Cirkus – a unique tool for integration

From 11 to 163. This is by how much the number of children who are training with Cirkus Unik’s circus school has increased in only three semesters. And with support from the City of Gothenburg's focus on social enterprise, there are now even more children who will have the opportunity to develop through circus training. “The circus is a cultural form that integrates and creates social miracles. And our vision is to create a circus building in Gothenburg where everyone can be a star,” says Elin Lütke at Cirkus Unik.
Socialt företagande syftar till att främja affärsidéer för samhällsnytta i Göteborg.

 It is difficult not to be deeply moved when talking with Elin Lütke, who operates Cirkus Unik in Gothenburg together with her husband, Jailton Carneiro. Their life is a little like a fairytale “A boy from a poor area finds his dream in the circus and meets a socially engaged girl. They fall in love, travel the globe with a world-renowned circus troupe and have two lovely girls. They settle in Gothenburg and start a circus school that quickly becomes extremely popular.

This is where the traditional fairytale would end. But for us in Gothenburg, instead, this is where the story starts. And this is really fortunate for us. Because we have gotten a unique circus in our city.

From slum to circus world
And success has come quickly. Just five years ago, Gothenburg, became the new home of Swedish-Brazilian, Elin, and her Brazilian husband, Jailton. Jailton was raised in poverty in the  shanty towns of Salvador, but always had the dream of becoming a circus performer. Thanks to his natural talent, he received a scholarship at the age of twelve, which gave him the opportunity for an education in the circus, which eventually led to him becoming a teacher.

Cirkus as a tool to improve society
Elin, who has a Swedish mother and a Brazilian father, grew up in Brazil and saw, at an early age, that there were many children living under difficult conditions.

“I saw the injustice in Brazil, a country with enormous poverty and where many children suffer. And it became so obvious that these children had such a different life than the one I lived. Then I worked as a volunteer in São Paulo for several years. My life's mission somehow became finding some way to fight this injustice. So at that early age I laid the foundations of the social involvement I have had with me throughout my life, that my husband and I continue to work with today, where we have the circus as a tool for creating a better society and social environment,” says Elin.

Chose Gothenburg over all the other cities in the world
Elin and Jailton met through the circus and had a travelling circus life together with the famous Canadian group, Cirque du Soleil. During the years of touring, the couple’s two girls were born. But it was when the girls got to be a little older that the decision to settle down permanently somewhere became increasingly important. But the question was where? Where would they settle down after many years of circus life on the road? Where do you really call home?

“We had travelled around the world for five long years. We had been away from Brazil for a long time and we both liked Sweden. So we decided to settle down in Gothenburg,” says Elin.

“I wanted to finish my Masters Degree in Global Studies and Jailton wanted to start a circus school. I don’t actually believe that I understood that we had such an important role in the city with our idea of a circus school for children,” says Elin.

“In Brazil, you don’t think that there is any social injustice in Sweden. But we saw relatively quickly that there is great cultural diversity in Gothenburg, but it is isolated in different neighbourhoods in the city. And there are very few opportunities for people to get to meet in a natural way, across borders. And that is something that reduces understanding and increases prejudice,” emphasizes Elin.

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“Cirkus is a fantastic tool that can do social miracles. And we work a lot in groups with building human pyramids, acrobatics and juggling, so group collaboration and trust is very important. We simply give young people the opportunity to grow together,” says Elin.

Collaboration and trust
At the circus school, children of all ages work together. Cirkus Unik collaborates with several neighbourhoods and with culture schools and has, among other things, also started a circus school for children seeking asylum in the Biskopsgården area.

“Cirkus is a fantastic tool that can do social miracles. And we work a lot in groups with building human pyramids, acrobatics and juggling, so group collaboration and trust is very important. We simply give young people the opportunity to grow together,” says Elin.

Circus is a language that everyone can speak
“Circus is a language that everyone can speak and self-confidence is strengthened very much by the circus. The differences in all of us are appreciated because it is so good to be different and unique, it is integrating in itself and everyone can be stars in their own way,” says Elin.

With a focus on sustainable business
Cirkus Unik is not only supported by the City of Gothenburg's investment in social entrepreneurship through The Brewhouse Award, but is also, supported by the organisation, Reach for Change, and others.

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“Thanks to the support we have received, we can now concentrate on the development of our circus concepts in peace, without having to worry too much about finances. This helps us to focus our work on the right things, and gives us the time to ensure that our circus activities will  be sustainable over the long-term,” says Elin.

“Thanks to the support we have received, both financially and for business development, we can now concentrate on the methodology and the development of our circus concepts in peace, without having to worry too much about finances. This helps us to focus our work on the right things, right now, and gives us the time to ensure that our circus activities will also be sustainable over the long-term,” says Elin.

At the end of 2016 they will have a joint show with all the groups of children from all the different neighbourhoods, with the circus as a platform for a major project that integrates the entire city.

“We also see opportunities for inter-sectoral integration, where various cultural forms such as dance, music and circus arts could meet,” says Elin.

Circus meeting for increased tolerance
“We have many possibilities; this can become very significant. Intolerance in a society actually increases because we do not meet each other. We need to have more interaction, across borders,” says Elin.

We will see much more of Cirkus Unik in the future. What is happening now is just the beginning of the magical circus trip that Gothenburg is embarking on.

Cirkus Unik has received both financial support and business development support from the City of Gothenburg's focus on social enterprise. They also won a prize in the category, Social Entrepreneurship, in The Brewhouse Award 2015.

Here, you can read more about the focus on social entrepreneurship in the City of Gothenburg >>

You can find more information about Cirkus Unik here >>

You can find more information about The Brewhouse Award 2015 here >>

You can find more information about Reach for Change here >>

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