I’m here at the UN Protection of Civilians camp in Bentiu, South Sudan. There are 120,000 refugees here, primarily children. In addition to our Clowns Without Borders shows, we are also doing workshops every day. Today we arrived at the site not knowing who we would be working with, and found a group of elders and disabled people waiting for us. We glanced at each other, thinking about the juggling and acrobatics workshop that we had planned for the day.
When we walked into the tent, they all stood up with canes and crutches and began clapping, dancing, singing and cheering. Of course we joined right in, and our first few minutes with these people were filled with dancing and joy. Their spirit and enthusiasm lifted me, and I knew that we would have a great time together.
In the workshop we played games, sang songs, and even did some juggling. Everyone joined in without hesitation, regardless of their abilities. Even as we played and laughed together, you could see the depth and wisdom in their eyes.
The translator was kept busy, because they had so much to say about how the exercises were affecting them. They said that the games were filling them with life and energy, and giving them a time to forget their sadness. One of the elder men said that they feel forgotten here. He said that to have us come made them feel remembered and important.
On our way out, we went around to shake hands and hug all of them. They were so joyful, and many of them spoke at length to me in their language. I took care to learn each of their names… Saying each one back repeatedly until I pronounced it correctly. As one of the clowns said, a name is something that belongs to you, that no one can ever take from you.
I will never forget these people, their spirit and their wisdom. They reminded me, a clown, of the power of laughter.