Thousands of children and adults are continuing to flee violence in Burundi and pour into Tanzania, where they face desperate, overcrowded conditions in refugee camps.
Plan International has set up safe spaces for children in the camps where they can recover, learn and play. Ahead of the holiday season, we joined hands with Clowns Sans Frontières - France* - an organisation that deploys clowns in humanitarian settings - to help heal the trauma children have gone through with laughter and performance...
A group of 8 clowns from Clowns Sans Frontières - France visited Tanzania from November to December 2015, performing 10 shows and 2 parades in Nyarugusu and Nduta camps.
The camps are home to over 180,000 refugees – mainly women and children.
The clowns are experts in providing moments of happiness and joy, giving children a chance to return to their childhood.
“Music, theatre, dance, sports and arts are closely connected to a child's way of experiencing the world and can therefore help them to express themselves and participate in a meaningful way,” says Dr Unni Krishnan, Head of Disaster Preparedness and Response for Plan International.
Performances are designed to captivate communities so villagers get an opportunity to laugh and forget everyday stress. Each show reaches at least 2,000 refugees.
Children who have experienced loss, displacement and stress need emotional support, positive social relations and a sense of hope for the future. In situations such as refugee camps, children are forced to grow up too fast. If their emotional needs are neglected it may hinder their development and result in mental health complications.
“Performances by these clowns along with play provides immediate relief through laughter and joy, while promoting a child´s self-confidence, emotional expression and social development,” says Dr Unni Krishnan.
From covering crowds in confetti to performing hi-jinx stunts, creative activities and performances have the potential to bring children together and diminish cultural, religious and gender barriers.
It’s a full house, but 2 women (pictured above) who have missed the start of a show still want to be a part of the fun as they peer through the fence to capture a glimpse of the clowns’ playful routines.
Women and children are particularly at risk in refugee camps. During the last few months, camp leaders have reported an increase in incidents of domestic violence due to alcohol and drug abuse. Women and children - in particular adolescent girls - face greater risk of violence and abuse.
Plan International has been running child protection as well as sexual and gender-based violence awareness campaigns in the camps.
Clowns, while using entertainment and fun as part of their show, also use their performances and shows to convey public health messages, such as “clean water is key to beating diarrhoea”.
“Performances aim to bring communities together and make both children and adults smile and forget for a moment their stressful experiences,” says Alexander Strauss, president of Clowns Without Borders International.
Plan International is supporting Burundi refugees through child protection, education and water, sanitation and hygiene activities.
Read more about our work with refugees and internally displaced people
Photographs: Christophe Raynaud de Lage/Clowns Sans Frontières - France
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