clothes, food, education and other basic necessities, children also need hope, joy and play.

The goal is to develop creativity, physical fitness, communication skills, teamwork, confidence and cultural awareness. Play is a big part of a child’s development and the organization hopes to bring a spark of happiness, love and amusement to their lives.

About 20 circus performers from all over the globe are participating in the tour through Thailand.

Aside from the social aspect of the experience, Strong said she is looking forward to sharing skills with other talented performers over the two-month tour.

For more information, or to donate to the tour, please visit http://vestafireentertainment.ca.

arts@nanaimobulletin.com