"Clown therapists" make Italian quake kids smile again

Wed Apr 8, 2009 12:03pm EDT
 
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By Deepa Babington

L'AQUILA, Italy (Reuters) - A clown with a red rubber nose may be an unexpected sight in an otherwise somber camp for Italian earthquake survivors, but Francis Calsolaro says his monkeying around for newly homeless kids is serious.

Waving around a fluffy pink duster and falling over in mock dismay while playing with giggling children, "Francis the clown" says coaxing laughter out of kids left homeless by Monday's quake is more effective than any traditional therapy.

"This is not funny business, it's actually very serious," said Calsolaro, dressed in a baggy pin-striped suit, a colorful jacket and a hat with a daisy stuck in it.

"People don't need someone sitting high up there telling them how to deal with sadness. I genuinely want the children to think I am dumb and stupid."

Another 10 to 50 similar clown therapists from his group are expected to arrive soon to cheer up the homeless living in large blue tents in open air camps in around L'Aquila, says Calsolaro, who traveled down from Milan soon after hearing of the quake.

The quake, Italy's worst in 30 years, has so far killed some 250 people and destroyed large parts of 26 towns and villages in a rugged mountainous region east of Rome.

In the camp, another group of clowns dressed in multicolored, mismatched coats and baggy pants danced with each other, blew soap bubbles, handed out balloons and played games with a group of laughing children.

"When we came here, the camp was very silent, kids just quietly playing with each other," said Federica Marinacci, who goes by the clown name of "Nocciolina" (peanut). "But when they saw us, they all gathered around us and began laughing."   Continued...

 
<p>A couple of clowns play with a child in a tent camp where earthquake victims reside in Aquila April 7, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo</p>