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Hope Takes Center Stage: Clowns Bring Laughter to Acapulco After Otis

Hope Takes Center Stage: Clowns Bring Laughter to Acapulco After Otis

Hurricane Otis, a Category 5 behemoth, slammed directly into Acapulco. Less than six weeks later, Clowns Without Borders (CWB) performed for people who endured the most.

This post focuses on one particular community in the region: Los Órganos.

The photos and stories from this performance are full of color and energy. We couldn’t, in our right minds (loosely defined), not share them with you.

May these photos and stories brighten your day!

All quotes are from CWB Artist Leora Sapon-Shevin.

Laughter Becomes Lifeblood in Los Órganos (‘The Organs’)

A clown in a bright pink dress and a lamb hat invites children to the stage.
Darina Robles invites kids on stage to help her tell a story in Los Órganos. Photo by Guillermo Caballero (as are all photos in this post).

Los Órganos is in Acapulco, but it is not a tourist area. 

Children grow up surrounded by violence, drug activity, and criminal groups. There is danger all around and there are few safe places to laugh and play

Hurricane Otis’s fury wasn’t limited to homes and municipal buildings. It also unleashed a wave of waste, generating the equivalent of two years’ worth of garbage in just 3 hours. Los Órganos bore the brunt of this environmental nightmare.

CWB Offers A New Story to Tell 

Two clowns dance in the audience.
CWB Artists Leora Sapon-Shevin and Gilberto Valenzuela kick off the fun.

On a covered basketball court, families filled the space.

The clowns set up microphones while people waited in line to receive academic scholarships so they could afford to continue studying after the hurricane.

As the music started, kids and their parents were eager to see what would happen next.

Three clowns are joined onstage by about 10 kids.
Children join CWB Artists Alex Pizano, Darina Robles, and Leora Sapon-Shevin.

“I went around dancing and making eye contact to see who would dance with me. I caught the eye of a little girl, about 8 years old, sitting with her grandmother with a blank look on her face and her mouth open. Her grandmother smiled at me and motioned for me to come closer. 

“I took the little girl’s hands, and we danced with her still seated. Her face softened into the smallest smile.

“Eventually I left, and she went back to her blank stillness.

“Later in the show, I brought her up on stage and she kept her eyes on me, holding my hand. When I’d leave her for a few moments, I would find her standing still and staring. But as soon as I looked at her again, she would follow me — eventually pretending to be a frog, dancing like the sun, or flying like a seagull.”

Leora’s attention offered the girl a memory filled with the warmth of feeling special and cared for in front of her family and community.

Getting Reacquainted at the Clown Show

A clown hugs a small boy and girl after a clown show.
CWB Artist Gilberto “Gil” Valenzuela gives a hug during the show.

Next, a CWB artist encountered a familiar face at the event.

“An old classmate of Gil’s, a juggler, brought his family to the show, which he said he enjoyed very much.

“He had fled Acapulco because of violence, leaving his children and wife behind. After Otis, he returned to his family and their severely damaged home.”

Gil’s classmate might now have a new chapter in his own story — one filled with hope and the resilience of community.

Beyond the Storm Clouds: A New Chapter for Children in Acapulco

A boy in a red shirt holds a rainbow colored ball at a clown show.
A child after their first clown show, holding a new ball (courtesy of the government).

Imagine a child whose toys are suddenly gone — washed away by a storm’s fury, leaving behind a muddied mess. This was the harsh reality for many children after Hurricane Otis.

“A little boy, less than 5, approached Darina to tell her about his hurricane experience. ‘My tree fell down and my toys were full of mud, the electricity went out too!’

“Darina asked him more questions. ‘Did you enjoy the show?’ ‘Yes!’”

The clown show experience might rewrite the storm story for the children of Los Órganos, offering them an alternate perspective.

Imagination Takes Over: From Lost Toys to Found Fun

With a nudge from CWB, adults and children of Los Órganos embraced new experiences and opened the door to wonder. 

Facing lost toys and a disrupted world, they discovered everyday objects could become endless sources of fun.

Would You Say Yes to This Fun?

In Acapulco, Mexico, a clown positions himself to catch a hat, thrown by an audience member at a clown show in Acapulco, Mexico.
A magic moment: Alex moves to catch his hat, thrown by an audience member.

Who needs fancy equipment when you have a hat and a willing participant?

“When Alex was trying to find someone to toss him his hat so that he could catch it on his head, he asked a woman who said that she couldn’t do it because she was pregnant. He told her it was okay, that she could do it seated.

“She tossed it. He caught it. Everyone cheered.”

Tambourine Takeover! One Woman’s Rhythm Ignites the Crowd

“Lars invited a woman up to the front to play the tambourine, which she did, smiling. 

“After a few minutes, she said, ‘Let’s get everyone to participate, no?’ giving the show new and palpable energy.”

The woman’s enthusiasm was contagious, and everyone’s experience became more vibrant and joyful.

Unlocking Imagination Through Clowning

Laughter wasn’t the only gift CWB brought to Los Órganos, Acapulco. The performances sparked something more profound: a reflection on what’s possible.

“Christian, a university student studying to be a teacher, took part in the act with the whip. Afterward, with a huge smile on his face, he thanked us. 

“He said that the performance grew his community’s awareness of the outside world. ‘Most of these children have never left and have never even seen the ocean, even though it’s so close.’”

The performances unlocked imaginations and opened doors to new possibilities and ways of seeing the world. Even the familiar could now be a potential source of wonder and joy.

The Team

Five clowns pose with a girl and her baby brother after a clown show.
Audience members with CWB artists (L to R): Leora Sapon-Shevin, Alex Pizano, Gilberto Valenzuela, Lars Uribe, and Darina Robles.

This tour had a five-person performing team, Leora Sapon-Shevin (US), Alex Pizano (Mexico), Gilberto Valenzuela (Mexico), Lars Uribe (Mexico), and Darina Robles (Mexico), all of whom are seasoned CWB performing artists. 

Our tour partners were Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero, Congreso del Estado de Guerrero, Sabiduría del Payaso, Banyasos, Clowncidencias, and Llaven Nü.

Over 2,100 adults and children were touched by our 13-show tour between November 30th and December 9th, 2023.

Conclusion

The once-ordinary basketball court became a vibrant stage, filled with music, laughter, and a joyous celebration of life that will echo in hearts for years to come.

Faced with the wreckage of Hurricane Otis, CWB brought more than just laughter. They planted seeds of hope and ignited the spark of imagination.

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