Clowning Around With Refugee Children
A refugee camp is not a place you associate with the sound of children’s laughter and that is precisely why the visits by the The Flying Seagull Project are so important. Over the past few months, this British-based troupe of clowns and entertainers has been touring refugee camps. When they turn up in these desolate make-shift communities that house families that have fled from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other war-torn countries, it is always a sensation.
“The first look is one of amazed shock, a gasp of disbelief,” the project founder Ash Perrin tells me. ”They assume we can’t be there for them.” Fun, it seems, is part of a world from which they feel excluded.
The camps, particularly in the crises zones, are notorious for children being so emotionally withdrawn that they spend days and days without leaving their tents. So the first task is creating enough noise to attract their curiosity and tempt them outside.
Having softened the guards up with the odd magic trip, the fabulously-bearded Perrin and his Seagull Project crew rush through the camp rousing the children with trumpets and trombones banging on drums and shouting of “Yalla!” or “let’s go!”
Joining The Circle
Within five minutes, says Perrin, they will have attracted a crowd of one or two hundred curious children. “You see them smile. You see the moment that their eyes explode in little sparkles. They look to their parents to see if they are allowed to join in. The parents also nod and the crowd grows.”
The Flying Seagull Project
The entertainers create a series of participatory games based around a circle. The shape is important – there is neither front of the line or back of the line in a circle; you are all an equal part of the circle. It’s a concept The Flying Seagull Project has been working with since its beginnings in 2009 when it started in orphanages, hospitals and slum areas. The refugee camps are its newest and perhaps biggest ever challenge. But he says smiles and laughter can be as important as good nutrition for these children’s future.
“A lot of the kids have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) now and have gone through experiences we wouldn’t be able to imagine. The rekindling of the ability to smile is essential. The Flying Seagull Project works closely together with a psychotherapist who specializes in trauma. “She told me when they work with traumatized adults with childhood trauma and the first step is to go back and find a positive memory to use as a foundation stone to rebuild their adult lives. What we’re trying to do is create a very vivid memory for them to build on.”
It’s not easy to reach every child, admits Perrin, and some they fail to engage with at all. He has seen deeply depressed children and also aggressive children and described recognizing the disillusioned faces of adults on children’s faces. Some have been utterly robbed of their childhood. But giving up is not an option. Unless we reach out to them these confused, conflicted, traumatized children will be confused, conflicted, traumatized adults. It’s easier and safer to reach out to them now.
Dealing with this challenge is a huge task and initiatives such as The Flying Seagull Project are just one small part of the long effort to mend these broken lives. But it seems, to me, to be a wonderful project with a quick efficacy. “Even in the most horrendous conditions it only takes a couple of minutes for the smiles to return,” says Perrin. “You see them become kids again.”
Dealing with children never developed any sense of journalistic hard-nosedness and I’m not sure anyone truly does. Meeting a sad child doesn’t feel merely wrong but like a visceral kick in the stomach. There is something sickening about foreshortened innocence. A smile, on the other hand is such a simple thing, but a smile can be the building block for hope. And hope is a beautiful thing.
Publiziert am 28.08.2017