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“My Life is Magical”: Clown Energy vs. Displacement in El Salvador

“My Life is Magical”: Clown Energy vs. Displacement in El Salvador

Imagine shouting “My life is magical!” alongside your friends and family and, for a few moments, feeling the truth of it. That’s the clown energy felt by families in El Salvador during a recent Clowns Without Borders-USA (CWB-USA) tour.

In our universe, imaginative play is a tool — a bridge for people experiencing displacement caused by conflict, political turbulence, economic struggle, and environmental crisis.

El Salvador, where people face multiple causes of displacement, found itself in the spotlight of a tour in November 2023.

Join us under the big top to learn how clown energy brought play, laughter, and relief to people in El Salvador.

Families Face Multiple Causes of Displacement in El Salvador

A clown plays train with kids in El Salvador
CWB Artist Val Juarez leads a train of children at a show in El Salvador.

For decades, deadly gang violence has shaped life in El Salvador. To find safety, many young people left their homes and family members to migrate north. El Salvador has also become a destination for Venezuelans escaping dangerous political and economic conditions.

Even as deaths and migration continue, arbitrary arrests of men suspected of gang activity have added to the heartache.

Fleeing home is stressful for those who leave and those who stay. The road to a new life includes food insecurity, human trafficking, and environmental exposure. Those who stay may not hear from loved ones for weeks at a time.

For these reasons, CWB-USA planned a tour for November 2023.

No one anticipated that the stage was also set for another cause of displacement: Tropical Storm Pilar.

Navigating a Red Alert: Tropical Storm Pilar

Two young boys delight in bubbles as they participate in a clown show in El Salvador.
“We want the clowns to stay here with us.” – Darwin, 6 years old

Clowns Without Borders performances aren’t just fun, they’re strategic endeavors. 

When Tropical Storm Pilar hit, the red alert prompted even more caution than we’d already applied and anticipated.

Hundreds of people left their homes to seek safety from the storm.

Bringing laughter must never jeopardize people’s safety, both the journey to the performance and the gathering itself, nor inadvertently divert vital resources.

Fortunately, adapting to fresh traumas of already vulnerable groups isn’t a new dynamic for CWB. We’ve been here before. Just weeks before the El Salvador tour, we redirected a tour in Guatemala to assure audience safety during political protests.

After the storm subsided, CWB-USA artists were ready to bring the transformative power of laughter.

Sharing the Vibe: Clown Energy and Laughter

A clown in a brightly colored shirt and hat stands among children and bubbles.
CWB Artist Jed Doherty is the center of a bubble hunt joy fest.

So what happened when our artists could safely gather children and families for clown shows in El Salvador?

Here are stories from the events:

Our first show was intimate, with only 32 people in attendance. All were migrant adults and children seeking refugee status and asylum.

There were lots of excited parents who were thankful to see their children so happy and taking part. A group of kids, 8 to 11 years old, said they’d, “never seen magic before.”


A girl demonstrates clown energy in action by throwing her egg through a hoop and into a basket.

Aileen, 6 years old, volunteered to come on stage. With assistance, she made an egg appear out of thin air. When asked to throw the egg into a basket, she said she couldn’t do it.

CWB artists offered her space to leave the stage but also offered encouragement. She compromised by saying, “I’m going to throw it as well as I can.”

As the audience cheered her on, Aileen threw her egg.

She got it in the basket on the first try and left the stage with a huge smile on her face!

Clown energy looks like taking a funny photo with a bubble camera.
CWB Artist Josie Mae clicks the bubble camera to celebrate.

At a school in the town of Santa Maria, Edwin, who’s 9 years old, asked where Josie was from. She said the US.

Josie asked Edwin if he had ever visited the US and he said, “No.” And added that he wasn’t able to get a visa.

Then she asked him if he’d ever seen a clown before. Edwin said, “Yes. But they weren’t as great as you and you made us laugh a lot more.”


“I want to be a clown.”

Mercerito

In Panchimalco, a town that’s considered one of the most dangerous in the country, there was a special older participant named Marcerito. On stage, she shared her huge smile and youthful energy. Audience and artists alike delighted in her joy.

“I’ve never seen a show in my life and have never laughed so much.”

Karen, 27 years old

Clown Energy for the Back Pocket: A Special Abracadabra

You know the word “abracadabra” makes magic happen. But the clown energy on this tour intended for people to recognize the ever-present source of magic within themselves.

During each show, the audience shouted, “Mi vida es magica!” (“My life is magic.”) to conjure enchantment.

After the show, audience members would approach artists and repeat the phrase, “Mi vida es magica.” It became the anthem of the tour.

Now it’s your turn! Say it with us: “Mi vida es magica.” “Mi vida es magica!”

“The real development and healing happens after we leave and kids say, “Here’s how I’m going to make this my own.” 

– Naomi Shafer, Executive Director, Clowns Without Borders

Jed Doherty, a CWB artist who performed in El Salvador, shares a story of a child who made the magic his own:

“After a performance at an elementary school, I taught Juani, a boy around 7 years old, how to do a magic trick. A few minutes later, he ran over very excited to show me that he had taught one of his friends how to do the trick.”

Conclusion

CWB-USA holds clown energy for crowd after crowd after crowd, making laughter happen amid complex realities of displacement.

Our El Salvador tour was planned in collaboration with our local partner ACNUR and Tour Leader Ricardo Bamaca (Guatemala) and featured artists Josie Mae (United States), Jed Doherty (United States), and Val Juarez (El Salvador).

Check out this Instagram reel from the El Salvador tour:

You Can Help CWB Plan the Next Tour

A gift to CWB-USA is a gift of laughter to children and families who are experiencing crisis. The laughter becomes a moment of shared joy by which children and community members build resilience.

Will you join us in spreading joy and laughter?

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