Project Blog Posts:

Louisiana 2007: Three Trips

Project Overview

Clowns Without Borders offered free performances and/or workshops for 3,733 children and community members during these three expeditions. Over the course of these expeditions, Clowns Without Borders partnered with a variety of local organizations on the Gulf Coast: schools, after-school programs, summer camp programs, church groups, libraries, hospitals/healthcare groups, and other community development projects. The great majority of audiences were composed of children. (See Appendix for complete listing of partners and audiences).

Over the course of these 3 trips, Clowns Without Borders gave free performances and/or workshops for 3, 733 children and community members at an expense of just $1.38 donated cents per child reached.

Volunteers: Elisa Lane and Gwen Rooker
Shows: 14
Duration: April 22nd – 30th
Workshops: 2
Audience: 1,667
Journal

 

Volunteers: Deven Sisler and Melinda Ferraraccio

Shows: 10
Duration: April 18th – 22nd
Workshops: 6
Audience: 415

Overview

Day 1

Monday, June 18th, 2007
Afternoon: Emergency Communities- Lower 9th Ward 60-30 St. Claude Ave 70117
Performance & Circus Skills Workshop for 20 kids and 10 adults.  Description of Facility: Emergency Communities (E.C.) is a volunteer run food shelter & community center.  We performed in the main cafeteria/meeting room/children’s center. E.C. was initiated by Mark Weiner to provide communal public space after Katrina because this essential part of communities was wiped away with everything else.

E.C. was providing it’s daily free community lunch when we arrived. We were greeted by a guard and a few men as we walked into the library/computer room/living room area. The kids were in the main cafeteria style room in their partitioned off play area watching the afternoon movie of Inspector Gadget. The Summer Camp Coordinator was excited to see us and asked if we could help keep the adults away from the movie area,as they sometimes try to “teach” the kids inappropriate lessons.

It’s funny, people frequently ask what children are like in these kind of areas of hardship… Upon reflecting in my journal, I realize I wrote about the conditions in which they survive more than the children themselves because they are always playful, curious, energetic and wanting to play.

Day 2
Tuesday, June 19th, 2007 Morning
Pearlington Library- Hancock Library System, Hancock, Mississippi Performance & Scarf Juggling There were about ten-twelve kids by the end of the workshop, we performed the beginning of the show and then taught scarf juggling. As a warm-up a couple of the kids got onstage and told jokes. It is really exciting to see them glow with the attention, and to do our thing, but then bring it back to them, teaching them a new way to play. As always, it is frustrating to keep them in the audience, and not back stage. But their enthusiasm is incredible, as was their excitement while juggling.

The difference upon entering a Pearlington is nothing less than drastic. Houses are being built 10-12 feet in the air due to revised flood restrictions… and the houses are almost completed. The volunteer centers are crisp, white and well stocked with coffee, water, sweet tea, juice… I don’t know how the funding is specifically different, it seems from the banners that there is a strong religious influence in housing the volunteers. Whatever it is, there is a very slow, but very steady rebuilding effort.

Tuesday afternoon Eisenhower Elementary 30-40 kids Description of the Facility: A huge school, in particular we are working in the room that serves as the cafeteria (with immovable tables, yes!) stage & meeting area between classes. We met with the Circus class teacher and decided we would best be utilized by simply assisting her 30+ student class, and we will perform part of our show Thursday.

The Circus teacher counters the discipline theory of the rest of the school by refusing to yell at the students Usually she teaches this on her own, I can’t imagine. They were truly a handful with three teachers in the room, but we were able to do the work and she seems grateful that we will return.

Day 3

Wednesday, June 20th

The Freedom School/7th Ward Performance & Mini Circus Warm-Up. Description of the Facility: There is a lot of love going into this program & facility. It is a beautiful, huge church, but they have partitioned off sections for different activities and the kids can move wherever they would like: girley, fluffy reading area, library with couches, pool table, computer area, art area, with a great center and stage. They are working hard to make opportunities for the kids to decorate so it really feels like their own space.

Journal

 

Mindy’s Update: June 18, 2007

Flight was at 6am. We left at 4:30 am for LGA. The flight seemed to go by rather quickly. We arrive and I find myself lost for words. It is hard to explain what it is like down here. The first glimpses are surreal. Images my imagination could not have conjured up. I don’t know what my expectations were, but I am incredulous at the seemingly stopped time that has occurred. Signs on abandoned schools still read, “registration begins August 11, 2005” Houses are gutted and you see visible water lines. There are few signs of life. As we get closer to the Emergency Community where we plan to stay for the week, life begins to emerge. We are greeted by questions and requests for us to bring a plate of food out with us. I am in awe and feel my eyes wide open.

We are taken on a tour of the center and meet several children who we are told have been waiting anxiously for the clowns to arrive. We quickly prepare for our first show. Which goes somewhat like an experiment. Deven and I are jumping in and finding our clown legs. The children, we realize, will be in the show whether we planned for it or not! They jump up, jump in, and ask to help, shout out, and call for our attention. It is an unreal, exciting adventure. The subsequent workshop is organized chaos. The kids are wild over the different “toys” Devil sticks, spinning plates, juggling. We are hoping to work with them several times this week.

Staying in a tent in an abandoned church to keep out the termites that live in the connected lumberyard. I have a small clip light on my keychain. I use it to pen these thoughts.

The school was boarded up. Sign read “registration 8/11/2005”
Deven said, “frozen in time”.
I say lost.
Lost in time
Forgotten.
I wonder how the children would tell the story.
Children who say, “Real clowns have noses that squeak”
Reminding us that imagination still works!
I guess I could be a real clown if I only had a nose that “squeaked”.
We’ll work with the kids again at this emergency community.
They are teaching me to be patient while they learn to juggle.
As the adults become patience as all of us re-learn how to play.

June 19th, 2007

Awoke on a flattened air mattress that must have found a hole during the night or somewhere in between on our travels. Neck cramp from the hardness of the cement floor. Surprisingly I just have one bug bite that doesn’t much bother me yet. Mike the carpenter and volunteer here found us another air mattress and will blow it up for us later. He has been here for two months. He told us parts of his story. His best pal is a pit bull who thinks of bugs as playmates and won’t harm them, was rescued as a helpless pup drowning in the aftermath of Katrina. He told us how he had to leave for ten months to get away from it all for a while. The stench of rot, death, and sickness became too much to carry. He had no electricity for one month and the streets were lined with refrigerators filled with decay. Mold and rot from the heat and the decay of what was left behind. I cannot fathom. I can listen, I can hold, but I can never really know.

June 20th, 2007

We enter a school in Chalmette void of common “creature comforts and necessities” like toilet paper and general cleanliness. I wonder how a child can learn to have respect for their place of learning when it does not offer them a feeling of safety and openness. I am appalled at the way the children are shamed and talked down to. Amazed that “communication” is attempted through a microphone, speakers, and a broom handle pounded threateningly on a cafeteria table. I feel threatened. I feel stilted.

I cannot image how the children experience this. Yet they are some of the most talented, driven students I have had the pleasure of working with. Today we assisted Meret, an amazing circus arts teacher, in a summer camp program in Chalmette. Under “normal” daily circumstances Meret teaches these classes by herself. 30 kids in this chaotic environment by herself, she is amazing, but no one is equipped to do more than manage the chaos in such an environment. Our presence allowed Merret to give the kids more personalized attention. Several students were even up on stilts. And to there own amazement took off.

One young lady at the end of the second day was walking the halls of the school unassisted on her stilts. She brought her mother back after class and begged us “tell her what I did” She broke into a huge grin as Merret complimented her ability and most importantly her courage and as she walked out she said to her mother “I walked on stilts”. Her mother replied, “I know, I am so proud of you”. It was a moment I will treasure.

Meret reminds us that to them this chaotic environment is actually a calm refuge and that is a big reason to continue this work. To create a place for trial and error, for failure and success, and especially for play. That and a hug from a little girl in a parking lot outside of a mobile library in Mississippi where we had just performed. She arrived after our performance, as we were packing up. We were total strangers to her, but she reached out anyway running to Deven with a hug before continuing on into the library to do some artwork.

June 21st, 2007

Beauty and terror. I am always reminded how one doesn’t exist, cannot exist without the other. Here that paradox is so visible. These children are courageous and resilient. Which begs the question how can resiliency be maintained? Or even developed? Meret runs this circus arts class. She used to have a school that was lost. Destroyed. As was her home. For two years she has lived in a trailer on her property with her husband.

Everyone here has been touched. Yet, there is so much faith here in continuing. Unafraid of the leaps that have been made, the decisions to be here in the moment. Alive with whatever comes next. We ran tonight in a glorious city park. Swans gathered on the water and these magnificent draping trees greeted us at every turn. It feels far away from the Emergency Community in which we have been staying. It reminds me that tourists that will come to visit New Orleans will likely only see the French Quarter. Bourbon Street. They might not even see this lovely park let alone the destruction in the 9th ward. When we return it will be important to share all of it.

Mindy

Volunteers: Selena McMahan and  Alice Nelson
Shows: 16
Duration: July 5th – 18th
Workshops: 4
Audience: 1,651

Journal

Alice’s Update:

How can a couple clowns possibly contend with America’s entertainment for kids; video games, movies with special effects and all those fancy sparkly toys??? Well, when you’re performing for kids who’ve lost all those things, they use the one toy they will never be without… their imagination.

 

As clown duo Farquar and Dasani, Selena and I have been taking children to the ocean, the desert and the swamp in search of the perfect home. The children come with us, playing the roles of ocean bubbles and seaweed, swamp trees and even a shark! (the kid who plays this role usually won’t let go of me and Selena has to pry him off…he takes his role very seriously). The kids go crazy as we dive under a giant blue ocean tarp and our heads pops up through holes. When the show is over, we ask them “okay, does anyone have any questions for us about Clowns Without Borders or the show. Yes, you, in the stripped blue shirt.” “YOU’RE FUNNY!” “Okay, thank you. Any other questions? Yes, you in the pink shirt.” “I LIKE THE PART WHEN THE MONSTER CHASES HER!” “Okay, good stuff…um…any other questions?” “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?” “Well, we like to make people happy and bring laughter. So we’re going to all the different summer camps”

And man, oh man. Some camps sure appreciate it. There are still 13,000 families in trailer or mobile home parks. Shiny while trailer after shiny white trailer, glistening under the hot sun at the Diamond FEMA Trailer park. Selena and I will perform for the children here, in an old courthouse, shredded by Katrina. And for the kids at Diamond, it seems there’s not a lot around for them to enjoy. Other performance venues we’ve played include community centers, schools and yards.

We do several shows in gymnasiums with over 200 children, who are rambunctious and steamy. Kids often go nutty during our interactive show, as we are something different for them to enjoy. And our clowning around doesn’t exactly calm them down….however, near the end of the show, when Farquar and Dasani threaten to be apart from each other, you could hear a pin drop. After realizing that sending Farquar via Express Post to the moon won’t work and Dasani’s magic is bogus, they blame each other for their inability to find the perfect home. At one particular performance a young girl in the front row yells, “Y’all shouldn’t be fightin’! Y’all are friends!”. I love how they come along with us on our adventure.

But you can’t blame the kids for being unfocused. They lost structure when they lost their homes, schools, family members and don’t know when they might lose their FEMA trailer. The heads of our partnered organizations are grateful that we have come to bring smiles to their kids. And the kids are grateful too, “Are y’all gonna come back soon?”.

Selenaworkshop-1

“So what is Clowns with….or is it… without?….Borders exactly?”
“We’re an international non-profit doing clown shows in areas around the world that have suffered some kind of crisis.”
“Well – welcome to New Orleans…!”

The tone of voice full of the implication of all of the hardship that so many people have withstood and continue to withstand day after day. This voice belongs to a teacher at one of the Catholic Charities summer camps where we perform.

 

We incorporate the kids in our clown show. When we go underwater they are the seaweed, some blow bubbles, one is a shark. In the swamp they are the trees and help me hide from the swamp monster and then transform the swamp monster back into Dasani (Alice). Our show at this particular summer camp is very energetic and when we get to our desert scene, the kids get a little carried away telling us which way to go to find water. “There! No that way! That way!” One kid in the front row can’t contain himself and periodically shouts out “She’s funny! You’re funny! Funny!”

We are here in New Orleans performing for kids all over the city. We are partnering with a large variety of organizations – local church groups, organizations that sprung up after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, established arts programs, a local farmer’s market:

Catholic Charities
Dominion Power Ministry
Emergency Communities
Jefferson Youth Foundation
Kingsley House
Kidsmart
Pentecost Baptist Church
Play Power
The Renaissance Project
The Verge
Zion Hill Baptist Church

All of these groups are doing amazing work fighting to rebuild and support kids whose support structures have been ripped apart. We do a show at the Emergency Communities summer camp in the Diamond FEMA trailer park. Only 35 kids but they get out of hand easily and the counselors have trouble keeping them quiet and sitting down during the show – they start talking to each other or come up on stage with us. These kids live in a trailer park – rows and rows of white boxes – so many of their parents working at night, or not working at all. Most people in the park seem to stay in their trailers all day and it’s a drop-in camp program so the counselors don’t have much authority – the kids can always just leave and go back to their trailer.
Our show is in the “courthouse” – a former courthouse that was totally ripped apart by the storm. Only the basic structure is still standing, the floor a mess of ripped up tiles, insulation and wires hanging from the ceiling, but it provides much needed shade on such a hot day.

 

At the end of the show the kids want to see our props. They want to take our stuff or they want us to give it to them. One little 4 year old girl absent mindedly takes my orange arm floaty from the show and starts to walk away. A patient counselor says, “Baby, you need to give them back the armband.” The girl doesn’t seem to even notice that she’s being spoken to; she walks in the opposite direction with the floaty. The counselor tries again, “Honey, look at her, she needs the floaty to swim in the next show. What’s the matter? Did you sleep okay? Baby, look at how sad she is. You need to give it back to her so she can do another show.” I put on a sad face, the girl looks up, smiles and gives it back to me.

I am so impressed by the counselors at this camp – wow is it hard to teach these kids respect when they have been disrespected over and over so many times – before the storm by the systematic oppression of poor black children in this country, and after the storm being pulled around from one living situation to another, so that almost 2 years later they are still living in a bleak trailer park with the constant threat that they will lose their FEMA benefits.

 

Of course they want to grab at our arm floaties, stereo, clown noses, even the half eaten apple from our show. I really can’t blame them.

Two days later we return to the trailer park to teach a workshop. The kids trickle in slowly. I do a very little intro to clowning with them. We start off going around in a circle, each kid coming up with a clown name and a gesture. Peachcows, Blue, Skip, Blockbuster, Netflix, Heeltoe, Blueberries, Sir Isaac Hagen Daaz of Utah, CocoGoddess, Spiderman, Red, Stars, and Dasani (Alice) and Farquar (Selena). We do a group juggling exercise throwing balls in a pattern. The kids actually stay still and quiet totally concentrated for it! Then we all practice silly walks, and chant each person’s new clown name as they do their walk one at a time. Finally, we practice tripping. “Hey Heeltoe, how’s it goi…WOAH!…..(look back) what was that?” They totally go for it. And at the very end, one by one they put on a clown nose, do their silly walk and trip as we chant their new clown names.

 

We’ve had a great time, the kids have really opened up in just that one hour, and they have been respectful to each other and to us.

Yes there has been a crisis in New Orleans, but as a woman who watched our show at the Pentecost Baptist Church reminded us, the crisis is not contained to New Orleans. This particular woman is still living in Dallas because she can’t afford to move back to New Orleans to live. Her old home was ruined and is contaminated with black mold. Rents have skyrocketed and there are few jobs. She can only come to visit her son and his kids briefly. She asks if we aren’t by any chance going through Dallas so that we could perform for all the displaced people at her church there, cause they could really use us!

 

There are so many people who have been displaced by these hurricanes all across the U.S.A., faceless in our media. What does that mean for Clowns Without Borders, an organization whose mission is to work in areas of crisis? Is our entire country an area of crisis?

Alice

Itinerary

Appendix – Performance Dates and Partners:

Katrina I:

  • April 22nd Emergency Communities – 60 community members.
  • April 22nd after show parade through the 9th Ward – 3 children.
  • April 24th St. John’s Community Center / Head Start Program – 60 children.
  • April 24th Behrman Elementery School – 50 children.
  • April 24th St. Bernard Community Center – 40 community members.
  • April 25th Live Oak Elementary – 200 children.
  • April 25th Craig Elementary – 200 children.
  • April 25th Children’s Hospital of NO – for 60 community members.
  • April 26th the Very Special Arts Festival @ Woodland West Elementary – 150 children.
  • April 26th Hope Haven Shelter/Waveland Boys and Girls Club – 250 children.
  • April 27th Laurel Elementary – 240 children.
  • April 27th the International School of Language – 250 children.
  • April 28th Rubar Bikes – for 30 children.
  • April 29th Emergency Communtities – afternoon juggling workshop – 10 teenagers.
  • April 30th Common Ground Relief Org. – 4 children.
  • April 30th FEMA Diamond Trailer Park – 60 children.

Total Reached: 1,667

Katrina II:

  • June 18th Emergency Communities – 30 children
  • June 19th Pearlington Library – 15 children
  • June 19th Eisenhower Elementary – 35 children
  • June 20th The Freedom School – 65 children
  • June 20th The Children’s Hospital – 25 children
  • June 21st PlayPower – 60 children
  • June 21st Eisenhower Elementary – 65 children
  • June 22nd PlayPower – 75 children
  • June 22nd The Freedom School – 35 children

Total reached: 415

Katrina III:

  • July 5th – Catholic Charities– Joan of Arc – 35 children
  • July 5th – Catholic Charities– Nord Behrman Ctr – 150 children
  • July 6th – Catholic Charities – Peter Claver – 250 children
  • July 6th – Catholic Charities Cathedral – 15 children
  • July 7th – Renaissance Project – Holy Angel Farmer’s Market – 15 community members
  • July 9th – Emergency Communities Diamond trailer camp summer camp – 35 children
  • July 9th – Pentecost summer camp – 60 children
  • July 10th – Catholic Charities – Westwego – 175 children
  • July 10th – Jefferson Youth Foundation – 175 children
  • July 11th – Emergency Communities Diamond trailer summer camp Workshop – 12 children 4 counselors
  • July 12th – Kingsley House – 200 children
  • July 12th – Play Power Andrew Jackson high in Chalmette – 150 children
  • July 13th – Boys and Girls Club – Westbank – 100 children
  • July 14th – Kingsley House Performance and Informal Workshop – 25 children
  • July 16th – Dominion Power Ministry – 80 children
  • July 16th – Kidsmart – Eisenhower Elementary – 45 children
  • July 17th – The Verge summer program – 85 children
  • July 17th – Baptist Church – 40 children

Total Reached: 1,651

Project Assessment

Clowns Without Borders sent three expeditions to Louisiana in 2007, focusing primarily on offering performances to children affected by Hurricane Katrina. Performances and workshops were organized through partnerships with different local organizations. The participants of these expeditions were well received and Clowns Without Borders was asked by many local organizations to return to Louisiana.

The participants of these three expeditions have agreed however that the main energy and resources of Clowns Without Borders should be focused on other areas that continue to be in a state of crisis. Without undermining the poor conditions and lack of rehabilitation that continue 2 years after Katrina, we recognize that the Gulf Coast is no longer in a state of crisis. We suggest that future CWB initiatives in the region be clearly focused in order to have the greatest impact on those most in need:

We recommend that a long-term social circus project would be extremely well suited to the New Orleans area given the large number of disadvantaged children who have experienced trauma, the city’s cultural heritage, and the few but skilled local individuals already involved in youth circus initiatives in the city.

If a long-term circus project takes root in New Orleans, we would suggest that Clowns Without Borders send specialized trainers for short-term partnerships with the project. If there are individual members of CWB who wish to organize expeditions to the Gulf Coast in 2008, we recommend that they focus their expeditions on the remaining FEMA trailer parks. The children in these trailer parks continue to be displaced, in a monotonous, often dangerous environment with very few resources. Our experiences in FEMA trailer parks demonstrated that our work is sorely needed within the trailer parks.

Budget:

  • Katrina I – fundraised: $1,825.93
  • Total expenses: $1,851.77
  • Katrina II – fundraised: $766
  • Total expenses: $945
  • Katrina III – fundraised: about $1500 USA+ $1800 Canadian
  • Total expenses: $2,337.72
  • Total Expenses for the 3 expeditions: $5,134.49

 

Dianna
About the Author
Dianna Hahn, Vice President
As an international educator and advocate for the arts, Dianna enjoys spending time to support CWB! Dianna has worked with a range of organizations developing international programs and training volunteers, students and educators for these experiences. She is currently the Director of Global Routes, an organization that offers authetic cross-cultural service learning programs for high school and Gap Year students. She has taught second grade, au paired in Paris, led students to explore the Caribbean, studied traditional tattooing in Samoa and most recently began dabbling in floral design. She has a masters in International Education from the School For International Training. While not a clown, she loves to be silly and laugh, which is a nice perk of working with so many who clown around!

 

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