Donate Locally. Clown Globally

It is a tradition in my wife’s family to give charitable donations in lieu of gifts, so over the holidays I had occasion to spend an afternoon looking at the Web sites of different charities. As you would expect, there are a lot of impressive organizations out there, entities like Amnesty International and Medecins sans Frontiers, that are justly famous for doing amazing work. However, looking up charities re-acquainted me with an organization that also does great things, but which is not as well know as its more established counterparts. I would therefore like to take a moment to publicize one of my favourite international aid groups: Clowns Without Borders.

You read that right: not doctors. Clowns. The first time I heard their name I got such a kick out of it I had to make a donation on the spot, even though I wasn’t quite sure what they did. It turns out they go into refugee camps and other crisis zones and perform circus shows for children. If you click on their Web page there are photos of CWB expeditions to Haiti and elsewhere. The looks on the faces of the kids they are entertaining are priceless.

There is an ongoing debate about international aid that suggests that some traditional development goals are more likely to be achieved through charitable giving than others. Roughly speaking, aid projects that have sought to foster political institutions have not done as well as more medically oriented projects. Clowns Without Borders bring refugee children relief from despair, which could plausibly be regarded as a form of medical aid, in the area of psychological health. But regardless of whether their work is classified as medical, political or some combination of the two, it is an example of a creative and effective form of charitable aid.

As one borderless clown told the BBC during a trip to Palestine, “people told me that big international organizations give them clothes and food, but that nobody ever makes them smile.”

Important disclaimer: despite their name, Clowns Without Borders are in no way affiliated with the current Bush administration.

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