Circus Therapy for Refugees Since 2015



People are migrating globally and will continue to do so. Without social support to help refugees heal from their trauma and transition into new environments, mental health issues may develop that will impact all of society. The CircusAid project isn't just about helping refugees assimilate, it is also about protecting the currently residing communities that are receiving refugee populations.

We are here to let refugees know they matter, they are human and deserve to experience not just basic living needs but also the experience of play, joy and creative expression. We value their presence inclusive of their religion, background, socio economic status, personal journey and present unstable living condition.

Occupational  Deprivation 

Occupational deprivation occurs  when  people are unable to engage in activities that give their life meaning. Occupational deprivation  breaks  the  human spirit,  diminishes  the  will  to  live  and  results  in depression  and  mental  illness.  Research  supports that  social  circus  programs  build  resilience,  the acquisition  of  life  skills  and  community  connection among marginalised populations.

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CircusAid reduces the detrimental health outcomes from the refugee experience by creating opportunities for problem solving, teamwork, challenge, and most of all, joy and laughter during the resettlement process.


Since  2015,  CircusAid  has  worked  in  Greece  and  France  engaging  over  3000 Afghani,  Syrian,  Iraqi,  Sudanese,  Eritrean,  and  Ethiopian  political refugees. In 2019 CircusAid began working with environmental refugees in Indonesia initiating social circus programs that are still continuing. Participants  have  reported  increased  levels  of  happiness,  motivation, better  sleep  and  improved  connections  to  their  communities  as  result  of engagement  in  CircusAid programs.

Jill Maglio, Founding Director

Jill  Maglio is  an  occupational  therapist  and  the  founder  of  Holistic  Circus  Therapy  and  CircusAid.  She  has  over  15 years  experience  using  circus  as  an  educational  and  community  building  tool  and  has  trained  nearly  1000 people  internationally  in  the  methodology  she  has  developed.

Jill’s involvement with circus intervention research has been published in the Australian Journal of Occupational Therapy. She has been noted for her innovative work in combining community circus with occupational therapy to promote the acquisition of life skills among diverse populations.

Alberto Garcia, Operations Support

Alberto holds a Bachelor in Electromechanical and Msc in Management Engineering, specialising in social innovation and sustainable operations. He has always been curious about other cultures and connecting with people, sharing ideas and experiences. He has a very entrepreneurial mind, constantly generating new ideas, better when combined with social participation and community interaction.

Alberto has always been interested in circus. In February 2019, he volunteered with the CircusAid project in Lombok and continued with us in Athens for the 2019 residency project. His interests of social participation and community interaction along with circus are a perfect fit for this year’s project in the camps along with strategic planning for future collaborations.

Notable Press

Whilst a certain amount of aid (woefully insufficient as it may be) exists for the clothing and housing of these refugees, opportunities for engagement in activities are few and far between – a lack that can cause physical and mental health problems. However, one woman has now dedicated her time to constructing a program that could viably support refugees in camps everywhere, not so much in terms of the fundamentals, but in terms of recreation, play, and enjoyable occupation where it is needed most. In an environment almost entirely devoid of happiness and enjoyment, Jill Maglio has devised the CircusAid program, which is very much as it says on the tin: a program dedicated to cultivating occupational engagement with the use of Circus activities.


 "The potential benefits of circus therapy include improved emotional health, reestablishing empathy, leadership and trust, and better cognitive function. Maglio recently told VICEmagazine that emotional trauma and lack of basic needs aside, one of the biggest problems refugees face is boredom, which can be detrimental to the brain and lead to atrophy.


 "Have you ever been to the circus and on the way out thought ‘how good was that!’ Not only are the skills fantastic to watch but they are great fun to try too. The colour, the movement, the team work, the sense of achievement as you practice and progress through the skills.Circus skills and arts offer so much as an inclusive activity – the skills gained are only a small part of what circus training offers.


Circus arts may appear to be reserved for gymnasts and risk takers, but it is now being used as a form of therapy for children with ADHD, people with developmental delays and cancer survivors. The difference is that circus arts is more recreational while circus therapy is more therapeutic and designed for people who have special needs.


"An occupational therapist from New York City, Jill used circus skills as therapy in Lesvos. Visit any refugee camp and you'll see that it is in equal measure extremely stressful and extremely boring. "It's like being in solitary confinement," Jill says. "Having nothing to do and being in a positive mental state can be hard enough—but having nothing to do and having the trauma you've experienced, leaving your family, conflict at home, all these unknowns... that's quite maddening."

At first she was shy about bringing out the circus equipment, thinking that people wouldn't want to learn to juggle as they'd be busy being, you know, exhausted and traumatized. "But what I found was there was an abundance of volunteers. The impression I got was that people had nothing to do," says Jill.

"I brought equipment to make 25 hula hoops and as soon as the guys in the camp saw what I was doing, they rushed over to help. They wanted something to do. I also brought feather balancing and juggling balls. The objective wasn't that people learn circus skills, but that people were interacting, and laughing, and smiling. They had a bit of time and respite from the trauma they're experiencing to promote their resilience for the next stage of the journey."


Further Reading

Occupational Therapy and Circus

The UN Refugee Agency