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.