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Clowns Without Borders is a non-profit, international humanitarian association that arrived in Spain in 1993, thanks to a group of artists from the world of performing arts in Catalonia. It is made up of clowns, other artists and solidarity partners, and arose as a result of a need to use artistic and socio-educational activities as tools to improve the psychological situation of populations, especially child groups, who live in the midst of a reality of tension, conflict and crisis. Jesús González, coordinator of PsF in Madrid, talks about the work carried out by the NGO and opens our eyes to a problem that affects thousands of children in the world.
What is the great problem of childhood in the world today?
There are problems, such as poor schooling, the seriousness of which lies in the fact that a large part of the world's childhood suffers from them and other problems on the other hand, such as wars, although they affect a smaller number, their impact is of such magnitude that when they do not directly cause the death of minors, they forever compromise their development. The problem that affects a greater number of girls and boys is having to grow and develop as people in a situation of general precariousness that affects various aspects of their lives: in many cases not even daily nutritional needs, assistance basic health or minimal education. Natural disasters, wars, the extreme case of child soldiers affect a smaller number, but they have such a devastating effect on children that in no case can they be considered second-order problems.
In which scenario do you develop your work?
We work in places where there are children who are victims of a general precarious situation or are at risk of exclusion, as is the case with our projects in Latin America and in many countries in Africa. We also work in contexts in which children are suffering or have suffered a critical situation such as an armed conflict or a natural disaster. In the past, we have worked for example for young Palestinians, for Iraqi refugees and for Peruvian children affected by the earthquake in the Pisco area.
How do you make orphaned children, victims of war and natural disasters, those with disabilities, and immigrant children who experience social inequality laugh?
All these boys and girls experience very different problems but they have in common that they are situations that affect people, making it difficult for one to relate to oneself and with others, and there laughter is always a help. No matter how different the places are, the psychological and emotional needs of childhood are basically the same. Although in some cases it takes a bit to get the first laughs, children are eager to laugh, because in reality laughter is also a necessity.
What are the benefits of laughter? Does it work better as a prevention or as a treatment?
According to experts, laughter produces a series of effects both physically and psychologically. Releases endorphins (hormones related to the absence of pain and well-being), activates different muscles, increases the amount of air that the lungs mobilize, activates the immune system, generates more positive moods to interact with oneself and with others, enhances creativity ... This set of effects is a remedy in many cases but it is also a kind of protective “barrier”. But all this is not said by Clowns Without Borders, since we are not really "academics" of laughter. Clowns are experts at interacting with their audience and facilitating the flow of humor, good humor and laughter. The work of Clowns Without Borders is carried out in situations of chronic precariousness, exclusion, war, catastrophes: social circumstances in which people are already suffering emotional and psychological problems and therefore it is no longer possible to talk about prevention. But it is true that leading a life where good humor and laughter are present on a regular basis is an excellent protection against situations that tend to throw us off balance.
While there are more soldiers than clowns, what future awaits us?
Humor, from the perspective of the relationship between people, represents the search for communication, the possibility of changing feelings, thoughts and behaviors with respect to the other. The fact that there are more soldiers than clowns probably means that, at least for the moment, to resolve conflicts there is more confidence in the armed confrontation than in other possible strategies. Each of us can do a little bit of his or her part to bring about a change of vision.
Society is very stressed. Many no longer find time or opportunities to express their feelings, to share talks, laughs, for example. What would you say to those people?
I would tell them to start valuing things differently. I believe that in our society there is an excess of competitiveness and a search for results that is too inclined towards the professional, labor or economic sphere. However, all students of human happiness consider relationships with others as essential and precisely laughter contributes to making those relationships more authentic.
Is there a vaccine for those who do not know how to laugh?
Everyone knows how to laugh, it is something inherent to the human being. Another thing is that he laughs little or not at all and then it is like a vicious circle in which the stiffness and insensitivity to which the lack of humor leads makes it increasingly difficult to laugh. The only thing that can be done is to break, if necessary with determination, the vicious circle and… start laughing.
You have declared, on one occasion, that you were going to ask Unesco to declare laughter as "a fundamental right of the human being". Have you managed to achieve this purpose?
Laughter has not been recognized for the moment as a "World Heritage Site" and therefore as something to promote and protect from public institutions. A declaration in this sense by Unesco is not simple since it is the result of a process in which different institutions must be involved, but at Clowns Without Borders we do not lose hope that one day it will be achieved.
In what way can we collaborate so that you continue with this work?
People who believe in the work of our organization can support by becoming members, making donations, collaborating as volunteers or participating in awareness-raising and fund-raising activities such as the Annual Gala that we recently held in Madrid. Those interested can specify any type of collaboration through our website (www.clowns.org) or on the phone 902 407 902.
You can read more articles similar to Clowns without borders. Interview with Jesús González, in the category of Dialogue and communication on site.