Day 30: Clowning around

While walking my mom’s dog, Mr. Biggz, to the park today, I noticed the wind had blown over a large planter at the end of a neighbour’s driveway. The planter held a four-foot palm tree and had been tied off with rope, but the wind was strong enough to topple it.

I pulled it upright, untangled the ropes and replace the rocks that were supposed to weigh it down. This wasn’t difficult, just awkward. And the kind of thing you want to do real quick, before the neighbour comes out and accuses you of trying to steal it.

My mother was along for the walk, using her rollator, the Nexus 2000 (considered a “sweet ride” in walker circles). As soon as I’d repositioned the tree, she said. “Hey, you just did a good deed, you know, for your blog!”

Now, first of all, I never thought I’d hear my mother use the word “blog” and, secondly, I didn’t think this ranked as much of an act of kindness — although it certainly was random.

So, I will share this story I came across of some kooky individuals who use their kookiness to do good deeds and make people smile around the world:

Be a clown, be a clown, be a clown
One day last fall, Alice Nelson and two other clowns arrived at a school in the impoverished African country of Lesotho and offered to perform for the children.The school’s principal was skeptical. He wanted to know what they would get from the show.

“Joy and laughter,” the clowns replied.

“Good. We need it,” the principal said. “A lot of our children are orphans.”

Nelson, a Calgary-based performer, smiles when she tells the story. It was not the first time her group was met with doubt as they toured southern Africa as part of an unlikely, but thriving, international organization called Clowns Without Borders. Founded in 1993, CWB sends clowns to the world’s most troubled spots to perform for children who often spend more time seeking food and shelter than having fun or playing make-believe.

In Africa, where hundreds of non-profit organizations work to fight everything from poverty to HIV/AIDS, Nelson admits some have questioned CWB’s value. But she insists her work makes a positive impact.

“At first, when I really saw the suffering and the pain, I thought, ‘Are we making a difference?’ ” says Nelson, 29, who is planning to return to Africa this fall. “But when you have 1,200 kids laughing, you know that you are.”

Nelson and her troupe spent three months in South Africa and Lesotho performing at schools, community centres and orphanages. Local community organizations often helped set up the shows and arranged for sleeping accommodations. The troupe sometimes hiked into remote villages, carrying a trunkful of props. Other times they arrived by pony.

Performances revolved around themes relevant to the children’s lives, such as death or gossip. (“There is a structure to it. It’s not just about getting up and being a total idiot,” Nelson says.) In one skit, the clowns perform a mock funeral for a balloon, and then blow bubbles into the crowd to symbolize the renewal of life. In another skit acknowledging female empowerment, the clowns bring a girl onstage, dress her in doctor’s garb and then ask her to help an injured clown.

Nelson, who was born in Grande Prairie, attended theatre school in California where she fell in love with clowning and met people who eventually put her in touch with CWB. Her clown’s name goes by the name “Sorry,” because it is very apologetic, “which is very Canadian” she says.

Nelson likens her art to that of famous physical comedians such as Lucille Ball or Charlie Chaplin — clowns “without the red nose.” In Africa, Nelson and her fellow clowns wore red noses but little makeup so as not to be perceived as “scary clowns.”

“We’re white people going into a mostly black place. We stand out already,” she says. “We want them to want to play with us.”

Nelson is now in South Africa and has begun touring with African and European clowns to bring laughter to kids with AIDS and other vulnerable children. Nelson is unwavering in her belief that if she gets to Africa, she will make a difference.

“Clowns are like aspirin,” she says, quoting Groucho Marx. “But they work twice as fast.”

Click here to see a clip of a Clowns Without Borders show that was played in Indonesia for the victims of the Tsunami in Banda Aceh.

Original story from Global Television Network: Everyday heroes series.


3 thoughts on “Day 30: Clowning around

  1. I really enjoy your writing. Hope you keep this going. (PS – I love the tags on this post!) I am so glad Notingdavid is back too!

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