Clowning around in a time of war

Tue Jun 3, 2014 1:20am EDT
 
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By Oliver Holmes

JABINE Lebanon (Reuters) - Does aid work always have to be serious? Do you have to be a doctor working on the frontline or an aid worker distributing food to refugees? David Clay, a clown from Oregon, thinks not.

Once a construction worker, Clay now volunteers for Clowns Without Borders, an international non-profit organization that uses laughter to relieve suffering among children in refugee camps, conflict zones and natural disaster areas.

On Monday, Clay dressed up in his navy blue suit, crooked black hat and a polka dot tie to entertain 200 Syrian refugee children who are now living in neighboring Lebanon.

The tiny Mediterranean country hosts one million refugees, who have fled cluster bombs, chemical weapons and al Qaeda militants in a war that has killed more than 160,000 in three years. Lebanon has not allowed official refugee camps, so many families live in unfinished buildings and wooden shacks.

Clay, along with three other clowns - another American, a Chilean and Lebanese - juggled, played instruments and acted like buffoons for the children, who first appeared withdrawn but started to cheer and clap as the performance unfolded.

Describing himself a humanitarian, Clay has worked in Indonesia, the Philippines and Haiti. In Haiti, where a 2010 earthquake killed more than 250,000 people, Clay said other aid groups were originally suspicious of his work, dubious of the results in a high stress situation with limited resources.

"Doctors were cold to us. But their attitude changed distinctly," he said, preparing for the show at a school in central Lebanon, multi-colored handkerchiefs hanging out of his back pocket.

"When the doctors heard those people laughing, especially in the children's ward, they saw that it was the first time some of the children had reacted to anything at all after the earthquake."   Continued...

 
Members of Clowns Without Borders entertain Syrian refugee children in Jab Janine, West Bekaa June 2, 2014.  REUTERS/Sharif Karim