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Clowning around: how one charity kept kids smiling through the pandemic


One year after winning the Kindness Awards, Clowns Without Borders UK explains how he used the award money to continue his work from afar.

How does a charity, which supports children in conflict zones internationally, carry out its work when its entire team is locked up at home? This was the challenge he faced Clowns Without Borders UK when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The charity had just received an injection of funds after winning the Kindness Awards, so the team had to get creative to make the most of the opportunity and promote its positive impact.

The prizes for kindness were launched last February by the skincare brand Simple, in association with Positive News. Six causes were nominated and readers had the opportunity to vote for the one they felt most deserving of the award: a £ 7,000 donation from Simple.

From uniting elementary school children and the elderly through art, to tackling single-use plastics, the nominees showed what kindness looks like in practice. But there could only be one winner. In April, the votes were counted and Clowns Without Borders UK claimed his prize.

Clowns Without Borders United Kingdom

Clowns Without Borders UK provides a respite for children living in conflict zones and disaster areas. Image: Clowns Without Borders UK

The charity works in refugee camps, conflict zones and disaster areas around the world, spreading much-needed respite to children living in these places through laughter and play.

Almost a year later, director Samantha Holdsworth tells us how they used the prize money.

“We have had a presence in Greece since 2016, both on the continent and on Lesbos,” he says. The Moria refugee camp, a sprawling expanse originally planned to house 3,000 but hugely overcrowded with as many as 13,000, was the place they frequently visited.

“We had everything booked to go in March. And with the prize money we thought we would make two more visits during the year, ”explains Holdsworth. However, as the pandemic unfolded, they soon realized that foreign travel was out of the question. And the camp would eventually close to all but essential visitors.

During the pandemic, refugee camps were closed to all visitors except essential visitors. Image: Diego Ibarra Sanchez

Determined to help out in any way possible, Holdsworth had an idea she called Clown in your pocket. In collaboration with the Waves of Hope charity, and with the help of a dedicated volunteer, they developed a fun language learning program for children. “We use images and short gifs to develop a game-based training program through WhatsApp.” she says. “And everything was going very well.”

But then the tragedy came. In early September, a deadly fire devastated the camp and his project had to stop. Faced with this new setback, Holdsworth put his thinking cap back on.

Clowns Without Borders had started visiting Mozambique in 2019, so Holdsworth reached out to his partners to ask how his charity could help. She learned that there was a need to educate about menstrual health among young women. Largely a taboo subject, Covid-19 was making it even more difficult for girls to access information, as people did not go as much to clinics or community centers.

So they started working on a menstrual health education program, going door-to-door to meet the girls at their doorstep or meeting them outside where they met. Unable to be there in person, Clowns Without Borders developed and facilitated distance training sessions for local women, who would deliver the sessions. The aim was to train the trainers to use laughter, storytelling and games to engage young women in this sensitive topic.

The charity has provided remote learning and storytelling to girls in Mozambique. Image: Clowns Without Borders UK

“Together with a South African artist and two artists from Eswatini and Mozambique, we developed this project around the use of play to build trust and sympathy with girls,” explains Holdsworth.

Sussie Mjwara, the Mozambican artist who participated, says the training was very well received. “I believe that [often] These types of workshops are treated seriously and very formally and thus we lose the sensitivity of the people. We reach them only through brochures and concepts. In the Clowns without Borders workshops, guided by laughter, fun and little games, we have the opposite. We can build trust quickly. ” So far, they have reached about 1,000 women and girls.

It’s been a challenging year, but Holdsworth says Clowns Without Borders are used to coming up with creative solutions and are incredibly grateful for how the award money has helped them continue their work during the Covid-19 crisis.

“Taking risks is part of our DNA, it’s the way we operate,” he says. “No matter how difficult it may be for me, sitting in front of my computer every day, wondering how I’m going to do this, is never, ever as difficult as it will be for the people we work for.”

Lead Image: Diego Ibarra Sanchez



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