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Meet Lively Clowns (and Puppets) Who Defend Kids’ Right to Play in Zimbabwe

Meet Lively Clowns (and Puppets) Who Defend Kids’ Right to Play in Zimbabwe

Are you ready to meet clowns who are incredible defenders of kids’ right to play?

The Clowns Without Borders (CWB) team from Zimbabwe, June 2023, included Cedrick Msongelwa (Zimbabwe), Nathaniel Allenby (USA), Rachel Wansker (USA), and Thandolwenkosi Ndlovu (Zimbabwe).

The artists had the high honor of being the first clowns many children had ever met. And they brought a range of talents with them: juggling, comedy — and puppetry.

In this post, you’ll explore the use of puppets to defend the right to play, hear how children responded to their first clown and puppet shows, and learn how the people of Zimbabwe inspired each artist.

Ready to join the puppet party? Let’s go!

Clowns and Puppets: Joyful Protectors of The Right to Play

A clown, defending kids' right to play in Zimbabwe, shares a puppet with a young boy.
Fredrick meets Shemp with CWB Artist Rachel Wansker.

Do you remember the magic of your first puppet show?

At a show in Domboshava, Zimbabwe, Fredrick found himself face to face with Shemp, a puppet with super-soft purple fur and a gentle expression.

Cautious at first, Fredrick quickly realized Shemp was his friend. When the puppet came closer, Fredrick reached out and touched him and gave him a sweet kiss. It was a moment that played out, again and again, every day of the tour.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Recognizes Children’s Right to Play in

Article 31 of The Convention on the Rights of the Child

1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

Rachel Wansker takes the right to play seriously.

She used her trauma-informed training to lead the team in creating and performing puppet shows, which included direct interaction with kids like Fredrick. The puppet shows built trust with children, enhancing their experience.

Today, when I came to school, I was sad. It was just one of those days. I didn’t know you were coming.

But now that you’ve performed I feel happy.

A child from Chiedza Child Care Centre, Harare

To learn why many children in Zimbabwe have experienced displacement and trauma, read this post.

Now that you know what happened at the shows, let’s meet the artists in the spotlight.

Cadrick Msongelwa: Bringing the Zimbabwean Spirit to Life

Cadrick blows bubbles with kids after a clown show.
CWB Artist Cadrick “KheKhe” Msongelwa plays with kids after a show in Domboshava.

Cadrick Msongelwa is an award-winning theatre actor, clown, and teaching artist based in Harare, Zimbabwe. He holds certificates from Dell’Arte International, Zimbabwe Theatre Academy, and Schools Playwrights and Actors Academy. His unique focus on movement brings a captivating presence to local and international performances.

Cadrick’s Unforgettable Moment

Cadrick will never forget bringing joy and laughter to his African brothers and sisters during the Day of the African Child celebration. He says, “I am also an African child, so I not only celebrated the displaced children and youth at Tongogara Refugee camp, but I celebrated myself too. It brought me so much joy to hear unified laughter from a crowd of about 3,000 people.”

Bringing joy to communities brings joy to my inner soul, too.

Cadrick Msongelwa

Bringing Laughter to the World

Cadrick’s experience in Zimbabwe has inspired him to share his talents with displaced communities beyond Zimbabwe and Africa. He aspires to clown globally, exploring the universal language of laughter and spreading joy worldwide.

Find Cadrick on Instagram @Cadrickhekhe.

Nathaniel Allenby: Inspiring Lives Through Juggling and Entertainment

A clown holds a rubber chicken and has a funny frown face.

Nathaniel Allenby is the founder of Cirque Quirk and a seasoned entertainer with 17 years of experience performing in various countries. Hailing from Aurora, Oregon, a European cycling adventure ignited his artistic passion. Watch him juggle 8 balls and conquer 11-foot stilts!

Priceless Memories

The energetic response from the audience fueled Nathaniel’s performances and created a beautiful connection. He shares, “When I went out onto the stage alone and started my act, the kids would laugh at various bits, but as soon as I would start juggling, they would erupt with excitement about what I was doing. The energetic response was a beautiful form of reciprocity.”

The happiness and energetic return I received from audiences was worth far more than money. It moved me to want to change my life and continue giving back.

Nathaniel Allenby, CWB

A Shift of Thinking

Inspired by his connection with audiences in Zimbabwe, Nathaniel plans to make many changes in his life. He definitely wants to perform again for children and families who are displaced or who have never experienced a clown show.

Find Nathaniel on Instagram @Cirquequirk.

Rachel Wansker: Igniting Joy Through Puppetry and Clowning

Four clowns run with kazoos and horns as they defend kids' right to play in Zimbabwe.

Rachel Wansker is an actor, puppeteer, clown, and educator from Atlanta. She holds a degree in Theatre and Performance Studies and a Professional Training Certificate from Dell’Arte International and has performed with 16 professional theater and television companies in five countries. Rachel now lives in London where she continues to work as a performer and serve the refugee community.

Rachel’s Unforgettable Moment

Rachel will never forget the giant parade through the camp on the Day of the African Child. “Kids all around us played with us while we celebrated with them. I had a special moment where my puppet and a child of about 6 years old were blowing kisses back and forth.”

With each tour I go on with CWB, the work is always so rewarding, even in its tiring and delicate nature.

Rachel Wansker

Breaking New Ground

In Zimbabwe, Rachel gained confidence in herself as a leader, and was reminded of her skills and experience as a performer and as a humanitarian. Rachel aims to continue using her puppetry, teaching, and leadership skills to make a positive impact.

Find Rachel on Instagram @wanskermonster.

Thandolwenkosi Ndlovu: Spreading Love and Laughter

A child blows a bubble during a clown show in Zimbabwe.

Thandolwenkosi (Thando) Ndlovu is a talented Zimbabwean theater actress and clown. She currently volunteers at the Bulawayo Theatre in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and also writes scripts. She describes herself as “short, dark, beautiful, and definitely funny.”

Moments of Marvel

Thando cherishes the pre and post-show interactions with the children. “In the rural areas of Chimanimani and Chipinge, most of the children were seeing the puppets and bubbles for the first time, hence their faces would beam with excitement and curiosity. Those moments of marvel have a special place in my heart.”

Everywhere we performed, we heard the words ‘Ndanzwa kufara’ (‘I feel happy.’) from the audience. It’s the best compliment we could receive.

Thandolwenkosi Ndlovu

Cultivating Artistic Excellence

Thando will keep clowning and creating beautiful memories for people in need — in Zimbabwe and beyond. She’s especially eager to continue her studies, visit more rural schools, and collaborate with more organizations such as Clowns Without Borders-USA. Her goal is to be useful, kind, and share the love!

Find Thando on Facebook @thando.kimmy.

At the end of the second show at a youth center in Chitungwizathe, kids loved it so much that they called for an encore. We came out and had a dance party with them, juggling and playing with puppets.

Rachel Wansker

Two clowns perform, one smiles at the audience while the other hides behind her with a fan in front of his face.
CWB Artists Nathaniel Allenby and Thando Thandolwenkosi Ndlovu.

You may not see the impact of what you’ve done now, but many years down the line, [the children] will still remember.

Adult audience member, Zimbabwe, June 2023

Conclusion

A big round of applause for the children and families of Zimbabwe and the CWB artists who defend their right to play! A big thank you to our fearless tour producer, Teddy Mangawa, and our partners, Zimbabwe Theatre Academy and the Ministry of Refugees.

A total of 4,960 people attended 11 shows and one workshop. Each event was a special celebration of love and laughter and filled with joyful energy.

Want to see more photos from the tour? Check out the montage below!

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