Clowns Without Borders is a volunteer group touring Lebanon for the next two weeks, visiting Syrian refugee children throughout the country. The trip started in Jab Janine in the Bekaa Valley, where education NGO Jusoor had just opened a new school for Syrian children.
Clowns Without Borders is an international team of clowns that was brought to Lebanon by Sabine Choucair, the founder of Lebanon-based Clown Me In, with financial support provided by Kuwait’s Layan, an aid organization for Syrian refugees.
Here, Ruben Elsinga, founder of the nonprofit initiative Syria What Will Be, discusses the group’s experience of bringing laughter to refugee children in the midst of war.
In Jab Janine, we discovered the true magic of clowns. At Jusoor’s new school, children gathered in the yard with Mount Lebanon as a backdrop. It is in this valley that a majority of Lebanon’s million-plus refugees have settled.
Once the clowns had set up, put costumes on and painted their faces the colors of the rainbow, they began introducing themselves to the children in clownish ways – a lot of missed handshakes and clumsy gestures.
Some children were hesitant, but as the show went on – with magic glass balls, clownish musical parades, hula hoops and of course some good old juggling – the clapping children led the way for their shy friends.
As the show came to an end with some particularly clumsy bowing, the clowns had to run for their lives, as the children had all come to life and now wanted to meet them. They formed groups around the clowns. Sabine, the one Lebanese clown of the international group of four, was swarmed, tilting her head – complete with fake purple eyelashes – to the blue sky of Bekaa as if to say, what can you do?
What the clowns did that day in the Bekaa was bring the art of comedy and laughter to children hardened by years of guns and violence. It may seem somewhat foolish to hardened Syria watchers. But for these tiny refugees, it was as if the war – if only for a moment –had been extinguished by the magical power of this clownish bunch.
(Edited by Karen Leigh.)