World's clowns bring much-needed laughter to refugee camps

Published 29.11.2015 22:39
Updated 29.11.2015 22:43
World's clowns bring much-needed laughter to refugee camps

In the crossfire of conflicts and civil wars, children are the ones who suffer the most in refugee camps and have the weight of the world on their shoulders, with most of them forgetting to play games and laugh. Clowns Without Borders aims to put a smile on childrens' faces even if only for a day

From Africa to the Middle East, people are fleeing from their homelands with hope of a better life and the world is experiencing one of the biggest refugee crises of its history. The world might be a rose garden filled with thorns but it should not be forgotten that rose gardens also have roses. Jaume Mateu, who is widely known as Tortell Poltrona in the circus world, discovered that he has a talent for entertaining people, especially children, when he assumed his clown persona. As a Catalan, he was one of the few clowns who could perform in Catalan during the Franco dictatorship. Later on, he founded Circ Cric and the Circus Arts Research Centre and worked with other famous clowns and artists, including Joan Miró and Joan Brossa. As a man who grew up after the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War and experienced the aftermath, Mateu was able to relate with refugee children.

The idea for Clowns Without Borders was born when Mateu was invited to perform at a refugee camp in Croatia in 1993 during the Yugoslav Wars of 1991-1995. During his performance, he unexpectedly attracted audiences of more than 700 children and realized that the red-nosed clown persona of Mateu is what the world needs in crisis situations. Mateu founded Clowns Without Borders in order to provide psychological support to people and communities that suffer from psychological trauma. When the organization was first founded with the help of other professional clowns in Spain, the group began organizing expeditions to the war-torn Balkans. With the help of Spanish troops serving in the region and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), during and after the Balkan War, Clowns Without Borders organized 12 expeditions in the region.

As the world faces one of the biggest waves of refugees in history, Clowns Without Borders rolled up their sleeves to offer a helping hand to people who have no home or no country to go to. From Palestine to South Sudan, Myanmar, Haiti and the Philippines, The non-governmental organization (NGO) organizes various events to put a smile on people's faces even in the hard times. Turkey first met Clowns Without Borders when the Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality, in collaboration with the NGO, organized a series of events in refugee camps in the region in August. The professional and volunteer clowns of the U.S. headquarters of Clowns Without Borders joined forces with Turkish clowns and performing artists for a two-week program. The performing artists' first stop was Diyarbakır and its villages. They first visited schools and entertained students with juggling and songs.

Following a one-week tour in Diyarbakır, the artists then traveled to Batman to visit a refugee camp which shelters Yazidis who fled from their homes due to the ongoing civil war. Sharing her experiences in the organization's blog, Sarah Liane Foster, one of the clowns who visited Turkey wrote: "Perhaps because we arrived in costume, and our presence was clearly playful, the kids approached us to play. Every little thing turned into a game, and we played for a good long time before the show ever started. We made faces, did funny walks, made animal sounds, chased each other… This playful, festive atmosphere continued during our parade through the camp before the show. The kids paraded along with us. Others joined in. Adults smiled and watched the parade snake up and down the neat rows of grey tents lined up on the sloped flagstones."

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