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. 

Photo Credit: Bill Zingraf

19th Annual CWB Benefit Show


Show may provoke laughter, wonder, and hope against all odds!

Louis Pearl Photo: Mirfoto

We are delighted to invite you to our 19th Annual Clowns Without Borders Benefit Show in Portland, Oregon. The show will be February 9th at the beautiful Alberta Rose Theatre.

This event has run continuously, for 19 years, thanks the to amazing work of Leapin’ Louis a.k.a David Lichtenstein. Nineteen years ago, this event started in David’s living room. Look how much it’s grown since then!

Photo Credit: Bill Zingraf
Photo Credit: Bill Zingraf

The Portland Clowns Without Borders Benefit Show is a true variety show: Clean comedy for adults and kids, and all kinds of circus and variety arts. Each year, top-notch performers volunteer their time and talent to wow Portland audiences for a great cause. Proceeds of the show support CWB – USA’s work of relieving suffering through laughter in areas of crisis all over the world. This show will support CWB’s 2018 projects in storm-affected Puerto Rico; areas of Mexico affected by last year’s earthquake; and the Balkans where hundreds of thousands of refugees are seeking asylum.

Meet our performers!

 Photo Credit: Bill Zingraf

Photo Credit: Bill Zingraf

Louis Pearl, The Amazing Bubble Man, the most successful bubble performer in the world!

Brittany Walsh, acrobatic grace incarnate, whose ability to shoot a bow and arrow with her feet while in a handstand has her flying around the globe to perform.

2017 Benefit
Photo Credit: Bill Zingraf

Strong woman Tera Zarra performing amazing and hilarious feats of strength.

Northwest favorites Rhys Thomas and Curtis Carlyle performing amazing juggling and sophisticated comedy.

Leapin’ Louie Lichtenstein performing the comic cowboy lasso antics that have made him a hit in 32 countries around the world.

Leapin' Louie swings his lasso
Photo Credit: Bill Zingraf

Omri & Paulina, the most gorgeous aerial artists in the Northwest.

Lark Schuldberg of Nightflight, on the Cloud Swing.

The comic antics of Rose Festival Clown Prince Angel Ocasio

Live music by Shoehorn’s Hatband


Buy your tickets today at

 Photo Credit: Bill Zingraf

Photo Credit: Bill Zingraf



These beautiful photos are by Bill Zingraf of Regular Man Photography.




How does social circus prevent youth violence?

Guest Blogger: Charlotte Byram, Circus Harmony

CWB-USA and CWB-Brazil have partnered with The Ministry of Health Psychosocial Support Programming in San Salvador. The tour specifically focuses on leading workshops for youth in gang-controlled neighborhood. You may be wondering, what do clown workshops, youth violence prevention, and the ministry of health have in common?

Today’s blog post comes from Charlotte Byram: circus educator, creative movement coach, and public health researcher. You can read more of Charlotte’s work on her website.

Inherent in its daily activities, social circus is an incredible tool to promote youth resilience and prevent youth from engaging in lifestyles characterized by violent behaviors. More than just “keeping kids off the streets”, this play-to-purpose transformative process works similarly to a Positive Youth Development approach and can be described by three pathways: future aspirations, supportive relationships, and community citizenship.

Logic Model of Circus Resilience Theory


  • Supportive relationships is about having role models in addition to building safe and encouraging peer networks. These relationships are a source of emotional and instrumental support for youth in their daily struggles, and can provide the necessary guidance to secure employment or apply to university.
  • Future aspirations includes a youth’s optimism about the future, expected educational achievement or careers, and the ability to set and reach useful goals. Due to difficult environments, many at-risk youth have low expectations for their futures; through incremental skill progressions, youth build self-efficacy and confidence to transcend their status quo.
  • Focusing on an individual’s unique contributions to the success of a team, the community citizenship pathway develops a youth’s sense of responsibility. The youth’s voice is heard and respected, empowering them to give back to their community and create their own social change.

For participating youth, the three pathways develop simultaneously and are strongly interdependent. This interdependency has consequences for successful evaluation, as the methods employed will overlap and interpretation of results will consist of fluid impressions, rather than discrete categories. Social circus additionally exhibits a dose-response relationship, increasing resilience benefits with increasing amounts of circus learning time.


A clown takes a nap

Summer Slowdown and Staffing Change

It’s the end of Summer! We are taking an end-of-summer snooze to enjoy these last days of summer.

We are currently in a staffing transition, and once again looking to fill the role of Communications Director. Due to personal circumstances, our recent hire stepped down. We are taking a moment to regroup and not launching a public search at this time.

We as a staff are devoting our time to supporting our upcoming projects and outreach events. Supporting our artists and project partners is the most essential part of making our work a success.

We are slowing down our external communication to get ready for an epic Autumn! We will continue to share blog posts about upcoming projects and organizational updates.  We won’t be as active on social media for the next month, but trust me, we’ll be back soon!

Thank you for your support.

Performance in Sierra Leone

Why is there a kid on a bucket?

Our show ends as it begins, with music. Music provides a safe mode through which we catalyze an initial connection with our audience and then later facilitate a smooth exit. The last two days we were invited to perform at two different homes for children who had lost their parents or caretakers to Ebola. The children we performed for eagerly joined us on stage to participate in our magic tricks. They pulled the metal bucket off of my foot after I had accidentally stepped into it. They attacked Apple’s bubbles with unkempt joy. They danced with us at the end of the show, each taking turns to stand atop our metal bucket and show the rest of the crowd their dance moves, their strength.

We end our show with a dance party for two reasons. One is that our work is about the child, for the child and we believe the child’s place is center-stage. The second…well, read on!

Performance in Sierra Leone

After the dance party ended and we changed out of our sweat soaked costumes, o we met with a leader from each of the two homes. As if scripted, each individual called a child, then two, then three by name with a harsh tone. The children were singled out as “strangers” in their own homes. Upon being called, they walked over to their elder, eyes turned downward and with humility; a sharp contrast from the dancing and playing of a few minutes earlier. The group leader pointed to the children and said: “This child has lost both parents to Ebola. This child was homeless because her family was evicted. That child was born with a deformity and left to live on the streets until he was rescued by our children’s home.” The stories were heartbreaking…and rehearsed. The children about whom the leaders were speaking listened as their adult caregiver told the story of why they were rejected. All stories ended with a request for funds.

It is a travesty that children are introduced to foreigners by someone else telling the story of their suffering. It is unconscionable that a child be forced to hear, again and again, their story of rejection any time a foreign visitor, NGO or potential donor visits. It is not a travesty to ask for money, it is not unconscionable to assume that a person from a resource wealthy nation may feel moved to donate and support an important cause, but it should be done in a way that does not risk stirring a child’s own trauma.


But sadly, this is nothing new.

In 1987, Sally Struthers made a commercial for the Christian Children’s Fund (later renamed Child Fund) that played Pachelbel’s Canon while flashing images of malnourished children looking miserable.

A few years ago, the comedian Jack Black, shared a video of himself weeping while he visiting children living in the slums of Uganda for the U.S.version of “Red Nose Day”. Unfortunately, the manipulation of suffering as a pitch for donations, we’ve all seen it before.

But what if it was your child singled out by some foreign film crew and recorded at his very worst? What if your most wretched moment was caught on tape (without your permission) and then used to raise millions of dollars?

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent rail against this kind of exploitation. It states clearly in its code of ethics that “In our information, publicity and advertising activities, we shall recognise disaster victims as dignified humans, not hopeless objects.”

But it still happens.

So what if we could change that narrative? What if we could tell the story of a child or family’s hardships without risking exacerbating their PTSD? What if we could raise funds, awareness and advocacy for people in need without framing them by only their suffering?

Performance in Sierra Leone

And now back to my second point as to why we end our shows with a dance party. We bring a child on stage with us as our shows end and we start a copy-cat routine. It begins with the child copying silly dance moves and then the bit moves towards them flexing their arms like an Olympic champion. (Think Michael Phelps, but shorter.) The child, depending on how comfortable they are in the moment, then stands on my shoulders to flex or they choose to stand on the bucket, elevated above the crowd. Some children roar like lions when they are standing there. During our last two shows, children lined up during the final dance party so that they could take their turns standing resolutely on the bucket.

We do not choose to highlight children because of their perceived deformities or weaknesses. We select children from the audience who seem engaged in the clown foolishness in front of them. When they join us on our makeshift stage, they always win and their strength shines through.

This we call resilience. It is resilience through playfulness; it is resilience through laughter.

This we celebrate.

In our short two-weeks here we have witnessed and heard of extreme hardships. The children we have met have gone through indescribable challenges; most of them continue to face these challenges head on, because they have to. In no way do I want to make their hardships seem unimportant and I do so strongly believe that children’s homes like the ones where we worked need support, yet the image I hope to leave you with is one of resilience despite all else: a child standing proudly on an overturned metal bucket, flexing her arms and the audience cheering for her, for who she is and what she will become.


Want to see the videos referenced?

Sally Struthers

Jack Black

CWB performance in Sierra Leone

clown workshop

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Clowns In Front Of Big Top

The first week of July, Clowns Without Borders participated in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. It was the 50th anniversary of the festival, and this year’s theme was Circus Arts. The National Mall was transformed. For a week, the iconic view of the Washington Monument included a circus tent, trapeze rig, and hundreds of circus artists.

We were joined by Kolleen Kintz, a Board Member and volunteer artist, who was presenting on behalf of Healthy Humor, where she is a hospital clown. Kolleen and her husband Bobby are the dynamic duo behind PhotosbyKintz. The captured beautiful photos of the festival, that we wanted to share. As you’ll notice, many of the games we played and the acts we performed are the same as those we play on international projects. The experience was truly a celebration of the universality of laughter.



4 humanitarian clowns

Kolleen leads workshop


tim does magic


Naomi wrote a personal reflection about the day:

Tim and I had a full day scheduled of speaking on panels, performing, and presenting about Clowns Without Borders. We were scheduled to perform in the pre-show for the Big Top show. As clowns who spend most of our time working in offices (I mean, performing in non-traditional theater spaces), we were both a little jittery about being in the ring. In between our other commitments, we found pockets of time to rehearse. An hour before our call time for the big show, we received news that due to unexpected flooding backstage the show was cancelled. Unsure what to do with our extra time, we wandered to the Big Top.

We stood lingered in front of the tent, deflated. Exhausted parents and disappointed kiddos mingled aimlessly, not quite ready to give up their place in line, or to make a new plan. A little girl who had seen our last performance, popped up next to Tim, and started to play. We turned it into an act (Tim wanted to play, I wanted to go home). Before we knew it, the crowd had formed a ring around us.

Tim gave me a look that said: Do you want to do this? I winked back. We started our show.

In the mud of the National Mall, we performed some CWB’s classic acts. It felt very similar to our performances in the field: the audience gathered in a circle without stage lighting or audio equipment. We led them in song and ended with a dance party. It seems fitting that our big top debut was replaced with a street performance. By the end of the show, we were both filthy, but happy. We had done what we do best.

We took a worst-case-scenario (in this case, the show being cancelled), and turned it into a moment of shared laughter.

I am so humbled to have experience the childlike awe of watching the glittery big top acts on Friday night, and so grateful to be reminded that my true joy and true self is in the mud, encouraging small moments of laughter and being upstaged by tenacious seven year olds!

kolleen tells a story


two happy clowns


In Response to Bruce Bawer’s article, “Improving Muslim Integration, Sending in the Clowns.”

On July 19th, 2017, Frontpage Mag published an article by Bruce Bawer entitled, “Improving Muslim Integration, Sending in the Clowns.” In it, the author shares his opinion about the Swedish Migration Board financially supporting Clowner Utan Gränser, or CWB-Sweden. In the spirit of collaboration, Clowns Without Borders USA or CWB-USA, is responding to the criticism in that article.


Mr Bawer writes: “Just speaking for myself, however, the last thing I can imagine wanting to see if I were a little kid in a Third World refugee camp or youth prison would be a bunch of guys in clown outfits climbing out of a tiny car, juggling bowling pins, riding unicycles, making balloon animals, and sweeping up spotlights. Not to put too fine a point on it, but is any child ever really entertained by the antics of clowns?”


We only go where invited, working in collaboration with our partners to make sure that our performances are wanted. We hear feedback like, “This is perfect.
 This is exactly what we need,” as stated by Stavros Myrogiannis, Director of Karatepe Refugee Camp in Lesvos, Greece, where thousands of Syrian refugees were hosted. We see children’s attention captivated during our performances, and watch them re-enact our shows as we leave. We meet audience members years later who remember different acts and different songs. Mr. Bawer claims he cannot imagine wanting to see a performance if he were in a refugee camp, however, the audiences we perform for tell us otherwise. Those of us who are not on the run from war take activities like music, movies, concerts, and dinner parties for granted. Imagine a life where these sources of relaxation and diversion are not accessible.


“[F]or as long as I can remember, clowns struck me me as witless, depressing, and vaguely creepy… A painted-on smile seems the very opposite of cheery.”


The “Creepy Clowns” as they are now commonly referred to, are, in fact, not clowns. The term is a misnomer. The pretenders are disturbing figures who are pretending to be clowns and hiding their identity because they do not understand the art form. Many Americans share this response to traditional circus clowns, and CWB knows that excessive make-up can be scary. Our performers wear limited makeup, often just a red nose, so that children can see their expressions. All of our performances are free, and no one is forced to attend. If a child—or adult for that matter – doesn’t want to attend, there is no obligation. When we partner with other NGO’s, we make sure that there is no incentive—such as food or toys—for attending a show, and no repercussions for not attending.


“Dressing up as a doctor doesn’t make someone a doctor,” says Sarah Liane Foster, CWB-USA board member and U.S. Representative to Clowns Without Borders International. “Wearing a mask and a wig doesn’t make someone a clown.” True clowns are professionally trained performers who have undertaken years of study. The skilled clown connects to the audience in a safe manner where they understand that the clown is a character and the red nose is a mask that invites interaction – – not to conceal identity for nefarious reasons.


Mr. Bawer raises another question. “I did react to one detail on CWB’s site. It informs us that the group ‘is based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.’ What is that supposed to mean?”


The U.N. Declaration of the Rights of a the Child were adopted by the Un general assembly on 20 November, 1989. They are the guiding principles for giving aid to children, such as that children are entitled to receive medical care, food, and shelter, even in times of war. CWB is guided by Principle 7. “The child is entitled to receive education….The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavor to promote the enjoyment of this right.”


Just as children have a right to a country and medical care, they also have the right to play. Play is an essential part of child development and education.


Mr. Bawer’s main critique of the program is that Sweden’s Migration Board is using laughter to integrate Syrian refugees, and claims that “Swedish authorities still don’t know the first damned thing about Islam.” This is based on Khomeini’s proclamation that, “There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam.” This, like the rest of Khomeinism, is the founding ideology of the Republic of Iran. In fact, many Syrian refugees have left Syria because of rising Islamic extremism, such as that embraced by Khomeini. CWB’s program to use laughter to promote integration is in no way in conflict with the audience’s faith. All chapters of CWB are sensitive to the culture and cultural norms of the audience. Performers never make jokes at the expense of audience members’ faith, culture, ability, or gender.


It is unclear from Mr. Bawer’s article if his concern is for displaced people living in Sweden, or the high financial cost of delivering services to those people. CWB-Sweden’s program to use laughter to integrate Syrian refugees is for the post-traumatic stress benefit of laughter and the trust and community that is built through watching a live performance. CWB works diligently with partner aid organizations to make sure that our programs are supporting other aid efforts. Our programs do not take away from essential services, such as food, water, and medical care.


Mr. Bawer goes further to say that the real humor would be if a clown was beheaded by one of the refugees. Commenters on the post have shared this sentiment, and also complained that Sweden is focusing resources on refugees, and not its own citizens. One commenter wrote: “It is high time for the self-loathing traitors amongst the White race to be expunged from the gene pool, and if that means whole nations of said traitors must be destroyed then so be it.”


At Clowns Without Borders International, we uphold an ethical pillar of solidarity. We take this as an opportunity to reject the racism and violence of Mr. Bawers article, and to say that we are humbled to serve people on the run from war all over the world. The Swedish government is attempting to implement a holistic approach to integrating their newly arrived community members. It is inevitable that our communities transform and change as we give refuge to diverse populations fleeing violence in their home countries. This holistic approach, which incorporates trauma support and seeking creative means to develop trust, may be a path forward to a more diverse and peaceful community.

Headshot of Kaitlin Kaufman

Introducing Kaitlin, our intern extraordinaire!

As a part-time, remote staff, we don’t have the capacity for an internship program. We field a lot of internship requests, and send a lot of sad e-mails about how we can’t take on interns.

Until Kaitlin.

Kaitlin performed with us on the December 2015 Turkey trip. When she asked to intern, we sent her our standard reply, “We don’t have the capacity for interns at this time.” Some time passed, and Kaitlin kept popping up. Most recently, she volunteered with our recent show in D.C.

She was a force of nature. She met us at 7:00 am on Saturday and worked with us until 3:00pm on Sunday. She schlepped, rehearsed, performed, schlepped some more. On the car ride home, after 32 solid hours together, she proposed an idea for an internship. We made an exception to the no-intern rule.

Kaitlin is working with us to expand our outreach program so that we can fill our summer with friend-raising events. She is stepping in to support our goal to friend-raise and being an ambassador for CWB.

In addition to the DC event, she supported artist Brendon Gawel at Philadelphia’s West End Art Festival. Together, they put on a performance and answered questions about our work. She attended a screening at Brooklyn College, and share stories about her her trip to Turkey.

In August, Kaitlin will teach workshops at the University of Virginia, and she’s the organizing powerhouse behind an exciting Brooklyn event on August 13th.

Here’s a little bit more about Kaitlin:

Why is clowning important to you?
Because it’s fun! With the red nose on, it’s all about playing with an open heart and inviting people to play with me. I can be sillier, bigger, messier, and it’s not a problem. It’s a game and celebration! I feel free to revel in how sublimely dumb and imperfect I am. It has helped me to take myself, and life, less seriously.

clowns perform in turkey

You performed with us on the 2015 project to Turkey. What’s a moment from the 2015 project in Turkey that has stayed with you ?
There were so many powerful moments on that trip but, ah, this is a good one! We (The Project Turkey 2015 CWB team) had just finished our tenth performance. I was starting to get into my head because I was having trouble with my solo piece. After the show, the clowns went out to join children. I was stuck in my head and blocking myself from connecting with the children. Then, I look over a my friend and fellow clown, Ezgi. She’s speaking in Turkish with some of the older children. I can see her listening deeply. There are tears in her eyes. I go over to her and ask how she’s doing. She turns to me and says, “The children are thanking us for coming to visit them. They had thought the world had forgotten them.”

And then this feeling of clear, calm understanding washes over me like a cold bath. How insanely irrelevant and selfish my self-doubt is! My heart opens. I become present to all the beautiful faces looking up at me. Connection and love is the most important gift I can give them. I gather the children around and ask for their names. They tell me and together we shout the names at the top of our lungs so the world can hear us.

a clown in a turkish refugee camp

What are your dreams for CWB? How are you helping us grow?
My general dream for CWB is that more people know about, talk about and support the organization. My short-term dream for CWB is that lots and lots of people attend the Benefit Show at The Muse Brooklyn in August and have loads of fun.

What is your favorite road trip snack?
Ohhh, for summer roadtrips, I gotta go with frozen red grapes!

clown performs to rural audience

Are you our next project partner?

Are you our next project partner? Do you work with a population we should serve? Are you an organizer who believes in resilience in laughter?

Clowns Without Borders is looking for more project partners to expand our programming. We always work with a local partner, and make sure never to go anywhere we aren’t invited. In other words, we don’t choose a location, we look for a partner we can collaborate with.

It can take months, or even years, of organizing, collaborating, and fundraising to make a project happen. Building new relationships with project partner helps us stay agile.

Are you an organizer in your community?

Sometimes we work with big organizations, like UNHCR Kenya or Terres des Hommes. Often, we work with grassroots organizations or organizers, like MJC (Haiti) or FUNDACCO (Nicaragua). Whether you’re affiliated with a large organization, or a small one, we want to hear from you!

Do you serve an audience we should perform for?

We most broadly describe our audience as people who live in areas of crisis, including refugee camps, conflict zones, and territories in situations of emergencies. As you can see, this takes a lot of different forms. The links show more details about our work and partners.

  • In Texas, we worked with Refugee Services of Texas teaching workshops for newly settled refugees.
  • In El Salvador we partnered with CRIPDES and performed for people impacted by gang violence.
  • In Nicaragua, we partnered with Fundacco to lead workshops for elementary school teachers.
  • In South Sudan and Kenya, we partner with international aid organizations like VISTAS and UNHCR

Can you offer us resources for the project?

Partner contributions come in a lot of forms. Some partners offer us on the ground logistical support. Some partners lend the clowns a car or a driver. Some partners offer room and board, or performance space. Some partners offer all of the above.

Can you help us with a safety evaluation and emergency plan?
Often, when we’re working in a place that has experienced conflict or a natural disaster, safety infrastructure is limited. This is something we address on a case by case basis, and can range from our basic code of conduct to a 360 Emergency Protocol. Our clowns don’t require a four star hotel (we sleep on floors), but we do take precautions to make sure we keep everyone safe. Are you prepared to offer your local expertise to support a comprehensive safety plan in your region, in the event that we deem it necessary?

So, are you our next project partner? If you answered yes to all of these questions, e-mail Naomi [at] clownswithoutborders [dot] org with the subject “Project Partner.”


Illustration of clown on unicycle

Clowns Without Borders Is Hiring

Are you an energetic, change-maker, who loves clowns? Are you looking for part-time, flexible work as part of a remote team? Are you a social-media savvy story-teller who wants to help take CWB to the next level?


We are looking for someone to join our team as the Communications Officer. This person supports the Program Director and Development Director by managing day-to-day function of CWB-USA communication.


we are hiring!

Responsibilities include:

  • Communicating online via social media, the CWB website, blogs, volunteer and email newsletters.
  • Proactively creating on-brand content, copy, and graphics in collaboration with staff and artists for different campaigns.
  • Fielding communication inquiries and provide media for press inquiries.
  • Executing the current marketing strategy and adapt it when necessary.
  • Supporting CWB fundraising events.

This is a remote position, based in the Eastern Time Zone. Job hours are flexible, and the position generally requires 17 hours a week. CWB strives to foster a spirit of joy and respect in the workplace, and are looking for someone who brings professionalism, an open-mind, and flexibility.


We have listed some skills and attributes we seek below. However, we believe in working with people, not skillsets. Even if you do not meet every single criteria but believe you could add value to our team and are open to learning, we want to hear from you.


Required Skills:

  • Proficiency in WordPress.
  • Ability to develop, implement, assess a communication/marketing strategy and adjust goals as needed.
  • Experience writing press releases and pitches to media outlets/reporters.
  • Strong knowledge of how to operate and manage social media posts/tweets/grams for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
  • Editorial skills and ability to write clear, concise, and accurate messaging that is on-brand. Ability to create communications and marketing strategy to support the organization’s fundraising and programmatic goals.
  • Email marketing.
  • Proficiency in MS Office Suite.
  • Interest in storytelling.
  • Residence in Eastern Time Zone

Desired qualities:

  • Committed to bringing laughter to children and communities around the world.
  • Interested in working in an organization that focuses on supporting communities impacted by war, natural disasters, or disease as well as marginalized populations.
  • Independent worker who is well suited to working in a collaborative team environment.
  • Experience working with or the desire to work with an artistic community.
  • Demonstrated ability to work remotely
  • NYC metro area resident preferred
  • As CWB occasionally provides opportunities for staff members to volunteer as logistical support on projects in the field, we value staff with previous travel experience.

Preferred Skills:

  • Graphics creating and editing software knowledge (PhotoShop, Canva, or
  • Experience using Hootsuite or equivalent platform.
  • Familiarity with CRM (preferably CiviCRM).
  • Knowledge of Google Analytics.
  • Use of editorial calendar.

To apply, please provide the following to

  • Resume
  • Letter of Motivation describing why you want to work for CWB-USA.
  • Writing Sample (link to blog post, article excerpt, or press release).

You may also submit

  • Example of graphics you have created
  • Example of marketing campaign (newsletters, social media postings, accompanying copy)

A more detailed job listing can be found at

We look forward to growing our team and increasing our organizational capacity.

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