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Changing Lives One Smile at a Time: Community-based Clowning in Lebanon

Changing Lives One Smile at a Time: Community-based Clowning in Lebanon

You may already know that Clowns Without Borders (CWB)-USA operates in many countries around the world. Another approach to clowning is community-based, wherein organizations focus foremost on local needs.

Clown Me In (CMI) is a community-based organization that primarily works with and for communities in their own country of Lebanon. Relationships with different communities living in Lebanon drive their art, storytelling, and activism.

In June 2022, CWB’s Naomi Shafer caught up with Clown Me In, in Lebanon, for a brief tour.

Naomi was delighted to join CMI’s existing show. The team, composed of Naomi Shafer, Sabine Choucair, Stephanie Sotiry, Riwa Houssami, and Ramy Abi Khalil, performed nine times and reached over 3,000 people.

In this post, you’ll learn about Clown Me In, its flavor of clowning, and how communities responded to their clowning following the Beirut explosion in August 2020.

Clown Me In clowns perform on the street in Lebanon
From left to right: Clown Me In artists Stephanie Sotiry, Sabine Choucair, Ramy Abi Khalil, and Riwa Houssami

Clown Me In: Taking Community-based Clowning to Another Level

Since 2008, Clown Me In has been using community-based clowning to ask for social justice through street theater and protest, and to encourage people to use the spaces they create for social therapy.

Social therapy is a non-medical, creative form of group therapy that aims to help people in emotional pain. Participants of CMI’s social therapy sessions become a therapeutic unit capable of supporting others.

Clowning is hope… is magic… is life. And it can do wonders.

Sabine Choucair, Wellness Curated Podcast, March 8, 2022

Kids enjoy the clown show in Lebanon

Now people wait for us and know what to do when we come. Municipalities and youth groups help us organize, gather people, and make the streets ready.

Sabine Choucair, co-founder/clown/storyteller, Clown me in

At Clown Me In, Relationships are the Magic Dust of Transformation

By deeply listening to people’s lived experiences, Clown Me In creates artistic performances and interactive events that encourage dialogue and healing.

For instance, in 2022, CMI collaborated with 49 communities to address violence.

In each community, adults, children, and teens came together to form a task force. The task force met for three sessions of laughter, clowning, and story-sharing around the theme of violence.

After the third session, the task force developed games and performances that tackled the specific cases of violence that people spoke about. The task force then shared the games and performances with the entire community through a free outdoor day of play.

In this way, the community itself led the intervention, promoting healing and building community capacity.

A girl in yellow claps at a clown show in Lebanon

Hope Amidst the Rubble: Four Stories of Clown Magic

In August 2020, one of the largest explosions ever recorded occurred at the Port of Beirut. The explosion killed 218 people, injured 7,000, and left over 300,000 displaced from their homes.

Clown Me In stepped out on the streets of Beirut three weeks after the explosion. The mood was dark, and the city was still covered with gray dust and piles of rubble.

However, the overwhelmingly positive response to brightly colored clown costumes and offers of play and laughter suggested that the city was ready to heal.

Below are four stories from this time period as shared by Sabine Choucair, CMI’s co-founder and our long-time collaborator:

In Karantina, one child found us wherever we were performing in the area. He told one clown that he’d been seeing the show in his dreams every night.

He also told us to please come up with a new performance because he knew the current one by heart!

Clown holding outreached hand of child

We had so many kids who were severely injured in the blast but insisted on coming to walk with us and watch the show.

Group of kids in amazement

Angie, a 5-year-old girl, dared to leave her half-destroyed home for the first time to follow the clowns and jump, sing, and play.

Her mom was in awe, and she wouldn’t stop thanking us.

Kids with their fingers up

In Sin El-Fil, there was a 9 or 10-year-old girl who completely stopped talking for a month and a half after the explosion. After watching the show, she ran back to her house and told her dad all about it. 

Something magic happened at the show — and she talked!

Four Clown Me In clowns point in four different directions while looking at a map.


Clown Me In’s community-based clowning has built trust and collaboration through its relationships. For years, they’ve interacted, listened, reflected needs, and involved the community in its own healing.

Thank you for joining us as we shine a spotlight on a special partner in clown: Clown Me In.

Our amazing photographer for the CWB tour, Charbel Sammour, took all the photos you saw in this post and all the ones you’ll find in the video below.

Check out the YouTube Short video here (it’s not long! 😉)!

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  • Tim Arem
    April 19, 2023

    Thank you for posting this inspirational story. Tim Arem Chief Humor Officer

    • Maggie Cunha, MPH
      April 19, 2023

      Clown Me In is a bright light and it was my pleasure to celebrate them. Thanks, Tim!

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