WERE it not for a chance encounter at the Cape Heritage Hotel where Zip Zap Circus School trustees were meeting, businesswoman Victoria Nel would never have been involved with the circus.
She joined initially as a trustee and later became the chairwoman - and has now been nominated for a philanthropy award for her work with the troupe.
Nel, the director of a property company that owns Heritage Square and managing director of the Cape Heritage Hotel, said she had initially been wary.
"I was the youngest, the least experienced in any kind of business environment and I had just arrived in South Africa (two years earlier), so I didn't really know how things worked."
Nel is from Barcelona and moved to the country with her South African born husband. She said she had been drawn to the circus by the fact that it offered its services free.
Zip Zap works with 200 children in different programmes from its premises in the CBD and an outreach programme in Khayelitsha.
Young people are taught circus skills and they move through phases until they become part of a core group that puts on shows for the public.
Nel said the circus worked with children from shelters and those living with HIV, while its Open Door programme allowed anyone over the age of 12 to participate.
The outreach programme in Khayelitshawas awayto attract HIVpositive children to a centre where they could get their medication.
"In the Khayelitsha programme, the kids get exercise which might make them stronger and gives them self-esteem. The programme has been so successful that we now have kids pretending to be HIV-positive just so they can be part of the programme."
She said the children from shelters, those with HIV and members of the Open Door programme came together as part ofthe core programme and this helped dispel some of the stigma attached to HIV because the young people learned about each other and made friends.
Since becoming chairwoman, Nel has helped Zip Zap buy a circus tent on the Foreshore by offering an interest-free loan and she is helping the circus secure new premises where it will have a more permanent base.
"We've been looking for a building for two years. At the end of last month we saw a building we liked and we put an offer down.
"We found an investor that is willing to buy the building for Zip Zap and give it to us at no rent - but we would have to pay rates, maintenance and those kinds of things. The dream is to have a building where we can have a welfare house (for homeless young people), a school, training grounds, a coffee shop and real offices - we want to create a headquarters."
Nel said she was surprised to hear that she had been nominated for the Inyathelo PhilanthropyAwards, which take place tomorrow night at the Cape Town City Hall.