Clown and kid making a heart with their fingers at a clown show in Turkey for earthquake survivors.

Earthquake Survivors in Turkey Find Relief in Clowns and Their Comedic Charm

“You came all the way here for us?”

This was the sentiment heard over and over at clown shows for earthquake survivors just six weeks after disaster struck Turkey and Syria.

From March 22 – 28th, Clowns Without Borders (CWB)-USA brought comedy, music, and color to children, parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles who had lost so much.

In this Smile Roundup for the first tour of 2023, you’ll hear just how quickly we organized the Turkey tour — and you’ll see lots of kids smiling from ear to ear.

Let’s do this!

The Urgent Need for Psychosocial Support Among Earthquake Survivors

Survivors of the earthquake in Turkey take time to laugh, like this woman with her child.

34 children still need family tracing and reunification.

Türkiye Humanitarian Situation Report No. 10
April 18-25, 2023
UNICEF

On February 6, 2023, two major earthquakes hit southern Turkey and Syria, killing over 58,000 people (50,000 in Turkey alone) and injuring twice as many survivors.

According to an April 2023 UNICEF report,

  • Around 2.4 million people live in settlements (1.6 million in informal and 800,000 in formal).
  • Informal sites need water, sanitation, information, and social protection.
  • UNICEF reached 212,730 children and caregivers with mental health support through trained workers and NGOs.

UNICEF has done a great job, but there are 4 million school-age children affected by the earthquakes. The need for more psychosocial support is undeniable.

CWB considers our work as a critical part of this effort.

Moreover, CWB–USA is able to go where the road does not, creating performances without a traditional stage or electricity (which was often the case in Turkey).

Children survivors of the Turkey earthquake clap at a clown show.

Supporting Children’s Play Amid Crisis

Our supporters are the kind of people who want to see a day when no crisis stops a child’s play life.

Weeks after the initial quakes, our amazing community started asking if we were going to Turkey and how they might help. We could only say that it was not yet the right time to go.

Like the Ghostbusters, CWB-USA responds to communities when they call.

Want to learn more about how CWB decides when and where to tour? Check out our FAQ page.

Clowns in Turkey play with kid survivors of the earthquake, teaching them to balance plates on a stick.

The Call to Clown Came Early (Naomi was Brushing her Teeth)

On the morning of March 12, the Executive Director of CWB-USA, Naomi Shafer, got a 7:30 am call from Turkey.

Sabine Choucair from Clown Me In was on tour in southern Turkey and called to ask, “Can we tell the kids and adults that the clowns are returning 2 weeks?”

With a departure date just 10 days away, Naomi said, “YES! We’ll be there!”

Later that day, Naomi sent out an email to vetted artists, inviting those who had been on a previous CWB tour to apply.

She assembled our incredible Turkey team a few days later. It included performing artists Selin Akoğlu (Turkey), Josie Mae (US), Meredith Gordon (US), and Andrés Aguilar (Mexico), photographer Zeynep Secil, and tour organizers Güray Dinçol and Pınar Akkuzu.

How were we able to make travel arrangements so quickly?

We give all credit to our donors, whose generosity makes us nimble. Most especially, we rely on Joy Maker Magic (learn more by watching the video below).

Tickling the Funny Bones of Turkey’s Earthquake Survivors

Thank you. Please make our children laugh. There’s been no one like this here before.

Elderly woman from İskenderun, Turkey

Communities who had been seeing rubble and smelling death for a month met our artists with a mixture of curiosity and anticipation. 

Clown parades, limbo games, and plate spinning shifted the crowd’s mood. People experienced:

  • Respite from trauma
  • A reminder that they’re still able to feel joy
  • A reminder that they’re loved by strangers
Clowns perform for kid survivors of the Turkey earthquakes as kids reach out to participate.

For many communities, this was the first time anyone attended to their well-being beyond shelter, food, and water.

Here are some fun occurrences and words of gratitude from earthquake survivors at four of the tour locations.

Samandağ, Hatay, Türkiye

At the Samandağ earthquake survivors’ camp, an older woman played drums and sang while children and clowns danced at the end of the show.

Thank you. The show took me back to my childhood.

Elder woman, Samandağ earthquake survivors’ camp
Clowns play and laught with kid survivors of the Turkey earthquake.

Gümüşgöze Village, Antakya/Hatay, Türkiye

You come here willingly, and this kind of thing will heal us.

Elder Woman

There’s a moment in Andrés’s routine where he has an audience member point up to the sky as he tosses his Diavolo up really high. But then he turns back around and hangs his vest on their finger.

A clown points to the sky and gets an older woman to do the same at a clown show for earthquake survivors in Turkey.

Maras Avşar earthquake survivors camp, Kahramanmaraş, Türkiye

At this camp, the kids were explaining to one another that we were foreigners coming from very far away for them.

We played with the kids without materials, improvising and playing with imagination. They didn’t want us to go.

This is so important for the children. Please come back.

A young English teacher

This is the first time people have come for our kids.

Elder Woman
A boy survivor of the Turkey earthquake has a great time balancing a plate at a clown show.

Pazarcık, Kahramanmaraş, Türkiye

During the parade, a Kurdish woman started improvising music with the clowns. She was dancing and singing her own songs.

Selin started playing peek-a-boo with a non-verbal, partially paralyzed teenager in a wheelchair. He laughed and smiled. His mother was overjoyed to see her son having such a good time playing with the clowns.

Two young boys jumped and chanted “palyaço” (clown) the entire show!

Team Turkey
Clowns performing in Turkey as a rainbow appears in the sky

Conclusion

In the aftermath of the earthquakes in Turkey, CWB brought laughter and hope to communities facing immense challenges. Over 6 days, CWB artists performed 30 times and reached 3230 people.

Because of the unwavering support of our donors, we responded swiftly when called.

Will you help us reach the next family in crisis?


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Together, we can make a difference and bring smiles to those who need it the most.

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