Irish circus act puts smiles on faces of refugee children fleeing war

Irish circus act puts smiles on faces of refugee children fleeing war
Performers from Clowns Without Borders (left to right) Niamh McGrath, Sara Cwojdzinski, Laura Ivers and Leonie McDonagh entertaining chidren in Azraq refugee camp in Jordan. Pic: AP

A child refugee who lost her parents in the Syrian conflict smiled for the first time after meeting a group of Irish circus artists.

Clowns Without Borders have just returned from a tour of the refugee camps of Jordan.

Amid harrowing scenes of deprivation and bereavement the volunteers hit the funny bones of children whose lives had been devastated, organisation founder Colm O'Grady said.

"We have a track record in doing incredible work where we have a child who has not smiled for six months, who has seen their parents killed and they are there laughing."

One camp inhabitant, a boy aged 17, even accompanied the troupe in Jordan as a juggler.

The group of around 50 performers from Ireland visited settlements including Zaatari, Jordan's largest refugee camp.

Most of the children were Syrians who fled from Homs with their families and now live in makeshift tents in an already poor region.

Instead of queuing to collect clothing or food from NGOs the children went to watch the clowns.

Mr O'Grady said they had about 50 performers from Ireland in Jordan and the circus was Belfast Festival of Fools-style street theatre - but to thousands instead of a few hundred.

He recalled: "After that they were more responsive and open, it helps bring people out of their shells - it hits their funny bones."

They have just returned from Jordan, having been there since last month.

"They have been through a very traumatic experience.

"Often they are living in conditions that are not conducive to childhood and this is giving them a chance to be children again.

Clowns Without Borders is an international organisation and the Irish branch has been working closely with Spanish and Swedish colleagues since 2013.

They plan to visit more Syrian and Iraqi displaced people in the Kurdish region of Iraq in the autumn.

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