Kolleen blows bubbles in Lesvos

Ethical Volunteering

Did you know that all Clowns Without Borders artists volunteer their time during a tour? These professionals donate their abilities and expertise to craft responsive, culturally humble performance tours that create space for levity amidst crisis.

Code of Ethics

CWB tours all over the world. Each community is different, each crisis is different, and every volunteer situation is infinitely complex. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, or like we can’t possibly understand everything we need to know about the communities we serve. And that’s true. As outsiders we cannot know what it’s like to live through the crisis our audience is experiencing. Making assumptions will only take us further away from listening to our audiences. Instead, we lead with empathy, local wisdom, and cultural humility.

Clowns Without Borders International has a Code of Ethics, to which all chapters adhere. The Code of Ethics guides staff, performer, and non-performing volunteer behavior before, during, and after a tour. It states that CWB artists are not on tour to impart a “point of view,” nor may they “educate” the population they’re serving. The Code of Ethics also asks that artists continue to share their experiences after they return home, spreading awareness about crises of forced displacement.

How We Work

The ethics of volunteering extends beyond artist and staff behavior, and deep into how we organize a tour from the very beginning. Perhaps most importantly, CWB only goes where it’s invited. That means we know the communities we serve asked for our presence. We trust our community partners to tell us if our presence is appropriate, or if the arrival of clowns could threaten or strain the community. There’s a lot of safety and trust to be gained when we know people want our performances.

We always work with a local organization and almost always include local artists on a performance team. Audiences may connect more freely with performers who look like them and speak their language. A local organization can provide invaluable guidance and leadership for logistics, safety, and cultural sensitivity. The wisdom of our project partners and diverse performing teams allows us to create culturally humble and appropriate performances.


Volunteering can easily transform into voluntourism: when an outside organization creates short-term volunteer experiences solely for the benefit of the unskilled volunteer, and with little regard for a community’s needs. Voluntoursim feeds the volunteer’s ego and sense of accomplishment. CWB addresses voluntourism through the mechanisms described above: Waiting for a community’s request; working with expert artists and educators; and following the lead of local organizers.

But don’t CWB tours fly in, perform, and then leave? Aren’t fleeting clown performances pretty short-term? How do we know our performances are creating the kind of lasting impact the community desires? It’s true that CWB artists enter and leave communities in a short period of time. But we have a few practices to address our short-term presence:

  • CWB doesn’t exchange anything except laughter. We don’t give away supplies, because we’re there to celebrate the abundance of joy within a community. Our performances are always free and everyone is welcome. There’s no queue to stand in or requirements to be met.
  • CWB often returns to communities because our performances and workshops are repeatedly requested.
  • Voluntourism sets the outsider up as the expert. As outsider clowns, CWB artists are the butt of jokes, the listeners, the cheerleaders, and the fools who just don’t get how daily life is supposed to function. Our audiences and community partners are the experts. As CWB – USA artist Leora Sapon-Shevin says, “Hierarchy is a barrier to connecting with others because it denies both parties their sense of humanity. There’s a real sense of presence in social clowning, of openness to what others are offering.
  • Our three-year strategic plan includes developing an assessment matrix for long-term impact and support for long-term partnerships with Cali Clown in Colombia, and Diyar Theatre in Palestine.
  • Audience laughter and post-show feedback gives us an immediate sense of whether our presence is wanted, or not! Read some audience feedback from Palestine, here.

First-time CWB artists talk about their experiences on tour:

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