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Honoring Molly Levine

Molly is surprisedClowns Without Borders is shaped by its volunteers and often, we talk about how these professional artists share their performance skills. Today, we want to tell a story about a very different type of volunteer. 

Five years ago, Molly Levine started volunteering with Clowns Without Borders USA in the office. Since then, she has filled many different roles, including Executive Director, and played a critical in role creating a long-term vision for the organization. Part of her vision was to evolve CWB from a volunteer-run organization to one with staff, as we are today. 

In addition to championing the strategic growth of the organization, she attended to the details of coordinating our tours. Molly is the person who, with grace and patience, waited on hold for hours when flights were missed or baggage lost. She worked with each artist to make sure they were supported before, during, and after tour. Whether the issue at hand was homesickness, heartache, or bellyache, Molly made herself available. 

In addition to serving CWB – USA, Molly has also been a valuable asset to Clowns Without Borders International. Through her participation in the General Assembly, she helped create a shared emergency response protocol, among many other contributions. Sarah Liane Foster, current CWB – USA board member and CWBI representative, shares that Molly listened astutely across linguistic and cultural boundaries to people from 12 different countries, and held space in which everyone felt heard and understood.

Today we are honoring Molly because she has accepted a stupendous new job, and is stepping down from her role as Program Director. We have learned so much from Molly, who can often be heard saying, “Collaboration is greater than competition,” and “Rising tides lift all boats.” Molly epitomizes these adages in all of her work. We can’t wait to see what she does next, even as she continues to support CWB – USA as an advisor during this transitional period and beyond. 

Leapin Louie with kids in Guatemala

CWB – USA Will Go to Guatemala

Clowns Without Borders USA is honored to announce that we will tour to Guatemala later this year. On June 3rd, Volcán de Fuego erupted, annihilating a golf course and the village of San Miguel Los Lotes. Ninety nine people are confirmed dead, with at least 200 still missing, as rescue workers continue to search for survivors. CWB – USA received a message from a local partner, asking us to come for an emergency tour to the region, and we are thrilled to make it happen.

Leapin Louie in Guatemala 2006

We are still in the early stages of planning this tour, and will continue to update as more details are confirmed. Thank you to our members, donors, and volunteer artists for their ongoing support, allowing CWB – USA to be as responsive as possible in times of crisis.

 

 

 

Clowns with kids in Puerto Rico

Where Does the Money Go: Puerto Rico 2018

Clowns Without Borders USA recently wrapped up another fantastic membership drive, and since members provide the backbone of our organizational funding, it’s a great moment to look at how CWB – USA spends money.

We’re often asked how we do so much with so little. The answer is, with hundreds of thousands of dollars of in-kind donations in the form of volunteer work, plus the generous monetary donations of members, board members, granting organizations, and individuals. Even with that, money—or lack thereof—is a big part of organizing our tours.

For our early 2018 tour to Puerto Rico, CWB – USA proposed a budget of 8,130USD and came in at 7,093USD, $1,037 less than anticipated. It was gratifying to see just how far we could stretch our funding and how much joy we could spread. It was also exciting to see Molly Levine blow through her fundraising campaign, raising nearly three times as much as her original ask. Asking for money is never easy, which is why we make sure to be transparent about how we spend it.

As with all of our tours, paying local people for their services and getting our clowns to the project location makes the bulk of our expenses. But no matter how much it costs to get people to Puerto Rico (or any project location), the payoff is infinitely greater.

Clowns balance in Puerto Rico

Breakdown of costs for Puerto Rico, 2018:

Travel (baggage fees, insurance): $2,452

Travel is often our biggest expense. In addition to airfare, we purchase emergency insurance for each performer. For this tour, we also had to pay baggage fees for each performer. We work with a travel agent, which adds an extra $30 per person.

In-Country Costs:

Transportation/Our Clown Car: $510

Transportation looks different during each tour. In Puerto Rico, we partnered with a local artist who had his very own circus van! We were fortunate enough to have him as our driver and collaborator. CWB paid for all of our fuel and tolls. We paid a stipend of $400 to account for the wear and tear that invariably occurs from using his vehicle as a green room/dressing room/home away from home. 

Housing: $1500

We prefer to spend our housing money within the local community whenever possible, and in Puerto Rico we were able to rent accomodations in a family home in Bayamon, a suburb of San Juan. Our host, Monique, dreams of creating a healing sanctuary for people visiting or completing projects in Puerto Rico. Our financial contribution paid for her to repaint the house, continuing to fix up the damages she suffered during the hurricane. 

Dinner Preparation: $400

We were able to hire Monique to cook typical dinners for us each night. We paid Monique a stipend to prepare our dinners, and then we ate whatever she felt like cooking. This was such a gift, and allowed us to always finish the day with a nourishing meal. We saved a lot of money, because groceries are much less expensive than restaurants! After starting our days as early as 5am, performing multiple shows, and driving up to five hours, we were grateful to come home to Monique’s home-cooked meals full of love and the flavors of Puerto Rico!

Food: $2200

Food is always the bulk of our expenses on tour, and this was no exception. We came in $200 under budget on food, largely because of our snack experience! Since we knew we’d be having long drives, with short breaks between shows, we prepared ourselves with lots of snacks. Our early mornings started with a stop at a panaderia for coffees and a little breakfast, which normally come out to just a few dollars. We were often generously gifted with meals from our partners or communities where we performed, and on several occasions we had the pleasure of sitting down for lunch in a small town at a typical, family-style restaurant (when we were weren’t too busy with hard boiled eggs or eating the snacks gifted to us by the schools, on the way out of our performances). We fondly came to refer to our trip as the Huevo Duro Tour (the Hard Eggs Tour). 

A few additional dollars were spent on things like socks, t-shirts, broomsticks (Clown Antoine broke two over the course of the trip) and shoe glue. As you can see, the cost breakdown demonstrates that this tour was not only relatively inexpensive, but remained so because of the generosity of our local partners, our host, and our colleague who donated his van. By working in collaboration, we’re really able to stretch our dollars. When we network within our communities, we find the best prices while also supporting locals in a way that feels equitable and respectful to everyone. We know that the more we work in this way, the more we can stretch our dollars to create even more programming. Thank you thank you thank you to all of our partners and collaborators in Puerto Rico. It’s an honor to reflect on how our money flows directly to our partner communities! 

Want to see how this compares to other tours?

Check out the breakdown of expenses from our tours to El Salvador and Haiti.

Kolleen hugs kids in Less

Ambassador Of Fun: What It Means To Wear A Red Nose

CWB – USA board member Kolleen Kintz reflects on what it means to wear a red nose.

Kolleen Kintz

When I put on my red nose, the world gets brighter. It’s like the static frequency of the radio tunes in a bit more clearly, and suddenly…there’s music. There’s something about donning the nose that sharpens the senses. I experience a heightened level of awareness and a deep feeling of connectivity with the people around me. More than anything, my desire to play is awakened.

The red nose itself is an invitation to play. A friend and mentor of mine, Dody Disanto, will say in her workshops, “Ok, time to get your FUN out of the shoebox under the bed!” We all long to play, and some of us have let a little more dust settle on our shoebox than others. I believe it’s the role of the clown to invite play. That sense of joy and wonder, and the nose, are tools by which to do this. I put on my nose and I’m ready to be an ambassador of fun. 

Kolleen greets kids in Less

When volunteering for Clowns Without Borders, the communities we interact with are often recovering from natural disasters or living somewhere like a refugee camp. Children are the first people to lose their rights in situations like this. They lose the right to be a child. A clown performance might offer an hour of escapism for a four-year-old living in fear, and remind her of her capacity to experience joy. The same experience can have a profound effect on the parent of this child, getting to see their little one laugh again. I have witnessed this incredible transformation while spending time looking at the world through my red nose. 

While the nose is a mask, the smallest mask in fact, it is all about amplifying the natural facial features and expressions of the person wearing it. The human being does not get lost behind the clown nose—rather, their humanity is amplified because of it. I often feel in touch with my truest self while wearing a red nose. 

For me, so much of being a clown is about building relationships. Even if these relationships might be short, spanning the length of a performance, or an afternoon, they are deep. When I’m wearing my nose, I feel like people are more willing to let me into their world. This might mean sharing a meaningful glance with a child during a performance, offering my hand to a teenager as they climb onto their friend’s shoulders in an acrobatics workshop, or it could be as simple as listening to someone who needs to share their story. I feel it’s ultimately the red nose, and my open heart, that helps foster the trust for these relationships to exist. 

Little boy holds lots of hats

Political Unrest in Nicaragua

Clowns Without Borders – USA toured to Nicaragua in 2016, in partnership with FUNDACCO. Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, but is the second-poorest in the region, after Haiti. The distribution of wealth is extremely unequal, and many Nicaraguans survive on remittances sent by family members working abroad.

The country features heavily in U.S. history, thanks to repeated episodes of U.S. interventionism and destabilization, beginning with occupation by U.S. Marines at the turn of the 20th century. In 1979, the Sandinistas took power in Nicaragua. U.S. President Carter agreed to provide aid to the country with the stipulation that it would be suspended if it was found that the Sandinistas were supporting other revolutionary groups in Central America—and the aid was swiftly suspended after the Carter administration claimed Nicaragua was supporting insurgents in El Salvador. Right-wing groups called contras formed in opposition to the Sandinistas, and were provided funding, arms and training by the CIA under President Ronald Reagan. The contras engaged in a reign of terror against rural Nicaraguans, while the U.S. disrupted shipping to the country and imposed a full trade embargo. Evidence from the Iran-Contra scandal showed that the Regan administration continued to financially support the contras, even after the U.S. Congress prohibited ongoing financial support.

Little girls make shapes during a performance

The 1990s saw a tradeoff of power, as the Sandinista government lost several elections After a constitutional change, former President and one-time Marxist revolutionary, Daniel Ortega (who had previously served between 1984–1990) was able to run for a fourth term. He won by a landslide in 2011. But, in April, 2018, people took to the streets to protest increased taxes and pensions cuts. Independent press in Nicaragua estimates that at least 63 people have been killed and over 400 have been wounded as part of the protests.

After the first eruption of deadly protests, President Ortega announced that his administration was scrapping the unpopular tax plan. But protests have continued, morphing from criticisms of the tax plan to condemnation of the Ortega government. The President and his wife (who is Vice President) attributed street violence to “criminals,” while describing the protesters as a “minuscule” group. However, business leaders have begun to back the protesters, an unusual move in any anti-government movement. Indeed, the protests are viewed as the largest popular uprising in 30 years. The past few days of public dialogue, mediated by the Catholic Church, have not gone well for Ortega, as protesters interrupted him with accusations of murder.

 

 

Clowns balance in Puerto Rico

The Escalating Austerity Crisis in Puerto Rico

On May 1, 2018, tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets in San Juan, Puerto Rico. May Day, or International Workers’ Day, is a global day of recognition for labor and is often marked by protests and demonstrations.

The island is still reeling from 2017’s Hurricane Maria, and now the 2018 hurricane season is fast approaching. In late January, 2018, FEMA declared “mission accomplished,” and then quickly backpedaled and blamed misinterpretation after receiving intense criticism for the way the agency handled the disaster. Puerto Ricans have waited eight months for help. Instead, our fellow U.S. citizens continue to endure botched FEMA contracts, mismanagement on the part of Prepa, and the indignity of a president (who they cannot vote for) throwing paper towels at survivors and picking twitter fights with rescuers. In March, 2018, mental health crisis calls were up by 246 percent since the same time last year. Thousands of people have emigrated to the U.S. mainland, perhaps permanently. People are still living without electricity.

These widely reported facts bear repeating, because they have not inspired political will on the part of lawmakers responsible for the well-being of Puerto Rican people. Because of its debt crisis, Puerto Rico is beholden to a 2016 federal law called Promesa, which extends bankruptcy protections but requires the island to submit to the rule of an unelected Financial Oversight and Management Board, along with U.S.-supervised economic restructuring of its debt. The governor may draft an economic plan, but it must be certified by the oversight board. As a result, many of the U.S.-favored austerity measures are in conflict with the wishes of Puerto Rican people.

With privatization, job loss and disenfranchisement looming, and no government-proposed solution for the rapid restoration of infrastructure, it’s no wonder that people took to the streets.

 

Kolleen blows bubbles in Lesvos

What Difference Does a Clown Make?

Welcome to a new blog series, with contributions by CWB – USA’s wonderful board members!

Board member Tim Cunningham is a graduate of the Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre (’01) and has performed with CWB in 11 countries outside of the United States. Within the borders of the US, Cunningham has performed, lectured and facilitated workshops about CWB’s mission and work at universities and high schools. He received his doctoral degree from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Board president David Rosenthal is currently an Associate Professor and the Director of Management Programs in Health Policy and Management in the Mailman School of Public Health and a behavioral faculty member in the Center for Family and Community Medicine, Columbia University.

CWB – USA often fields questions about the effectiveness of our work. Are we making any difference in peoples lives? Isn’t it frivolous to bring clowns into disaster situations when people are in need of food, water, and shelter? Years ago, a CWB donor lambasted us for “only” bringing clowns. This person asked us, “Why can’t you bring shoes as well? Or other clothing items to give away?” We explained that with just clowns, there is an entire realm of intangible, yet essential, healing that can take place.

And yes, the donor decided to continue contributing!

As you follow this blog, consider reading the footnotes and references. We (Tim and David) are recovering academics and it’s hard for us to write anything that doesn’t include citations. They’re here to support our work and to help answer the question: “Why Clowns Without Borders?”

Living Without Laughter

First, imagine that you’re 10 years old. You’ve been forced to leave your home, possibly your country, and face an uncertain future. Each day, you scrape for food and make sure your shelter doesn’t collapse. You worry that someone in your family might get sick, and medical care isn’t easily accessible. You might wonder, “Do I have a school to go to? A place to hang out with my friends? Or even a safe place to play, to laugh?”

Now, ask yourself, “What would my life be like without laughter?”

Sabine in Lesvos with hoops

Since its founding, Clowns Without Borders USA has focused on a basic idea: Go where you’re invited and go when you’re invited. The purpose of an invitation is to create relationships within the communities we visit, and to avoid imposition. We don’t show up with the first responders. We wait until people have the most basic necessities, like shelter and access to food and water, before we arrive. Once those needs are addressed, people can think about inviting us. So while we don’t bring shoes, we bring smiles for people who might not have much to smile about. Our goal is to provide a degree of normality and play in the lives of children, through laughter.

But do those moments make any difference? We see the impact of our work during every project, and we hear from parents, children and community members. But all the anecdotal evidence and testimonies in the world might not convince someone who’s skeptical about “just clowns.”

The Supporting Research

While the research in this area is far from conclusive, many believe that laughter can make a difference. For example, humor and laughter may help create environments that encourage learning. Educational experts suggest that laughter in a class setting can reduce anxiety, build relationships and improve student performance.1 One of our performing volunteers, Clay, reminds us, “We all laugh in the same language.”2 He points out the ability for laughter to communicate across linguistic and cultural barriers.

We also know that humor and laughter improve physical health.3 Laughter can decrease inflammation in the body (inflammation can make you sick, weak, and have a decreased immune response to fight back against disease and infection)4; it can make pain feel less painful5; and it’s good for the young and old alike!6

So when people say to us, “You need to bring more than just clowns,” we tell them that we are also bringing—rather, sharing—health through laughter.

1 Savage, Brandon M., Heidi L. Lujan, Raghavendar R. Thipparthi, and Stephen E. DiCarlo. “Humor, laughter, learning, and health! A brief review.” Advances in physiology education41, no. 3 (2017): 341-347.
2 From Al Jazeera, 2018, available at: http://share.ajplus.net/shared/9442
3 Foot, Hugh. Humor and laughter: Theory, research and applications Routledge, 2017.
4 Bains, Gurinder, Lee Berk, Everett Lohman, Noha Daher, and Belinda Miranda. “Decrease in Inflammation (CRP) and Heart Rate Through Mirthful Laughter.” The FASEB Journal 31, no. 1
5 Elmali, Hülya, and Reva Balci Akpinar. “The effect of watching funny and unfunny videos on post-surgical pain levels.” Complementary therapies in clinical practice 26 (2017): 36-41.
6 Ellis, Julie M., Ros Ben ‘Cambria Math’, Moshe, and Karen Teshuva. “Laughter yoga activities for older people living in residential aged care homes: A feasibility study.” Australasian journal on ageing 36, no. 3 (2017).
A girl wears a red nose onstage with two clowns

It’s World Circus Day!

Happy World Circus Day, from CWB – USA to you. It’s an extra-special day to celebrate all the zany, creative, risk-taking, hilarious and joyful circus folks we know and love.

CWB – USA performing volunteers are all professional artists with performance and/or teaching skills, and we are continually humbled by their generosity and adaptability. Take, for instance, Bekah Hammond, who didn’t let the icy, muddy ground stop her from giving unicycle rides to kids living along the Balkan Route:

Bekah rides a unicycle in the Balkans

Or, our multi-national team during the Turkey, 2017 project, which bridged multiple languages, perspectives and skills to perform for Syrian, Turkish and Kurdish people.

A tiny boy mischievously crouches onstage

Or, Kimberly DeAngelis and her daughter, who donated their time to perform a mother-daughter trapeze act at our Washington D.C. fundraiser this year.

Mother-daughter trapeze act

These artists are just a tiny sample of the amazing circus folks CWB – USA gets to interact with every day. We are so grateful for you! Thanks for making the world a more beautiful place.

High school students at a refugee workshop in San Antonio, TX

Education Resources for Clowns

CWB – USA receives many inquiries about clown training, and we’re pleased to regularly share the extensive (but by no means exhaustive) list of top clown schools in the United States, compiled in 2016 by our former colleague Tamara Palmer.

Now, all of North America can welcome a new formal training program for Therapeutic Clowning, out of George Brown College in Canada. Veteran clown Helen Donnelly has achieved an eight-year dream by making this program a reality. Click here to find out more about the application process.

Clowns lead a workshop for MSF caregivers, in Haiti

And of course, CWB – USA offers its own education program, Take Laughter With You, dedicated to bringing CWB programming to domestic refugee communities. Learn more about our process and drop us an education-related line, by clicking here.

 

Two clowns juggle clubs past a volunteer

What Does It Mean To Be “Without Borders”?

By now, most news outlets in the United States are reporting on the caravan of migrants who have traveled from Central America into Mexico. Some, but not all, of the migrants intend to continue on to the U.S.

CWB – USA first became aware of the caravan when it passed through Chiapas, a region with which the organization shares a deep relationship. CWB’s first and one-hundredth tours were to Chiapas, with tours returning to the region each year for the past 20 years. Knowing that the caravan was boldly discarding the idea of national borders, especially as it passed through a region that has fought for autonomous recognition, prompted CWB – USA to consider the ways in which the organization’s work is “without borders.”

Two Clown Me In performers
Photo by Rami Ahmad

CWB clowns willingly cross national borders to reach communities effected by crisis. They go to places that are deemed too dangerous for humanitarian aid, they walk down dirt roads to reach isolated communities, and they perform in the middle of forests because that’s where some people have to live. The very act of clowning, of encountering someone from a place of non-judgement, opens the borders of the heart. And as many of the community members we’ve engaged with tell us, the borderless heart of a clown creates a safe space for other people to open their hearts, too.

The communities we engage with and perform for are often borderless people. Perhaps a natural disaster has erased their house and livelihood. Or maybe the global history of empire and colonialism has made a secure and dignified life impossible in their home country. These migrants, refugees and asylum seekers disregard borders because they know that humans have a right to be safe and secure, no matter who they are or where they’re from. And they’re determined to find that safety and security regardless of lines on a piece of paper.

 

 

Clowns make heart hands with teen students

The Six Month Anniversary of Hurricane Maria

Tuesday, March 20th marked six months since Hurricane Maria made landfall in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico—with disastrous results. The official emergency period has been long declared over, but access to electricity, stable housing and a return to normal life still feels far off.

CWB – USA toured to Puerto Rico in February, 2017. Molly Levine, our Program Director, wrote on that trip:

Even now, almost six months after the hurricanes, destruction is everywhere. It’s not comparable to Ghaza or Aleppo, but it’s a reminder of the other, less obvious fallout that remains. Ragged billboards line the highway. All of the street signs and highway signs are sideways, upside down, or have been torn off completely. The streetlights worked about 20 percent of the time that we were there. Many small businesses have closed, and the island may be facing a historic population loss, as people emigrate to the States.

The average annual income for a Puerto Rican family is around $18,00 and the poverty rate on the island is 46 percent. The cost of delivering fuel and water is impossible to maintain, and families in the most rural areas have been told that it may take up to one year to regain services—if ever. I didn’t know any of this. 

The island was already dealing with a debt crisis and shaky infrastructure before the hurricane hit. Now, many Puerto Ricans, especially those living in rural areas, are still without power. Streets still flood because of clogged sewers, and many people have struggled to secure reimbursement from FEMA. There has been a 246 percent increase in calls to the Puerto Rican Department of Health’s suicide crisis hotline, since the same time last year, demonstrating an escalating mental health crisis. And thousands of people have emigrated to the U.S. mainland, perhaps permanently.

Clowns pose with students

Molly Z, one of the other clowns on tour, wrote:

The beaches look bleak, it’s very windy, and the palm trees are toppled over and look gray. Few people have returned to their houses, and telephone poles made of concrete and rebar are snapped in half, still lying on the ground five months after the storm. Power lines, too, hang around in piles. We were there on the 12th and 13th of February. Some towns and villages in the nearby mountains have been told never to expect power to return.

Our fellow U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico lack the resources they need in order to rebuild, due to political holdups, debt crises and political maneuvering that has little or nothing to do with their daily lives.

Drummers from Kakuma camp carry drums on their heads

News From Kakuma Camp

Drummer Methode Asenda, from Kakuma campCWB – USA has a history with the Kakuma Refugee Camp of Turkana County, in the north west region of Kenya, dating back to 2015. During our subsequent tours, we have had the pleasure of building relationships with some of the people who live there. Desire, one of the resident’s of Kakuma, is the founder of PETA (Providing Education To All) and has told us that CWB’s presence at Kakuma helped strengthen their drumming program.

When Desire asked us to share some of PETA’s accomplishments, we were happy to do so. Here’s what Desire has to say about PETA:

“In 2015, eight PETA drummers were given the chance to go to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, to perform at the Alliance Francaise for guests of the UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency). In 2016, PETA drummers welcomed UNHCR visitors to Kakuma at the Kakuma airport. And in 2017, 19 students, from Burundi, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, the DRC and Tanzania graduated from a six-month English language course.”

When CWB clowns return to perform for communities which have previously hosted us, we’re often told that our work has had a lasting impact. We are very happy to hear that the memory of our performances supported PETA’s ongoing presence in Kakuma Camp.

English language-learning graduates at Kakuma camp
A lone clown in front of the crowd

Safety In the Field

In 2017, CWB – USA and CWB – Brazil toured to South Sudan, where we performed for over 20,000 people. During our visit, CWB – Brazil clown Arthur Toyoshima experienced a tense encounter with local authorities. Because CWB only goes where we’re invited, we always operate with a local contact person, someone who is intimately familiar with the social and cultural nuances of a place, and who helps legitimize us in the eyes of people who might otherwise be suspicious or uncertain.

Arthur

This story I’m going to share is from a risky situation when I was in South Sudan, in 2017. It was a learning experience for me, and I hope it will be for others as well.

My trip was long, from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Juba, the capital of South Sudan. I had three connecting flights: Dubai, Nairobi and Juba. My flight from Dubai to Nairobi was late, so I missed the last flight to Juba that day. I finally arrived, seven hours later than planned. Unfortunately, that meant I had missed the meeting about security procedures in the capital, telling us not to film or photography soldiers, police or military sites. Basically, it’s forbidden to film and photograph in Juba, at all.

During our last few days in South Sudan, after performing in the refugee camps of Bentiu and Malakal, we returned to the capital to perform our final shows. We were on our way to the refugee camp on the outskirts of the city and I was copilot in the car, doing some filming of the pedestrians and the houses we passed. Suddenly someone shouted, “Arthur, police!” I quickly lowered the camera, but it was too late, the cops stopped the car.

A performance for a huge crowd in South Sudan

There were a lot of them, and they had many weapons. They stood on the driver’s side of the car, shouting at him in Dinka, the local language. The driver tried to explain where we were going and what we were doing, but it didn’t help. To make matters worse, our local programmer, Aaron, had gone ahead in the other car. They didn’t stop, so we were left without our representative, who knew how to talk to the police.

I looked at my companions, apologized, and got out of the car to try to resolve the situation. Picture me, 5′ 3” tall, dressed as a clown, with a red nose hanging around my neck, standing next to the tallest people on Earth, holding machine guns and screaming. They wanted to know why I was filming them. I tried to explain, as calmly as possible, that I was a clown and didn’t know that I couldn’t film the street. They looked at my phone and saw there weren’t any police pictures on it.

They began to argue among themselves in the Dinka language. I noticed that they wore different uniforms, some from the army and others from the police. They had different opinions on how they should solve our problem. Then, in the middle of the discussion, a man presenting himself as a member of national security joined the discussion. Now we had three distinct organizations arguing about what happened. I waited for someone to look down at me and say something, but no one did. I don’t think anyone wanted to know what was going on with the clown.

After 15 long minutes, our local programmer Aaron arrived. What a relief. He knew how to talk to the police and military, and everything calmed down. However, they decided to take us to a headquarters because they needed a greater authority figure to resolve their disagreement over what to do with us.

We arrived at the headquarters, and the lieutenant looked at me and then looked at a soldier. To me, his expression said, “What did you bring me this time?” I sat down and talked for a while, taking care not to mention that we would be performing at the refugee camp on the outskirts of the city, which houses a population considered to be “against” the local police and military forces. After 30 minutes, they had yet to reach a decision. I was still nervous but tried not to look it. I decided to do a meditation. I closed my eyes and breathed. After a while I heard a laugh, and opened my eyes. Somebody said, “Do you need a bed?” I nodded my head. Laughter. The energy dispersed and we were directed to a different room with a calmer environment. They told us that they have not been able to reach a consensus and we have to wait for the general. Thirty minutes later the general arrived and looked at me in the same way as the lieutenant. He made a similar comment: “What is this? A Japanese clown?”

A small questioning began:

General: “Where are you from?”

Arthur: “Brazil”

General: “Japan!”

Arthur: “No, Brazil!”

General: “China!”

Arthur: “No, Brazil, Brazilian, Brasileiro, BRESIL, BRAZIL, Brasiú…”

General: “Taiwan?”

Arthur – “Neymar!” [da Silva Santos Júnior, a professional soccer player from Brazil]

General: “Owww Brazil!”

Arthur: “YES!”

General: “Can you take pictures in any location in Brazil?”

Arthur: “Yes…”

General: “But on the street?”

Arthur: “Yes…”

General: “But in any place?”

Arthur: “Yes.”

General: “Here, you cannot!”

Arthur: “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

General: “Let this not happen anymore!”

Arthur: “I’m so sorry, it won’t happen again.”

We were released after deleting the videos of the city of Juba, and said goodby in a much calmer atmosphere. I was still shaken by the experience, but I forgot about it when I saw the eyes of the first children we performed for. We did a beautiful show for over 1,000 people.

At the end of the day, as usual, we shared our experiences and emotional states with the group. It’s our check-in moment. The whole group gets to talk, and they’re supported with love and affection. It was a relief to everyone after such a tense moment. Being able to express and speak feelings is comforting, just like laughing!

Clowns perform in South Sudan

This story, which I’ve told in a tragi-comic way, is just one of the unpredictable things that can happen in the field. We work in places where the pressure is high, and a small spark can lead to a big problem. For me, there’s always a need to be calm no matter what happens. It’s important to react according to the situation, and always trust and rely on the team so that we can solve problems together. If you don’t know, ask! If you need help, ask! If you need a hug, hug! For me, this work is about sharing and experiencing life with our colleagues and the public. Laughter is what leaves everything more organic and smooth.

The CWB – USA tour to South Sudan was a collaboration between the US, South Africa and Sweden. We have brought together artists from six different countries, plus a programmer from South Africa. It was an incredible exchange and learning experience. During a 19-day tour, we presented to more than 20,000 people and gave workshops to over 1,000 people.

Naomi listens to a patient's heartbeat with her stethoscope

Haiti, Eight Years Later

This year marks the 8th anniversary of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010. CWB – USA has maintained a long-standing relationship with the people of Haiti, commencing 17 distinct projects and sharing smiles with over 66,000 people. We’re honored to partner with the strong and resilient people of Haiti, as they continue to rebuild their communities.

Haiti is the sight of the world’s only successful slave revolt, led by Toussaint Louverture and fought by free people of color and slaves. Besides indigenous nations and territories in North and South America, Haiti was the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere (after the United States), declaring itself so in 1804. The U.S., terrified that the Haitian revolution would spill northward, refused to recognize Haiti as a nation until 1862. European countries were equally resistant. The U.S. and France greeted nascent Haiti with trade embargoes, and in 1825, France demanded that the Haitian government pay reparations, a bill that wasn’t fully repaid until 1947.

Despite its triumphant beginning, Haiti was economically suffocated by the world’s leading imperial powers and rocked by internal political instability, often exacerbated by U.S. interference. During World War I, U.S. Marine forces occupied Haiti, killing thousands of people. During the 20th century, the repressive and violent Papa Doc Duvalier, and later his son, Baby Doc, won approval from Washington by playing off of the United States’ rabid fear of communism. The past few decades have seen earthquakes and environmental disaster.

Haiti may be a very poor nation, but its economic prospects weren’t conjured in a vacuum. For its entire history, the country has been stifled by U.S. and Western European obstructions, and saddled with political leaders more interested in aggregating personal power than restoring general welfare.

When CWB – USA spends time on tour in Haiti, we don’t ignore the impact of that history. But we’re there to be joyful and share laughter, so we’re also able to see the generosity, resilience and dedication of our Haitian friends. Rather than dismissing Haiti as a desperate and hopeless place, we’d like to share images from our most recent tour:

A little boy holds a big yellow umbrella

Smiling school kids in Haiti

At a hospital in Haiti

A workshop in Haiti

Clowns in the hospital in Haiti

 

School kids in Haiti

(These photos taken with permission of the patients)

In 2017, we performed for almost 3,000 people in Haiti, sharing laughter and smiles with each and every one of them. We’d be honored to return and do it all over again.

To read more about the history of Haiti, try these sources:

Wikipedia

The New York Times

Vox

Mother Jones

To read more about CWB – USA’s most recent experiences in Haiti, click here.

 

 

 

 

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