By Molly Rose Levine
As someone with friends and colleagues scattered around the world, the fallout of violence and disruption hits close to home, no matter where that happens to be: Juba; Beirut; Nice; Baghdad; Athens; Aleppo; Paris. After the attack on the Istanbul airport last month, my heart clenched in my throat as I waited to hear if any community member had been traveling through the airport. I breathed a sigh of relief: another tragedy dodged. Little did I know that a few weeks later we would still be changing plans to accommodate violence in the region.
South Sudan had been experiencing a period of peace since a treaty signed in August 2015, but unfortunately experienced violent clashes at the beginning of July. Together with our partners at INTERSOS and Save the Children Juba, we made the call to postpone our project. Without a safety/evacuation plan from our partners and support from the Consulate, we will not send our artists into active conflict areas. In the end, we could not assure the safety of our team in the event of increasing clashes. This decision was difficult after so much time and energy was put into the project. I wrote a blog which explains more about the situation in South Sudan. Read it here.
Three days before our artistic team planned to travel to Turkey; the failed military coup happened. We waited for the aftermath, hoping against hope that in three days the situation would be stable. By the time we needed to make the call, we did not have enough information to move forward, and so we grounded the US artists. Our artists understood and were grateful for our thought and consideration – they felt we were making the right call.
The silver lining? Our Turkish counterparts continued with the program! Professional clowns artists in Turkey performed for 5,000 children in 19 shows, across ten cities and refugee camps. Even in the midst of turmoil, they still made an impact and shared laughter with the communities who need it more than ever. The program continuing with our Turkish counterparts was the ray of sunlight in the dark cloud of disappointment.
Like our colleagues in Turkey, we know that there are people in crisis right here in our country. Since 1975, Americans have welcomed over 3 million refugees from all over the world. Refugees have built new lives, homes, and communities in towns and cities in all 50 states. And yet, we are now finding ourselves in a climate of extreme fear and xenophobia, despite 30 years of welcoming refugees. As violent disruption continues to increase steadily around the world, we feel called to do more here at home. We want to have more impact by sharing the twenty years of organizational knowledge about listening; empathizing; communicating cross-culturally; and processing trauma with laughter and play.
The world is changing. In a world where violence, conflict, and disruption seem to be all around us, what can we do? How can we be agile? How can we do our beneficial work where it helps the most?
This fall Clowns Without Borders USA is launching an Education Program called, Take Laughter With You. This program will be age appropriate learning on topics including human displacement, cross-cultural understanding, listening and empathy building – all wrapped up in a healthy dose of PLAY. We are growing this program from the roots of a similar and successful initiative created by Clowns Without Borders Sweden. We feel a sense of urgency to bring this program to fruition, so we’re excited to be prototyping in real time, learning as we go, and actively reacting to feedback from communities we work with – just like we do in all of our programs.
If you’re interested, you can help in this first phase by filling out this quick survey! https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XWB7LNW
We are so excited to see how we can grow and learn together! Will you join us?