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Performers Rosie O'Regan, Jimmy Bray, Sam Meyler and Kim McCafferty CWB Ireland
clowns without borders

'The power of laughter can't be underestimated': Irish clowns performing for refugee children in Greece

The show has been developed to help children who are suffering from trauma.

A GROUP OF Irish performers are staging a circus-style show for refugee children in camps and centres in Greece and on Lesbos.

Clowns Without Borders Ireland (CWBI) have performed in several countries over the last 11 years, including Iraq, Somalia and Palestine.

The group are currently in Greece, where they’ll be performing Fly – a bespoke circus and clown show they’ve developed to help children who are suffering from trauma. They will be performing two or three shows a day, as well as holding workshops, over the next two weeks.

Before leaving Ireland, rehearsals were held in the Triskel Arts Centre and Circus Factory in Cork. Fly was directed by Cormac Mohally from Lords of Strut.

One of the performers (who are all volunteers), Kim McCafferty, explained that the show is non-verbal and relies on “physical comedy that is global”.

McCafferty said the importance of laughter in a person’s life “can’t be underestimated” but, for obvious reasons, humour can often be absent from places like refugee camps.

She said CWBI work with camps which have demonstrated that people’s basic needs – such as food, shelter and sanitation – are met.

Once primary needs are met, laughter and feeling connected to other people are important.

You could have all the shelter and water in world but if you’re not happy … psychosocial needs are fairly high up there as well,” she told shortly after finishing a show last week.

McCafferty said children and adults who attend the shows sometimes take a few minutes to warm up to the performers.

“Some kids come in bouncing off the walls … others come in and you can see they are strained physically – trauma is visible in their body and eyes.

“You have to take it a little bit more gently. Through the show we let them see they can trust us before we invite volunteers on stage.

We know, with time and experience, how to play. We let them see we’re gentle and only laughing at each other, that the falls are fake and nobody is getting hurt.

McCafferty said the response to the shows has been positive.

At a performance in the Moria Camp, Greece’s largest refugee camp, she said one young boy who was about six years old sat in the front row with a gun he had made out of paper.

“The wee boy started ‘bang, bang’ at me and I made a sad face. He kept doing it throughout the show,” she said, unsure if he was enjoying the performance. At the end of the show, he came up to her and handed the gun, saying, ‘I’ve a present for you.’

“He said he was happy and didn’t want the gun anymore,” she said.

‘Charging humanity’ 

McCafferty said there’s often a “stage invasion” after shows, where the performers are “bombarded with hugs”.

She said the group get feedback from teachers and volunteers at the camps to improve the show and make sure its culturally appropriate.

McCafferty said many of the volunteers at Moria Camp come from a refugee background themselves, and one told her CWBI have “made an awful lot of people happy”. 

After a previous performance at The Jungle, a refugee camp in Calais in France that has since closed down, CWBI performed for an older crowd. 

Speaking about the tent in which the group performed, McCafferty said one man in his 20s told them: “We used to come in here to charge our phones, now we come in here to charge our humanity.”

The performances in Greece and Lesbos are being recorded for a documentary that will explore the impact that living in a refugee camp has on a person’s mental health. 

You can read more about CWBI, which is part of an international network, or donate to their work here.

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