www.abc.net.au | 20th February 2014
A new Australian group is heading out to disaster zones and disadvantaged areas across the Asia-Pacific region to help children.
So far the group has been to refugee camps in Myanmar, parts of the Philippines ravaged by Super Typhoon Haiyan, and remote Indigenous communities in Australia.
The group’s members aren’t doctors, lawyers, social workers, soldiers, police officers or even journalists.
They are – for lack of a better description – a bunch of clowns.
Clowns Without Borders started in Spain in 1993, and now has chapters across the globe.
Its volunteers travel to war zones, refugee camps and disaster areas to deliver smiles and laughter to needy children.
The Australian chapter officially started last year. Since then, the group has visited some of the region’s harshest places.
Clowns Without Borders Australia recently completed a project in the Philippines, bringing comic relief to communities affected by super-typhoon Haiyan.
Briar Seyb-Hayden, who spent weeks in the disaster zone, says she was shocked by the scale of the devastation wrought by Haiyan.
“It was like ground zero; buildings down everywhere and trees flattened everywhere and people living in tent villages,” she said.
“So that side was intense, especially seeing so many kids – and of course you feel sad for what they have to live through.”
As they deal with traumatised children, Clowns Without Borders performers must be professionals with experience in both the performing arts and teaching.
Kathryn Niesche is an experienced aerialist who has worked in Bollywood and teaches at Australia’s National Institute of Circus Arts.
But after decades at the top, the 53-year-old says she’s decided she wants to be on the ground.
“I think a clown offers unconditional love and is just there to respond to that child. If it is a hug, smile of little wink or nod, it is just there 100 per cent for them,” Ms Niesche said.
After returning from this trip, the group has big plans for its next act, including more projects within Australia providing emotional relief for victims of bushfires and flooding.
“I think charity begins at home … it is really important that we have a national focus and then throughout Asia-Pacific as well,” Briar Seyb-Hayden said.
“There is so much need and there are so many places Clowns Without Borders hasn’t been yet.
“I really want to see us going to a lot more countries – and bringing the joy and the laughter.”
PHOTO: Clowns Without Borders in Philippines: CWB’s Briar Seyb-Hayden performs for children and their families in eastern Samar, an area heavily affected by Typhoon Haiyan. (Facebook: Clowns Without Borders Australia)