When Laurence Estève first came to South Africa on holiday, she did not know the trip would change her life forever. She was young, in love and exploring a new country. She saw all its beauty, but noticed something much more important too – the desperate need to foster social change and uplift disadvantaged and at risk youth.
In 1992, Laurence and husband Brent van Rensburg founded the Zip Zap Circus School to achieve their goal. There was no plan. All they wanted to do is help out children in need. As athletes and performers, they decided to use what they know to make a difference. Twenty-four years later, Zip Zap has become a pillar of the Cape Town community that teaches thousands of kids circus arts at no cost, all thanks to the hard work of Laurence and her team.
Laurence prefers to remain in the background of the operation, but with it being Women’s Month, we thought it was time to shine a spotlight on her incredible work. After all these years and many accolades, Laurence is still overwhelmed by the huge success of Zip Zap.
‘When we started Zip Zap it was just to put our two cents in, to participate in the building of a new nation. We thought, we have something, let’s just try. We didn’t take everything into consideration, that things take time and we need the buy-in of the people, context and community. We did it very slowly and just looked after the children.’
Like all NGOs, Laurence’s biggest challenge is getting funds for Zip Zap.
‘Being the CEO of an NGO in South Africa means finances are the biggest challenge. It’s a bigger challenge being a circus school, because circus is not recognised in South Africa. In France, Europe, North America and Asia you have national circus schools everywhere. They are fully subsided by the government. Here, were not only fighting with other NGOs for funding, we have to explain the benefits of circus. It’s a double challenge, but we keep at it.’
All that drive has seen Zip Zap soar. Personal highlights for Laurence include Zip Zap’s performance at an international circus festival in Monaco in 2002, and performing for Nelson Mandela. Laurence was awarded the Knight of the National Order of Merit by the French president in 2012, for more than 15 years of exemplary public service.
Here is Laurence talking about how much Zip Zap and the children mean to her: