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Laughter As Medicine: Israeli Clowns Help Kids in Region Struck by Tsunami

The international Jewish community has sent in the clowns to help teenagers traumatized by the tsunami. And they seem to be helping.

“The clowns might not be able to give us physical help, but they help us to get out of the trauma because we are laughing a lot here. Sense of humor is important for us, especially now,” says Darin Wahalak, 18, from Phang Nga in South Thailand, who spent a week in a camp with a group of Israeli clowns in Khao Yai.

Darin is one of 50 Buddhist and Muslim teenagers from Thailand’s tsunami-ravaged Andaman coast who joined the camp recently organized by the Israeli embassy in Thailand, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Population and a local nonprofit agency, the Community Development Association.

“I feel that for these kids it’s a huge change to be here in the mountains, where you do not see the effects of the tsunami and can laugh with clowns,” says Shlomi Kofman, first secretary of the Israeli embassy in Thailand.

Many of the teenagers lost family, friends and homes in the devastating tidal wave on Dec. 26 that killed at least 165,000, according to The Associated Press.

“At first I was sad all the time. Now I am better,” says Chusak Kokang, 18, of Krabi, who lost 10 of his good friends in Koh Phi Phi.

After the tsunami, he worked in a rescue team collecting bodies in the island.

“I am happy to be here in Khao Yai. It’s fun to do stuff with the clowns. I feel that they are more expressive, more open than Thai clowns. In Thailand clowns only play on stage, but here we’re working with them side by side.”

The clowns belong to an group called Dream Doctors, who work with children in hospitals in Israel — mainly kids who fight cancer and children who survived terror attacks.

They speak gibberish to them, taking them out of their difficult lives for a few hours of laughter.

“Actually we did not know exactly whom we would meet in Thailand,” says Nimrod Eisenberg, or “Max,” his clown name. “So we focused on preparations: We brought lots of red noses for the kids, tons of bubble liquid and balloons. These are all working tools we feel good with, and we have to work with things that make us happy, because this is how we can pass this joy to the kids.”

The teenagers were not told in advance that the clowns would visit them

“On the first day we decided the first encounter would be at lunch, and we would be the ones who would serve them the food, says “Prof. Chimichuri,” clown Alex Gruber. “We thought that the kids would find it funny that clowns dressed up as chefs are the ones who serve them lunch, but they didn’t laugh at all. At some stage I saw lots of flies around, and I asked every kid whether he wanted his rice with flies or without. They found it hilarious. Then I knew we found a way into their hearts, across the cultural and linguistic boundaries.”

Activities with the teenagers included lots of group games and improvisation. At the end of the week every teenager performed in front of the group.

“Basically we came to give those kids a kind of Thai massage. Not a foot massage, not shoulders massage, but a massage for the soul,” says clown Dudi Brashi, or “Dudon.”

The embassy and the JDC are planning more tsunami-related projects in the near future.

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