Performance - What a Smile!.jpgClowning Around for A Cause:

Tuesday, 09 September 2008

Few people have heard of Clowns Without Borders South Africa (CWB-SA), yet this inspired group of physical theatre artists has brought smiles to more than 115 000 vulnerable and marginalised children in Southern Africa.

The organisation has been active in the country since 2004 although the South African chapter was formally founded in 2007. CWB-SA joins a worldwide network of physical theatre performers who use comedy to actively address the emotional well being of children and communities affected by social crises, political conflict or natural disasters. Other CWB chapters are located in Spain, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Ireland, USA and Canada.

The SA team, led by Jamie Lachman, focuses primarily on communities affected by HIV /Aids. They work mainly in rural areas of KwaZulu Natal, Limpopo Province and Mpumalanga as well as Lesotho and Swaziland.

CWB-SA performs general comic shows to schools around the country and relief shows in areas where there has been a major disaster or sudden crisis. Earlier this year, for instance, CWB-SA sent some of their clowns to perform in refugee camps, established after the xenophobic attacks that occurred across the country.

“We work alongside other relief organisations like Doctors Without Borders,” says Lachman. “But we only come in once the key issues of food, health and security have been addressed. We are there to help reawaken the joy and laughter among traumatised communities, to reawaken the sound of song. People will not truly recover from trauma if their emotional well being is not addressed”

Lachman, who was born in South Africa but raised in the US, decided to start CWB-SA following a visit to South Africa in 2001. “I had been travelling all over South Africa and when I finally reached Cape Town, I decided that I would not come back to South Africa unless I was doing something positive.”

A trained physical theatre artist, Lachman kept his promise by returning to South Africa in 2004 with clowns from the US chapter of CWB. “We wanted to address poverty and lingering political violence in KZN but in particular the scores of children who had been left orphaned and vulnerable by the HIV/Aids crisis,” he says.

Since then Lachman has succeeded in mobilising a team of dedicated local performers such as jugglers, stilt-walkers, acrobats, unicyclists, magicians, fire artists and general physical comedians, in bringing smiles to communities where laughter is fading.

Aside from their schools and emergency relief shows a core element of CWB-SA’s work is the Njabulo HIV/Aids Residency Programme whereby the clowns spend 10 days working with recently bereaved children, who have lost a parent to Aids, and their new caregivers.

The programme uses play therapy to strengthen the relationship between the bereaved child and the new caregiver. “We want the children to realise that although life has changed, they are not expected to grow up suddenly. We want to say to them: ‘you are still a child’ and we need the caregivers to give them that space,” says Lachman.

“It’s a really powerful programme. We’ve seen some incredible results like a woman who had just become a caregiver and didn’t really want to take care of these two children. But after the programme, after sharing games with them, she said she felt like she loved them. She is in a better place. And the kids are too.”

At birth Lachman’s parents appropriately gave him the African name Jabulani. The name means happiness in Zulu and Lachman certainly seems to be living up to it.

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