The Daily Star Article

Clowning around with refugees – the importance of laughter

BEIRUT: Squawking and hollering, a motley group of more than 100 Syrian kids point excitedly at the clown playing dead on the floor before them.

In the center of the dusty rooftop in Shatila camp, two other clowns wail inconsolably, while a fourth giggles in delight at the pantomime unfolding in front of him. There isn’t normally a whole lot of joy in being a child refugee in Lebanon, but for Clowns Without Borders, there is always room for more laughter.

The group was born in 1993, when Tortell Poltrona, a professional Spanish clown, was invited to perform in a refugee camp in Croatia. The show was such a hit that Poltrona decided to create an organization that would travel to conflict- and disaster-hit zones to entertain those who had the least reason to smile.

Built on the idea that laughing can help relieve any sort of trouble – even if only temporarily – the company has since been all over the world, from Mexico and Myanmar to Haiti and Ethiopia.

This Monday, funded by Kuwaiti humanitarian organization Layan, they began a fortnight-long tour of refugee communities in Lebanon, which is currently hosting well over 1 million Syrians fleeing the brutal civil war next door. Around 50 percent are thought to be children, many of whom do not go to school and are instead forced to work on the streets or fields and support their family.

“Clowns, if you do it right, inhabit a magical world where anything is possible, and so when you watch that, it gives you that same feeling,” explains American Luz Gaxiola, one of those performing at Shatila’s Basma wa Zaytouna (Smile and Olive) school Thursday….

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