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!

Ukrainian refugee children join the clown show in Romania

Ukrainian Refugees Co-Create Fun and Entertainment with Clowns in Romania

Ukrainian refugees didn’t expect to become part of the clown show.

But that’s exactly what happened for many of the 540 people who attended one of 13 CWB shows in Romania, November 2022.

When our Romanian partner, Terres Des Hommes, described their challenge to meet refugee children’s needs for play, CWB-USA and CWB-UK came together to produce a tour that blurred the line between performer and audience.

The result? Sometimes the entire audience was on stage!

Ukrainian refugee children dance in a congo line with CWB artists in Romania.

A Line Ukrainian Refugee Children Actually Want to Join

Adult Ukrainian refugees wait in a lot of lines (read: dull, impersonal) to receive goods and services they need — and their children are often right next to them. Every hour spent in a long line is an hour not spent at play.

Our Romanian partner, Terres Des Hommes, works hard to create fun and personal experiences for refugee children in Romania that “guarantee inclusion and participation.”

Of course, we’re tickled they asked our clowns to come.

Romania hosts over 86,000 Ukrainian refugees, of which about 28% are children.


The Romania tour consisted of a series of shows with small audience numbers. Some shows had over 40 audience members, others had as few as 11. Our artists, Robin Lara, Arturo Gaskins, Vicky Moraru, and Alexandra Gavris, seized the opportunity to create personal connections.

For example, Vicky shares that there was a moment of dancing with the moms. “It was like each of us had become Beyoncé.” Instead of sitting quietly, each mom was strutting her stuff and shaking and laughing and taking a moment to be a queen.

CWB shows aren’t just about the clowns “giving something” to the audience. It is also a chance for audience members to make something for each other and for themselves.

Naomi Shafter, Executive Director, Clowns Without Borders USA

The following photos were taken by photographer John Rudoff in Bucharest and Brasov Romania, where CWB artists connected with Ukrainian refugees.

CWB artist Arturo Gaskins with an audience member in Romania where CWB performed for Ukrainian refugees.

At one show, a girl of about 10 hugged me and climbed me as if I were a tree. I could feel how much she missed her papa.

– Arturo Gaskins

CWB artist Arturo Gaskins performing upside down in his cyr wheel for Ukrainian refugees

Two girls helped me disassemble the cyr wheel with so much love. They had such a desire to help in their every action.

– Arturo Gaskins

CWB artist Robin Lara with an audience member in Romania who is trying her talent at plate spinning

The kids loved that we involved them in the actual show. Their expectation was that it would be them sitting there the whole time like a movie. It was a fun surprise that we interacted with them.

– Robin Lara

CWB artist Alexandra Gavris with a Ukrainian refugee child from the audience at a clown show in Romania

A boy told me that his favorite moment of the show was from the beginning to the end.

– Alexandra Gavris

CWB artists with Ukrainian refugee children who are standing between two jugglers at a clown show in Romania

Some girls said to me:

“Can you stay with us a little longer? We want to play hide and seek.”

– Alexandra Gavris

Ukrainian refugee audiences in Romania experienced 13 engaging shows and one workshop produced and performed by CWB artists Robin Lara (United States), Arturo Gaskins (United States), Vicky Moraru (United Kingdom), and Alexandra Gavris (United Kingdom).

Our partner was Terres Des Hommes and Clowns Without Borders UK. John Rudoff was our photographer.

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

Clowns dancing with children in the street

4 Ways Play Helps Connect: Examples from Human Trafficking Survivors in Mexico

When was the last time play helped connect you and a friend? 

Maybe you were making music, getting your groove on, or playing pickleball.

At Clowns Without Borders, we rely on the power of play to help connect people to each other and to their hopes and dreams of a better world.

In this post, the four CWB artists who performed in Mexico this past August (Luz, Darina, Vanessa, and Molly) each share a story of how women and girls in Mexico use play to connect and dream of a better future. The stories are especially inspiring because these girls and young women have survived human trafficking.

Please note: This post includes information about human trafficking and sexual exploitation. 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 the post and go straight to the photo montage video, click here.

1. Play creates emotional connection and leg appendages (Luz’s story)

Luz plays the accordion as a small child approaches her, play helps connect clowns and children

I have an act with a fake fish that I am trying to catch to make a taco, and after a few minutes of me running around wildly onstage with the fish, I came to a moment of relative stillness.

With the fish still wiggling wildly in my hand, a tiny girl rushed onstage and hugged my leg. She kept coming back onstage during the show and, eventually, Vanessa just picked her up and continued with our schtick as planned, the tiny girl in her arms.

Luz Gaxiola

This little girl wanted nothing more than to play and connect with the clowns who were the source of that play. Wrapping herself around Luz’s leg was a visceral act that expressed the love, appreciation, and connection she felt for the clowns who were offering play.

When children play, they feel safe.


2. Like magic, play gives you new perspectives (Darina’s story)

Darina takes a photo with an audience member at a clown show as others look on

Obviously, you don’t need to be a refugee to experience the feeling of friendlessness. Humans just feel that way sometimes. As a human who reads this blog, I believe you’ll be able to empathize with the range of emotions expressed by a woman from our Puebla audience.

In the show, my character is a lamb who has lost her home and her family. The clowns make a dream machine and we all put in our dreams for the world, and then invite the audience to join us. It starts out silly, “Cats! Horses! Dogs! Flowers!”

Then a woman stands up and says, “At the moment you told your story, I identified. I am a refugee. I don’t feel I have a home. And only now do I feel like I have friends.”

Darina Robles

Indeed, play helps connect when nothing else does.

The woman from Puebla felt safe being vulnerable with the clowns and the audience after engaging with the lost-lamb story and laughing together.

Human Trafficking in Mexico Linked to Migration

  • 85% of human trafficking victims in Mexico are women and girls. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission
  • The actual number of victims is likely 100x higher than what’s reported.
  • The people at highest risk of being trafficked in Mexico are unaccompanied children, Indigenous persons, asylum seekers and migrants, people who identify as LGBTQI+, and informal sector workers. US State Department

3. Play locks in positive memories of being together (Vanessa’s story)

Vanessa hugs a two children at the end of the clown show, demonstrating how play helps connect

We were performing at a cultural center, and the children of the neighborhood were very shy. At the end of the show, a group of kids got very close to me but didn’t say anything.

“Do you want a hug?” I asked.

Their eyes got wide, and first one, then the rest, nodded and responded, “Si!”

We all hugged, and then the kids giggled and ran off. 

Two other kids, who had been on the side, walked over, carrying a notebook. They showed it to me, and it was a picture of us four clowns. They asked me to sign it, then they hugged it back to their chests.

Vanessa Nieto

When Vanessa took time to connect with the kids at their energy level through hugs and autographs, she did it out of love. What was also happening was that she was supporting the creation of peak moments. These peak moments would later allow the children to better evaluate and remember their experiences.

“The peak-end rule is a psychological heuristic in which people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak (i.e. its most intense point) and at its end, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience.”

Daniel Kahneman
Peak-End Theory creator and Nobel Prize-winning Israeli psychologist

4. Play supports personal transformation (Molly’s story)

Darina acts in skit, eating fake grass as a caterpillar about to turn into a butterfly

We learned from a workshop with the director of a refuge for girl survivors of sex trafficking that most of the girls (aged 13 to 18 years) at the refuge were sex trafficked by their mothers or grandmothers, who themselves had been victims of human trafficking.

We also had a lecture and discussion on trauma and its effects with a psychologist who specializes in that work. She had told us she loves butterflies because they carry the possibility for transformation. She said that people in zones of trauma tend to draw butterflies.

Later that day, we built a butterfly skit into the show.

During the show, as Dari completed her transformation from a gusanito (caterpillar) into a butterfly, one girl pointed straight up into the air and shouted excitedly, “Mariposa!” We all looked up, and I could just see the silhouette of a butterfly as it exited from view.

In the butterfly transformation moment in the show, an actual mariposa had flitted over our heads.

Everyone, the girls and clowns alike, were buzzing and chattering with excitement at the perfection of the timing. The person who had spotted it was saying over and over, “I saw it, it was una mariposa, it flew right over us.” Girls kept repeating the word ‘mariposa’ with wonder in their voices as they looked up into the blue sky.

Molly Shannon
Picture of a monarch butterfly with a blue sky background

Because the audience had been engaged with play, they were in a state of reduced stress and increased creativity. This gave them a major advantage in learning and processing a concept they may not have considered before: Transformation is real and possible.


These inspiring stories from CWB artists demonstrate the power of play. Play can transform, create peak memories, offer new perspectives, and provide a sense of safety that leads to emotional connection.

We’d love to know: How will you play today?

Girls and women survivors of human trafficking in Mexico experienced 11 playful shows (reaching 2,355 people). All shows were produced and performed by CWB artists Darina Robles, Molly Shannon, Luz Gaxiola, and Vanessa Nieto.

Our partner was Llaven Nü. María José Díaz de Rivera managed logistics, and Arturo Reyes was our photographer and documentalist.

Check out the photo montage video from our August 2022 Mexico tour!

Clowns and kids give a celebratory goodbye at the end of a clown show in Poland for Ukrainian refugees

Ukrainian Refugees Laugh with Gusto at Clown Shows in Poland

You may have wondered how a clown show for Ukrainian refugees in Poland (or anywhere) removes the stress, fear, and uncertainty of displacement.

But that’s actually not the goal.

The goal of a CWB clown show is to offer moments of laughter.

This Smile Roundup post showcases moments of laughter experienced by communities of Ukrainian refugees in Poland, where CWB toured this past October.

Dig in to get a big dose of warm fuzzies while gaining insight into the value of a moment of laughter.

We’ll start with the story of Anya, a 9-year-old girl who came to a CWB show in Poland.

When Bombs Fell, Ukrainian Kids Became Refugees

The day before Russia invaded Ukraine, Anya* was going to school, playing with her friends, and living without fear.

When the bombing started, everything changed in Anya’s world. She had to leave home with her family to seek safety. But her father couldn’t go with them because of the federal policy that all men aged 18-60 had to remain in Ukraine.

* Anya’s real name is not used here.

Anya, a Ukrainian refugee living in Poland, delights at a clown show..

Half of all Ukrainian children, aged 0-18, left their country during the first month of war.

United Nations

In Poland, Anya misses the normalcy of her life in Ukraine.

She has made new friends, but her mom knows the stress of war and displacement has been as difficult for her as it’s been for the rest of the family.

It’s hard for the family to relax. It feels like a heavy cloud is hanging over them.

At the Ukrainian Refugee Center, Mouths Dropped and Eyes Grew Wide

Anya lit up when the clowns came to her resettlement center. She was engaged throughout the show — so much so that the clowns knew right away that they’d invite her on stage.

The clown’s instincts were spot-on. Anya was an energetic and joyful performer. She leapt into the air, spun in circles, and played with the clowns.

Anya got to be the star of the show. She said, “I am so happy. I can’t remember the last time I was this happy.”

Anya’s moment of joy is now a memory she can look back on as a time when she celebrated life amid the challenges of displacement. This will help her build resilience so that she can keep going — until she’s able to return home.

What’s the value of a moment of laughter in your life? 

Does laughter elevate your mood and lead to more positive experiences?

Do you seek moments of laughter during your day?

Science tells us that laughter has a ripple effect on our physical and mental health. We even wrote a blog post about the power of laughter.

“It is that faith in the ripple effect. I think about a kids’ show I saw when I was a child, and still remember 20 years later.”

Naomi Shafer, Executive Director, Clowns Without Borders

Photographer John Rudoff took the following photos in a school for Ukrainian children living in Poland.

Two girls clap and smile at a clown show in Poland for Ukrainian refugees.

I can’t believe you all came here for us. I feel I am important and that my kids are important because there was an effort made to make a connection.

– Ukrainian refugee, mother of two

CWB Artists Alex Pizano (front) and Moi de Tiana (back) perform for Ukrainian refugee children in Poland.

These children have the right to freedom and the right to laugh. They don’t have any fault for the political situation in their country. 

– Alex Pizano

CWB Artist Olivia Sblendorio is astonished by the performance of a girl from the audience during a clown show in Poland for Ukrainian refugees.

I was doing fake clown ballet, while a school administrator stood reticent by the door. Whenever she moved a little closer, I would dance with her — and the kids just erupted in laughter.

– Olivia Sblendorio

CWB artist Olivia Sblendorio laughs along with a girl from the audience during a CWB show in Poland for Ukrainian refugees.

Everyone in a family needs healing. Everyone needs a moment of rest — not thinking about why they’re displaced.

– Olivia Sblendorio

Ukrainian refugee audiences in Warsaw, Lublin, and surrounding towns experienced 16 magical shows (that’s 1305 people in attendance!) produced and performed by CWB artists Olivia Sblendorio (United States), Alex Pizano (Mexico), and Moi de Tiana (Spain).

Our partner was Payasos Sin Fronteras Spain. Asia Reczek managed logistics, Olga Szczudlarka provided translation services, and John Rudoff was our photographer.

Here’s a quick video that will add some sunshine to your day!

CWB clowns performing in Guatemala

Smile Roundup: Migrant Families Laugh and Cheer in Guatemala (See Photos)

You love to see our clowns performing and our audiences laughing. That’s why we’re excited to share this first post in our Smile Roundup series. Smile Roundups feature photos of CWB artists with their audiences, plus quotes and stories from the tour. In May 2022, Clowns Without Borders went to Guatemala to support migrant families.

Guatemalan audiences experienced hilarious shows, produced and performed by CWB artists Darina Robles and Lars Uribe. Ricardo Bamaca managed logistics on the ground. Our local partner was UNHCR – Guatemala.

Do you want to know why CWB went to Guatemala? Read on.

Otherwise, jump right to the photos or the video. Guaranteed: You’ll be smiling by the end.

Mexico’s Other Border: A Critical Place for Migrants

A map of Guatemala to show the extent of border it shares with Mexico and it's place as a physical corridor for migrants moving from Central America to Mexico

Guatemala’s location makes it a main migration corridor to the north, primarily for Central American migrants from El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, but also for migrants from places like Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela.

While Guatemala is a place of transit, it is also a place of origin and return. There are internally displaced people (IDPs) responding to organized crime, rural poverty, and agricultural stress related to climate change. And there are migrant families who left Guatemala for the US or Mexico — and were returned.

According to, the United States and Mexico deported 40,522 Guatemalans via chartered flights between January and August 2022. During the same time period, another 26,557 Guatemalans were deported by bus/on foot.

Returned migrants do not get support from their government and often find that economic conditions have worsened since they left.

Our Clowns Went to the Migrant Capital of Guatemala

Group photo after clown show in Huehuetenango, Guatemala for migrants and their families.
Huehuetenango, Guatemala, 2022.

According to UNICEF, half of all Guatemalan children are chronically malnourished. Hunger is especially severe in Huehuetenango, a region suffering years of agricultural losses from drought and a fungus called coffee rust.

The result of the agricultural devastation and hunger is migration. The Huehuetenango region generates the highest number of Guatemalans migrating to the US (and also getting returned from the US).

Photographer John Rudoff took the following photos in San Ildefonso Ixtahuacán, Huehuetenango.

Mountains of Huehuetenango, Guatemala, 2022.

“The single best moment of my Clowns Without Borders tour is when an Indigenous family walked three hours through the forest to join our clown show. They told us the effort was worth it.”

– Darina Robles

Lars Uribe with girl on shoulders at a clown show for migrant families.
CWB Artist Lars Uribe
Migrant Chicken flying

“I’ll never forget when a child from the audience told me, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a chicken!’ (like me).”

– Darina Robles, aka the Migrant Chicken

Boy laughing at CWB show

After a show, I approached a boy who was serious for most of the performance. I asked him, ‘Do you believe in magic?’ He replied, ‘No, magic doesn’t exist!

When I made a handkerchief disappear before his eyes, the boy’s face changed to surprise, and he smiled.

– Lars Uribe

“I see great potential in the show to take it to all migration programs in the Peten region, Guatemala.”

– UNHCR Field Staff

The image shows clown with adult migrants and audience members.

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

Thank you for being professional and different.”

– Grandfather from the audience

✨ In case you’re not smiling yet, this photo montage video will make it happen!

clown leading a parade in the streets of Egypt

Is Laughter the Best Medicine? These Clowns Say Absolutely!

Sometimes it takes a crisis to realize you need a big dose of laughter. My aha moment came with flashing red lights: a breast cancer diagnosis late last year. What I learned during my treatment and the six months since is that laughter is strong medicine — and an absolute must for my health and happiness.

The science of laughter, called gafology — just kidding, it’s gelotology — has revealed just how important it is to laugh regularly.

Join your clown friends and me on a deep dive into a topic to treasure and spread around: Laughter.

We’ll cover 4 ways laughter really is the best medicine, and also invite you to take our laughter challenge!

First, let’s start with a reflection.

Two clowns getting laughs in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe, 2019. CWB Artists Sibusiso Khambule and Robin Lara

Where does laughter enter your life, and where does it run smack into a glass door before reaching you?

Can you laugh anytime you want to shift your perspective or mindset?

This isn’t about instituting happy thoughts to avoid unpleasant ones. It’s about celebrating the power of laughter to enrich your life and add pep to your step.

The point, or the question rather, is this: How’s your laugh-life?

Here’s a fun quiz to help you check-in:

Laughter reflection quiz

Prizes sent straight to your inbox, which look exactly like our weekly newsletter.

Now that you’ve gotten to know your laugh-life, let’s talk about how it benefits your health and relationships.

1. The mental benefits of laughter are no joke.

Do you ever crave laughter?

Maybe you itch to laugh at the end of a tense workday, or you search for a funny movie after a stressful week managing a family crisis. These are great examples of how you’re already using laughter to regulate your mind and body. Well played!

Let’s dig deeper and find out what’s happening before, during, and after a good laugh.

That stressed-out feeling (before a laugh)

When you experience stress of any type, cortisol, “the stress hormone,” surges in your body. Short term, cortisol helps you feel mentally focused and energized. Long term, it can leave you feeling irritable, anxious, and fatigued. Less observable changes include an increase in blood sugar and a weakening of the immune system.

three types of stress

The good news is that your brain is ready and waiting for you to take an action that will trigger the release of feel-good hormones.

What happens during and after mirthful laughter?

You’re stressed out after a long day. Then your kid says the funniest thing and gets you to crack up. Here’s a breakdown of why you feel so pleasant moments later.

Hormone bliss-out

Your brain’s pituitary gland and hypothalamus kick into action, producing beta-endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin. Within seconds, they’ve spread throughout your body and have overpowered stress hormones (especially cortisol) to get you feeling:

  • Positive, optimistic, and less tense (endorphins)
  • Full of pleasure (dopamine)
  • Warm and fuzzy toward others (oxytocin)

These hormones are not to be underestimated.

Antigua Guatemala, 2019. CWB Artist Xexa Toje

At a 15-year follow-up of 53,556 women and men, researchers of the Norway study on laughter found that women whose sense of humor measured on the high end were associated with a 48% lower risk of death from all causes. Men who had good humor had a 74% reduced risk of death from infection. The researchers suspect that a greater ability to cope with stress (and associated hormone levels) may be what contributed most to participants living longer.

Beta-endorphins that replace cortisol during laughter are 18 to 33 times more potent than morphine and are immune system strengtheners (say that 3 times fast!).

quote about laughter from Doctor

1.5 (Surprise bonus!) Is it good for your heart to laugh?

You don’t need a doctor (or clown doctor) to know about the physiological changes that occur when you laugh. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Your lungs fill with oxygen-rich air, which
  • The additional blood circulation
    • Stimulate and protect blood vessels and heart muscles
    • Relaxes muscles and eases tension
  • Your heart rate increases, then decreases
    • Stabilizing your blood-pressure
    • Bringing a sense of calm

If the benefits ended there, you may feel only mildly impressed since you could get similar results from exercise. But there’s much more to the power of laughter as medicine.

Let’s talk about how it reduces pain.

Clown falls on top of laughing boys in Egypt
Egypt, 2022. CWB Artist Robin Lara

2. Who said, “laughter is the best medicine?” Someone in pain.

I admit to binge-watching Emily in Paris during my first days post-surgery. I laughed at all the cringe it served up. The point was the laughter, and I got my share.

Maybe you have had a similar experience of being ill or in pain and seeking humor.

Turns out that laughing when in pain helps you feel better — but it’s not only because you’re getting a mood boost. Researchers at Oxford have found that our pain threshold actually increases about 10% after we laugh for 15 minutes. 

Laughter is also a study-proven non-pharmacologic intervention (NPI, see box) to help reduce stress and anxiety.

What are NPIs

We know laughter really isn’t medicine, but its health benefits are hard to ignore: Laughter is non-invasive, comes without side effects, plus it’s free and accessible.

Clowns Without Borders (CWB) artist Michael O’Neil believes that laughter is a frame of mind: He brings a rubber chicken on every tour because it gives him a chuckle knowing that the TSA might just open his bag and see it.

Clown with girl whose smiling as she spins a ball on her finger
Columbia, 2015. CWB Artist Michael O’Neil

Now let’s turn to talk about two ways that laughter can improve your life beyond health and ease.

3. Which comes first: the friendship or the laughter?

During radiation treatment, I listened to two audiobooks: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah and Together by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.

Guess which audiobook had me chuckling in the waiting room?

In the not-as-funny-yet-just-as-real Together book, Murthy talks about how people with chronic loneliness are at a higher risk of illness. Chronic loneliness is indicated by feelings that no one is looking out for you, that you are invisible, or that you have to solve problems on your own.

During the pandemic, self-reported loneliness in the US ballooned to 36%, with 61% of young adults and 51% of mothers with young children reporting “serious loneliness.”

I guess it’s good to know I wasn’t alone in my loneliness?

quote from victor borge: "Laughter is the shortest distance..."

Laughter is powerful medicine for loneliness

One of the most powerful benefits of laughter may be its ability to bring people together.

Sharing a laugh works to connect us quickly because, when you laugh at the same thing, your brain signals that you share the same worldview. And feeling that you’re coming from the same place (metaphorically, as a line of thinking and feeling) is key to developing a relationship.

Laughter transcends

Laughter cuts through social anxiety and social difference, connecting people across languages and cultures. The sound of human laughter is the most recognizable emotion-vocalization: it sounds the same regardless of language or culture. People from other cultures can even recognize the difference between laughter among strangers and laughter among friends.

Clowns running and getting laughter in Greece
Greece, 2015. CWB Artist Sabine Choucair and Luz Gaxiola

Clowns Without Borders artists can attest to this reality: Artists have witnessed refugees, diverse in nationality, culture, and language (including Syrians, Afghans, and Iraqis), stand shoulder-to-shoulder and laugh together during CWB performances—just like in the photo above.

You can see that laughter has been key to our evolution as cooperative social beings.

4. Laughter can change your life (red nose optional)

Clown among women in Central Brazil
Central Brazil, 2019. CWB Artist Melissa Aston

You’ll experience loss, ill health, or loneliness in your life.

Luckily, people like author, playwright, and storyteller Kevin Kling remind us we can survive loss if we can find our humor and move toward an emergence of what’s next. He shares, “When you laugh at something, it can’t control you.”

In 2010, CWB toured Haiti two months after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake.

Our artists used physical humor and nonverbal communication to connect with kids with broken limbs and amputations. A 2020 reflection of the tour speaks to the power of laughter to facilitate healing of traumatic events: “Every day, people would say things like, ‘That’s the first time I’ve seen that child smile since she was pulled out of the rubble two months ago.’”

Girl with bandage laughing at a show
CWB tour to Haiti, 2010

What are your stories to tell? How can laughter facilitate change in your life?

If you want a few clowns to support you along your path, check out CWB’s laughter challenge, and learn how to make laughter a habit — one that changes your brain and makes life more fun.

image that links to teh 6-day laughter challenge

So, is laughter the best medicine?

All signs point to yes (and, no, we aren’t just using our 8-Ball).

Never get used to laughing less, because laughter’s not a nice-to-have, but a necessary companion for health, friendship, and creating a life you love.

Take it from CWB audiences around the world: Sometimes all you need is a little boost to get the laughs rolling. Soon enough, you’ll be the one telling the next joke! We see it happen all the time.

CWB works to infuse laughter in places where laughter has been scarce, such as refugee camps or conflict zones. To learn more about CWB start here.