Wednesday, March 03, 2010


This project is a preliminary expedition to explore the potential to implement Clowns Without Borders South Africa’s arts intervention methodology with WWO, a nongovernmental organisation dedicate to providing a holistic development to children who are orphans or vulnerable. They have programs in many different countries including Bulgaria, Vietnam, and Ethiopia. Our partnership was germinated over the past 2 years at the annual Unite for Sight Global Health Conference in which WWO founder, Dr. Jane Aronson, and Jamie Lachman (director of CWB-South Africa) presented in the same sessions on innovative community interventions that build local capacity. A casual conversation about potential synergy gradually grew into our first collaboration here in Ethiopia. Now Jamie (CWB-SA) Sibongile (CWB-SA) and myself, Selena (CWB-USA), are in Addis Ababa from Feb 16 - Feb 28 meeting with WWO, performing shows, teaching workshops, and leading training workshops.

On our first day in Addis Ababa we meet with the people at WWO, we give them an overview of what Clowns Without Borders does and try to find out as much about their programs as possible. We talk about a few different directions our work with them could go in the longterm and we make some changes to our schedule for the next two weeks here. We are trying to figure out how our work can mesh with their programs and go far.

During our first two days I see an interesting mix of elegance and poverty. The women running WWO dress really nice. The surroundings are simple. We are driven around in a new 4-door pickup truck weaving through insane traffic - few lane markers, no traffic lights, intense exhaust smog, and 4 lane main roads that shrink into 2 lanes with just a few rocks as warning. Tons of new construction being built - cement high rises, with simple wooden pole scaffolding. Apparently there are only 3 big supermarkets in a city of 5 million. People buy their food from vendors on the street and at the market. And yet there are 7 branches of a chain of coffee shops in perfect imitation of Starbucks. Big green signs spell: KALDI'S COFFEE and the people inside wear the same green aprons, even the chairs and music are similar.

We drive all around town to visit the places we will be performing: A primary school of 1,800 kids; Ababech Gobena an amazing center with outreach programs, a clinic, a women's empowerment through work program - there are red chili peppers drying in the sun and they export injera (Ethiopian flat spongy bread), a school, public showers, clean water, etc; Mary Joy, a clinic, orphanage, and a school for 150 kids; and of course the two WWO schools.

On top of this we eat dinner with 2 teachers from New York who are working with the WWO teachers, and of course, we create our show. We rehearse in my hotel room, on the lawn of the orphanage, and then on the terrace of the hotel. It is only at the nightly check-in, when our voice settle and drop in pitch, when we go over how we are feeling at the end of the day, that I realize just how much we've done and see in the last two days.

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