What We Don’t Take Pictures Of

What We Don’t Take Pictures Of

By Naomi Shafer Clowns Without Borders Funds Development Officer   On August 28th, 2011, Hurricane Irene hit my hometown. The photographers arrived before the National Guard. As we walked with our neighbors to explore the damage – houses, roads, orchards disappeared by the river – strangers made the town a tourist destination. As we collected scattered belongings and organized shelter, social media gaped at the unlikeliness of a Hurricane in Vermont.   Vermont’s improbable circumstances made us a news coverage novelty. A terrible situation was made worse by the media’s snide comments and insensitivities. People in cities that were spared by Hurricane Irene joked, “what hurricane?” while we waited for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. At best, we received pity. Five years later, the confusion of being portrayed as a joke and a victim still stings. Why am I telling you about this experience? Because now, more than ever, it’s important to take stock of how to talk about and show people in crisis. During every project, Clowns Without Borders could take pictures of tragedy. We could show you hunger, poverty, violence, or sickness. But instead, we show you laughter, community, and resilience. We want our pictures to demonstrate the connection between people, not the difference in our circumstances. In October of 2015, we had a team on the Greek island of Lesvos when four boats capsized in one night. That evening, the clowns — in their plain clothes — went to the northern harbor of Molyvos to help. Every survivor had lost someone that night. Sabine spent her night in the church-turned-emergency room, translating for the patients and...
Theatre of the Heart

Theatre of the Heart

When you love something, anything; people sense it. Love takes many forms. Rudi Galindo, clown, professional performer, and a Clowns Without Borders (CWB) volunteer since day one, is so full of love that it exudes from his wide, bright smile and fills the room. He found his passion long ago and it’s been filling him with love ever since. It is his devotion to theatre and the enduring connections he creates with audiences. Rudi has always had an ability to impact the audience. During performances, he aims for the audience’s hearts, then their ‘funny bones,’ and then their intellects. He is interested in exciting people by evoking emotions that sometimes lay latent. He calls it, “Theatre of the Heart.” Theatre of the Heart turns the traditional concept of performance on its head. To be theatrical is to put on a show, sometimes a fiction. But Rudi’s style of creativity invites the audience to be anything but fake. Whether the show makes you laugh, cry, or feel tenderness, the idea is to draw out the true senses of the heart and allow for a protective space to let those emotions be expressed without repercussion. When the community around you is experiencing and expressing at the same time, well, these moments become meaningful and striking. Rudi’s style of creative theatre has traveled with him as he has performed all over the United States, Europe, and Central America. His love for theatre and honest kinship with viewers endears him to the audiences of Clowns Without Borders projects. Rudi has communed in laughter with many, many people served by Clowns Without Borders. He...
Laughter Transforms Discrimination

Laughter Transforms Discrimination

By Nadiya Atkinson Clowns Without Borders USA Guest Blogger   Language surrounds us. Contemporary rhetoric is constantly utilized, from conversations to the media, to debates, to institutions, to water-cooler chats, to political discourse, and to novels. It is a necessary part of our society, as society progresses through the diversity of opinions on topics. It allows individuals to hear multiple sides to one issue and change public opinion on others. However, recent studies, (http://nber.org/papers/w22423), have portrayed rising polarization in political rhetoric in the past few decades. Some persuasive rhetoric often champions social divisions or violence against certain minorities and populations. Such language affects not only adults, but children as well, who hear the opinions of their parents, teachers, classmates, media, etc., and base their actions off of what they hear. An infamous experiment was made in 1968 by Jane Elliot, a third-grade school teacher in Riceville, Iowa, in which she separated the class based on eye color – blue or brown – and proceeded to tell the students that one eye color was better, and demeaned those who had the alternate eye color. The students quickly caught on and began to discriminate against the students who didn’t have their eye color, regardless if they had previously been friends. Learning materials and more about the experiments are located at http://janeelliott.com. Children are extremely sensitive and open, as they learn by examples given to them by adults. If social behavior promotes the inferiority of some individuals, kids will learn that those people are inferior, regardless of whether it is true or not. If society portrays minority groups as inhuman and violent,...
Look Away From Fear and Towards Education

Look Away From Fear and Towards Education

By Molly Rose Levine   As someone with friends and colleagues scattered around the world, the fallout of violence and disruption hits close to home, no matter where that happens to be: Juba; Beirut; Nice; Baghdad; Athens; Aleppo; Paris. After the attack on the Istanbul airport last month, my heart clenched in my throat as I waited to hear if any community member had been traveling through the airport. I breathed a sigh of relief: another tragedy dodged. Little did I know that a few weeks later we would still be changing plans to accommodate violence in the region. South Sudan had been experiencing a period of peace since a treaty signed in August 2015, but unfortunately experienced violent clashes at the beginning of July. Together with our partners at INTERSOS and Save the Children Juba, we made the call to postpone our project. Without a safety/evacuation plan from our partners and support from the Consulate, we will not send our artists into active conflict areas. In the end, we could not assure the safety of our team in the event of increasing clashes. This decision was difficult after so much time and energy was put into the project. I wrote a blog which explains more about the situation in South Sudan. Read it here. Three days before our artistic team planned to travel to Turkey; the failed military coup happened. We waited for the aftermath, hoping against hope that in three days the situation would be stable. By the time we needed to make the call, we did not have enough information to move forward, and so we...
New Education Program: Take Laughter With You

New Education Program: Take Laughter With You

By Naomi Shafer   What do Albany, NY, Dallas, TX, Burlington, VT, and Boise, ID all have in common? Craft Beer? Bears? Nope (well, maybe): Each is a designated Refugee Resettlement City. The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is a result of The Refugee Act of 1980, a piece of legislation that sought to standardize resettlement programs for all refugees admitted to the United States. Though certain states have specialized services for refugees, in each county, and possibly each classroom in the United States, there are refugees, children of refugees, grandchildren of refugees, and great-grandchildren of refugees. This past year, “refugee resettlement” has become an explosive topic, too often one colored by xenophobia and fear. While many Americans trace their lineage back to their ancestors’ home countries – countries frequently fled due to famine and violence – Nationalism seems to trump empathy in the current discussion of refugees. The United States is traditionally thought of as a melting pot, a country for the homeless, but our borders are tightening. Those borders are not only at Customs control but also in our minds. Clowns Without Borders is launching a domestic education program, called “Take Laughter With You.” The message is simple: Wherever you go, Take Laughter With You. We cannot fly to Turkey or South Sudan. We lack the security clearance to return to the Moria camp in Lesvos. We can make a change at home. We can work with children in the United States, just like we work with children in refugee camps, to build community and start cross-cultural conversations. We see young people as powerful change agents. On our...
A Case for Clowns: Ebola

A Case for Clowns: Ebola

A Case for the Clowns: Ebola Why Clowns Without Borders Works   By Tim Cunningham   Tortell pirouettes quickly and the microphone swings around behind him; it has a life of its own. The centrifugal force of the windscreen pulls the instrument around his arms and legs, making his clown blazer flop poetic in the wind. The crowd’s eyes are wide with surprise when he catches the mic just before it hits him in the face—Tortell’s eyes matching the eyes of the 100 children and families in the audience. His relief, their laughter. He has just spent the first 10 minutes of the show warming up the audience, a master street artist who draws the crowd in as he sets the stage. It is more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, pushing 105 even. The audience and clowns from Spain stand in the shadow of a two-story colonial building with stone archways and wooden doors. Its tile portico is cool to the bare feet of some of the audience, the West African designs deflect the heat of the pounding sun. It is about three in the afternoon, Tortell and his clowns have already performed two shows in Freetown and now they are presenting their final show of the day before heading further east. This is the first day of Clowns Without Borders shows in Sierra Leone since the Ebola epidemic began in late 2013. It is now early 2015, February. This is also the first Clowns Without Borders show that I have ever seen as an audience member. This is the first time I’ve seen healthy children and families play, dance...