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When conflict strikes, this nonprofit sends in the clowns

Clowns Without Borders USA

When conflict strikes, children are among the first to suffer. 

Whether they’re forced out of school, torn from their homes, or simply denied the chance to be carefree kids, children who experience conflict never emerge unscathed.

Never has that sad fact been more true than in the case of the war engulfing Syria and neighboring states, which has affected an estimated 14 million children since 2011. 

14 million children. That’s roughly four times the population of Berlin. No wonder advocacy groups are warning of a “lost generation.”

And Syria is far from the only place where children’s futures are at risk. Of the 19.5 million refugees fleeing conflict around the world, fully half are children. 

Faced with suffering and unrest, donor governments and aid groups do what they can to meet displaced kids’ basic needs. Food, shelter, healthcare and education are typically first of the list of things to provide, and rightly so. 

Here’s another need that belongs high on that list: Giving displaced kids a reason to smile. 

Children who’ve lived through war have seen things no child should. They need help taking their minds off the broken world around them, if only for a moment. 

That’s where the clowns come in. 

The big-hearted performers of Clowns Without Borders, to be exact. 

Since 1993, this international nonprofit has been sending professional performing artists to war zones, refugee camps, and disaster-stricken areas to help cheer up kids in need. Much like Doctors Without Borders, the medical humanitarian group whose name it mirrors, Clowns Without Borders sends performers to places most people avoid. 

And man, those clowns know how to work. The organization’s 12 chapters, representing countries from Canada to South Africa, organized 81 projects in 40 countries in 2013 alone, reaching over 300,000 children and communities. 

In a world where more people than ever have been forced from their homes by conflict and instability, the work of Clowns Without Borders and organizations like it has never been more necessary. In honor of this awesome organization, here are six inspiring projects Clowns Without Borders has staged in regions all over the world: 

1/ In Lesbos, Greece, singing clowns led a parade of kids...

… inspiring grateful parents to say things like this: 

2/ Elsewhere in Europe, clowns met migrants with kindness and humor in Calais and Dunkirk.

The coastal French cities of Dunkirk and Calais have become popular stepping stones for migrants and refugees en route to the UK because of their proximity to the English Channel. In Calais, an informal refugee camp known as the “Jungle” has earned a reputation for being unsanitary and unsafe, though recent plans by the French government to move migrants into new shelters were met with skepticism

Performers from Clowns Without Borders’ UK chapter recently visited the camps in Dunkirk and Calais. They reflected on the experience in a Facebook post, writing, “Just as essential as breath is to life, laughter is to childhood and so we are proud to have shared playful moments with refugee children in Calais and Dunkirk this week.” 

In 2015, we saw thousands of refugees fleeing their homes in Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan because war, dictatorial...

Posted by Clowns Without Borders, UK on Sunday, January 3, 2016

3/ In Iraq, clowns partnered with UNHCR to lighten the mood in refugee camps

Click here to read more about how clowns from Spain entertained over 10,000 children during a 20-day tour of Iraq with the UN Refugee Agency. 

4/ Clowns used stilts, tricks, and music to cheer up refugee kids in Lebanon

The Associated Press produced this heartwarming video during a Clowns Without Borders performance for refugees in Lebanon last year. 

5/ After an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010, Clowns Without Borders put on a show

Watch the video to go inside CWB’s tour of Haiti just months after a catastrophic earthquake killed as many as 300,000 people. Performers helped an estimated 8,000 survivors take their minds off the devastation around them. 

6/ In South Sudan, clowns paid a visit to a prison

South Sudan’s prison system has drawn criticism for numerous rights abuses, including the unlawful detention of children. Clowns Without Borders paid a rare visit to a prison there in 2009, hoping to give prisoners a reason to smile. 


It’s been said that, no matter their culture or ethnicity, humans all laugh in the same language. That might explain how a merry band of clowns, many of whom might not speak the same language as their audience, has succeeded in putting smiles on the faces of people all over the world.

Humor’s no silver bullet for monumental challenges like war and displacement, but Clowns Without Borders is doing its part to make life better for people in need—and that’s something global citizens everywhere can smile about.