By Luke Kenton
This charitable organization brings comedic clown routines to the most impoverished and war-torn corners of the world, in an effort to preserve the innocence of childhood among refugee children.
Though some believe clowns to be odious and frightening figures, for refugee children growing up in Haiti, Syria, Lebanon and beyond, they can provide a vital escape from tragedy and adversity.
Founded in 1993, Clowns Without Borders (CWB) seeks to restore smiles to the faces of such children with juggling routines, mime and comedic sketches.
Believing laughter to be a vital component for any child’s development and emotional well-being, the organization is run entirely by volunteers and seeks to stem the effects of post-traumatic stress among children who have experienced major disasters.
The clowning ensemble make between nine and 12 international tours per year, performing to more than 45,000 children in that time.
Clowns Without Borders was first founded in Barcelona by professional clown Tortell Poltrona, before branches opened in America, Europe, and then across the rest of the world, too.
Executive Director of CWB USA and professional clown of 15 years Naomi Shafer said: “In the past year, we’ve seen a huge rise in displacement.
“No community is immune from the impact of natural disaster or violence.
“It is estimated that 175 million children will be exposed to a major disaster by the end of the decade.
“Laughter is a way to build community and shared experience that transcends pain, conflict and differences.
“It’s hard to say which is the most profound encounter, because each migrant we meet is on a such a unique journey.
“In 2016, in Lesvos, we performed for children who were still wet after their sea journey, fleeing across the Mediterranean.
“In spite of the trauma and displacement they had just experienced, they ran over to the clowns, ready to play.
“They even invented a game, using a partially deflated life-raft as a trampoline.
“Something we’ve heard echoed across many tours is parents telling us that it’s the first time in weeks that they’ve seen their child smile or laugh.”
Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone, a spokesperson for CWB, added: “Studies have shown that initial symptoms of post-traumatic stress in children can decrease over the span of eight to 20 months, if they are able to return to their normal life as it existed before the trauma.
“We can facilitate their resilience through laughter and play.
“Laughter itself can stabilize blood pressure, improve circulation, restore homeostasis (balance), and induce relaxation.
“Studies have found a positive correlation between laughter and improvement in heart rate and respiration.
“Laughter can create a positive shift in self-concept or self-perspective and create behavioral changes through heightened feeling and emotion.
“Even the anticipation of something humorous or faking a smile can dissolve negative emotions and produce happier ones.
“Laughter is contagious and being surrounded by an emotionally positive atmosphere generates a greater sense of human connection.”