PHILIPSBURG – Antonia Meija and her daughter live in Cay Bay, a neighborhood that contains mostly lower-income household including a few shack-areas in Sint Maarten. As many other areas, the residents were hit hard by hurricane Irma and are still dealing with the aftermath.
Before the storm, Antonia worked at various homes and businesses as a cleaning lady to make ends meet. Her house was not badly damaged during the storm, but she is dealing with another issue: she has lost much of her work due to the storm. Antonia: “I am worried. I don’t know if I can pay my landlord next month.”
Meredith Dorothea, whom also lives in Cay Bay with three kids: “A lot of persons are still dealing with damage to their homes. Some people don’t have electricity, some don’t have a roof and some don’t have anything.”
Despite this, on a Saturday morning Antonia, Meredith, and their kids are laughing. “I have never seen anything like this before in my life,” says Meredith, who is watching four clowns singing and dancing with her son.
Clowns without borders
Albina Matuzko, the founder of theater foundation ‘Behind The Beyond’ on Sint Maarten, has been organizing a number of free events in the wake of hurricane Irma. Albina is also a professional clown.
“I wanted to help the island and one of the ways I know how is through clowning,” says Albina. A few weeks after Irma, Albina sent a request to various contacts in the clown-community. Albina: “I had clowns from all over the world wanting to come down to help!”
On November 27th with the support of international organization Clowns Without Borders (CBW) and local businesses, Gabi Sigaud Winter from Brazil, Alex Feldman from the United States and Ivan Smith from Australia landed. Their goal: to use humor as a means of psychological support to communities that have suffered trauma.
The following day they started their busy schedule, which included shows at over twenty locations including neighborhoods, community centers, schools and various institutions such as the elderly home.
Laughter is healing
At one of the last shows, which was held at Genevieve De Weever School, a group of first graders was excitedly talking about the antics of the clowns. When asked about the hurricane many were glad to report that the ‘leaking in their house’ had stopped. “My house isn’t fixed yet,” seven-year-old Jasmin adds quietly in between the chatter of her classmates.
“Some of the houses here look like they were torn apart as if they were mere paper,” says Clown Gaby when asked about Sint Maarten. She, as well as the others have been to various disaster areas, to send aid in the form of clowning. “We provide emotional assistance. It is scientifically proven that laughter heals.”
“After what the kids have been through, this provided the perfect stress-relief,” says teacher Viveca Clarke.
Rilaylia, 6-year-old student, still thinks often about her experience during Irma. “Everything started to fly away and we had to run to a safer place,” she recalls. She hopes that the clowns would be back again soon: “I laughed so much it hurt my belly!”