Hamburg, Eastern Cape – Today marks my first week of being in the Eastern Cape with the Clowns Without Borders South Africa. While they have a 3 week journey behind them including rehearsals and acquainting themselves with the community, I come as an intern not quite sure what to expect. Stepping off the bus in Eastern London, I am battered and bruised from a 10 hour long drive and the team working on the Lithe’tha Project in Hamburg, Eastern Cape patiently await me with posters. I am glad to be picked up but also to be welcomed so warmly, hugs and smiles.
Even though I had received a comprehensive brief about Project Lithe’tha and the partnership between Keiskamma and CWBSA and the small town of Hamburg, I would have never been able to imagine what this actually looks like on the ground. Every morning the team put on their costumes and clambered into the mini-bus. This is the everyday routine for the Clown’s one-week runs of 10 back to back performances. Everything else was different. Each school was unique such that even though the performances might have been the same script it always felt as if it was a different show all together. The schools provided a variety of interesting backdrops, and while the clowns set up the stage curious faces peeped through windows. Some schools’ frighteningly stiff, uptight and stern looking Headmasters had me wondering if the clowns would be able to crack a smile from anyone! But within seconds ‘Olive’ had the students in stiches and before long Mr. Fish turned the corners of the Headmaster’s mouth up into the warmest smile.
Between the clowning antics, the HIV Education message was delivered wonderfully by the clowns’ witty punch lines, but also by the symbols, metaphors and storylines within the script. With every school the laughter resounded off the walls, sometimes creeping out from the burned down forgotten ruins of a vandalized school. Bringing back the joy of childhood and reminding the learners that while resources might be scarce, education can bring them fun and laughter. With no idea what to expect, Teachers were eager to give positive feedback, having found comic relief in the clowns routine, and also appreciating the conversation starter the performance provided for the Life Orientation classes.
From the responses, Project Lithe’tha proves to provide a platform to engage the rural communities in dialogues about peripheral issues of Gender Based Violence and Gender Inequality that impact on the successful treatment prevention and care of HIV related diseases. It is an astounding realization that the forty minute clowning routine brings more than happy smiles and echoes of laughter; the rib cracking show also brings real joy and real education to some of the most forgotten places.
– Tshiamo Petersen, 19 May 2013
Project Lithe’tha is made possible by the Canadian International Development Agency and Europcar