Emergency Smile mission in Greece Mainland
Our last Emergency Smile mission of the year, to Greece Mainland, was a special one. For the first time ever, we had an unusually big team: 5 clowns and 2 heads of mission.
The mission took place in the long-term accommodation centre of Nea Kavala, with two additional interventions in the nearby cities of Polykastro and Kilkis. For this mission, we partnered with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), A Drop in the Ocean, OMNES and Open Cultural Center (OCC).
The Nea Kavala refugee camp was established by the Greek military, after the Greek border with FYR Macedonia was closed in March 2016. Thousands of refugees found themselves stuck in Idomeni, with several families divided in both sides of the border. Nea Kavala, which used to be a military airport, was rapidly turned into a refugee camp to give shelter to 3,500 refugees while their visa applications could be processed in Greece. The camp is located at the rims of Nea Kavala village, next to a small countryside road, and is 56 km away from Thessaloniki. The nearest town is Polykastro and it takes between 30 to 40 minutes to reach it by foot from the camp.
In the camp the residents live in ISO containers; boxes with a door and one window, and heating. On the floor there is a carpet and a thin mattresses for each person living in the box.
The first day of the mission, was meant to meet other organisations and work out the logistics of the camp for the next weeks, so the team can prepare for parades, circus Smile and humour workshops. However, the laughs and joy started sooner than expected. Some of the children already knew about the clown’s arrival, and reversed the roles. They put on their own show for them. They sang, they danced, and even painted their noses red.
During the first week of work in the field, the team had to adhere to the tight schedule of our carrier organisation, for they gave us access to the camp. There was a clear timeframe for being inside and also for leaving the camp. So in the mornings the team usually engaged in activities like parades, playing games with children and performing the clown show. The afternoons were dedicated to having Circus Smile format.
IOM was mindful in choosing kids belonging to minority groups in order to mix children who normally would not play together. There were 18 kids from Congo, Palestine, Iran, Syria, Kuwait, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Pakistan and 10 from Afghanistan (the latter being the majority in the camp). Thirty children from different families and countries spent time with them and took their first steps into clown world: Five days full of group games, circus props and acrobatics made them experience team-spirit, acquire new skills and strengthen their self-esteem.
After being taught circus skills every afternoon for four days, the children took home invitations to their families, for a circus performance on the last day.
The performance started with some light music, soap bubbles and rope skipping. The clownish way of collecting an audience in a creative way. The spectators arrived and so the children presented their new learnt skills. In a lively and colourful performance every child had some valuable moment of circus fame and all were applauded loudly.
The best way to reach all the people in the camp is to pass by their homes: so the clowns take their instruments, props and some games for parading through the rows of containers. Children follow their every steps and sing along dancing. Sometimes the crowd stops to cheerfully greet somebody when they come to a window, other times there’s a baby being welcomed to the world with a clown-lullaby.
The music reaches even the far ends of the area, making everyone, including the adults, look and smile at them.
Children with disabilities and women
At the end of the first week the team decided to adapt the schedule of the following week in order to reach a bigger number of people, reprogramming the schedule of the activities to the camp-life and deepening the connection with some of the other organizations present in the camp, as well as with less represented groups.
The team wanted to try and create an exclusive space for two specific groups: children with disabilities and women. Both afternoon workshops were special and beautiful.
For the children with special needs, the clowns adapted their show to the necessities of the kids, playing slowly and very attentively for each of the nine viewers. It was an intimate experience for all.
Being four female clowns and only one male made it possible for our team to invite 12 women from different cultural backgrounds for dancing, singing and a very special clown show which got presented as an opener in the women’s workshop.
Humour Relief Workshops
Clowning is not only about making children laugh: It is also and foremost about human connection and creating spaces for emotions.
Our team of artists took off their red noses in order to do Humour Relief Workshops for two NGOs working in Nea Kavala camp. The staff of IOM and A Drop in the Ocean each had a joyful team experience and could express their feelings and appreciation towards each other.
IOM’s group consisted of mostly male, very composed adults who work in a harsh environment and have to obey government directives. It was very touching to see how they, who most certainly have to keep up emotional thresholds towards the difficult environment they work in, took the chance to let their guard down. The first part of the workshop was about having fun and softening the team through shared laughter.
For the last day the team had planned to set up a big final performance, bringing everyone they worked with on stage and celebrate together the past three weeks. On that day it was around 5 degrees, constant rain and heavy winds. The residents of the camp had been told to stay in their containers due to the weather, the rub hall tent were flooded and howling from the wind and the team really thought nobody would show up – but they did!!!
It was a wonderful and touching goodbye with children, teenagers, parents, single men and even some aid workers, who stayed late, just to be present. It was a beautiful way to close the mission and say goodbye to everyone.