CAPTION: This women’s month Zip Zap Circus School puts the spotlight on its co-founder and CEO Laurence Estève. [Photo credit: Anne Barbotteau]

“When you see a child succeed, overcome a fear or a disadvantage, or just smile, things become simple,” says Estève, reflecting on what has driven her passion to co-found and lead one of the first social circus schools in the world for the past 24 years. “I have persisted because I’ve seen how it has helped so many children and how much joy it has brought to so many people,” she adds.

Estève founded the Zip Zap Circus School in Cape Town together with her husband, Brent van Rensburg in 1992 with the intention to foster social change through the medium of circus arts. Life skills and professional circus acts have been taught to children from all backgrounds at no cost. In the last financial year over 1 000 children, many from disadvantaged areas, received circus training and more than 95 000 people saw Zip Zap perform live. Estève humbly admits that she prefers being behind the scenes, rather than under the spotlight. “Brent is the public figure and I am the back bone at Zip Zap,” she says.

Zip Zap and Estève’s own contribution towards using the circus arts to unify young people and build communities has not gone unnoticed. Zip Zap received the Business Day Award for Arts Education in 2001 and in 2005 the Circus School was a finalist in the Proudly South African Bridge Builder of the Year award. The following year Zip Zap won Sappi’s Ideas that Matter award.

“When we started Zip Zap in Cape Town in 1992, I saw so many gaps that needed to be filled and was happy to participate in the rebuilding of the nation,” says Estève who was born and grew up in France. “I’ve always felt welcome in South Africa. I don’t see South African, or French or race or religion, I just see youngsters.” In 2012 Estève was awarded the Knight of the National Order of Merit for more than 15 years of exemplary public service by the French President and in January next year she will join an esteemed judging panel with some of the most acknowledged ‘circus people’ in the world at the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain in Paris. “I am extremely honoured to have been invited and am super excited about going to watch the best acts in the world and score them,” she said.

In her position as CEO of Zip Zap, Estève leads with a vision and passion for children. A great deal of patience, excellent communication skills and the ability to juggle incredibly tight financial budgets are also required for the role. Seeing happy children make positive and constructive changes in their own lives is the most rewarding part of the job. Estève adds that some of her most special moments are when Zip Zap alumni send her a wedding invitation or pop into the dome to greet their circus family. As with any NPO there are challenges and for Estève, this centres around finances: finding donors and managing the day-to-day details with insufficient funds, making it hard when Zip Zap employees are not paid what they deserve.

A personal highlight for Estève was in 2002 when Zip Zap performed at the international circus festival in Monaco. “There we were, in the heart of the circus world; Wandisile Mtshula was carrying the new South African flag at the opening ceremony and our first professional troupe performed for Prince Raynier – what an honour.” Another special memory was when Estève personally convinced the organisers of Cirque de Demain’s international circus competition to include two Zip Zap performances in their 2007 competition. Zip Zap duo; Kagisho Arnold Mutlane and José Baptista do Rego, went on to win the prize for the best comedy bench act, beating the Italian, Russian and American performers. “They were booked for the next four years in professional shows across Europe after that. I was over the moon with pride and joy,” says Estève.

When asked what would make her day, she is quick to explain: “There must be a person out there who wants to support Zip Zap financially over a three year period? I’d love to meet that person. Our yearly budget is so small for a big corporate and Zip Zap has so much to give.”

Check out the Zip Zap YouTube channel here to find out more.

To make tax deductible donations to Zip Zap, visit the website or contact 021 421 8622 or donate via Thundafund here.

Find Zip Zap on Facebook