Juggling COVID-19 and child protection: Acrobatics Circus Troupe

Country spotlight

ACT's girls team practices at their training ground before the pandemic hits Uganda.ACT's girls' team practices at their training ground before the pandemic hits Uganda.

In Uganda’s largest slum, Acrobatics Circus Troupe (ACT) – an End Violence partner – has strengthened and shifted its programming to support children during COVID-19.

“As schools in Uganda closed their doors in March, a feeling of uncertainty washed over our members,” said Nicole Giusti, ACT’s president. “Where would children’s next meal come from? Where would they go during the day? How would they protect themselves from the virus when most homes don’t have access to running water?”

Since its inception, ACT has used acrobatics to keep children safe. Through daily practices, the organisation pulls its 225 members away from violence and toward productive activities, using profits from performing to pay for school supplies and nutritional support. When COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, however, the organisation needed to rethink its operations, and act quickly to avoid spread among its members.

It’s been a dark moment where the community has been filled with hunger, fear and domestic violence. But we needed to ensure our children knew they were not alone. We chose to stay open and gather the children safely.

Richard Walusimbi, ACT’s vice president and co-founder

Though just over 1,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported in Uganda, more than 54 per cent of residents in the country’s capital live in densely crowded slums. On top of that, more than one-third of Ugandan children live over an hour from a clean water source. And, nearly 30 per cent of children lack access to sanitary toilets or latrines. This makes COVID-19 a looming – and potentially catastrophic – threat if the virus were to spread.

To mitigate risk, ACT set up handwashing stations at their training ground, and taught children about COVID-19 and how to stay safe through proper hygiene practices. The organisation sent information on the virus – and simple mitigation measures – to children’s families and community members, using materials from the Ugandan Ministry of Health to do so.

Children practice socially distanced juggling at the ACT compound.

The organisation also secured clean clothes and sanitation products for children, and began under-going a comprehensive cleaning process with props before and after team practices. In addition, ACT rented two more training spaces to allow for socially distanced practices, teaching members skills from a safe distance.

We have encouraged our children to stay safe, strong and healthy by practicing acrobatics. While they are at practice, we can support them during an increasingly difficult time.

Richard Walusimbi, ACT’s vice president and co-founder

In addition, ACT has continued its food programme to support children who both in and out of school, providing nutritious meals over the weekend and safely distributing food throughout the week. Such nutritional support was often the only meal children had, making a tremendous difference in children’s immunity and health.

“The death and destruction seen around the world from coronavirus has been heart-breaking,” said Giusti. “But I’m encouraged by the strength and determination of ACT’s staff and members. We’ve kept our doors open and have made some tremendous progress along the way.”