A year on from winning the Kindness Awards, Clowns Without Borders UK explains how it used the prize money to continue its work from afar
How can a charity, which supports children in conflict areas globally, carry out its work when its whole team is locked down in the home? This was the challenge that confronted Clowns Without Borders UK when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The charity had just received an injection of funds after winning the Kindness Awards so that the team had to be creative in order to get the most out of the opportunity and further its positive impact.
The Kindness Awards were launched last February by skincare brand Simple, in partnership with Positive News. Six causes were nominated, and readers had the opportunity to vote for the one they felt most deserving of the prize: a £7,000 donation from Simple.
From uniting primary school children and the elderly through art, to tackling single-use plastics, the nominees showed what kindness looks like in practice. But there could only be one winner. In April, the votes were counted and Clowns Without Borders UK claimed their prize.
Clowns Without Borders UK brings respite for children living in conflict zones and disaster areas. Picture : Clowns Without Borders UK
The charity operates in refugee camps, conflict zones and disaster areas around the world, spreading much-needed respite for children living in these areas, through laughter and play.
Almost a year later, director Samantha Holdsworth fills us in on how they used the prize money.
Weve had a presence in Greece since 2016, both on the mainland and Lesbos, she says. The Moria refugee camp, a sprawling expanse originally intended to shelter 3,000 people but hugely overcrowded with as many as 13,000, was where they often visited.
“We had everything booked to go in March. With the prize money we thought wed do two more visits during the year, Holdsworth explains. Since the pandemic unfolded, however, they soon realised overseas travel was away from the cards. And the camp would finally close to all but essential visitors.
During the pandemic, refugee camps have been closed to all but essential visitors. Image : Diego Ibarra Sanchez
Determined to assist in any way they could, Holdsworth came up with an idea she called Clown on Your Pocket. In cooperation with charity Waves of Hope, and with the support of a dedicated volunteer, they developed a fun, language learning programme for children. “We used short gifs and pictures to come up with a play-based training program via WhatsApp. ” she says. “ And it was going really well. ”
But then tragedy struck. In early September, a deadly fire ravaged the camp and their job had to be put on pause. Equipped with this new setback, Holdsworth put her thinking cap on again.
Clowns Without Borders had begun visiting Mozambique in 2019 and so Holdsworth reached out to their spouses there to ask how her charity could help. She learned there was a need for menstrual health education among young girls. Largely a taboo topic, Covid-19 was making it even more challenging for women to get information, as people weren’t going to clinics or community centers as much.
So they started working on a menstrual health education programme, going door-to-door to meet girls either in their doorsteps or finding them out where they gathered. Not being able to be there in person, Clowns Without Borders developed and facilitated remote training sessions for local women, who would deliver the sessions. The aim was to enable the coaches to use storytelling, laughter and games to engage the young girls with this sensitive subject.
The charity has given remote storytelling and learning to women in Mozambique. Picture : Clowns Without Borders UK
“Together with a South African artist and two musicians from Eswatini and Mozambique, we developed this project around using play to build trust and rapport with young women,” clarifies Holdsworth.
Sussie Mjwara, the Mozambican artist that was involved, says the training was very well received. “I think that [ often ] these types of assignments are treated in a serious and very formal manner and thus we lose people’s sensitivities. We reach them only through brochures and concepts. In Clowns Without Borders’ workshops, guided by laughter, fun and small games, we’ve got the opposite. We can quickly establish trust”. Up to now, they’ve reached around 1,000 women and girls.
It’s been a challenging year, but Holdsworth says that Clowns Without Borders is used to coming up with innovative solutions and they’re incredibly grateful for how the prize money has helped them to continue their work throughout the Covid-19 crisis.
Taking risks is sort of in our DNA, its how we operate, she says. “ however hard it might be for me, sitting at my computer every day, asking myself, how am I going to do this, it’s ’s never, ever as hard as it’s going to be for the people we work for. ”
Main image : Diego Ibarra Sanchez