Finding a Place for Displaced Children

By Nadiya Atkinson

Approximately 51 percent of the world’s refugees are children, fleeing from war and poverty-stricken areas of the world. Often without a home or adult guidance, these displaced children are the most vulnerable group of people in the world lacking protection and a certainty in their future. Kolleen Kintz, one of our performers writes, “The children always seemed to be without shoes, whether by choice or lack of ownership, I was not always sure. They wore clothing that was clearly donated, with its American cartoon characters on the front. They had one outfit, a daily uniform. I’m sure their mothers washed the clothes often, but they always seemed dirty from the intense climate.”

Clay Mazing leads a clown parade of displaced children through a refugee camp, Lesvos, Greece.
Clay Mazing leads a clown parade through a refugee camp, Lesvos, Greece.

“The children seem to be in a state of limbo, looking for something to do, something to play with. Mostly just waiting. I often wondered if it had to do with not being in their place of origin. If they had grown up with the water, did this arid, mountainous jungle see foreign to them? Perhaps their games had revolved around the water, and now they didn’t know how to play in the new environment.”

Facing the lack of monetary, nutritional, and emotional support, displaced children are at an inordinately high risk of trauma, physically and psychologically. Kolleen shares more insight by explaining what she witnessed within a refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece: “Instead, the homes felt sterile in their plainness and uniform nature. These communities felt grey to me. They did not have the liveliness or color of a community. There was no gathering, no celebration, no sense of pride in one’s home. Instead, it seemed to be a place of waiting. Waiting for something to happen or something to change.”

CWB plays with displaced children in Indonesia
CWB plays with displaced children in Indonesia.

Clowns Without Borders USA brings a bit of light and joy into the lives of displaced children and gives them hope and a brighter outlook on their lives and their future. Through clowning and circus, our performers create an atmosphere in which kids, regardless of language, ethnicity, or background, are able to feel supported, safe, and simply laugh. The old adage “Laughter is the best medicine” is certainly true, and CWB-USA has made it its mission to share the medicine with the parts of the world that need it the most.

As a kid, I had heard somewhere that every time you laugh, it adds an extra three years onto your life. My friends and I attempted to laugh as much as possible by telling each other horrendous jokes or tickling each other. There is more than a grain of truth in this laughing-to-be-healthier, as laughter has been proven to lower stress, reduce pain, and boost immunity to disease. There are even hospitals dedicated to treating life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer, with simple laughter.

Although we may not offer the solution to conflicts or disasters, we are solution-focused in our approach and offer that which is a fundamental part of life – fun. Even after Clowns Without Borders leaves, the kids will still remember the clowns that came to play with them. However, one of the only ways that we can continue our work is with your help. Please take some time today to support CWB, be it by donating, volunteering, or simply spreading the news about us, because every child should have to chance to feel safe and laugh.

Until There Are No More Crises

It’s impossible to know if surviving in today’s world is more difficult than in decades and centuries past. The determination is dependent on how you define ‘survival.’ One thing is certain: Globalization has impacted the world at every level and has changed how we survive, how we interact, and how we respond. We can choose to respond with positivity and restorative narrative.

refugee camp Lebanon. restorative narrativeThe world has no shortage of disaster and crisis. The news articulates important stories that our global society needs to know. We need to maintain awareness of how actions cause reactions, who needs help, and who is helping. The world may be full of suffering, but we know it’s also full of people who want to alleviate suffering.

Clowns Without Borders chooses hope, objective reality, and shared community-building to frame our work and our outlook. We choose restorative narratives. We didn’t coin the term—ivoh did—but it describes our work in its global context. Clowns Without Borders seeks restorative narrative by sharing resilience through laughter. Clowns Without Borders founder Tortell Poltrona says that we must do this work until CWB no longer needs to exist.

It starts with the invitation for us to come somewhere. We research to understand the needs of the NGO’s and populations being served. We find and bring in the local artists, or theater companies, or schools, or local grassroots groups and help everyone work together, with mentorship, compassion, caring, and respect for the moments when the clowns step back and become witnesses, audience members learning from those with whom we seek to catalyze a positive impact.Project Haiti 2016. restorative narrative

Laughter is healing. Laughter helps us move past difficult times. It connects us. Sometimes we need a little spark to get us started but when we do, the effects are immediate and often serendipitous. Take for example Nora, an aid worker helping bring refugees safely ashore in Lesvos, Greece. She witnessed Clowns Without Borders perform a series of acts as refugees waited to board UNHCR buses bound for Moria Camp. She told me afterwards that seeing joy light up the faces of the refugees was the first time she cried tears of happiness instead of sorrow since arriving on Lesvos.

Mytilene port, Lesvos. restorative narrative.

Our shows and interactions have huge impact. It is powerful to be invited to a community where we are allowed to perform and play, though we may only be there for a couple hours, or even minutes at a time. Our effort to share joy creates space for more joy. It’s restorative. We hope the positive narrative stays with those we meet long after we’ve gone, and spreads far and wide.

Resilience through Laughter with Refugees

The global refugee crisis continues in 2016 and so does the response from Clowns Without Borders. We closely monitor the situation and hope for a peaceful resolution that addresses the problem at its core while compassionately respecting the lives of those directly involved. In February of this year, with the sponsorship of Clowns Without Borders Sweden, we sent a troupe of clown performers to the Greek island of Lesvos. Those involved witnessed daily, the heroism of refugees and asylum seekers. We also saw the profound dedication of scores of volunteer aid workers and Greek citizens.

Clowns Without Borders with refugees in Turkey, July 2015.
Clowns Without Borders in Turkey, July 2015.


During the second half of 2016 Clowns Without Borders troupes will return to several countries that have hosted refugee populations for a long time: Turkey, Kenya, Greece, and Lebanon. We go to share Resilience Through Laughter and offer moments of levity to children and families in crisis. Humor is medicine and psycho-social relief benefits refugees and the aid workers charged to help them.


More details will emerge in the coming months. We’ll announce the projects as soon as the dates are set. In the meantime, keep the humanity in your hearts and smiles on your faces! Your smile may change somebody’s day – maybe even yours! 

To learn about Clowns Without Borders previous projects, click the link to visit the project pages for Turkey, Greece, Kenya, and Lebanon.


Clowns Without Borders with refugees in Lebanon, 2015.
Clowns Without Borders with refugees in Lebanon, 2015.

A Clown’s Perspective on Volunteering

Written by Kolleen Kintz

In 2012, after 8 months volunteering my time for Clowns Without Border’s social media and fundraising, I got the call I’d been hoping for and would be going into the field on my first project. I would be leaving for Indonesia in just a few short weeks. Holy cow! After I got off the phone with Tim Cunningham, executive director at this time, my excitement was skyrocketing! This was my chance: to make a difference, to be a strong contributor to my team, to be a representative of Clowns Without Borders. It was all happening!!!

Shortly thereafter, the high wore off, worry set in, and my confidence began to plummet. Was I experienced enough? Would I be able to pull my weight? Would my team like me? Would my audiences like me? And, the question of all questions, would I be funny?

My eyes started scanning the room, my juggling balls gathering dust in the corner, my costume pieces seeming incomplete, my 30-day handstand challenge severely lacking validation stickers. Oh no! Maybe I was going to let everyone down? My momentum came to a screeching halt and I began to panic.  

I remember talking with Tim later the next week, assuring him (but more myself) that I had a comprehensive plan in action. My juggling was really coming along. I had been learning new songs on my guitar. I had been drilling acrobatics until my muscles ached. I was going to be ready for this!

Tim, in the most perfectly-Tim way, said, “Cool Kolleen, that sounds great! It’s good to practice these things, but you aren’t going to master juggling in 3 weeks. And, remember that you have a lot of training in physical theater, ensemble creation, and a vocabulary of bits that will be very valuable in the field.”

Kolleen covers Jan's eyes. Indonesia. Volunteering Oh yeah! It was as if all the blood, sweat, and tears I put in at Dell’Arte International had been swept out of my mind. I had immediately compared myself to the many professional circus artists that I knew…and thought I came up short. I do not juggle five clubs, masterfully navigate the rolla bolla, or understand the inner workings of balancing chairs on my chin. But, I am funny. I am a clown, and I know how to create theater with just about anyone. I did not put in a year of my life creating original pieces of work with different people every week for nothing. No sir! 

Indonesia came and went, and many lessons were learned. I may not have been the strongest team member of the bunch, but it wasn’t for any lack of trying. I wanted so badly to be good at this! When the call came for Haiti, the following year, I thought, “ok good, I must have done something right”. I left for Haiti with a few more tricks up my sleeve, but again not quite where I’d hoped to be in terms of circus skills. The same worry crept up from the pit of my stomach.Kolleen and girl 2 high. Indonesia. Volunteering

I had been busy in other arenas. I had continued to study physical theater, this time at The Center for Movement Theatre with Dody Disanto, and had put in time at countless workshops and intensives to better understand my craft. I had been on stage regularly, creating new work, as well as teaching camps and workshops. I had been coordinating and hosting fundraisers for Clowns Without Borders, acting as the MC, and loving it. So why, when confronted with the well-practiced skills of my peers, did my knees buckle?

At this point in my “clown-evolution” I understood the value of other people’s skills. Unfortunately, what I could not yet see at this point was the powers that I had mastered. The power to excite a crowd. The power to make every person in an audience feel important, and mean it, from a place of utter sincerity. The power to connect with children, and get them to trust me. The power to listen onstage. The power to improvise at a moment’s notice, to be aware, alert, and responsive. The power to say yes and go with what was best for the show. The power to bring together my ensemble. The power of enthusiasm, positivity, and consistency in the face of challenging circumstances. The power of my complete willingness to be a fool: to dance, to play, and be present every moment.Kolleen sits with boy. Haiti

This winter, when Clowns Without Borders invited me to go to Lesvos to perform for refugee and migrant families, my heart soared. This was my third volunteer project and it felt very important, as did being a witness to this world crisis I would be thrust into. More than anything, I wanted to make a difference, to bring joy, laughter, and LOVE.

On this tour, I would be the only musician, and perhaps, for the first time I realized the value of this particular skill. Music is part of my identity. It also is so valuable on a tour, it helps announce our presence, create an environment, and provides accompaniment for others to perform. Again, leading up to the tour, I worried that I wouldn’t be a talented enough musician for the team. Do we see a trend here? But, this fear quickly fell away once the project began. Finally, I began to see the light.


In hindsight, after Lesvos, I saw the value of each type of performer who volunteers with Clowns Without Borders. For the first time, I truly understood that we, as an organization, need both types of performers. Moreover, each type of performer needs each other, and should give each other respect. One type cannot stand alone. For so long, I had idolized the skills that I lacked. But, the reality is that, in producing and performing in shows at home, I know that skill alone cannot anchor a show. The theatrically trained actors, turned clowns, help drive home the astounding tricks, create strong characters, and tell a story. They also allow the audience to relate to the performance, and see themselves in the bumbling fool, the everyman, or everywoman, as it were.Kolleen plays guitar at Mytilene port. Lesvos. Volunteering

The reality is that what I was looking for was inside me all along. At the risk of sounding cliche, love is all you need. Love, and a killer sense of humor. This isn’t to say Clowns Without Borders doesn’t work with highly trained professional performers, because we do, but rather, that the creative spirit and desire to connect with a full and open heart is nothing to turn a nose up at. It is the core of this organization, and I am so honored to be part of it.


Kolleen and girl at Mytilene port. Lesvos. Volunteering

Discovering the Universal Language of Play

Kali Quinn travelled to Guatelmala and El Salvador as a Clowns Without Borders volunteer in 2010. She has since been teaching, performing, creating theater with people across the US, and recently she recently released a new book called I am Compassionate Creativity. Through 111 stories from her life that look at her relationship to strangers, elders, grief, love, medicine, technology and play, she shares 111 values of Compassionate Creativity.

The value of this story, “Discovering the Universal Language of Play,” relates her experience with CWB: quinn-compassionate

“When electing to travel with Clowns Without Borders, you enter into places ravaged by natural disaster or torn to pieces by war. Traveling down these roads, you see such hardship repeated upon the faces of the people. Homeless, hungry, hurt. Such grief affecting all people. A devastation and loss so much more vast and real than would ever be reported in the news. How could you, now witnessing it firsthand, ever have the words to explain this to someone who wasn’t there? How would you even start? How could you possibly find a way to get onto the next plane home and move on to have a conversation about anything else other than this?

So you get out of your vehicle and walk down the streets. You realize that the city or town might have been destroyed and many of its inhabitants might be missing, but at the same time there are people, individuals, there. Alive. Standing on the line between life and death, a sense of community can’t help but linger in the air. A mother feeds a child. Two men lift up boards. Children tickle one another in the dirt. There is a want to be together. Laughing. Listening to music. Celebrating something. Anything.

Your colorful clothes and red nose set you apart and draw a crowd, but that isn’t what keeps them watching. It’s the continual surprise of being in the presence. A performance based on being affected by every sound, movement, and pebble placed on the ground. Everything an offering, an opportunity, for play. A universal laughter erupts when you unexpectedly trip over your own foot and end up being okay. All of your actions illuminate again and again a buoyancy that we all love to watch. A resilience that we all long to somehow find our own capacity for.

A kindred spirit who simultaneously embodies qualities that everyone recognizes: the innocence of a child, the gut of a dog, and the wisdom of an elder.

After the street performance, a young boy runs up to you and tugs on your shirt. Translated, he asks if when you get to the next town, you could please help his cousins put a violin together. They’ve been wanting to learn how to play but only had the pieces of the instrument, sent long ago by mail.

In the next place, deep in the jungle, you give your final performance. Afterward, a small family of three generations comes up to you and offers up a violin case cradled in their arms. “Yes,” you nod, remembering the boy who had wanted you to meet them. To help them put it together.

You move together to a nearby pavilion and through joy and anticipation they open the case. How long had these pieces been waiting in their home?  You cradle the new instrument in your arms as they hand you one peg and string after another until they are all balanced along the bridge. You pluck the strings into tune as the family claps and claps in amazement. You imagine the place across the world where the violin must have come from. You remembered your first violin teacher back home. You remember your fear in saying yes to this trip.

The afternoon sun beams to the song of a child’s smile as he places the bow along the strings for the first time, his family suspended in pure delight.

The sound of the violin and laughter echo as your boat makes its way back down the river to the next place.”


You can read more about Kali, donate to her cross-country reading tour, and order her book, I am Compassionate Creativity, here: 



A world with clowns is a world of social conscience.

Many of us who are with Clowns Without Borders (CWB) enjoy a good suspense or horror movie. Tis the season for spookiness.

However, we’ve certainly noticed that modern pop culture has a fixation with clowns as evil, malevolent, or damaged. You’ve likely seen a few of the usual suspects: It, Poltergeist, American Horror Story. Even before Hollywood began maligning the clown reputation, Charles Dickens penned about an unsavory clown in his work, The Pickwick Papers.

Clown Compassion
The clowns that volunteer with Clowns Without Borders are humanitarians. They have undergone years of training, developing their skills and engaging in humane interactions. Our adept clowns use creativity, transparency, and openness to connect with people and create special moments where laughter can bridge past pain and journey towards resolution. They are not the caricatures slathered with scary-looking make-up, as frequently seen on television.

Our clowns are highly trained professionals who apply their talents for one of the most important humanitarian causes – helping children who are suffering as a result of crisis, catastrophe, or war. Our clowns are individuals who come together as a group and cross borders to relieve suffering with non-violence (Satha-Anand, 2001). For them, it’s always ‘We’ before ‘Me.’

Look, we’re not complaining and we’re not telling anyone to stop making horror flicks that involve clowns. However, we want to make sure that you are aware of the incredibly positive and meaningful work that Clowns Without Borders conducts, versus the dark deeds of clown characters played by actors on television.


Oh, The Humor-anity!
Humor helps children adjust to their surroundings. Displaced children frequently experience many forms of stress which can lead to depression, and psychological effects such as nervousness for no reason, behaving aggressively, thoughts of suicide, and delayed cognitive development. Additionally, a child’s lost sense of humor is a trait measured by researchers surveying the impacts of life after crisis.

CWB clowns are non-medical Laughter Psychologists. When our clowns are invited to serve, they do so by making the audience snort, guffaw, giggle, and maybe even give children a view to a better and inspired world. Clowns help the children forget their difficulties and establish a place of safety where laughter and joy lead to unity and healing. We think of it as helping humanity, or humor-anity!

As you enjoy the Halloween season, with costume parties, haunted houses, and scary movies, just remember that pop culture’s portrayal of clowns as evil is nothing like the true nature of the professional clown. Especially the volunteers of Clowns Without Borders.

We love our clowns! If you do too, then tell the world. #ClownsRBenevolent



Satha-Anand, C. (2001). Crossing the enemies line: Helping the others in violent situations through non-violent action. In Peace Research (33) 2, pp. 105-114.

CWB Membership Drive!

April 1st Kicks off CWB’s Annual Membership Drive!

keep-calm-and-carry-on_red O (1) (1)Click here to read more about the Membership Drive

Top 3 Reasons to Become a Member!
1) We have super cool new merchandise, as thank-you gifts for our members! unnamed (1)
2) Members receive monthly updates from CWB-USA; be the first to find out about upcoming projects and events!
3) We love donations big and small, every bit counts! $10 buys 10 CWB clown noses for kids in our workshops at St. PJ’s Children’s Home. $25 feeds a team of clowns for two days in Colombia. $50 fuels the jeep to transport our clowns for a week of rural shows in Haiti.


Send in the Clowns Documentary Screening

Send in the Clowns!

Come one, come all to see Send in the Clowns, directed by Sam Lee.

This documentary focuses on Clowns Without Borders-USA during their time in Haiti.

WHEN: Friday, March 20th, 2015 @ 6:15pm

WHERE: Tribeca Cinemas (New York, NY)


Running Time is 82 minutes, followed by a Q&A


16th Annual Portland Clowns Without Borders Benefit Show!

Mark your calendars!

Come one, come all, on Friday, Feb 6th, at 7:30pm, to DaVinci Middle School, to see:

A magnificent mélange of the best circus, variety and physical comedy acts in the Northwest! The annual Portland Clowns Without Borders Benefit Show is a family-friendly variety extravaganza not to be missed. This year’s show will be a fantastic convocation of the very finest of Portland’s flourishing physical theatre, vaudeville, and new circus community.

Get your tickets early! Advance ticket holders will have special reserve seating.

poki photo

This year’s show will include:
The extraordinary juggling of Patrick McGuire, straight from Cirque du Soleil,
The acrobatic antics of the Echo Theater Company,
Rhys Thomas, genius juggler,
Leapin’ Louie Lichtenstein, comic lasso-twirler extraordinaire,
The Rose City Acro Devils,
Stefano Iaboni, new talented clown in town all the way from Rome via Barcelona,
Brittany Walsh, hand-balancing virtuoso,
Curt Carlyle, the mustached juggling ace,
the wacky and wonderful Mz. Pearl & General Pearl,
Michael O’Neill, hilarious clown man,
Sarah Liane Foster, quick-witted commedienne,
Adam the Great, incredible magician,
Flamebuoyant Productions’ amazing poi and acrobatics,
A Little Bit Off, modern theatrical clown duo,
and more …

The show will raise money to support Clowns Without Borders-USA’s work with children and their communities, relieving trauma through laughter and play in areas of crisis around the world. In the past year, Portland-based performers have volunteered on CWB projects in the Philippines, Lebanon, Palestine, the Sudan, and Haiti.

About Clowns Without Borders
Founded in 1995 by Moshe Cohen, Clowns Without Borders-USA strives to relieve trauma through laughter in areas of crisis around the world. Socially conscious and circus-loving Portland, Oregon, has for a long time been the most active hub of CWB volunteers and supporters in the US!

Come Run with US! Miles of Smiles 2014

Run, Smile, Fundraise and Join our Journey!

This year, CWB will log over 70,000 miles as our clowns travel to projects around the world and right here in our own back yard.  To celebrate this ever increasing odometer and to honor the hard work our volunteers give, for free, to this organization, we are running to raise funds.  And we want you to join us!!!!

In years past, Tim Cunningham ran over 1,000 miles barefoot to raise over $10,000 for CWB-USA.  Many other runners have joined him in races from Washington, DC to San Francisco.

Please consider taking your running habits out into the street and joining us–all to support CWB-USA.

Here is how you can join:

1) Agree to run a race this year, any length, and commit to fundraising for CWB-USA while you are running.  Email Tim ( and he will equip you with the fundraising tools you need.  You will also be featured on this page!

2) Sign up and run the Richmond Marathon on November 15th, 2014 with our team! We will fundraise together with you to share smiles around the world!

3) Donate!  Pledge to donate $1.00 per mile for our marathon run on Nov 15th.  You can give $26.20 directly to support the work of CWB.  Or go crazy and donate $2.00 per mile ($52.40) or even $5.00 ($131). Get creative with your math.  You can Donate here.

Who is on the Miles of Smiles Team?

Name and Event

Kolleen Kintz, Richmond Marathon Nov 15

Bobby Kintz, Richmond Marathon Nov 15

Chad Thorne, Richmond Marathon Nov 15

Tim Cunningham, Richmond Marathon Nov 15

3rd Annual Black Ties Red Noses

An Elegant Night of Nonsense Serving to Benefit Clowns Without Borders USA

Close your eyes and imagine this: you’re sitting in a gorgeous courtyard in downtown D.C., but under the trees, the city feels hours away. You’re dressed to the nines, but with a twist, perhaps an outrageous bow-tie or a red nose–whatever your fancy. You’re dining on a delicious 3-course meal and sipping the finest beer or wine. Above you, in a style most becoming, wondrous creatures dazzle and delight on aerial apparatuses. It’s like a dream, a night at the circus, and with a happy grin you meander inside for some comedy and coffee. After you’ve had your fill of belly laughs and delicious dessert you waltz home in the moonlight, feeling like anything is possible.

And indeed, you have made a great many things possible this evening. By attending this fabulous event you have helped bring smiles to children around the world. You have helped send a professional volunteer performer to a place like Haiti, Colombia, or the Philippines; where our clowns recently performed for over 13,000 children and their families in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. We are a grassroots organization and your donation makes this work possible. Click here to read this wonderful article about CWB in The Huffington Post.


What’s that? You’d love to attend, but are out of town or otherwise engaged? Why not share this invitation with a friend in the DC area, so they might have the time of their life. Don’t let the word stop here. Shout it from the rooftops, from the highest mountains, or in your break room over coffee: this night should not be missed!

You can certainly still support the laughter too by quickly going to our website and making a tax-deductible donation.