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Imagine Dragons: a circus extravaganza and so much more

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The Blue Dragons Global Concern (GC) group we know how generous the community can be - and we know the power of partnerships. After all, this is our sixth year of creative collaboration with Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, which has in turn been built on a partnership that stretches back 15 years at Dover and eight years at East.

Imagine Dragons: a circus extravaganza and so much more

“There aren't many events at the College like this: across countries, across campuses, across schools…K1s sat next to Grade 12s, watching UWCSEA and Blue Dragon kids as  authentic peers and performers, trying their best, making mistakes, recovering and being genuinely celebrated for all of it in front of parents, teachers, fellow students and visitors.” - Niki Dinsdale, University Advisor, East Campus

As a Global Concern (GC) group we know how generous the community can be - and we know the power of partnerships. After all, this is our sixth year of creative collaboration with Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, which has in turn been built on a partnership that stretches back 15 years at Dover and eight years at East. Over this time, the UWCSEA community has worked with Blue Dragon in a variety of ways to raise funds and awareness of their work with street children, impoverished families and victims of trafficking in Vietnam.

In recent years, the relationship has involved Middle School GC students and High School Project Week groups going to Blue Dragon in Hanoi to set up a shared creative focus, and return annual visits to Singapore by groups of Blue Dragon children and staff to join UWCSEA students in photography projects, musical collaborations, Dover’s UWC’s Got Talent show, and East’s Culturama dance show.

Each year, the Blue Dragon staff tell us of the importance of this trip for their children - not just for those that participate, but for those who work through the application process to assess their own readiness for the responsibility of such an experience, and for those children who hear the returnees talk about their time away and imagine a life beyond their own in Vietnam.

The week long visit is about building confidence, developing aspirations, and feeling proud to represent Blue Dragon and children like themselves. And every year, we have found individuals and groups in the school community keen to welcome the Blue Dragon children and help make their trip a success.

But this year was different. This year was special. This year was circus. 

It was the Blue Dragon team - eight children, three social workers and two circus trainers - that set the tone for their November visit, by showing us the special things that partnerships can achieve.  

During the week, we witnessed the power of relationship building across experiences. The fact that two of the staff who visited - Vu and Trong - are former street children was already an inspiring example of how relationships can grow and develop into something far greater.  

We saw the power of relationships across continents with collaborations between NGOs and institutions to create real change and were inspired by how, with sponsorship from the Norwegian agency Norec, Blue Dragon brought along with them a circus trainer, Bunthoeurn, from Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPSA) school - a Cambodian NGO that uses performing arts to help street children. And we were inspired again, by the commitment to change, this international relationship demonstrated because it is a part of a three year exchange with Blue Dragon - who in return have sent some of their now professional hip hop dancers to Cambodia while the Phare trainers have been working on circus skills with the Blue Dragon children. It has become one of Blue Dragon’s most successful outreach programmes.

In the midst of this was East’s Circus Skills Club; where Junior, Middle and High School students meet weekly to leap, dangle, catch and tumble. It’s one thing to fail again and again in a safe space of trusted friends and teachers – and another thing entirely to do so in front of trained professionals, your peers and your community. But that is just what our circus skills students agreed to when they were asked to create a circus show with our Blue Dragon visitors. This led to all sorts of amazing experiences for everyone who bravely stepped on stage before an audience of 300 – such as the student jugglers who performed with a professional Phare circus performer, and Shay, a unicyclist in Grade 6, who said “preparing for the circus with Blue Dragon was a lot of fun! We got to show each other our circus skills and socialise. I think everyone had an amazing time!”

 Our Music Department and students provided a live soundtrack for the circus show, and several primary classes were taught circus skills by the Blue Dragon team – an experience that Grade 4 teacher Jenn McSwain described as "as inspiration to my class in so many ways...What an incredible group of people. Watching how my class responded to and learnt from them was fantastic!”

And imagine our excitement when our GC counterparts at Dover managed to make their UWC’s Got Talent show coincide with the Blue Dragon visit. And the thrill when the Blue children went on to win it!

And how amazed and moved we were that so many East and Dover families wished to host the visiting children. And that three of the host families - all living in the same condo - got together to celebrate their guests with a pool party. And that our Middle School GC parents put on a welcome evening feast at school as good as any professional catering. And that another family gave the Blue kids and staff a farewell party they will never forget.

And our joy when the Hilton Hotel - who in the past have kindly hosted the GC’s photography exhibitions - gave our visitors a two-night stay!

Imagine our wonder when the Art and PE Departments at East, and Drama and Dance at Dover, welcomed our Blue Dragon visitors into their Middle and High School lessons. And when our interns offered to give the team a tour of Singapore and a percussion lesson. And the Memory Project group began their gift of individual portraits for the Blue children. And our Coding For Good group continued to work with the Blue Dragon staff on their development of an anti-trafficking app.

Almost all East Campus High School students - including some Grade 11 Geography and Grade 9 Global Perspectives classes, met Kim Miller, the Blue Dragon Schools and Partnerships Coordinator, to learn more about trafficking. “When we taught the IB Geography students about trafficking as an issue as part of the IB curriculum, it was an academic idea. Of course the students empathised, they understood this was a real issue affecting real people but it seemed distant. But after speaking to Kim, the students connected with this at a whole other level, they saw the human beings that this touched and tore apart and understood that they needed to know this for much more profound reasons than passing an exam,” said Gavin Dinsdale, IB Geography teacher.

BIA (Because I Am) focus group also “gained insights around the issues of gender in relation to human trafficking” in Vietnam “in a way that I hadn't been exposed to before,” Grade 11 student Min Seo stated.

Grade 11 student Sara Kurniawan added, “Being able to talk to Kim and Trong was a true privilege for the whole group…it pushed me to be all the more conscious of the fact that we should not delegitimize anyone's experiences on the basis of their gender.”

But Kim has also commented on how much she learnt from our students - that she was asked questions she “hadn’t even considered before” about sustainability by the Sustainable Enterprise Consultants student group. And how she was pleased to be asked if the moving stories she had told about survivors of trafficking could be used as powerful case studies for the upcoming Write for Rights event. And how impressed she was to learn that our students care enough about modern slavery to create not only an anti-trafficking app, but a whole podcast series about the issue.

Grade 10 student, who listened to Kim talking about the work of the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation in the Grade 10 assembly said that it showed her a life beyond her own everyday routine of school, and that she was “inspired by what these young people have achieved, just by being here in Singapore. To see what they had been able to do was a real eye opener and it made me think about what perhaps I could do too. I feel really lucky to have heard their stories.”

But, of course, like every good partnership, everyone who gave got something special in return. “We were excited to use our rarely used sign language skills to communicate with Long! The sparkle in his eyes when we were able to communicate with each other was heartwarming. What a privilege to make such a connection!” said East host parent Tami Ahlberg.

Ultimately, it was the audience of the Imagine Dragons circus show that witnessed the most colourful collaboration of all: stunning performances by our talented students and young visitors, which left us wowed and proud as a GC, and so very grateful to everyone involved. Funds were optimised and exciting opportunities were created. Or as 13-year-old Trang wrote in a thank you card to UWCSEA: “Our trip is so awesome, so wonderful. We all work together well.” And that perhaps sums this all up; there is something that is egalitarian about the uplifting nature of the whole experience; we did all work well together.


6 Dec 2019
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