Community Development

UNHCR and Spanish aid organisation bring laughter to refugee children

Clowns Without Borders member entertaining refugee children at Tongogara Refugee Camp

The independent international group Clowns Without Borders (CWB) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) partnered to bring laughter and happiness to refugee children at Tongogara Refugee Camp and the Chipinge District communities as a prelude to commemorations marking World Refugee Day, which will take place on June 20th.

Clowns Without Borders was created in 1993 to deal with the suffering caused by the war in the former Yugoslavia, especially for children. They are professional clowns or circus artists who volunteer their time and talent. From April 28 to May 6, three artists from the Spanish brand of CWB performed daily shows in the refugee camp and primary schools in various Chipinge District towns.

“The importance of bringing happiness amongst children and forgetting the tensions in their lives for even a short time is crucial for building their resilience. Bringing a smile to a kid is a wonderful gift,” says UNHCR Representative in Zimbabwe, Abdoulaye Barry.

The clowns offer an opportunity for parents and children to smile. Both laughed and applauded during the one-hour shows packed with music, magic tricks, acrobatics, dance, slapstick comedy, and, of course, plenty of opportunities for the children to get involved in the fun. For a few hours, everybody forgets their problems.

Donald B. Lehn, one of the three clowns that came to Zimbabwe, was “surprised by the sociability skills of the children in Tongogara Refugee Camp and their capacity to learn the keys of how to enjoy the show. There are places you go where children don’t know how to react. They get so excited that it’s challenging to do the show. But these kids are very quick to pick up our games, laugh, understand the subtleties in our humour, and value the expressions of skills that we share.”

The aid organization has worked with UNHCR in many countries with refugees, including Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda, Colombia, Jordan, Syria, Ukraine, Lebanon, and Greece. Over the years, CWB’s performances have brought healing, emotional support, laughter, and community involvement.

An investigation commissioned in February 2017 by CWB at the Autonomous University of Barcelona demonstrated that CWB shows had a measurable effect on children’s emotional state and symptoms related to depression, post-traumatic stress, and behavioral conflict. The effect was measured 11 weeks after the NGO had performed in different settings, indicating that the positive effects were sustained at least during this period.

Leonie Mwiro, a refugee and single mother from the DRC, was thrilled with the show: “You can see that children are happy with this initiative that helps them relieve stress.” She has been in Tongogara for the past eight years, and “this is the first time we’ve seen something

like this.”

The Tongogara Refugee Camp hosts more than 15,000 refugees and asylum seekers. Nearly half of them are children. Many weren’t born when their parents fled their countries in search of safety.

Javier González, one of the clowns performing in Zimbabwe, stated, “We came here to make good memories for these children and their parents.”

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende