A clown shakes the hand of a small child in El Salvador.

What Does Internally Displaced Person (IDP) Mean?

Original author: Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone

An Internally Displaced Person, or IDP, is someone who’s forced to flee their home but remains within their country of origin.

Refugees may cross national boundaries to seek safety, but IDPs are unable or choose not to do so.

Aid organizations often can’t help IDPs because of unsafe conditions. For these reasons and others you’ll read about in this post, Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has called IDPs, “among the most vulnerable of the human family.”

Read to the end of the post for information, photos, and a video about IDP communities Clowns Without Borders-USA has supported.

Who are Internally Displaced People (IDPs)?

Do you know someone displaced due to conflict or natural disaster?

The number of IDPs across the world has been increasing for some time, but in 2022, the population of this group jumped to the highest level ever.

By the end of 2022, people displaced from their homes worldwide reached 71.1 million, with 88% displaced because of conflict and violence. Disasters caused the displacement of the remaining 22%.

Note: Data in this post is from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre’s GRID 2023 Report unless otherwise noted.

Who are Internally Displaced People (IDPs)? by Maggie Cunha

Where are IDPs?

Internal displacement occurs worldwide.

At the end of 2022, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 45% of the world’s total IDPs, with nearly 6 million in Democratic Republic of the Congo and 4.6 million in Ethiopia.

The Middle East and North Africa join sub-Saharan Africa as regions with the most IDPs in the world (18%). Syria had almost 7 million IDPs by the end of 2022 and Yemen had 4.5 million IDPs.

The war in Ukraine has caused the internal displacement of 5.9 million people.

A child blows a bubble during a clown show in Zimbabwe.
CWB Artist Thandolwenkosi (Thando) Ndlovu connects with a child experiencing displacement in Zimbabwe, 2023.

IDPs and Urbanization

Most IDPs live outside formal camps, separating them from most humanitarian services. In urban areas, IDPs may have better access to education, housing, and healthcare services if discriminatory laws don’t block that path.

Another challenge IDPs may need to navigate? The people who already live in urban areas.

Urban residents may see an influx of IDPs as competition for housing or jobs. This can lead to harassment, discrimination, or violence.

FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions About IDPs

What does IDP stand for?

IDP = Internally Displaced Person. IDPs = Internally Displaced People.

What is an internally displaced person? Who are internally displaced persons?

A simple definition of IDP is from Wikipedia: “An internally displaced person (IDP) is someone who is forced to leave their home but who remains within their country’s borders.”

You may feel challenged to see internally displaced people (IDPs) as more than a distant, nameless group of people who you have nothing in common with.

But, at CWB, our supporters journey with us to where IDPs live, work, and play. We meet people, learn their names, and offer games — many, many games. Children and families connect through the magic of play and laughter.

And we share their stories.

Get CWB’s newsletter.

Clowns performing in Turkey as a rainbow appears in the sky

Are internally displaced persons (IDPs) refugees?

No, IDPs are not refugees.

To be considered a refugee, a person must cross their national border. If a family has the same experience as their neighbor but doesn’t leave the country, they will not have the chance to become a refugee. The neighbor that crosses the border has the chance to become a refugee.

Unlike refugees, internally displaced people, or IDPs, do not have a special status in international law. “Internally displaced person” is a descriptive term that does not come with rights or privileges.

What challenges do internally displaced persons (IDPs) face?

IDPs face many challenges:

  • IDPs leave their home, and so leave behind a job, property, and livelihood
  • IDPs are often out of reach of international aid organizations
  • IDPs may not eat regular meals
  • IDPs may get injured or lose loved ones to violence
  • IDPs must rely on their government for support, which may not come
  • There are more IDPs than refugees (over 2x), but receive less global attention
  • International law does not protect IDPs from violence or persecution
Naomi Shafer with a child, skipping past the audience
A child joins CWB Artists Tim Cunningham and Naomi Shafer in Iraqi Kurdistan, 2022.

What rights do internally displaced persons have?

Internally displaced people, or IDPs, have the right to the same freedoms and rights as everyone else in their country. However, a crisis may limit those rights, especially if the government responsible for protecting IDPs is also persecuting them.

Unlike refugees, IDPs lack protection under international law. The United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement sets out government responsibilities toward IDPs, but it’s not international law.

Below are documents for further reading.

What are the causes of internally displaced persons (IDPs)?

Conflict or violence forces 88% of IDPs to leave their homes, while natural disasters like storms, droughts, fires, or floods displace the remaining 22%.

What are the needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs)?

IDPs’ needs may include food, shelter, healthcare, education, and childcare. However, getting help to IDP communities may be difficult for aid organizations because of dangerous routes.

The good news? Informing yourself about your government’s policies toward international conflicts can help IDPs. This is especially true when your government knows that you care about IDPs enough to affect the way you vote and contribute to civic life in your home country.

A clown shares a moment with an audience of young children in Myanmar.
CWB Artist Leah Abel laughs with kids during a CWB event in Myanmar, 2018.

What are the examples of IDPs?

Great question!

Clowns Without Borders has gone to many IDP communities.

In the last section of this post, you’ll learn about people from IDP communities we’ve supported (including tour photos, videos, and links to blog posts).

IDPs and Clowns Without Borders (CWB) – USA

Clowns Without Borders-USA has supported IDPs across the globe. For a larger sample of our work, check out our blog.

The Middle East

Iraqi Kurdistan is an autonomous region in northern Iraq where stateless Kurdish refugees and IDPs represent about 28% of the population. CWB toured the region twice in 2022 to establish a new partnership.

“The children were constantly worried that a new bomb attack would hit, making it hard for the kids to focus on something else. It was hard to find a child who laughed.”

Human Rights Lawyer Tara Azizi on why she reached out to CWB, 2022

East Asia

There are currently 1.5 million IDPs in Myanmar. CWB toured here in 2018, performing a mine safety show for internally displaced children in partnership with Mines Advisory Group. This video is a taste of the project.

The Americas

Agricultural intrusions onto their lands constantly threaten Indigenous communities of Southern Brazil. CWB exchanged art with the Guarani people in 2019 and again in 2022.

Colombia is currently home to 4.8 million IDPs. Here, CWB toured 10 times since 2009, most recently connecting with youth who are at risk for gang recruitment.

In El Salvador and Guatemala, CWB laughed and played with IDP families who fled their homes because of violence or climate disasters.

The image shows clown with audult audience members

“Thank you for bringing us laughter. The community needed it.

Thank you for being professional and different.”

– Ken, a grandfather from the audience Guatemala, 2022


You can help internally displaced people, or IDPs, by connecting with organizations that support them.

At CWB, we share the faces (often smiling and laughing) we meet on tour with our supporters. Because people connect with people, not statistics.

If you’d like to hear stories about displaced people regularly, join us by signing up for our weekly newsletter!

A person with a white beard blows bubbles with a child while another adult looks on and plays a ukulele

3 Ways to Foster Optimism and Support Kids’ Right to Play

If you compare your play life to that of a clown, you might suddenly feel fun-deficient.

But is it true?

What about all the ways you do play? Like cutting a unique life path, cooking without a recipe, or swapping silly jokes with a special kid in your life.

This last post in a series of three on ‘right to play’ will first remind you of your inherent playfulness. With this new outlook, you’ll be well-positioned to take action and become a Right to Play Champion. I’ll share three ways to do just that.

Grab your play passport and let’s roll!

Knowing Yourself as a Homo Luden

Portrait of four clowns with a woman and a baby with a funny wig and flower.
Clowns pose with audience members at a Clowns Without Borders show in Puerto Rico, 2023.

Have you ever seen a baby engage in non-verbal teasing?

Psychology researcher Vasudevi Reddy teamed up with parents to document several instances of babies acting like clowns. 🍼🤡

He studied infants, aged 7 – 11 months old, who would do things like offer a toy and then withdraw their offer, or pretend they were going to do something prohibited. In each instance, the baby would smile at their caretaker, watching for their response.

If the baby got a laugh, they’d repeat the action.

What’s going on here?

Turns out play is a big part of what makes us human. And that’s exactly what Dutch historian Johan Huizinga asserted in his 1938 classic book, Homo Ludens.

There is a third function, however, applicable to both human and animal life, and just as important as reasoning and making — namely, playing. It seems to me that next to Homo Faber [Human the Maker], and perhaps on the same level as Homo Sapiens [Human the Wise], Homo Ludens, Man the Player, deserves a place in our nomenclature.

Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture (1938)

Embracing a Play-Abundance Mindset

A clown makes the large skirt of her dress big by stretching it side to side.
School kids get a laugh from CWB artist Gabi Winter at a show in San Mateo del Mar, Mexico, 2018.

It’s one thing to know that you’re an inherently playful being. But it’s a whole other thing to practice play and believe you have enough energy and resources to play.

We call that a play-abundance mindset.

Operating from a play-abundance mindset cultivates joy and optimism and enhances your ability to

  • Enjoy your humor
  • Engage others in play
  • Create original work
  • _______________ (What else might be possible??)

Do you like the idea of play-abundance but feel more play-scarce? Tip the scale by hopping into the next section.

Three Ways You Can Support Kids’ Right to Play

1. Throw Your Hands In The Air If You’re a True Player

A clown raises her hands as she runs with kids on a building's rooftop.
CWB artist Hannah Gaff plays with kids after a clown show in Egypt, 2022.

Thanks to the amazing educators at Playmaker Project, Clowns Without Borders (CWB) knows that kids’ ability to play is linked to how adults value play. To illustrate this connection, Playmaker likes to quote jazz musician Charlie Parker.

“If you do not live it, it will not come out of your horn.”

Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker

To help you step into a play-full life and a play-abundant mindset, I’ve made a list of play-related qualities (clown-inspired!) you can incorporate into your life in an ongoing, iterative way.

  • Exploring ideas you wouldn’t have explored before
  • Being curious
  • Smiling first
  • Taking the next step even when you don’t know what will happen
  • Trying something new
  • Saying yes to exciting things
  • Admitting failure or mistakes
  • Avoiding universal pursuit of perfectionism

Practicing these will help you see yourself as the Homo Luden you truly are. Pick one and, later, share in the blog comments about how it’s going!

Now let’s talk about how you can build opportunities for play in your neighborhood.

2. Stand for Kids’ Right to Play In the Place Where You Live

Clowns and adolescents hold hands and run in a circle in a ball court.
Clowns and adolescents play together after a clown show in Southern Brazil, 2022.

To lift play where you are, you’ll want to join forces with people who are doing the work.

If you’re not connected, you’re not alone.

A May 2023 advisory by the office of the US Surgeon General reported that, in the last 20 years, in-person social interaction has decreased across all age groups.

Connection is the solution, and the report lays out a National Strategy for how to make that happen. The framework includes six actions. We’ll focus on the first: Strengthen Social Infrastructure and Local Communities.

A clown and a child hold hands and do splits together.
CWB artist Alexandra Gavris and a young Ukranian refugee practice splits in Romania, 2022.

Social infrastructure (as defined in the report) is:

“the programs (such as those provided by volunteer organizations, sports groups, religious groups, and member associations), policies (like public transportation, housing, and education policies), and physical elements of a community (such as libraries, parks, green spaces, and playgrounds) that support the development of social connection.”

The bold-text items (my emphasis) represent tangible paths to get involved in your area, so many of which impact children and their right to play.

“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members, a heart of grace, and a soul generated by love.”

Coretta Scott King

What if you want to support kids’ right to play around the world?

It’s storytime.

3. It’s Easy If You Try: Imagine the ‘Right to Play’ for All Kids

Four kids pose for the camera with red clown noses.
Four kids practice their right to play in South Africa, 2006.

CWB sends artists to places of crisis where people are experiencing displacement. Children and families attend a show, and something magical happens.

This story, written by Tamara Palmer in a 2017 CWB blog post, explains the magic.

CWB-USA and CWB-South Africa ran a huge three-month tour of refugee camps and local villages in South Africa back in 2005. SOS Children’s Village was our primary partner. The clown troupe spent their time performing shows and held informal skill-building workshops.

We returned the following year to continue our work with SOS.

Everywhere our artists went, the kids repeated the acts the clowns had performed for them the year prior! 

The kids, captivated by the shows, had absorbed what they saw and did during their time spent with the clowns, and then replayed it.

Tamara continues:

Long-term mechanisms for relief exist in playfulness. This phenomenon has happened in other country locations across the globe. It is an indicator of the positive impact of our mission.

Clowns Without Borders artists use humor to alleviate the dreadful suspense of hardship. Children watch a show, interact with the clowns, and then continue to mimic the antics after the show finishes. 

The need for humor and laughter is real. For us, it’s the best way we can help the world, especially those in suffering.

Clowns Without Borders comes for play. We deliver that play in ways other aid organizations aren’t equipped for. 

You can bring play to a child today by joining us. Just $11 can change a single child’s life forever as they find themselves at their first clown show.


In what new way will you defend kids’ right to play?

Please leave us a comment and let us know your plans or share, with this supportive community, how your play life is coming along!

Music Match-up Game:

Did you catch any musical references in the subheadings?

(Answers: 1. Big Poppa/The Notorious B.I.G., 2. Stand/R.E.M., 3. Imagine/John Lennon)

A boy about 13-years-old claps and has a joyful expression as he is surrounded by other kids at a clown show in Turkey, 2023.

From the Clown’s Perspective: Why Kids’ Right to Play Matters

Last month, we talked about clowns who defend kids’ right to play in Zimbabwe. But you might wonder why the right to play matters so much.

And why does play need to be defended in areas of crisis?

Clowns who have witnessed the transformative power of play help me answer these questions in this second post of three in a series about the right to play.

Why Does Protecting Play as a Human Right Matter?

Girl dressed in oversized clothes and bowling hat performs with clowns
A girl plays clown during a CWB tour in the West Bank, 2019.

“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.”

Kay Redfield Jamison

You may have heard that play is helpful for brain development. We’re going to talk about that, and we’re going to talk about a few less conventional ideas of why play matters.

Ready? Game on!

Your Brain is a Fantastic Playground

Albert Einstein said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” But how does your brain become adaptable?


Imagine your brain as a fantastic playground. The more you play on the playground, the more moves and tricks you learn. In the same way, play helps your brain respond with more nuance to situations that arise.

It’s all about the prefrontal cortex, a recently evolved (just 30 to 19 million years ago 😉) area at the front of your brain that serves your most complex thinking.

When you play, your brain’s prefrontal cortex refines its ability to regulate thoughts, actions, and emotions. That means that you’ll be able to handle tricky situations with greater ease.

Play-based brain development is especially important for those who have experienced a crisis, as we’ll talk about later.

A boy with a backpack stands next to a clown in front of a crowd of children.
Children and CWB actively not quantifying joy in Iraqi Kurdistan, 2022.

Clowns’ Warning: Don’t Corrupt Play

Clowns will be the first to tell you that play’s worth extends far beyond brain development (and related discussions of educational gains). To limit play’s value in this way is to degrade it. Let’s flip that, and unearth play’s multifaceted and expansive qualities.

Conversations about play often overlook the social-emotional ways that play matters.

According to a 2019 study of humanitarian clowning, clown performance and post-performance play

  • Treats failure as a right, and shows that it’s necessary for learning
  • Strips away social roles and norms
  • Exposes the audience to their self, free from normative social roles
  • Increases self-awareness
  • Acts as an interlude from real life
  • Encourages a sense of community
  • Facilitates relief of stress and anxiety 
  • Provides human connection
  • Gives people lasting memories of joy

We don’t have a joy-o-meter. Rather, we have records of personal communication that describe the joy and relief children and adults feel after attending a CWB event.

A Sudanese boy smiles as he performs with clowns in Egypt.

“I’ve never had this joy before. I am very happy!”

A young boy at the Center for Sudanese Migrants, Egypt

Women from Puerto Rico laugh with a clown in an outdoor setting.

“It’s so good that you’re here because there’s nothing for the kids in Islote. Not even a park. So they’re happy you’re here. Before you even start, it’s golden just to be here. It brings the community together.”

A young mother, Puerto Rico

Two elementary aged boys laugh at a clown show in Lebanon.

“In Karantina, one child found us wherever we were performing in the area. He told one clown that he’d been seeing the show in his dreams every night.”

Sabine Choucair, Lebanon

A boy about 12 years old wears traditional clown makeup.

“Before the clowns came, the children played war. Now they play clown.”

Jordan, Feedback given to CWB–Sweden following a tour

Can Play be ‘Purposeless’?

When the outcome doesn’t matter as much as the play itself, we call this play for play’s sake (a super technical term). CWB celebrates this kind of play, because it is about the processes, experiences, and feelings that occur during play — not the results.

During play for play’s sake, imagination and curiosity lead exploration. Children (and adults) are free to create as they wish.

Play for play’s sake builds confidence, agency, and a sense of ‘I am worthy.’

Experiencing displacement can feel like the world doesn’t care about your ideas, instincts, or interests. And even as you’re forced to adapt to a different lifestyle, community spaces rarely feel welcoming and loving.

“Holding on to the value of play, the value of aspiration and imagination is, in a way, counter-culture.”

America Ferrera, Honduran-American actor, producer, and director

‘Not Even a Park’: Defending The Right to Play for Children in Crisis

Clowns play with kid survivors of the Turkey earthquake.
Kids play tag with CWB clowns in Turkey, 2023.

To recap, play is fundamental to childhood because

  • It’s key to healthy brain development
  • It supports a range of social-emotional outcomes, including the experience of joy
  • We want children to love themselves

CWB defends the right to play for children who experience displacement because they are both uniquely in need of play and uniquely distant from play opportunities.

Play Matters in Humanitarian Settings

Children experiencing displacement have lost their homes and may have witnessed violence or death. On top of these traumas, their current living situation may be dangerous or exploitative. 

Disruptions to education, lack of nurturing spaces, and psychological neglect complicate survivors’ lives.

And these children still want to play and will play, given the time and a safe space.

Not only are these children capable of quality play experiences, but play may be their only available path to recovery from their experiences.

A girl in yellow claps at a clown show in Lebanon

In Sin El-Fil, there was a 9 or 10-year-old girl who completely stopped talking for a month and a half after the explosion. After watching the show, she ran back to her house and told her dad all about it. Something magic happened at the show — and she talked!

Sabine Choucair, Lebanon

The Play Opportunity Gap

Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child protects all children’s optimum development through play.

However, a consistent problem found in humanitarian settings is a lack of play-friendly spaces. 

Play-friendly spaces “could be a tent, a fenced-off area under the shade of a tree, or a room used specifically for this purpose, but it should always be safe and accessible to children of different genders, ages and abilities.”

Plan International

When CWB clowns arrived in Turkey following the 2023 earthquake, the clowns worked among tents because play areas had yet to be established. In community after community, children were ready to play and laugh after six weeks of rubble, food lines, and mourning. 

At Maras Avşar, an earthquake survivors camp in Kahramanmaraş, Türkiye, CWB clowns heard kids explaining to one another that we were foreigners coming from very far away — for them.

When it was time to leave, they didn’t want us to go.

Clowns in Turkey play with kid survivors of the earthquake.

“This is so important for the children. Please come back.

– A young English teacher, Kahramanmaraş, Türkiye

Clowns perform for kid survivors of the Turkey earthquakes.

“This is the first time people have come for our kids.”

– Elder Woman, Kahramanmaraş, Türkiye


The right to play matters because play is fundamental to childhood.

Remembering that at least 40% of the (official) 108 million refugees are under the age of 18, the enormity of ensuring that every child plays can feel overwhelming.

How can you help?

In the last post of the series, we’ll share ways you can help protect the right to play. Spoiler alert: One thing you can do right now is to make a donation to Clowns Without Borders. Just $11 can change a child’s life forever as they find themselves at their first clown show.

Clowns and puppets protect kids' right to play in Zimbabwe.

Meet Lively Clowns (and Puppets) Who Defend Kids’ Right to Play in Zimbabwe

Are you ready to meet clowns who are incredible defenders of kids’ right to play?

The Clowns Without Borders (CWB) team from Zimbabwe, June 2023, included Cedrick Msongelwa (Zimbabwe), Nathaniel Allenby (USA), Rachel Wansker (USA), and Thandolwenkosi Ndlovu (Zimbabwe).

The artists had the high honor of being the first clowns many children had ever met. And they brought a range of talents with them: juggling, comedy — and puppetry.

In this post, you’ll explore the use of puppets to defend the right to play, hear how children responded to their first clown and puppet shows, and learn how the people of Zimbabwe inspired each artist.

Ready to join the puppet party? Let’s go!

Clowns and Puppets: Joyful Protectors of The Right to Play

A clown, defending kids' right to play in Zimbabwe, shares a puppet with a young boy.
Fredrick meets Shemp with CWB Artist Rachel Wansker.

Do you remember the magic of your first puppet show?

At a show in Domboshava, Zimbabwe, Fredrick found himself face to face with Shemp, a puppet with super-soft purple fur and a gentle expression.

Cautious at first, Frederick quickly realized Shemp was his friend. When the puppet came closer, Frederick reached out and touched him and gave him a sweet kiss. It was a moment that played out, again and again, every day of the tour.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Recognizes Children’s Right to Play in

Article 31 of The Convention on the Rights of the Child

1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

Three soft fabric hand puppets above a curtain.

“It was such a joy to combine my trauma-informed training with their first puppetry interaction.”

– Rachel Wansker, CWB Artist

Rachel Wansker takes the right to play seriously.

She used her trauma-informed training to lead the team in creating and performing puppet shows, which included direct interaction with kids like Fredrick. The puppet shows built trust with children, enhancing their experience.

“Today, when I came to school, I was sad. It was just one of those days. I didn’t know you were coming.

But now that you’ve performed I feel happy.”

A child from Chiedza Child Care Centre, Harare

To learn why many children in Zimbabwe have experienced displacement and trauma, read this post.

Now that you know what happened at the shows, let’s meet the artists in the spotlight.

Cadrick Msongelwa: Bringing the Zimbabwean Spirit to Life

Cadrick blows bubbles with kids after a clown show.
CWB Artist Cadrick “KheKhe” Msongelwa plays with kids after a show in Domboshava.

Cadrick Msongelwa is an award-winning theatre actor, clown, and teaching artist based in Harare, Zimbabwe. He holds certificates from Dell’Arte International, Zimbabwe Theatre Academy, and Schools Playwrights and Actors Academy. His unique focus on movement brings a captivating presence to local and international performances.

Cadrick’s Unforgettable Moment

Cadrick will never forget bringing joy and laughter to his African brothers and sisters during the Day of the African Child celebration. He says, “I am also an African child, so I not only celebrated the displaced children and youth at Tongogara Refugee camp, but I celebrated myself too. It brought me so much joy to hear unified laughter from a crowd of about 3,000 people.”

“Bringing joy to communities brings joy to my inner soul, too.”

Cadrick Msongelwa

Bringing Laughter to the World

Cadrick’s experience in Zimbabwe has inspired him to share his talents with displaced communities beyond Zimbabwe and Africa. He aspires to clown globally, exploring the universal language of laughter and spreading joy worldwide.

Find Cadrick on Instagram @Cadrickhekhe.

Nathaniel Allenby: Inspiring Lives Through Juggling and Entertainment

A clown holds a rubber chicken and has a funny frown face.

Nathaniel Allenby is the founder of Cirque Quirk and a seasoned entertainer with 17 years of experience performing in various countries. Hailing from Aurora, Oregon, a European cycling adventure ignited his artistic passion. Watch him juggle 8 balls and conquer 11-foot stilts!

Priceless Memories

The energetic response from the audience fueled Nathaniel’s performances and created a beautiful connection. He shares, “When I went out onto the stage alone and started my act, the kids would laugh at various bits, but as soon as I would start juggling, they would erupt with excitement about what I was doing. The energetic response was a beautiful form of reciprocity.”

“The happiness and energetic return I received from audiences was worth far more than money. It moved me to want to change my life and continue giving back.”

Nathaniel Allenby, CWB

A Shift of Thinking

Inspired by his connection with audiences in Zimbabwe, Nathaniel plans to make many changes in his life. He definitely wants to perform again for children and families who are displaced or who have never experienced a clown show.

Find Nathaniel on Instagram @Cirquequirk.

Rachel Wansker: Igniting Joy Through Puppetry and Clowning

Four clowns run with kazoos and horns as they defend kids' right to play in Zimbabwe.

Rachel Wansker is an actor, puppeteer, clown, and educator from Atlanta. She holds a degree in Theatre and Performance Studies and a Professional Training Certificate from Dell’Arte International and has performed with 16 professional theater and television companies in five countries. Rachel now lives in London where she continues to work as a performer and serve the refugee community.

Rachel’s Unforgettable Moment

Rachel will never forget the giant parade through the camp on the Day of the African Child. “Kids all around us played with us while we celebrated with them. I had a special moment where my puppet and a child of about 6 years old were blowing kisses back and forth.”

“With each tour I go on with CWB, the work is always so rewarding, even in its tiring and delicate nature.”

Rachel Wansker

Breaking New Ground

In Zimbabwe, Rachel gained confidence in herself as a leader, and was reminded of her skills and experience as a performer and as a humanitarian. Rachel aims to continue using her puppetry, teaching, and leadership skills to make a positive impact.

Find Rachel on Instagram @wanskermonster.

Thandolwenkosi Ndlovu: Spreading Love and Laughter

A child blows a bubble during a clown show in Zimbabwe.

Thandolwenkosi (Thando) Ndlovu is a talented Zimbabwean theater actress and clown. She currently volunteers at the Bulawayo Theatre in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and also writes scripts. She describes herself as “short, dark, beautiful, and definitely funny.”

Moments of Marvel

Thando cherishes the pre and post-show interactions with the children. “In the rural areas of Chimanimani and Chipinge, most of the children were seeing the puppets and bubbles for the first time, hence their faces would beam with excitement and curiosity. Those moments of marvel have a special place in my heart.”

“Everywhere we performed, we heard the words ‘Ndanzwa kufara’ (‘I feel happy.’) from the audience. It’s the best compliment we could receive.”

Thandolwenkosi Ndlovu

Cultivating Artistic Excellence

Thando will keep clowning and creating beautiful memories for people in need — in Zimbabwe and beyond. She’s especially eager to continue her studies, visit more rural schools, and collaborate with more organizations such as Clowns Without Borders-USA. Her goal is to be useful, kind, and share the love!

Find Thando on Facebook @thando.kimmy.

At the end of the second show at a youth center in Chitungwizathe, kids loved it so much that they called for an encore. We came out and had a dance party with them, juggling and playing with puppets.

Rachel Wansker
Two clowns perform, one smiles at the audience while the other hides behind her with a fan in front of his face.
CWB Artists Nathaniel Allenby and Thando Thandolwenkosi Ndlovu.

You may not see the impact of what you’ve done now, but many years down the line, [the children] will still remember.

Adult audience member, Zimbabwe, June 2023


A big round of applause for the children and families of Zimbabwe and the CWB artists who defend their right to play! A big thank you to our fearless tour producer, Teddy Mangawa, and our partners, Zimbabwe Theatre Academy and the Ministry of Refugees.

A total of 4,960 people attended 11 shows and one workshop. Each event was a special celebration of love and laughter and filled with joyful energy.

Want to see more photos from the tour? Check out the montage below!

Clowns perform for kids in Puerto Rico

Spreading Joy to US Citizens in Puerto Rico Who Feel Forgotten

The devastation caused by Hurricane Maria is no laughing matter. In 2017, it compelled nearly 5% of Puerto Rico residents to leave the island.

But for those determined to stay — or unable to leave — recovery feels like running with a rubber band around your waist, yanking you back.

In May 2023, Clowns Without Borders arrived in Puerto Rico for a two-week tour that brought laughter and joy to survivors of storms, Covid, and earthquakes. The tour included CWB artists Arturo Gaskins (Puerto Rico), Leo Maldonado (Puerto Rico), Robin Lara (Mainland), and Bella Schleiker (Mainland). Our partner was Circo Nacional de Puerto Rico.

In this post, you’ll learn what recovery looks like for those trying not to be displaced and see the delight of children who experienced their first clown show.

All aboard!

The Quest for Post-Disaster Recovery: Avast, Is it Sailing the Silly Seas?

A clown in Puerto Rico looks "through" a rubber chicken, serving as his scope.
CWB Artist-turned-pirate Arturo Gaskins is on the lookout with his spyglass.

Puerto Ricans love their home: the natural beauty, delicious fruits, salsa music, and gatherings with friends and family.

But since Maria, the deadliest storm in US history since 1900, the quality of life for many Puerto Ricans has deteriorated. 

  • Power outages are frequent because the infrastructure is old and inadequate.
  • There are 150 schools that haven’t received government funding since the storm.
  • In some places, decreased access to medical care puts people’s lives at risk.

[Hurricane Maria] … left the island in the longest and largest blackout in US history and the second-largest blackout in the world on record.

Vox, May 8, 2018

What Went Wrong?

Yes, Hurricane Maria was a tremendously strong storm. But the US government’s slow and inadequate response made life in the aftermath less safe, more scary, and far more deadly.

In Puerto Rico, a clown in a dress holds a hoop for a clown in a jumpsuit attempting to jump through.
Metaphor in motion: Arturo’s determination echoes Puerto Rico’s quest for recovery.

A study published by BMJ Global Health concluded that the response to Maria did “not align with storm severity or prevention and recovery needs” when compared to government responses for Hurricanes Irma and Harvey that same year.

And the mortality outcomes show it:

A bar graph shows that mortality rates in Puerto Rico were outrageously higher compared to death rates from other Hurricanes that same year.
Willison CE, Singer PM, Creary MS, et al. Quantifying inequities in US federal response to hurricane disaster in Texas and Florida compared with Puerto Rico BMJ Global Health 2019;4:e001191.

It took 11 months to fully restore power.

The US government’s differential response to Hurricane Maria aligns with a history of using financial tools of colonization, the result of which has entrenched poverty and increased inequality.

No Joke: What Our Clowns Saw

CWB teams in Puerto Rico witnessed the pace of recovery in 2018 and in 2023.

One year after the hurricane, the streetlamps that line the freeway to Yabucoa are still twisted around, lighting the plantain fields instead of the road. Locals tell us that the government attitude is, ‘Why fix the stuff before the next hurricane season is over?’

Molly Shannon, CWB Artist, 2018

It’s the US Department of Education, but the schools are still closed. It’s easy to hide that in Old San Juan, where the cruise ships land, but leave that part of the island and it’s a mess.

Bella Schleiker, CWB Artist, 2023

As Puerto Rico team members bore witness to the slow pace of recovery and the lingering effects of Hurricane Maria, they remained steadfast in their mission to lift spirits and bring people together.

Not Forgotten: Lifting Laughter and Spreading Joy in Puerto Rico

A clown performs on his cyr wheel in front of an audience in Puerto Rico.
CWB Artist Arturo Gaskins performs with a cyr wheel in his native Puerto Rico, 2023.

Clowns transport people to a world full of magic and play, helping children and families shift their perspectives, connect with others, and heal trauma.

To learn more about the power of clown magic, see Why Clowns.

Through lively performances that included unicycle knife juggling, giant-sized underwear, and the thrilling cyr wheel, Team Puerto Rico created a joyful and carefree atmosphere for young and old.

Here’s what happened at three locations:

1. Las Marias, Puerto Rico

Las Marias is a rural mountain community that was cut off the grid for nine months following Hurricane Maria.

The team performed at a school there — one of the 150 schools that have not received government funding since Maria. The community opened the school, anyway! Though just once a week for now, it’s a brave start.

This show will stay everlasting in people’s memories, as they have never seen anything like this before. It’s a very poor and rural community that was hit hard by Hurricane Maria.

Lu, Community Organizer in Las Marias
A clown in a dress and with a blue umbrella performs for children in Puerto Rico.
Little Mateo joined CWB Artist Bella Schleiker on stage for almost the entire show in Las Marias. He loved getting laughs from the audience.

2. Comerío, Puerto Rico

Comerío is a mountain town in the eastern central region where 1,500 houses were destroyed and another 2,400 sustained significant damage. The slow pace of recovery here reminded residents of the second-class citizen treatment they receive from the US government.

Team Puerto Rico performed on a school basketball court. There were a lot of kids, teens, and young moms in the audience.

A mother told us she was grateful because most of the kids here didn’t have any contact with the arts. And, after the pandemic, many people can no longer pay to see shows.

Bella Schleiker
A clown on a unicycle performs for a crowd in Puerto Rico.
CWB Artist Robin Lara performs on a giraffe unicycle.

3. Islote, Puerto Rico

In Islote, a community on the north coast of the island, the team performed at an old school that is now a turtle sanctuary.

During the juggling, children joined us on stage and became part of the act! At the end of the show, all the kids played with our beach balls.

It’s so good that you’re here because there’s nothing for the kids in Islote. Not even a park. So they’re happy you’re here. Before you even start, it’s golden just to be here. It brings the community together

A young mother from the audience

You reminded me of when I was young and we placed a circus tent in front of this school.

An older woman from the audience
Clowns laugh with adults in Puerto Rico.
CWB Artist Robin Lara shares a laugh with audience members in Puerto Rico, 2023.


Following the devastating impact of Hurricane Maria, the pandemic, and earthquakes, CWB artists brought a much-needed respite of laughter to 1210 people in 15 communities throughout the island.

US citizens of Puerto Rico showcased the power of shared joy in strengthening bonds, fostering unity, and improving well-being.

To share joy with you, we’re leaving you with this montage of more photos from Puerto Rico.

Clown and kid making a heart with their fingers at a clown show in Turkey for earthquake survivors.

Earthquake Survivors in Turkey Find Relief in Clowns and Their Comedic Charm

“You came all the way here for us?”

This was the sentiment heard over and over at clown shows for earthquake survivors just six weeks after disaster struck Turkey and Syria.

From March 22 – 28th, Clowns Without Borders (CWB)-USA brought comedy, music, and color to children, parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles who had lost so much.

In this Smile Roundup for the first tour of 2023, you’ll hear just how quickly we organized the Turkey tour — and you’ll see lots of kids smiling from ear to ear.

Let’s do this!

The Urgent Need for Psychosocial Support Among Earthquake Survivors

Survivors of the earthquake in Turkey take time to laugh, like this woman with her child.

34 children still need family tracing and reunification.

Türkiye Humanitarian Situation Report No. 10
April 18-25, 2023

On February 6, 2023, two major earthquakes hit southern Turkey and Syria, killing over 58,000 people (50,000 in Turkey alone) and injuring twice as many survivors.

According to an April 2023 UNICEF report,

  • Around 2.4 million people live in settlements (1.6 million in informal and 800,000 in formal).
  • Informal sites need water, sanitation, information, and social protection.
  • UNICEF reached 212,730 children and caregivers with mental health support through trained workers and NGOs.

UNICEF has done a great job, but there are 4 million school-age children affected by the earthquakes. The need for more psychosocial support is undeniable.

CWB considers our work as a critical part of this effort.

Moreover, CWB–USA is able to go where the road does not, creating performances without a traditional stage or electricity (which was often the case in Turkey).

Children survivors of the Turkey earthquake clap at a clown show.

Supporting Children’s Play Amid Crisis

Our supporters are the kind of people who want to see a day when no crisis stops a child’s play life.

Weeks after the initial quakes, our amazing community started asking if we were going to Turkey and how they might help. We could only say that it was not yet the right time to go.

Like the Ghostbusters, CWB-USA responds to communities when they call.

Want to learn more about how CWB decides when and where to tour? Check out our FAQ page.

Clowns in Turkey play with kid survivors of the earthquake, teaching them to balance plates on a stick.

The Call to Clown Came Early (Naomi was Brushing her Teeth)

On the morning of March 12, the Executive Director of CWB-USA, Naomi Shafer, got a 7:30 am call from Turkey.

Sabine Choucair from Clown Me In was on tour in southern Turkey and called to ask, “Can we tell the kids and adults that the clowns are returning 2 weeks?”

With a departure date just 10 days away, Naomi said, “YES! We’ll be there!”

Later that day, Naomi sent out an email to vetted artists, inviting those who had been on a previous CWB tour to apply.

She assembled our incredible Turkey team a few days later. It included performing artists Selin Akoğlu (Turkey), Josie Mae (US), Meredith Gordon (US), and Andrés Aguilar (Mexico), photographer Zeynep Secil, and tour organizers Güray Dinçol and Pınar Akkuzu.

How were we able to make travel arrangements so quickly?

We give all credit to our donors, whose generosity makes us nimble. Most especially, we rely on Joy Maker Magic (learn more by watching the video below).

Tickling the Funny Bones of Turkey’s Earthquake Survivors

Thank you. Please make our children laugh. There’s been no one like this here before.

Elderly woman from İskenderun, Turkey

Communities who had been seeing rubble and smelling death for a month met our artists with a mixture of curiosity and anticipation. 

Clown parades, limbo games, and plate spinning shifted the crowd’s mood. People experienced:

  • Respite from trauma
  • A reminder that they’re still able to feel joy
  • A reminder that they’re loved by strangers
Clowns perform for kid survivors of the Turkey earthquakes as kids reach out to participate.

For many communities, this was the first time anyone attended to their well-being beyond shelter, food, and water.

Here are some fun occurrences and words of gratitude from earthquake survivors at four of the tour locations.

Samandağ, Hatay, Türkiye

At the Samandağ earthquake survivors’ camp, an older woman played drums and sang while children and clowns danced at the end of the show.

Thank you. The show took me back to my childhood.

Elder woman, Samandağ earthquake survivors’ camp
Clowns play and laught with kid survivors of the Turkey earthquake.

Gümüşgöze Village, Antakya/Hatay, Türkiye

You come here willingly, and this kind of thing will heal us.

Elder Woman

There’s a moment in Andrés’s routine where he has an audience member point up to the sky as he tosses his Diavolo up really high. But then he turns back around and hangs his vest on their finger.

A clown points to the sky and gets an older woman to do the same at a clown show for earthquake survivors in Turkey.

Maras Avşar earthquake survivors camp, Kahramanmaraş, Türkiye

At this camp, the kids were explaining to one another that we were foreigners coming from very far away for them.

We played with the kids without materials, improvising and playing with imagination. They didn’t want us to go.

This is so important for the children. Please come back.

A young English teacher

This is the first time people have come for our kids.

Elder Woman
A boy survivor of the Turkey earthquake has a great time balancing a plate at a clown show.

Pazarcık, Kahramanmaraş, Türkiye

During the parade, a Kurdish woman started improvising music with the clowns. She was dancing and singing her own songs.

Selin started playing peek-a-boo with a non-verbal, partially paralyzed teenager in a wheelchair. He laughed and smiled. His mother was overjoyed to see her son having such a good time playing with the clowns.

Two young boys jumped and chanted “palyaço” (clown) the entire show!

Team Turkey
Clowns performing in Turkey as a rainbow appears in the sky


In the aftermath of the earthquakes in Turkey, CWB brought laughter and hope to communities facing immense challenges. Over 6 days, CWB artists performed 30 times and reached 3230 people.

Because of the unwavering support of our donors, we responded swiftly when called.

Will you help us reach the next family in crisis?

Join the CWB Community!

When you sign up for our weekly newsletter, you’ll get

  • the latest news about CWB’s programs
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Together, we can make a difference and bring smiles to those who need it the most.

CWB artists are welcomed by the Guarani with song and dance

How to Share Art with the Guarani and Witness Both Pain and Joy

Do you know the Guarani?

The Guarani-Kaiowá are one of Brazil’s largest Indigenous communities. They’ve survived forced displacement since the late 1800s and increased violence since the 1950s when private capital took over vast territories, replacing eco-diversity with monoculture plantations.

And, also, if we only see the Guarani’s pain, we miss learning about who they are — including their rich traditions of ceremony and song.

In September 2022, Clowns Without Borders (CWB) returned to the Guarani community of Southern Brazil to listen, learn, share art, and laugh together.

In this post, you’ll learn about the current conditions of the Guarani people and we’ll share insights from our art exchange (a term that fits better here than tour — read on and you’ll understand why).

Warning: This post references child homicide. At CWB, we’re committed to sharing the context within which we work, including naming the human rights violations our audience members have experienced. We understand this content may be upsetting. If you prefer to skip this portion of the post and go straight to the photos and video, click here.

The Guarani: Searching for ‘the land without evil’

CWB at desk learning about Guarani ancestral lands and resettlement history from an Indigenous teacher
CWB artists learn about Guarani ancestral lands and resettlement history from an Indigenous teacher.

Guarani ancestors told of a place free from pain and suffering called ‘the land without evil.’ And, for hundreds of years, their descendants searched for such a place.

They have yet to find it.

Instead, the Guarani have experienced territorial displacement on a massive scale. In Mato Grosso do Sul, the Guarani previously occupied 350,000 square kilometers of forests and plains. Today, 24% of the remaining Guarani population (12,000 of about 50,000 people) live in just 30 square kilometers (the Dourados Reserve).

The reserve lacks adequate land for crops, hunting, or fishing. For more on the Guarani’s forced removal from ancestral land, see our Brazil 2019 blog post.

CWB artists are welcomed by Guarani elders for a welcome song

‘Danger is experienced on an everyday basis’

Performing artist Julie Moore recounts one disturbing event:

Maybe two hours before CWB was to perform, we get word that the body of a 13-year-old-girl, who’s part of the community we’re performing for, has just been found.

The community asked that even with this news, we perform the show as planned.

The team delivered a performance full of empathy and gentleness.

CWB artist bends to hug kids at a clown show in Brazil

Homicides and assaults are all too familiar in the Guarani community. And the government does not protect indigenous people from ranchers’ gunmen and militias. Perpetrators often go unpunished.

What’s happening, as a whole, is genocide. It’s a genocide of indigenous peoples. It’s not of interest to the state to give indigenous peoples strength, to give them a voice.

Alice Rocha,
social worker with children’s services in Dourados
International Women’s Media Foundation

The community’s pain is real, and it’s ongoing.

CWB is a witness to the Guarani’s pain, and also their ceremony, song, and dance.

Clowns performing in Turkey as a rainbow appears in the sky

Joining Hands and Making Eye Contact, Rain or Shine

CWB artists hold hands and dance with the Guarani as a welcome to the community

On tour, CWB is typically the first to offer a song. That wasn’t the case with the Guarani.

According to Julie Moore, the Guarani’s greeting was song and dance, “in every space we entered.”

For the team, the experience was vibrant, warm, and joyful.

They greeted us with joy and light and a genuine generosity of spirit. Even though many of the Indigenous people here live in difficult situations, facing the challenges of meeting basic needs, they were always so welcoming and happy to meet us and full of joy in sharing and connecting with us, and we with them.

Orlene Carlos, CWB Performing Artist

If you want to learn about the significance of song to the Guarani people, I encourage you to check out the following article by Valéria Macedo, Anthropologist and Professor at Universidade Federal de São Paulo, Brazil. She began working with the Guarani in 2005 and her 2011 article is called Tracking Guarani songs: between villages, cities and worlds.

Kids from the Guarani community sit and watch a clown show

CWB artists Tetê Purezempla (Brazil), Kauan Scaldelai (Brazil), Ludmila Lopes (Brazil), Julie Moore (US), and Orlene Carlos (US) were pleased as punch to share their performance art and witty shenanigans of the highest order with the Guarani.

There were saxophone tunes, tables tossed by a foot juggler, and lots of zany clownish humor.

Here are some of our favorite shots from the performances.

CWB performing artist juggles a table with her feet in front of a croud of kids from the Guarani community

Participants [of our workshops] included Indigenous artists, university students, local artists, and educators. I enjoyed meeting them and sharing techniques and knowledge.

Orlene Carlos, CWB Performing Artist
artists and students join hands at a workshop for the Guarani community
CWB artists clap at the end of their performance


CWB was honored to walk on the soil that the Guarani-Kaiowá are fighting for, exchange art, and listen to stories of both pain and joy.

CWB team members shared ‌17 performances, one workshop for those interested in the art of clowning, and one workshop for social workers. 

To see more program photos, check out our video montage below!

Clown putting on makeup at clown school

Top Clown Schools in the US (Includes Insider Reviews)

Original author: Tamara Palmer

Do you dream of clowning? It’s time to take those dreams to the next level with this updated resource of top clown schools in the US.

These opportunities — ranging from drop-in classes to Master of Arts programs — offer creative inspiration, historical perspective, skill development, and valuable feedback to support your path to wearing the red nose.

While there’s no right way to become a clown, training completed by Clowns Without Borders (CWB) artists typically includes contemporary circus performance and working in an ensemble. The schools highlighted here celebrate these styles. They also espouse clown qualities we treasure, including vulnerability, authenticity, and presence.

Before we jump into our list of top clown schools in the US, we’ve got a question for you:

What kind of clown will you be?

CWB Artists Darina Robles, aka the migrant chicken, and Lars Uribe perform in a CWB tour in Gualemala.
CWB Artists Darina Robles and Lars Uribe perform for migrant families in Paradise, Guatemala, 2022. Photo by John Rudoff.

Clowntemplation: Questions to Help You Find Your Best-Fit Clown School

“Clown” means something different for everyone.

You may not know what kind of clown you want to be, or what kind of clown school you want to attend. And that’s okay.

To get a clearer picture, we encourage you to continue learning about clowning, how it can foster play and connection, and influence culture. This kind of investigation will give you direction, or at least get you asking interesting questions.

Here are five questions you can ask yourself right now to help bring clarity to your school search.

Clown School Clarity:

Get Nosey About Your Clown Type

  1. Why do I want to study clown?
  2. What kind of clowning do I most connect to?
  3. Do I want to perform or am I looking for an outlet to expand my creative horizons?
  4. If I want to perform, am I interested in the stage, party shows, street performances — or some combination?
  5. How much time and money do I want to invest in training?

Wait! What about the Rainbow Wigs and Full Makeup?

If you dream of putting on big shoes and full makeup, definitely check out Mooseburger, Clown Camp, and other listings via the World Clown Association.

You won’t find that style of clown taught in the places listed below.

What will you find?

  • Inspired locations
  • Talented artist-teachers
  • Passionate students with whom you can share the journey

Let’s do this!

CWB’s Founder Moshe Cohen on tour with fellow CWB Artists in Guatemala, 2019.
CWB’s Founder Moshe Cohen on tour with fellow CWB Artists César Humberto Toje Hernández, Miguel Ángel Guzmán, and Juan Pablo Flores Perez in Guatemala, 2019.

The Funniest Education You’ll Ever Get: Top Clown Schools in the US

1. Dell’Arte International – Blue Lake, California

Dell'Arte International logo obtained Apr 2023

Dell’Arte International is a school for theater training, research, and performance of the actor-creator.

Carlo Mazzone-Clementi and Jane Hill wanted to share the European traditions of physical theater training with North American artists and performers. So they founded Dell’Arte in 1971. Since then, Dell’Arte International has gained international recognition.

Its School of Physical Theater teaches actors to develop their use of physical spaces, gestures, and movements while approaching stage performance as poetic expression. Instruction guides students to explore and produce creative works.


Physical theater education is at the core of Dell’Arte’s offerings, which include a Clown Core program, a professional training program, a summer intensive, and a study abroad in Bali. Scholarship opportunities are available.

The campus is replete with studios, gymnastics/acro classrooms, mask construction area, costume shop, theater, amphitheater, as well as an outdoor wilderness space along the Northern Coast of California.

Many Dell’Arte graduates fill the Clowns Without Borders roster.

Learn more at

“My experience at Dell’Arte kind of blew my mind. I started to understand what it might mean to be an artist and not just an actor. I started to understand my strengths and where I needed to grow.”

— CWB Artist Hannah Graff

Read the full interview here.

2. Center for Movement Theatre – Washington DC

Center for Movement Theatre with Dody Disanto logo. Clown School

The Center for Movement Theatre is a large, gorgeous workspace for practitioners, teachers, and trainers.

Dody Disanto instructs students in her physical approach to acting based on the work of the late Jacques Lecoq. Physical theater training compels a student to learn the space — how to use it and body gestures to communicate with maximum clarity and intention for the audience.

At the core of this style of theater is the use of neutral masks.

The Neutral Mask

To best understand neutral mask work, we recommend you sign up for a course. Ha!

A cursory explanation?

Students wear the neutral mask during training. As soon as they don the mask, pupils must be “at the ready” in the words of Dody Disanto. Ready to play, create, and broaden the physical senses.

Lecoq’s neutral masks gradually become smaller as the student’s theater skills become more refined. Eventually, you’ll just wear a clown nose.


Dody Disanto teaches a monthly drop-in movement clinic, 5-day summer intensives, a bouffon laboratory, neutral mask, and a dynamic studies class.

The Center is complete with a gym, treatment rooms, and a natural light-filled studio.

Learn more at

Clowns Without Borders artist interacts with kids after a clown show in The Philippines, 2014.
Clowns Without Borders artist interacts with kids after a clown show in The Philippines, 2014.

3. Celebration Barn Theater – Western Maine

Celebration Barn clown school logo.

Celebration Barn Theater offers intensives in a beautifully restored horse barn in rural Maine. It’s a neigh-sayers game-changer.

Tony Montanaro opened the Celebration Barn in 1972, creating a hub for mastering mime, improvisation, storytelling, and other skills that make great performers shine.

Alumni of the Barn have taken the skills they learned there and have gone on to amazing careers in theater, film, and television. Think Sesame Street puppeteers, writers for Between the Lions, and performers with Cirque du Soleil.


Come prepared to play!

Participants receive quality instruction from talented teachers and exposure to other exceptional actors. Workshops and residencies focus on collaboration and pushing the artist’s creative exploration to the edge.

You can polish your performance at a retreat with Robert Post; try something new with Principles of Eccentric Performing; dive deep into bouffon and mocking; trigger your imagination with Spymonkey’s Creating Clown Material.

The Celebration Barn also holds shows on its grounds and features a traveling comedy play.

Learn more at

Clowns performing in Turkey as a rainbow appears in the sky

4. Pig Iron – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Pig Iron clown school logo obtained Apr 2023

Pig Iron is an award-winning theater company, best known for its experimental theater.

Touring with its unconventional in-house productions since 2004, Pig Iron Theatre Company creates unique and challenging performances, trains new artists, and asks tough questions about the world around us.


Pig Iron School focuses on performance acting with full-impact creativity. There are seasonal workshops to help actors, students, and professionals develop flexibility, presence, and collaboration skills. The summer sessions tend to be the most clown-focused.

Pig Iron School also offers an MFA/Certificate program in Devised Performance through a partnership with the University of the Arts-Ira Brind School of Theater Arts.

Learn more at

Clowns Without Borders artist Carolina “CoiCoi” balances on a ladder during a Colombia coastal tour, 2018.
Clowns Without Borders artist Carolina “CoiCoi” balances on a ladder during a Colombia coastal tour, 2018.

5. USC School of Dramatic Arts, Institute for Theatre & Social Change – Los Angeles, California

USC school of dramatic arts clown school logo obtained Apr 2023

The clown, a pure embodiment of vitality, transports the patient from the confines of the hospital room into a world without limitations.

Zachary Steel, Program Director

USC School of Dramatic Arts is a clown school that believes that medical clowning is transformative and healing.

Medical clowns help patients feel better by reducing stress and boosting emotional well-being. The Medical Clowning Program at USC uses humor to improve the patient experience in local hospitals, and to shape a “healthier humanity.” The program has certified 25 undergraduate medical clowns and 10 professional performers.

USC Medical Clowns work outside of hospitals too. They’re partnering with The Children’s Bureau to provide emotional support to children through support groups, making them the first program in the US to use medical clowning in this therapeutic setting.

Learn more at

Clowns Without Borders artist Kolleen Kintz shares her guitar with a boy in Lesvos, Greece 2016.
Clowns Without Borders artist Kolleen Kintz shares her guitar with a boy in Lesvos, Greece 2016.

6. Clown Gym – New York City, New York

clown gym clown school logo obtained Apr 2023

While it sounds like a fun place to work out, Clown Gym is actually a great place for high-quality actor training in NYC.

It started as a collaborative experiment. It’s grown over the years to become one of the city’s most reliable sources for connecting artists in a community of experimentation, laughter, and play.

Julia Proctor, Director of Clown Gym, draws on her training with respected instructors such as Christopher Bayes and Philippe Gaulier to help students access their natural creativity and generosity in their acting. She encourages students to connect with their spontaneous impulses and build their skills in a supportive and playful community.


Tuesday night drop-in classes are open to all, just register online before actually dropping in. These classes will help you strengthen your existing acting muscles and help you discover others you didn’t even know you had.

In addition, Clown Gym offers intensives, bootcamps, mentors, and shows. There’s even a monthly “Clown Jam” where you can practice your material with help from an experienced coach.

Learn more at

Kids enjoy the clown show in Lebanon
Kids enjoying a Clowns Without Borders show in Lebanon, 2022. Photo by Charbel Sammour.

7. The Pandemonium Studio – Brooklyn, New York

The pandemonium studio clown school logo obtained Apr 2023

Ready to unleash your inner clown?

Master teacher Christopher Bayes will guide you to explore new ways of doing, thinking, feeling, and expressing yourself — whether you’re a total newbie, a seasoned actor, or a complete clown (pun intended).

Pandemonium classes use rhythm, kinesthetic response, and impulse exercises to help actors develop expression. By unlearning societal filters and listening to your body, you’ll unleash playful impulses. The result? Performances that are bold, dynamic, and unforgettable.

The theatre is a live event and dangerous by its very nature. It should be. That is what is thrilling about it. How do we capture that beauty of chaos and the thrill of pandemonium that is so full of life and possibility?

Christopher Bales


Pandemonium offers summer intensives, teacher trainings, and classes. Classes titles include Clown for All, Clown, Advanced Clown, Extra Super Advanced Clown (!!), Acting as Play, Shakespeare as Play, and Improv with Ralf!

Learn more at

Artists from Circus Katmandu, a Nepalese organization, perform in partnership with CWB in Nepal, 2015.
Artists Sharmila and Payel from Circus Katmandu, a Nepalese organization, perform in partnership with CWB in Nepal, 2015.

8. The Actors Gymnasium – Evanston, Illinois

The clown is resilient. Even when it doesn’t win, it always survives the experience, and the audience sees that it’s possible to go through the fire, to transform, and to thrive.

Adrian Danzig, Clown Program Lead Teacher and Curriculum Creator


If you’re looking to hone your foundational circus and performance skills, definitely check out The Actors Gymnasium (AG).

AG’s Artistic Director, Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi, grew up touring with circuses like Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey as a second-generation performer. She is also an ensemble member of the Lookingglass Theatre.

AG’s leadership and staff have created a community of physical performers who support each other emotionally, physically, and creatively.


AG classes are open to people of all ages and all abilities (Yes! Beginners are welcome!).

If you want more structure, check out AG’s Professional Circus Training Program. The program has two concentrations: aerobatics and clowning. 

The clown concentration is based on Ringling Bros Clown College and includes various disciplines such as circus arts, mime, dance, physical comedy, devising, and object manipulation. The curriculum also focuses on developing skills in clown dramaturgy and direct audience relationships.

Financial aid is available for anyone, with scholarships covering 25% to 95% of the program cost.

Learn more at

CWB artists look on with admiration at a boy performing a trick at a clown show in Cairo
A boy from the audience shows a bit during a Clowns Without Borders show in Cairo, Egypt, 2022. Photo by Zach Doleac.

9. The Clown School – Los Angeles, California

The Clown School logo obtained Apr 2023

The Clown School wants your clown to come out and be creative, playful, and fearless.

Using ancient and modern methods to teach clowning, The Clown School pays tribute to everything from indigenous clown rituals to the modern-day circus. They offer unique classes that inspire actors, performers, and comics.

David Bridel and Orlando Pabotoy founded the Clown School in 2007, and presently, David and Mike Funt lead the classes, accompanied by various guest teachers.

We test and examine their capacity to be spontaneous and work in a troupe, and also to allow themselves to make fun of themselves.

David Bridel, Founding Director, The Clown School


The exercises and improvisations build skills that are useful on stage, in film, and in life. The students receive individual attention and face targeted challenges, making the classes disciplined, rigorous, and fun.
Learn more at

Clowns Without Borders artists in Turkey, 2022.
Clowns Without Borders artists Meredith Gordon and Josie Mae with kids from the audience in Turkey, March, 2023. Photo by Zeynep Secil.

10. The Idiot Workshop – Los Angeles, California

Idiot Workshop logo obtained from FB Apr 2023.

Get ready for some serious silliness at The Idiot Workshop! Their website proudly declares them as champions of “upholding, nurturing, and catapulting Idiots.”

Leading the pack is John Gilkey, a legendary clown, acrobat, and performer with over 35 years of experience in the entertainment industry, including stints with the Pickle Family Circus and Cirque du Soleil.

But here’s the twist: The Idiot Workshop ditches the traditional hierarchy and offers an ongoing class structure that prioritizes continued practice and lets students switch things up whenever they want.


The Idiot Workshop emphasizes the importance of play, fun, and creativity in the learning process, and its instructors provide individual attention and feedback to their students. The school’s courses are suitable for anyone interested in physical comedy and performance, including actors, comedians, and theater students.

In the Intro class, performers learn to improvise organically without following rules or formulas, discovering their own comedic voice. Extra-Idiot classes include Body Brain Smoothie (a movement class), Devising and Idiot Dance, Red Nose Clown, a video-making class, and Acting as Disaster.

Learn more at

Four Clown Me In clowns point in four different directions while looking at a map.
Artists with Clown Me In, a Lebanon-based organization, performing in partnership with CWB in Lebanon, May 2022. Photo by Charbel Sammour.

11. Giovanni Fusetti

Get ready to ignite the stage and unleash your inner artist with Giovanni Fusetti! This rockstar of a teacher and performer brings a holistic approach that blends physicality, emotions, and wild imagination.

With training from prestigious schools and collaborations worldwide, Giovanni has become a renowned teacher, pedagogue, and director. His work in movement-based theater has taken him to numerous countries, where he has shared his expertise with leading theater companies, universities, and schools.

Giovanni’s passion for theater as a transformative experience extends to his work with hospital clowns and his exploration of personal healing through the Red Nose Clown.


Giovanni Fusetti has an exciting lineup of workshops worldwide in places like Italy, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Join him for immersive experiences in Theatre Clown, Physical Comedy, Movement Analysis, Psychological Types, Contemporary Australian Types, Psychodrama, Physical Theatre, and the Pedagogy of Movement Theatre.

Keep an eye on the evolving calendar and join the mailing list for updates on new workshops.

Learn more at

“Giovanni is skilled at creating ensemble and teaches partner work beautifully. At every opportunity, Giovanni incorporates music into clowning. He structures the class within a professional standard that reminded me of ballet master classes and acting conservatories. He gives his students every ounce of his attention and expects the same in return, which created a hugely gratifying and respectful environment.”

— CWB Artist Olivia Lehrman Sblendorio


Finding the right clown school is like finding the right clown nose — it may take a while, but the search is worth it.

How else might we help you on your journey to bring more laughter into the world? Please let us know in the comments.

Also, do you think another clown school program should be on the list? Leave a comment and let us know what we might want to consider adding (and why) for our next update!

Learn more about CWB’s 2022 tours.

Changing Lives One Smile at a Time: Community-based Clowning in Lebanon

You may already know that Clowns Without Borders (CWB)-USA operates in many countries around the world. Another approach to clowning is community-based, wherein organizations focus foremost on local needs.

Clown Me In (CMI) is a community-based organization that primarily works with and for communities in their own country of Lebanon. Relationships with different communities living in Lebanon drive their art, storytelling, and activism.

In June 2022, CWB’s Naomi Shafer caught up with Clown Me In, in Lebanon, for a brief tour.

Naomi was delighted to join CMI’s existing show. The team, composed of Naomi Shafer, Sabine Choucair, Stephanie Sotiry, Riwa Houssami, and Ramy Abi Khalil, performed nine times and reached over 3,000 people.

In this post, you’ll learn about Clown Me In, its flavor of clowning, and how communities responded to their clowning following the Beirut explosion in August 2020.

Clown Me In clowns perform on the street in Lebanon
From left to right: Clown Me In artists Stephanie Sotiry, Sabine Choucair, Ramy Abi Khalil, and Riwa Houssami

Clown Me In: Taking Community-based Clowning to Another Level

Since 2008, Clown Me In has been using community-based clowning to ask for social justice through street theater and protest, and to encourage people to use the spaces they create for social therapy.

Social therapy is a non-medical, creative form of group therapy that aims to help people in emotional pain. Participants of CMI’s social therapy sessions become a therapeutic unit capable of supporting others.

“Clowning is hope… is magic… is life. And it can do wonders.”

Sabine Choucair, Wellness Curated Podcast, March 8, 2022
Kids enjoy the clown show in Lebanon

Now people wait for us and know what to do when we come. Municipalities and youth groups help us organize, gather people, and make the streets ready.

Sabine Choucair, co-founder/clown/storyteller, Clown me in

At Clown Me In, Relationships are the Magic Dust of Transformation

By deeply listening to people’s lived experiences, Clown Me In creates artistic performances and interactive events that encourage dialogue and healing.

For instance, in 2022, CMI collaborated with 49 communities to address violence.

In each community, adults, children, and teens came together to form a task force. The task force met for three sessions of laughter, clowning, and story-sharing around the theme of violence.

After the third session, the task force developed games and performances that tackled the specific cases of violence that people spoke about. The task force then shared the games and performances with the entire community through a free outdoor day of play.

In this way, the community itself led the intervention, promoting healing and building community capacity.

A girl in yellow claps at a clown show in Lebanon

Hope Amidst the Rubble: Four Stories of Clown Magic

In August 2020, one of the largest explosions ever recorded occurred at the Port of Beirut. The explosion killed 218 people, injured 7,000, and left over 300,000 displaced from their homes.

Clown Me In stepped out on the streets of Beirut three weeks after the explosion. The mood was dark, and the city was still covered with gray dust and piles of rubble.

However, the overwhelmingly positive response to brightly colored clown costumes and offers of play and laughter suggested that the city was ready to heal.

Below are four stories from this time period as shared by Sabine Choucair, CMI’s co-founder and our long-time collaborator:

A clown shakes the hand of a child in the audience.

In Karantina, one child found us wherever we were performing in the area. He told one clown that he’d been seeing the show in his dreams every night.

He also told us to please come up with a new performance because he knew the current one by heart!

Boys look surprised at a clown show in Lebanon

We had so many kids who were severely injured in the blast but insisted on coming to walk with us and watch the show.

A girl with a pink backpack has her hands raised abover her head at a clown show in Lebanon.

Angie, a 5-year-old girl, dared to leave her half-destroyed home for the first time to follow the clowns and jump, sing, and play.

Her mom was in awe, and she wouldn’t stop thanking us.

In Sin El-Fil, there was a 9 or 10-year-old girl who completely stopped talking for a month and a half after the explosion. After watching the show, she ran back to her house and told her dad all about it. Something magic happened at the show — and she talked!

Four Clown Me In clowns point in four different directions while looking at a map.


Clown Me In’s community-based clowning has built trust and collaboration through its relationships. For years, they’ve interacted, listened, reflected needs, and involved the community in its own healing.

Thank you for joining us as we shine a spotlight on a special partner in clown: Clown Me In.

Our amazing photographer for the CWB tour, Charbel Sammour, took all the photos you saw in this post and all the ones you’ll find in the video below.

Check out the YouTube Short video here (it’s not long! 😉)!

A boy and a clown interact on stage in Iraqi Kurdistan

We See You: Elevating Laughter and Hope for Stateless Kurds

Coauthored by Naomi Shafer and Maggie Cunha

What does “being seen” mean to a person who is stateless?

The answer is likely the same as what it means to you.

It’s about being acknowledged, represented, supported, and included.

Would you agree?

For millions of people who are stateless, or not considered a national by any country, they don’t feel seen in these ways. And for many, it feels like the rest of the world has absolutely forgotten their existence.

In 2022, Clowns Without Borders (CWB) traveled twice to Iraqi Kurdistan, where a large portion of the population is stateless. The first trip explored a potential new partnership. The second visit included a full clown team — and lots of fun tricks up our sleeves.

In this post, we’ll talk about Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdish residents we connected with, and how the audience felt seen through our high-spirited shows.

Stateless and Struggling: The Plight of the Kurdish People in Iraq

Clowns welcome children to the stage during a show for people who are stateless in Iraqi Kurdistan

The Kurds are the largest stateless nation in the world.

Al Jazeera

The Kurds, or the Kurdish people, are an ethnic group with a population between 30 and 45 million who straddle the borders of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. They are also the world’s largest peoples without a state, facing marginalization and persecution in their century-old fight for rights, autonomy, and independence.

Like millions of stateless people around the world, most Kurds are denied basic rights such as education in their own language, freedom of movement, and the right to vote.

Map of Iraqi Kurdistan from Wikipedia.
Iraqi Kurdistan. (2023, March 13). In Wikipedia.

Iraqi Kurdistan (also referred to as Southern Kurdistan, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and Kurdistan Region) is an autonomous region in northern Iraq where stateless Kurdish refugees and IDPs (Internally Displaced People) represent about 28% of the population (The Kurdish Project).

Faces of Hope: Our Kurdish Refugee Audience

A child on stage with a clown in a show for people who are stateless in Iraqi Kurdistan

Our audience was Kurdish refugees from Iran.

The women and children in our audience do not have the option to leave the camps and apply for a beneficial legal status in Iraq. They’re also not considered for UNHCR’s refugee resettlement process, and the UN has provided no long-term solutions.

Many families in Iranian Kurdish camps have lived there since the camp’s establishment in 1993.

The camps have suffered from conflicts and war and, in September 2018, they experienced a traumatic missile attack. Most people lost loved ones.

In September 2022, more deadly attacks occurred.

From Invitation to Inspiration: CWB’s Journey to Iraqi Kurdistan

3 People: The March 2022 team that traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan

In March, CWB arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan to learn more about the region, our partner, and to begin dialog with a potential new partner.

It all started with an invitation from Tara Azizi, an Iranian Kurdish human rights lawyer living in the United States. Tara has a history of working in international development and introduced CWB to project partners following a month spent in Iraqi Kurdistan, including refugee camps.

The children were constantly worried that a new bomb attack would hit, making it hard for the kids to focus on something else. It was hard to find a child who laughed.

Tara Azizi, Human Rights Lawyer, on why she reached out to CWB

Other key parts of our March tour included goal-setting, as well as making — and performing — four shows.

At the beginning of our last show, we arrived to find the children lined up to greet us. Dressed in their finest clothing and arranged by height, they ceremoniously greeted us with a bouquet and a hand-written letter. Then each child extended their hand, said their name, and said welcome in Kurdish.

It was amazing to have had a moment of eye contact with each audience member before the show.

Naomi Shafer
Naomi Shafer with a child, skipping past the audience

In June, CWB returned with a full clown team and performed at more camps throughout the region. Besides Iranian Kurds, we also performed for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and Syrian Refugees.

What Was It Like to Be There?

Halfway through one show, the community leader walked onstage with a tray of water. She saw the performers sweating and wanted to offer refreshments. At another moment, when we were singing, all the children ran onstage to join us. 

Both those moments were beautiful gestures of hospitality and engagement that helped us feel connected to the community.

The camp we visited has beautiful concrete homes, a small park, and a playground. The architecture feels permanent, but no one wants to live their lives out here.

There’s a deep need to go home.

Grateful and Giddy: Comments from Captivated Crowds

It is hard to describe how the invitation to play, banjo music, and giant bubbles can transform a space.

As the artists played with kids after the show, Tara Azizi spoke to adults and recorded their comments.

Girl with Clown on stage in a show for people who are stateless in Iraqi Kurdistan

Thank you for coming. This was a golden day for our children.

– A parent in a refugee camp for Iranian Kurds

Gifting a child a plastic plant on stage at a clown show in Iraqi Kurdistan

The children acted as if you were family because you took the time to get to know each of them.

– Community leader

Children dance on the playground with a clown in Iraqi Kurdistan

When we came here, we said Inshallah [if God wills] we’ll get back to our home in Iran.

Now we say we will go back home.

– Audience member

A photo of the audience at a clown show in Iraqi Kurdistan

This is the first time we have had anything like this for our children.

We didn’t know how to set up because no other NGO has come to our camp.

– Community Organizer


Even where human rights are denied for generations, being seen can have a transformative effect.

The contagious power of levity and playfulness can spread hope, ignite creativity, and offer a glimpse of a positive future.

Also, by acknowledging the struggles of people who are marginalized and excluded, and by sharing their stories, we help them feel seen and heard.

The Iraqi Kurdistan tours in March and June 2022 featured a total of 20 shows.

March team members included Tara Azizi (non-performing team member), CWB Board Member Tim Cunningham (performing team member), as well as CWB-USA’s Executive Director, Naomi Shafer (performing team member).

June performing team members included Sabine Choucair (Lebanon), Naomi Shafer, and David Tann (England). Our partner, Terres Des Hommes Italia, provided logistics.

Want to see more images from the tour? Check out the video below!

Robin Lara dances with an audience member in Cairo, Egypt

5 Groups of Displaced Kids in Cairo, Egypt You Want to Meet

Who is displaced in Cairo?

This tour, more than any other this year, challenged our concept of displacement.

Unlike other locations where refugees and migrants live in formal camps (such as Zimbabwe), Cairo’s displaced are integrated into the city. Integrated groups of refugees and migrants face barriers to engagement, including well-founded fears of discrimination.

In this post, we’ll introduce you to five groups of children who live in Cairo and are displaced. We think you’ll fall in love with them just as we have.

But first, let’s talk about how we connected with displaced kids in Cairo.

GPS Can’t Help You Here: Connecting with Displaced Kids in Cairo

children jumping through hoops at a clown show in Egypt

Connecting with displaced children diffused throughout a city of 22 million? We couldn’t have done it without these two entities.

First, our funding partners and individual supporters understand that displacement and discrimination overlap. This gave us the flexibility to connect with people with diverse experiences.

On the ground, our partner Nahda Arts School for Social Theatre (NAS) did an incredible job making necessary arrangements, including coordination with local community organizers.

Egypt hosts more than 270,000 registered asylum-seekers and refugees from 65 countries. The majority are from Syria, followed by Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Yemen, and Somalia.


NAS and CWB artists from the US co-created an original performance, which was performed 16 times for 1,990 people in locations throughout the Egyptian capital.

Here are five groups the team performed for:

1. From Garbage to Giggles: The Zabbaleen Kids

We performed a show in the settlement of the Zabbaleen, an Egyptian Arabic word that means “garbage collectors.”

The Zabbaleen, which includes generations of migrants, have long faced stigma and discrimination for their traditional role as garbage collectors and recyclers.

Despite their valuable contribution to managing the city’s waste, they continue to be marginalized and excluded from mainstream society.

Leapin' Louie perfroms with his laso in a show for displaced kids in Cairo

Zabbaleen moms wanted to go to the show but couldn’t get it approved by their supervisor, so only the kids came.

We made videos and sent them to the moms. They loved it!

The moms said they wished they could have gone, but it was worth it to see their children so happy.

2. What’s “Better than School” at this Leper Colony?

The enduring stigma of leprosy has been hard for some cultures to shake, and that includes Egypt.

Even though modern medicine has made it possible to cure leprosy with antibiotics and it’s not contagious via casual contact, leper colonies still exist in Egypt.

The term [leprosy] has been so heavily stigmatized that it has become synonymous with abandonment, social isolation, and condemnation to a lifetime at the margins of society.

The Lancet

Because children and adults are forcibly separated from their families and isolated from their community, CWB considers this displacement.

Children dance with a clown at a show for displaced kids in Cairo

The best thing we heard from a child at a Cairo leprosy colony?

“This is so much fun and better than school!”

3. Street Children (Girls) Begin to Dream of the Stage

In Cairo, many children live on the streets, either alone or with their families.

These children face a lot of challenges, such as violence, exploitation, and abuse. They also lack access to necessities like food, shelter, and healthcare.

It’s hard for these children to break out of poverty because they miss out on education and other opportunities.

Our team performed for street girls connected with the organization Samusocial International Egypt, whose organizational values are dignity, solidarity, and citizenship.

Hannah Gaff performs in a clown show for displaced kids in Cairo

Girls told us, “I want to be like you!” and asked, “How can we be in a theater troupe like you?

They showed us all of their tricks, flipping who was the audience and who was the performer.

4. “I Am Very Happy!” The Hope and Resilience of Displaced Sudanese

Sudanese migrants in Egypt face many challenges, including:

  • Difficulty getting work permits
  • Living in overcrowded and unsafe settlements that lack clean water and healthcare
  • Discrimination based on race and nationality

Despite experiencing violence and police brutality, families of Sudanese migrants are surviving and are determined to persevere.

About two to five million Sudanese live in Egypt, including over 52,000 registered Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers.

A boy is having a great time being in the show for displaced Sudanese in Cairo

One young boy at the Center for Sudanese Migrants said, “I’ve never had this joy before. I am very happy!

5. Bringing Laughter to Cairo’s Streets: Inclusive Performances for All

Given the melange of displacement and poverty in Cairo, we also performed several street shows, with the goal of reaching anyone who wanted to enjoy some levity.

We included host communities (as we did in Ecuador) to prove a safe place for immigrants and non-immigrants to come together.

The More, the Merrier!

Unlike aid organizations that provide vital food, shelter, or 1:1 medical care, CWB’s offerings get better and better as more people arrive.

How’s that? The more people there are, the more potential there is for laughter!

CWB artists look on with admiration at a boy performing a trick at a clown show in Cairo

“My baby didn’t sleep or run away. She watched the whole time because the show was so engaging.”

– Mother of a toddler at a street show.


The CWB tour in Cairo expanded our definition of displaced and we’re feeling good about it.

The May 2022 tour featured 16 shows and 2 workshops. CWB’s amazing artists were: Robin Lara (USA), David Lichtenstein (USA), Hannah Gaff (USA), Reham Ramzy (Egypt), Michael Hanna (Egypt), Jaklin Shwaky (Egypt), and Mohamed Tarek Abou Heneidy (Egypt).

A big shout out and thank you to our non-performing team members Zach Doleac (Photography) and Mostafa Wafi (Logistics).

Want to see more images from the tour? Check out the video below!

Can Clowning Combat Xenophobia? In Ecuador, We Give It Our Best Shot

Clowns Without Borders believes clowning transcends borders of race, religion, nationality, cultural history, class, gender, sexual orientation, and ability — and we proudly stand up against xenophobia.

In 2022, we partnered with the US Embassy-Public Affairs Division, Quito and Corporación Humor y Vida (Quito), to create a show to promote the Rights of the Child and combat xenophobia.

The team performed the show 14 times, for 4,648 people, in the cities of Quito, Esmeraldas, and Lago Agrio.

Read on to learn about xenophobia, how it affects communities in Ecuador, and how CWB clowns responded (including pictures and a video).

CWB clown taking a selfie with audience member in Ecuador

What is Xenophobia and How Has it Affected Ecuador?

Xenophobia is an irrational fear of people from other countries. It lacks understanding, empathy, and appreciation of cultural differences — and misinformation fuels it.

There are plenty of examples of xenophobia in the United States. One example is the violence and discrimination experienced by Asian Americans (and people thought to be Asian American) during the pandemic.

Links Between Xenophobia and Racism

  • Xenophobia and racism both involve prejudice and discrimination against individuals or groups based on characteristics such as their nationality, ethnicity, or race.
  • Both xenophobia and racism can lead to exclusion, marginalization, and inequality, and can cause serious harm to individuals and communities.
  • Xenophobia and racism often reinforce each other. For example, someone who is xenophobic towards immigrants may hold negative stereotypes about their race or ethnicity, and vice versa. In addition, economic insecurity, political polarization, and media portrayals can fuel xenophobic or racist attitudes.

In Ecuador, xenophobia has led to conflict as host communities fear immigrants will take away jobs, housing, or food security (see Diego’s Story).

Young boy with his schoolmates at a clown show in Ecuador

Diego’s Story

Diego, 10, lives in Esmeraldas, Ecuador. In the last few years, many migrants and refugees from Venezuela have settled in his town.

He hears his parents complain that there are not enough jobs, houses, or food for new arrivals. Clashes are starting to become violent.

When the clowns come to perform in the village center, Diego wonders if he can go.

“Come, join us,” one clown says. “Laughter is for everyone.”

Diego and his parents stand with his neighbors — from Ecuador and Venezuela. They all laugh together.

Xenophobia and Gender Discrimination

By December 2022, Ecuador had absorbed over 500,000 Venezuelan people, making it the 3rd largest host country for Venezuelan refugees after Colombia and Peru.

Around half of the Venezuelan immigrants who come to Ecuador are women and children and, unfortunately, they face ongoing threats to their safety.

When xenophobia is combined with gender discrimination, it can be even harder for women (and their children) to get the protection they need. As Amnesty International reported, this follows a trend of lack of protection for Venezuelan survivors of gender-based violence, first identified and Colombia and Peru.

The search for a better place to live is as natural as the search for love. The unnatural parts are borders, racism, and xenophobia.

Darina Robles, CWB Performing Artist
Young mothers with their babies laugh at a clown show in Ecuador.

Can Clowning Really Combat Xenophobia?

We think so.

Clown shows certainly get warm and fuzzy feelings flowing between neighbors. 🥰

The Ecuador team did this through thoughtful production and setting an example of inclusivity. Specifically, the Ecuador team focused on cultural exchange and advocacy to promote understanding, empathy, and respect.

Who knew clowns could be such powerful agents of change?

Oh ya, you did!

A box of text that addresses why clowns promote cultural exchange and advocacy in their shows.

Let’s take a closer look at the show to see how clowning promotes love, acceptance, diversity, and human rights.

The Ecuador Show Went Like This…

The show was a play within a play.

Two groups of performers battled with each other for stage time until they ultimately learned they could collaborate.

The show included an imaginary wall, to represent the borders we build between ourselves. 

The Ecuador show in June 2022 featured a whopping 14 shows, 11 workshops, bringing laughter to 4,648 people. CWB Artists were: Arturo Gaskins, Rachel Wansker, Lucy Shelby, Diego Aguirre, Laura Oviedo, and Paty Galarza.

Our partners were the US Public Affairs Division-Quito and Corporación Humor y Vida (Quito).

Want to see more fun photos from the tour?

Check out the montage below!

Group of girls with clown smiling and waving, Lebanon

Can You Be a Clown? Play the “I Love You” Game This Valentine’s Day

Written by Hannah Gaff, updated by Maggie Cunha

So, you want to be a bit more clown? Valentine’s Day is a great day to practice your skills with the children (and adults!) in your life.

In the following post, Hannah Gaff, a seasoned CWB artist, recounts how a courageous girl from Lebanon introduces a delightful game. You’ll love hearing how Hannah responded.

Read to the end for downloadable “I Love You” game tips. (Happy V-Day from CWB!)

Keeping Watch is Key to Clowning

When I clown in the hospital or on the streets, I listen for the game — the gateway to making a vibrant connection with other humans.

I offer myself as an object of play and look to them to see what brings a spark to their eye, a change in their breath, or a giggle.

Sometimes we communicate with words, conversation, stories, or witty jokes. But often the play is non-verbal and we communicate simply through body language, emotion, and eye contact.

Hannah with an audience member in Lebanon.
Hannah Gaff with an audience member in Lebanon.

Being a Clown Can Start with a Game of Copycat

One day in Northern Lebanon (2018), fellow CWB artists and I performed three shows in the Akkar District near the Syrian border.

It stormed all morning, resulting in an impromptu performance at a school where kids could take a dry seat.

After the show, as we began packing up our props, one bold little girl ran up to me and threw her arms around my waist, squeezing tightly. I knelt and squeezed back. When I stood back up, she grabbed onto my arm and dragged me to the schoolyard.

Suddenly three more girls materialized, and we started a game of copycat: I performed a silly movement, and they repeated it.

The bold girl stayed with her arms wrapped around my waist, smiling and laughing up at me. Soon, ten more girls and a few boys gathered. We came up with a little song and dance, full of laughter and play.

Group of boys with clown posing at school

“I Love You”: A Game to Change the World

My teammates had finished packing and loading the van and it was time to go. I told the kids goodbye and thank you in Arabic, but the little girl kept holding on.

When I knelt to give her a hug, she kissed me on the cheek and said, in clear English, “I love you!”

Her words surprised me.

Before I could respond, she said it again, more emphatically, “I. Love. You!” and squeezed me even tighter.

I responded, “I love you,” and blew her a kiss.

She repeated her words — and this time the kiss she threw was so powerful it knocked me backward!

Girls in Lebanon laughing with a clown at a clown show

Soon, the other kids joined in on the game.

I’d say, “I love you!” and blow a kiss that they’d all catch. Then they’d all yell, “I LOVE YOU!” and blow kisses that would knock me backward.

This continued until they cornered me against the van. Sensing the need to say goodbye, my little friend grabbed my arm, pulled me down, and gave me one last hug and kiss on the cheek.

I got in the van and waved from the window. I said, “I love you,” and blew one last kiss, which she caught and held to her cheek.

As the van pulled away, the group of kids chased us down the street, blowing kisses and laughing.

This one tiny heart came up with a game that could change the world: The I LOVE YOU game.

Your Turn to Be a Clown: Play the Game!

So you want to incorporate more play in your days, not just Valentine’s Day? Download these game tips, (which can serve as your cell phone wallpaper) for a gentle clown-ish nudge each day.

Just click on the image, download it to your phone, and then update your wallpaper!

Clowns and Kids interact during shows for Environmental refugees in Zimbabwe

Environmental Refugees Share Zingers and Zest for Life with Clowns in Zimbabwe

In September 2022, CWB performed for large groups of joyful and enthusiastic children and families in Zimbabwe — many of whom are also environmental refugees.

In 2019, as the harvest season was just beginning, flash floods and landslides from Cyclone Idai devastated Central Mozambique and Eastern Zimbabwe. Two million acres of farmland were destroyed.

Many people who lost their homes and farmland are still living in temporary housing with no land of their own.

Today, about 3.8 million people in Zimbabwe (about 40% of the rural population) are food insecure.

USAID, December 2022

At CWB, we often say, “where other resources are scarce, laughter can be abundant.”

Read on to learn how CWB artists in Zimbabwe, Gabi Winter, Hannah Gaff, Ronald Madolax, and Cadrick “KheKhe” Msongelwa, made laughter abundant for 6,717 people. (Wowza 🤩 that’s a lot of folks!)

Kids in Zimbabwe form a train behind CWB artist Hannah Gaf

Environmental Refugees Laugh Together in Wide, Open Spaces

Zimbabwe hosts over 22,600 refugees and asylum-seekers, most of whom live at Tongogara Refugee Camp. To perform shows for up to 1,800 people at one time, the artists took advantage of the camp’s large outdoor spaces, often having the audience form a circle around the clowns. 

The thunderous roar of the audience’s laughter was exhilarating for everyone present. 

As Hannah Gaff described it, “the power of the laughter of that many kids is indescribable. Everything happens like an emotional wave through that big of an audience.”

For shows like this, Bob Taf, our tour manager, was a hero. He helped organize the audience so that everyone was safe.

Playing Games That Live On After the Clowns Leave

“I like to find things to use in our show that the community has,” Gabi Winter explains.

A lot of times that means call and response or teaching songs — leading games that don’t rely on many (or any!) physical items.

In this show, the team also used brightly colored plastic bags in multiple acts. The goal was to inspire the audience so that they could keep the games alive after the clowns leave using materials readily available in the camp.

Clowns play in a blow up dounut at a clown show for environmental refugees in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe Round-Up Photos and Stories

Refugee in Zimbabwe talks about why clowns are valuable for the people at his camp.

[Our] stresses are removed by these kinds of games, laughter, and love.

– Kelli, Tongogara Refugee, Zimbabwe

It was always such a delight when a kid from the audience would come on stage and do what we asked. Never exactly how we had imagined it, but always in their own way. It was funny!

– Cadrick “KheKhe” Msongelwa

Clowns perform for environmenatl refugees in Zimbabwe

Humanitarian clowning is necessary because it brings closure, warmth, healing, and joy.

– Ronald Madolax

CWB Clowns perform for environmental refugees in Zimbabwe

I had a very beautiful moment after one show. This little girl came over to me. She put her tiny hand in my hand and we sat down together, looking into each other’s eyes. We were so connected.

– Gabi Winter

Clown holds rubber chicken for laughing children in Zimbabwe

My favorite moment was marching with the kids as they sang songs on the way back to school. They were taking all their silly energy from the show and then using it to SING!

– Cadrick “KheKhe” Msongelwa

Refugee audiences in Zimbabwe experienced 16 engaging shows and two workshops produced and performed by CWB artists Gabi Winter (Brazil), Hannah Gaff (United States), Ronald Madolax (Zimbabwe), and Cadrick “KheKhe” Msongelwa (Zimbabwe).

Our partner was Zimbabwe Theatre Academy and Tweens Tongogara. Teddy Mangawa, Lloyd Nyikadzino, and Bob Taf handled logistics.

Want to see more fun photos from the tour? Check out the montage below!