Children giggle at the antics of a group of clowns fooling around in a Lebanese village sports ground. However, these street performers are not just there for the laughs. They are using tomfoolery to convey a serious message.
The Beirut-based group, called Clown Me In, includes professional clowns from Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere. They have performed in Brazil, Greece, India, Jordan, Syria, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
Using the art of clowning, they present stories gathered from interactive workshops with children to create awareness of human rights and social justice. In association with the non-government organization Beirut DC, they have put together a road show which they put on in disadvantaged communities and refugee camps in Lebanon.
Their latest project, known as Van 12, illustrates aspects of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, such as the right to education, health care and safety. Clown Me In, in partnership with UNICEF, gave 22 Van 12 performances throughout Lebanon in October alone.
Parents bring along their children – babies, toddlers and teenagers – many of whom have never seen a live performance before.
“For us it’s so important, because we feel like, even if we’re there for an hour, there is a whole atmosphere that changes,” said founder Sabine Choucair at a show in the town of Kfarnabrakh, hosted by the Lebanese NGO Amurt. “There is a lot of joy that happens in this one hour.”