Haiti 2020

Know Nonsense: Funny Faces

Know Nonsense is our new program of DIY Clown Activities. CWB can’t come to you, but we still want to clown with you. 

Clowns live in a world that celebrates everything it is to be human, where anything is possible, and where play, discovery and connection are the only currency. Clowns Without Borders brings the clowns from this land of possibility and imagination and into the places that need clowns most.

With the current health crisis, clowns are unable to visit, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t visit the land of the clowns yourself! It’s easy to travel there.

All you need is your imagination and a willingness to play. Through games, activities, and projects CWB’s Know Nonsense! Program aims to provide you with the same joy and lightness you would feel if clowns had visited, without the visit.

Funny Faces

  • Get with a partner and sit cross-legged on the floor with your knees touching.
  • Each of you, look down at your lap and close your eyes. Think of a big, silly face you want to make. The biggest and silliest face you can possibly make. (The only rule is that you can’t close your eyes because you need to be able to see the other person.)
  • On the count of three, both pop your heads up and make your big, silly face. Hold it until one person laughs.
  • Do it all again. See how many times you can make your partner laugh. See how many times your partner makes you laugh. Both are fun!
  • Don’t have anyone at home you can partner with? Try getting on a video chat with someone and play virtually. This is a great way to have fun and connect with someone who you can’t visit in person.
  • Or, sit in front of a mirror and see if you can make yourself laugh. Surprising yourself and making yourself laugh is super fun!
  • Once you have mastered this version of the game, try thinking of two different faces. After you look up and show your first face, try to slowly, slowly, SLOOOOOOWLY shift from one funny face to the next. See if you can make it all the way to the second face before your partner (or you) bursts out laughing.

You can download a printable version of this activity here.

Andres, Naomi and Leah stand nose-to-nose                                                  Four clowns fit into a picture frame

Ecuador 2019

COVID-19 & CWB : Program Cancellation

Dear Supporters, 


Due to the global pandemic of COVID-19 we cancelled our tour to Colombia (scheduled to depart March 12th). We are cancelling all programs through the end of April, after which time we will reevaluate. 


Cancelling the tour 14 hours before departure was a hard decision. CWB – USA spent  months organizing a tour to the Venezualan/Colombian border. Cancelling the tour represents the loss of hundreds of hours of work. However, protecting our audience is our primary concern. Once we framed the decision in terms of our values, and the most recent World Health Organization guidelines, it became clear that our presence could potentially harm our audience. 


  • The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global pandemic, and has recommended that everyone cease non-essential travel and cancel public gatherings. 


  • The ethical decision-making for each tour includes the following questions: Will we cause harm? Is this the right time? In this case, it’s clear that the only way we can prevent the spread of COVID-19 is by halting our international travel. 


  • A cholera epidemic hit Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. It was brought to the country by a humanitarian aid worker. The worker was so energized by their desire to help with earthquake relief that they neglected to follow other precautions. I share this example as a reminder about CWB’s commitment to do no harm. In this situation, CWB – USA knows our desire to help can put others at risk. 


As Executive Director, my commitment is to serve the audience. It’s hard to accept that at this moment, that means cancelling the show. We appreciate your continued support as we navigate uncertainty. While we won’t have tours over the next month, we will continue to connect with you over shared experiences of resilience. 


In Gratitude,


Naomi Shafer

Executive Director, CWB – USA


Ahmad wears a clown nose and a bowler hat, and reaches out to shake an audience member's hand

Strategic Partnerships

“In Spanish we say resignificar, which I guess you could translate as ‘redefine.’ I wanted to redefine the role of the clown. To really make a transformation or push a button in society, we need professional clowns.”

– Ilana Levy, founder CaliClown

Over the past year, my conversations with CWB project partners Rami Khader (Diyar Theatre) and Ilana Levy (CaliClown) have returned to the same question: How can we resignificar (redefine) clowning and support artists who want to be professional clowns, if there isn’t access to clown training?

We arrived at the answer together.

Three-Year Programs

CWB – USA is launching a new initiative to support long-term programming. These partnerships focus on capacity building for local clown organizations. We will emphasize clown training for artists working within their home communities—communities experiencing protracted displacement and violence.

To start, we are committing to a three-year program that includes:

  • Six 30-hour training intensives for local artists.
  • The creation of six original clown performances to be toured in refugee camps, schools, and rural areas.
  • Train-the-trainer workshops for social workers and teachers, to bring levity to their work.

Program Goals

Over the past few years, we have frequently partnered with artists living in and alongside the communities we perform for. Our new long-term partnerships are an opportunity to expand collaborations and support artists who live in areas of protracted displacement and ongoing crisis.

This program expands upon our existing partnerships with CaliClown (Colombia)  and Diyar Theatre (Palestine).

The goal of this program is to support the formation and continuation of clowning in these areas, as well as demonstrate cross-cultural collaboration and solidarity to our audiences. Supporting local partners so they can train and perform in place, even after CWB’s tour is over, contributes to that goal.

A panorama shot of Naomi, Andres and the audience

Audience of One

Six months ago, CWB – USA wrapped our last performance in Myanmar. Over the course of the tour we spent 60 hours on planes, six hours a day in the car, and performed for over 9,000 people. Amidst all those shows (and motion sickness) one moment stands out.

Naomi holds hands with an excited little boyAs we drove to our final performance of the tour, I thought, “I’m tired.” I’d spent the break between shows packing and worrying about CWB’s end-of-year fundraising campaign. We were all quiet in the van, taking in our last views of Myitkyina, Myanmar.

Our show format includes a steady parade of volunteers joining us onstage. Anytime a child volunteer comes up, the audience gets more excited. I can feel a little bit of tension, feel the audience wonder, “Will these people make fun of the child?” That’s a fair concern. It’s our job to make sure the child feels supported and validated. It’s our job to make them the star of the show. We have to be worthy of their trust. We invite a chorus of kids onstage for the finale of each show in Myanmar. Together, we say and act out the “Safety Signs.” It’s the moment where the clowns turn the show over to the kids and the kids become the experts.

In our final audience in Myanmar, there’s a young boy with a disability that impacts his motor skills and speech. Throughout the show, he breaks away from the audience and into the circle, momentarily joining us onstage. Sometimes an adult leads him offstage, and sometimes he leaves on his own. There are whole scenes in which he provides the fourth counterpoint to our action. As I approach a section of the audience in search of my final volunteer, the crowd parts to reveal the little boy. He claps his hands and steps forward, but his caregiver holds him back. She’s protective: The earlier volunteers did challenging acts, like holding spinning plates, climbing on shoulders and making foam balls disappear. I make eye contact with her and she looks a little nervous. I feel a little nervous too. I can tell she doesn’t want to set him up for failure. “What if he can’t do it,” we both think.

I kneel down toward his eye level and hold out my hand for a high-five. The whole section of audience is watching the two of us. He eagerly taps my hands, giggling and grinning. We do it again, and the audience applauds.

I know that Leah, Andres, Hla Mo, and a whole crew of volunteers are carrying the show for the rest of the audience, but for me, it’s just about this kid. The section of audience where he had been standing is watching and laughing, acting out the “Safety Signs” along with us. When we take a bow with the rest of the volunteers, that little boy receives a huge cheer.

Aline is encircled by kids in Mexico

2019 Goals: Meaningful Impact and Connections

CWB – USA’s scope is growing. From 2015 to 2018, our audience doubled in size. Each year we steadily increase the number of workshops, performances, and people served. It’s exciting to see that outcome, but it is not our goal.

If we only planned tours with year-end totals in mind, we would fail to reach some of the most vulnerable communities. Our programming is responsive to the invitations we receive. So while I have a pretty good idea of where we’ll tour this year, there’s a lot of flexibility. What I do know is that in January 2020, I will evaluate my work based on these five goals:

Programming reflects the differing types and causes of displacement.

What do you think of when you think “refugee?” A camp with tents? A group of people who all look the same? A certain continent? Displacement is complex. CWB – USA tries to respond to many different types of displacement. Maybe that means communities experiencing generations of internal displacement, within their own country. Or maybe it means people who have survived an environmental disaster or epidemic. Or people who are displaced because of war, politics, and economics.

This year, on our project page, we will make sure to identify what type of displacement or marginalization our audience has experienced or is experiencing.

 Artists feel connected to, and supported by, CWB both on and off tour.

CWB exists because of the generosity of our professional artists. We as an organization want to make sure they’re supported and celebrated. On tour, that includes securing comfortable accommodation, enough meal time, a day off, etc. Off tour, that might look like hosting trainings and workshops, creating media, connecting artists to speaking engagements, transparent administration, and sending birthday cards.

Build diversity in performing teams.

It is important that our performing teams—and organization as a whole—reflect the diversity of our audiences and the world. Part of the strategy for this year is to always work with local artists, actively recruit and support new artists, and collaborate with other chapters from Clowns Without Borders International.

Each tour includes a non-performing team member.

Who holds the car keys? Who keeps track of the money? Who checks in with our host at each location? Who collects audience feedback? Who keeps in touch with the office or local media? Often, these jobs fall to the (performing) team leader. Unsurprisingly, when we have a non-performing team member those tasks can be shared and delegated, so the tour is less stressful for everyone.

Generate professional media from each tour.

How do we share our work with the world? We see a strong correlation between tours with a non-performing team member and tours with great media. Conversely, some tours return with only a handful of blurry photos to document the experience. Our primary audience will always be the displaced people who attend our live performances, but we also want to share our work globally. This means that we will hire local photographers and filmmakers whenever possible, and spend more time reaching out to media contacts.

Ideas? Questions? Comments? Email us at info[at]clownswithoutborders[dot]org!

St. Maarten performance

So You Want To Be a Clown?

Do you dream of running away to join the circus? Have you ever tried on a red nose? If you want to meet your inner clown, or take your craft one step further, come take a clown class with us!

CWB only works with professional performing artists. One of the beautiful contradictions of clown is that it often looks easy and relatable. That ease is the result of hours of training. Take the first steps on your clown journey, or deepen your craft, at one of these programs:

Clown Camp: June 9–14, Lacrosse, Wisconsin

Join CWB Executive Director Naomi Shafer at Clown Camp. Since 1981, Clown Camp has trained over 5,000 aspiring and seasoned clowns from around the world. This program offers a choice of 70+ hours of clown classes.

Information and Registration.

Clown Encuentro : June 27–30, Cali, Colombia

“We believe in the power of the clown to heal, unite and transform our society.” Clown Encuentro is four days of performances, workshops, and presentations. Meet CWB’s long-time partner CaliClown, and take workshops with CWB board member Sayda Trujillo.

Information and Registration.

Dell Arte Summer Intensive : June 24–July 12, Blue Lake, California

Study physical theatre with CWB board member Sayda Trujillo. Each day includes five hours of classes, plus additional rehearsal time. Students will focus on voice, awareness, dynamic play, and mask.

Information and Registration.

Alte Poste Kulturforum : July 23 – 27 Nuess, Germany

Discover Zen Clown Street Work with CWB – USA founder Moshe Cohen. What happens when you take your clown to the streets? This is an opportunity to explore clown and lightness, culminating in clown actions in public.

Information and Registration

Ravensurger Sommer Akademie : July 28 – August 3rd, Ravensburg, Germany

Join CWB founder Moshe Cohen and other world-class teachers for an intensive clown week. Moshe’s workshops will focus on Deep Clown. Through Butoh dance exercises participants will slow down and hone their connection to their inner clown.

Information and Registration.

Clowns shot from the back, facing an audience seated on a hillside

Did CWB – USA Meet Its 2018 Goals?

Laughing Matters! This is the core of our work at Clowns Without Borders – USA. Our artists see and experience laughter’s impact on an audience. You’ve probably glimpsed this in our photos. You’ve read our final statistics from a tour. The total number of performances and participants is the easiest way to measure our work, but is by no means the most important way we evaluate our impact.

In 2018, we had a five part strategy for our programming:

Respond to crisis situations and those who are experiencing current displacement.

CWB’s first tours were in refugee camps and communities experiencing displacement as the result of a crisis situation. Seven of our 2018 tours were for an audience that was currently displaced or had been impacted by a trauma within the past year. Those tours included both of the tours to Mexico and Puerto Rico, the Balkan Route, Lebanon, and Guatemala Volcano Response.

Respond to situations caused/impacted by the United States.

CWB – USA often tours to areas where our country of origin has impacted displacement. Though our mission is to be “without borders,” the nationality of the team impacts our audience’s experience. In 2018, six of our tours were inextricably linked to how the U.S. impacts displacement. Those included both of our tours in Colombia, Mexico, and Puerto Rico.

Respond to situations of protracted displacement.

The U.N. defines protracted displacement as displacement that lasts for more than five years. It’s most comfortable to think of displacement as a temporary phase in someone’s life. Shifting political and global realities mean that the majority of the world’s displaced people have, or will, experience protractions. 2018 tours responded to protracted displacement in both Colombia tours, Lebanon, and Myanmar. The indigenous communities we performed for in Mexico have also experienced generations of displacement.

Build diversity within performing teams.

CWB – USA strives to be an equitable and just organization. In 2018, all tours had teams of mixed nationality, gender identification, and race. All tours except the Balkan Route and Myanmar had local artists. Like any human experience, displacement impacts all types of people. It’s important that our performing teams reflect the diversity of our audiences, and of our world.

Partner with CSF-Canada and PSF-Brasil to strengthen CWB’s presence in the Western Hemisphere.

CWB – USA is proud to work as a member of Clowns Without Borders International. Therefore we work in a spirit of collaboration instead of competition. At the 2018 General Assembly, the chapters from Canada and Brazil put out a call looking for collaborators. CWB – USA joined our neighbor chapters on tours in Mexico, Colombia, Haiti, and Guatemala.

Naomi and Leah read a newspaper

No Comedy Without Conflict

Conflict is at the heart of most comedy. But if everyone gets along, there’s not much to laugh at.

No Comedy Without Conflict?

One of the great joys of physical comedy is watching a fight unfold. Clowns are relatable because they wear their heart on their sleeve, much as a toddler might go from laughter, to shock, to tears, and back to laughter. What may start with one clown mistakenly taking the other’s suitcase can escalate into an all-out brawl.

Clowns Without Borders shows come together very quickly, so we rely on easily accessible, common vocabulary. As a performer, I love slapstick. It’s a nearly universal clown language, and I have so much fun getting carried away in the absurdity of a clown fight. But when clowning in conflict zones, some of the familiar slapstick tropes lose their charm. For communities experiencing acute or generational violence, a punch is not a punchline—it’s an exhausting reality.

Is It Safe?

I noticed this firsthand in Myanmar. CWB – USA toured in partnership with Mines Advisory Group, and part of the show contained safety messages about explosives. Our ideas for the show had to be approved, and also needed to uphold the educational messaging. We couldn’t add anything to the show that made mines look fun, or showed us playing with a mine. Nor could we add anything that made light of an explosion or injury.

This meant that a lot of our initial ideas were cut. One was to pretend the diavalo was a mine and play a comedic game of “hot potato.” Of course, this meant the clowns would have to touch “a mine,” which went directly against the safety message. Ditto for the idea of a ball rolling into an unsafe area, and the clowns using acrobatics to get it back. Finally, after a lot of trial and a lot of error, we found a story that worked: The clowns are arriving in a new place and learning about what’s safe for that area.

Is It Funny?

As we learned about the real-life consequences of living with land mine contamination, it felt considerably less fun to create violence or aggression in the show. In response, we shifted some of the slapstick moments. Instead of overt clown conflict, our conflict was accidental (mostly). This meant that when Andres took a bow, he would accidentally hit Leah and me. Instead of pulling Leah’s pants down, they would fall off “accidentally” as she jumped rope. We decided that it was more fun to be clumsy (very, very clumsy) than overtly violent.

The most violent part of the show was when Leah stole my newspaper. This results in a tug of war, but Leah gets so carried away that she continues the tugging action after I stop. To get her attention, I tap her with the rolled up newspaper, which sends her into a dramatic fall. This leads to “Dead or Alive,” a skit wherein one clown (Leah) pretends to be dead, and the other (me) goes into hysterics. Why is it funny to watch one clown grieve her friend’s death, especially for an audience who shares this experience? Maybe because the outcome (death) doesn’t match the action (a tap from a newspaper). Or maybe because we know all along that this is a joke on me. As I sob, over Leah’s “dead” body, she sits up and makes fun of me. It reminds the audience that this is all a game.

What Do We Want To Leave Behind?

Ultimately, each group of clowns works together with local partners to decide what is appropriate for the team and the audience. Sometimes, like this summer in Colombia, we have a specific request not to include violence. Other times, the team makes those decisions on its own. We always ask, “What archetypes are harmful to uphold?” and, “Is there a way to shift some of the norms around how violence might normally play out?”

So for Clowns Without Borders, “No comedy without conflict” isn’t always true. Rather, we say, “No comedy to promote or normalize violence.”


How much does a tour cost?

As CWB – USA’s Executive Director, I’m frequently asked: “How much will this project cost?”

The short answer is: “It depends!”

Why? Because each tour has different logistical and security needs. In the interest of transparency, here’s a deep dive into project costs and an overview of different types of projects.

Basic Costs

Every tour starts with the same basic needs: travel, food, and shelter.


I budget travel in two categories: Travel to/from the project location, and transportation during the tour itself. This is where we start to see some of the biggest variations in cost. Travel from New York to San Juan, Puerto Rico, versus New York to Beirut, Lebanon, is a difference of $1,000.

Next, there’s the cost of getting from our tour HQ to the shows. In Guatemala, we rented a car and the clowns drove themselves ($1,500). Same in Lebanon, but the cost was much less ($400). In Puerto Rico, CWB clown Arturo donated the use of his van, so we covered gas plus wear and tear ($400).


Accommodations are another variable expense. In Cali, Colombia, the clowns stayed in someone’s home ($0). A university donated rooms in Guatemala City($0). In Beirut, we rented an apartment ($700). For both tours to Puerto Rico, we rented space in a private home ($1200). On other tours, teams have slept in churches, in tents, or in NGO accommodation with the partner organization.

My preference is always to keep money local. This means that whenever possible, we look to rent directly from a person. Security, convenience, and comfort (in that order) all impact the decision of where we stay. Ideally, everyone gets their own bed, but that’s not always possible


I typically budget $30 per clown, per day, for food. In places where it is safe to do so, artists can buy their own food and manage their personal food budget. In other situations, the team buys groceries together and splits the effort of food preparation. Frequently, our partners provide meals.

Often, but not always, our audiences are experiencing food scarcity. This adds to the complexity of when we eat and what we eat. On our most recent tour to Mexico, the artists were invited to eat with migrants in the shelters. The clowns were hungry after those meals, and so would buy additional food to consume in private. On other tours, audiences will offer a meal or refreshment as thanks.

Cost and Audience

There is no direct correlation between how much a tour costs and how many people it reaches. Guatemala was among our most expensive tours, yet it reached a relatively small number of people. Our commitment is to produce tours that fit the needs of the region and local partner(s). In Guatemala, the volcanic eruption impacted tiny communities, so the artists found themselves performing for intimate groups of people, rather than huge crowds.

Our tours respond to situations as they unfold. While I have a general idea of where many of our tours will be this year, most of the logistics remain unknown. Having a base of recurring donors provides the necessary cash flow to accommodate all the variables of planning a tour.

Clowns run in a circle inside a giant hula hoop

Organizing In a Crisis

Clowns Without Borders is planning a tour to the US/Mexico border. Molly Rose Levine created a document for those considering arts/children’s/cultural interventions to support the children and families currently seeking asylum at the US/Mexico border, specifically in Tijuana. Molly Rose compiled this information through conversations with grassroots partners and those working with asylum seekers in the region. We share it here with the hope that all arts-organizers can be respectful, safe, and effective.


In November, 2018, nearly 8,000 people arrived in Tijuana, Mexico. There are between seven and eight thousand people sheltering in the city, and so far 6,000 are in line to submit for asylum. Asylum seekers have been moved to two new shelters more than ten miles away from the border. Though these camps are run by Mexico’s federal government, they’re operated by NGO committees, which remain largely responsible for providing services. The flow of people is still increasing, and expected to increase for some time.

Asylum seekers and migrants who do not choose to self-deport, once registered for asylum, are expected to remain in Tijuana for six months to a year as they wait to process their applications and receive court dates. During the time that a person is in the process of seeking asylum in the US, they’re not allowed to obtain a work permit in Mexico. As more caravans arrive at the border, challenges to human services, waste management, and infrastructure will probably continue to be met by humanitarian aid services, mutual aid organization, grassroots networks, and volunteers.

Project Guidelines: Best practices according to local contacts and NGO coalitions:

Listen to your local partners: This is the most important guideline. As an outside group, your job is to be reactive to the needs of your grassroots partners and stakeholder community. They are the experts in their situation and their needs. You are here to support them. Listen authentically and humbly. Be prepared to react to new and emerging situations. Understand that you might think that you have a “better” idea, but if the people most affected by the disaster don’t want it, then it’s not the right idea. Leave your ego at home.

1-to-1 Spanish speaker ratio: If your team includes a non-spanish speaker, make sure that each non-spanish speaker has a spanish speaking counterpart. This is to ease communication with the community members, ongoing service providers and organizers and to make sure that everyone clearly understands safety protocols.

No photos/ No videos: There is already a large presence of media and journalists.

Only US & Mexican citizens: There is a precedent that volunteers coming into the area on a visa are at risk of being arrested and having their visa revoked/being deported. Keep your team safe and make sure to only bring citizens at this time.

Do not promote your programming until it is OVER: This one may be counterintuitive as you look to crowdfund your idea. There is tension between the host communities and asylum seekers, and as “cultural” programming and psycho-social support, some members of the host community can see your promotion as “advertising” which is “encouraging” the continued flow of people to the border. This can and has created a backlash and increased stigma against the asylum seekers. For this reason, you should not promote your project on social media (you aren’t supposed to photograph anyone anyway) until the programming is over, or unless you are doing something in very deep collaboration with a local partner who is advising your media presence. Once you’re back home? Use your writing skills to advocate for whatever your take-away was from the project. Let your experience educate others.

No political actions: Different people have different jobs in a crisis area. Some people are going to the border to march and to support a political agenda, which is their right. If you are going to provide services for people who have experienced trauma, your political agenda is more likely to create a backlash against them, than it is against you. If you are working with an artistic intervention, or representing child friendly programming, do not participate in marches in your free time. This can create a backlash with the host community, with your local partners, and ultimately harm those you are intending to support.

Take crisis-informed safety precautions: Borders are generally a place where you should take safety precautions, and crisis only increases that reality. There are instances of violence, drug trafficking, and other illegal activities happening around the border, putting asylum seekers, the host community, and service providers at risk.

Follow the same safety protocols that are good practice in a refugee camp or in a conflict zone. This is a humanitarian crisis, and all volunteers should be aware of safety norms. Talk about your safety protocols as a group before you arrive. Stay with your local contact/fixer/handler, travel as a group, do not walk alone at night, and be aware of your surroundings. Do not drink to excess, or use illegal drugs. Respect the cultural norms of the communities where you stay. Make sure someone outside of your group has a copy of your itinerary and the ways to be in touch with you, in case of an emergency. Listen to your local partners and leave the hubris at home. Do not try to be a hero.

The situation is changing rapidly. CWB will continue to update this information as we receive it. You may find the original content here.

Clowns play with a group of kids

Local Actions, Larger Purpose

In December, 2018, a group of CWB clowns partnered with Oakland Catholic Workers for their holiday celebration. OCW serves the Bay Area immigrant community through food distribution, language classes, and transitional housing. At the holiday party, parents receive wrapped presents to distribute to their children on Christmas. 

James Green

By the time we arrived at the church, a line of about 30 or 40 families had already formed at the door. They waited to enter the hall, where they would receive a black plastic bag of wrapped gifts to bring home.

The clown ensemble gathered, and we were on. The five of us fell into a procession. We paraded down the line, greeting people with gags and the sounds of an accordion. After a bit or two, we would retreat to the hall to regroup and discuss our next entrance. We repeated this process for the next few hours. 

I watched both children and adults light up when they were invited to play with the clowns, or when they saw someone ride out on their new bicycle. This experience highlighted something I’ve recently learned about clowning: It’s a gift, something to be given. A gift of presence and curiosity, stupidity, resilience and joy.  

It was a special treat to collaborate with Oakland Catholic Workers. On my first circus tour in 2016, I experienced a long and unexpected layover in St. Louis, MO. The people I met there, who were involved with the Catholic Worker movement, helped me find food and housing when I needed it. 

It was sweet to come back to this organization some years later, to sharing circus skills they indirectly helped me develop.  

Sabrina Wenske

There are so many moments that stand out: When a couple of little kids were brave enough to stand on our legs to make a human pyramid; When the whole line of families clapped for us before we even started clowning; When I got a personal hug at the end of the day from a family that could not speak English well, but told us they were happy to see clowns.

It was such a joy to assemble five clowns and work out our schtick. We found a phone app that makes fart noises (!) so there was already an abundance of delight.

Bonding over Bubbles

November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and the first day of our current tour in Haiti. Clowns Without Borders’ primary audience is children, but we also perform for their adult caregivers. The UN estimates that over half of the world’s migrants and displaced people are women and children. Too often, the experience of displacement or war includes sexual- or gender-based violence (SGBV).

Bonding over Bubbles

Camilla Rud, who joined our 2016 tour to Haiti, shares this story from a tour to Bangladesh with Clowns Without Borders – Sweden:

“Our mission was to work with the bonding problematic between mothers and children due to the fact that the kids were a result of rape. We had to do really small simple games to start with. We placed all the mothers in a circle with their children in front of them.

We started with just bouncing a balloon between us. No one can resist hitting a balloon that comes towards them. Then the bubbles came out. The clowns started  blowing bubbles and the mothers and children tried to catch or break them. After a while, we let the mothers blow the bubbles for their children. Everything started very gentle and soft but at the end we were all laughing and playing together.”

UN Day to End Violence Against Women

2018’s International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women coincides with the start date of our tour in Haiti. This tour, led by Clowns Without Borders – Canada, focuses on reaching victims of SGBV and raising awareness about the issue.

Clowns lead a workshop for MSF caregivers, in Haiti

A young lion completes the three-person pyramid

Right To Play

When we think about human rights we often think of physical well-being and immediate needs, like food, water, and safety. At Clowns Without Borders, when we think about human rights, we focus on the right to play.

The Right to Play

Yes, the right to play. Just as everyone is entitled to freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion, and the right to food, everyone is also entitled to the right to play. Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the Right to Play.

Of course, play is more than a moment of joy. Play is how children learn. Just like clowns, children try on different roles, acting out the scenarios and relationships they see modeled around them. Play is how they challenge each other, create imaginary worlds, and discover their own strengths.

Clowns Without Borders – Sweden received feedback from a project partner that sums up the importance of play: “Before the clowns came, the children played war. Now they play clown.”

Universal Children’s Day

On November 20, 1959, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. Thirty years later, the UN adopted the Convention of the Rights of the Child. In addition to special protections for children, it’s the first international treaty that explicitly extends human rights to children.
CLowns lift child

Today, Universal Children’s Day 2018, we celebrate the children who had the idea for Clowns Without Borders. That’s right, the idea for CWB came from children! Children in a Balkan-region refugee camp wrote to children in Spain, “We’re okay. We have food. We have shelter. We have medicine. But what we miss is laughter.” Long story short, the kids in Spain found a clown (Tortell Poltrona) and suggested that he offer a free performance to their new friends. Voila, Clowns Without Borders was born.

Clowns Without Borders exists because Tortell trusted the wisdom and creativity of children. To this day, CWB seeks to emulate and reinforce that trust in each performance. When we train new artists, we emphasize an ethos of “lifting up the child” (often literally!). This means that it’s the child, not the clown, who’s the star of the show. It’s the child, not the clown, who sets the pace and discovers many of the punchlines.

Lift The Child

clowns lift child

Lift the child up—you can see this in pictures of kids on shoulders, kids on buckets, kids on stage. Some of our best performance moments, spontaneous and planned, happen when we invite our young audience members onstage and let them have the spotlight.

For children, play is education. Join us as we promote this right.

Clowns Without Borders Presents at UNESCO forum


Clowns Without Borders International has served as a consultative partner of UNESCO since September 2015. This September, CWBI joined “Another Perspective on Migration,” an international forum of NGOs in official partnership with UNESCO. CWBI participated in a panel about resilience, education and the United Nations Declaration of The Rights of The Child. Anneli De Wahl, a performing artist for CWB – Sweden and Treasurer of CWBI, discussed the forum with Naomi Shafer, Executive Director, CWB – USA.

The more involved I am with Clowns Without Borders, the more passionate I become.” Anneli De Wahl, CWBI Treasurer and performing artist

Anneli De Wahl, CWBI Treasurer and CWB – Sweden performing artist

CWBI presents at UNESCO ForumIn Conversation

Naomi Shafer: What is your favorite CWB story to share?

Anneli De Wahl: My favorite thing to share is laughter’s real impact on resilience, and the power of making people happy. Our tools allow people to feel like people. 

During one of Sweden’s projects, our collaborating partner shared this feedback: “Before the clowns arrived the children played war, but after the clowns left the children played clown.” This, to me, is how we encourage transformation. 

When I shared this annecdote during the presentation, I could feel the audience sigh. It was a nice bubbling sound. The entire forum happened in Arabic, French, and English,so everyone had headphones for the simultaneous translation. Even with these headphones, I could hear the room sigh. Laughter can cross languages. 

NS: Is there a specific project you highlighted?

ADW: I showed the video from CWB – USA’s Balkan Route tour. It clearly demonstrates what we do. With a show, we can transform any place into magic and the rest of the world is left outside. Words can only take you so far. I wanted to show the video to let the work speak for itself. Throughout the forum, people asked, “How do we make sure that migrants are treated like regular people?” That’s what the clown does all the time! It’s accomplished by playing together with the children, as equals. Another story I like to share is about one of Sweden’s tours. When the clowns arrived, the kids were playing by throwing stones at each other. The clowns picked up the stones and started juggling. Then they taught the kids how to juggle with them. It was a transformation of a stone from weapon to art.

Something we often forget is that the shows give people living in a camp something else to talk about. Instead of talking about what they have lost, or what separates them, it’s a chance to talk about what is shared.

NS: Is there anything that happened at the panel that changes how you think about our work?

ADW: The more I hear other people talk about their work, the more I believe in our work. The more other people talk about their projects, the more I believe in what we’re doing. 

The topic was migration, but there’s such diversity in what it means to be a migrant. You may be a refugee, an economic migrant, a migrant by choice, or by force. It’s so easy to say “the migrants.” But the term is so big. And to talk about it is so big, too. 

CWBI presents at UNESCO Forum

NS: What surprised or inspired you? 

ADW: What really inspired me was that even if all of us have a different approach for addressing migration, we want the same thing. There is power in these 60 NGOS from all over the world wanting to make a difference. There was a feeling of community among the NGOs 

There was an interesting conversation about the media’s role. In Europe,  migrants are frequently portrayed in a really bad way. So I mentioned that CWBI always shows the smiling child. It gave me a new perspective of the importance of our photo guidelines. 

NS: What’s Next for You?

ADW: In one month I’m doing a clown project in Brazil that’s a collaboration between Clowns Without Borders – Sweden and Clowns Without Borders – Brazil. The tour is mainly focused in Altamira to meet indigenous people who were forcibly displaced when they build the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant. 

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