The Common Good
July-August 2001

Clowns Without Kevlar

by Rose Marie Berger, Susannah Hunter | July-August 2001

When humanitarian intervention sends in the troops, it’s not usually a laughing

When humanitarian intervention sends in the troops, it’s not usually a laughing matter. Clowns Without Borders, however, uses pratfalls and hilarity to promote peace in places where even soldiers fear to tread—such as the refugee camps of Bosnia, Kenya, Nepal, Kosovo, and Chiapas.

"The kids had never seen anyone like us," said circus director Ghislain Turcotte. "I don’t think they even really know what a clown is." But once the red noses come out and the clowns start their somersaults and tricks, Turcotte said, the kids go crazy. Smiles become common currency. While the costs for other aid groups to deliver powdered milk and antibiotics are often sky high, Clowns Without Borders—founded in 1993 by Spanish clown Tortell Poltrona—makes kids laugh for just 60 cents a visit.

"Laughter is a luxury for people in conflict," said U.S.-based organizer Moshe Cohen. "We use it as a therapy to relieve psychological stress." Along with the clowning around, Clowns Without Borders ( partners with other humanitarian organizations to bring teachers, artists, students, and doctors to areas of conflict.

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