6 Sept 2012, NGOs near Chennai, India

International Justice Mission, Chengalpet, Chennai

Today we were up early to go to the International Justice Mission. We were informed on the bus we were doing a show which didn’t leave any preparation time. As a group of clowns we have not put on performances together and we had to ad lib it. We arrived at IJM and I had to go and put on makeup. As I came out the show had started and there was no time to confer on how to do this properly. The staff at IJM wanted us to promote values of cleanliness, money management, trust, integrity etc. There was not enough time to really do it justice, so to speak.

I was pulled into a show with my friend Toot. She has been a performance clown for a number of years and we do get on well and respect each other. The brief idea was for her to be the bad clown and myself to be the good peace clown. We were to excitedly meet and then I would show her things from my bag which we would use to entertain the audience. There was around 100 people sitting there of all ages. They were previously bonded labour. So toot and I hammed it up and I ventured into the audience, as my name was called. I made one of the audience members me by putting my hat on them. The idea of Toot stealing my stuff and us then talking to the audience on how that could be done better went out the window. We ended up pulling out props and it finished clumsly in my view. I was able to form a deep connection with the audience and found myself blowing up balloons and flicking them to people, it is a good way to get the crowed to participate. I had some men come up and did a dance. I did some juggling and threw the ball into the audience, a woman caught it and threw it back. I had a ribbon which I twirled. My friend toot brought out a big pole that comes out of a small bag, looks effective. Apparently the IJM guy then got up and tried to create a lesson out of it. He was speaking Tamil so I had no ideas of what he was saying. I feel we could have been more effective had we spent more time on preparing shows and getting the themes right. The group have a range of skills so they all came out.

We were outside which is a different performance space. We just had to go with the flow. I brought out my squeezy tomatoe and gestured for people to eat it and then squeezed it into a bubble. My expanding ball seems to get lots of laughter as I throw it and bounce it off people. I taught one woman to juggle and she was very happy. I made friends with a group of women and was able to convey ideas with them and indicated they were my friends, I could see they were happy.

Our friend Obidi is a good entertainer and brought out the guitar and introduced the clowns we took a bow. I managed to make a speech through the interpreter. I felt moved to speak. I spoke of Gandhi and satyagraha – truth and love and for that to be a pillar of life. I see Gandhi as a clown as he had a great sense of humour, they seemed to like that, particularly an older guy in the audience, I am sure he remembered Gandhi. My friend Toot took a leadership role and thanked the organisers and Tim. It somehow pulled together.

We all did our bit with the people and they did seem happy. We did make bonds which was the purpose. When you see the happy shining faces that is a clue that your presence was well received. The Indian people are a gentle and wonderful audience, they are noticing the differences but ready to have a laugh and I really love that about them.

I spoke to a man through our friend Lennon (Indian) who interpreted for me. The man was sad and we spoke of god as he could relate to that. He said he was a diabetic and his daughter and children lived with him as her husband died. He felt low in energy and was unable to support them by taking a job. I tried to transfer faith in the form of gratitude for breath, for family, for life. I was mindful I am not in his situation but I felt with positive thoughts he would be more effective than depression. I gave him my badge and balloons and we had a lovely connection. Turns out he was from the next village not connected with the IJM, so it was so interesting that he and I connected. No mistakes in this life I feel.

My friend Lennon also showed me plants that close the moment you open them. Bit like a venus fly trap although they are vegetarian (I am guessing). I was so fascinated.

The show was closed and we waved at a grateful group of lovely people and felt good about our moment with them.

Comments from staff:

1)       “I travelled all the way from Vellore and after watching this program, I didn’t feel tired after a long travel”.

2)       Though nobody comes near us, you people came near us and interacted with us.

3)       We enjoyed watching the comedy.

Our clients had enjoyed watching the program, the team interacted with the clients very well.

Hope House

We drove another hour and came to the HOPE house. This is a place for HIV positive children. We at the last minute organised a schedule and had our MC. Then Tim decided to change it as most of the kids were there. So they made a make shift stage and kids sat down on carpet. My friend Toot is a leader and she got the show started. Tim did some magic. He and I spoke in the break about just spontaneously going in but I didn’t know the other’s routines and when it is appropriate to go in. It is clear we are amateurs without any real knowledge of true performance. However, Toot and Obidi came to the rescue and then our newly baptised clown Mingle who is a Tamil saved the whole show. He had never clowned but he mimicked the kids and it was a big hit. He also had us singing a Tamil song of wanting the other as our friend which was a lot of fun. We clowns were between the kids and playing with them. He then introduced each clown towards the end and they jumped in and all clapped and cheered. The energy was high and really it was wonderful.

I was listening to some of my teachings later and thinking about accepting the moment. It is not a question of right or wrong it is a question of being peace under all circumstances. I do see clearly we all create our reality. I am learning to just trust life, what it brings and go with the moment.

On the bus I introduced one of our other Tamil helpers to some spiritual teachings. He was blown away. We spent the 3 hour bus trip listening and conferring. He himself is a spiritual seeker and found himself invited at the last minute on this trip as he was around Seb’s Projects. He and I immediately connected, something I said triggered him he told me. Listening to the teachings he definitely resonated. It was interesting to find a man with a universal consciousness. He knew about Lao Tzu and already was interested in love and light. So it was great to meet this person. India is the right place for this discussion given the spiritual roots here.

I really love the Indian people and we have met so many, we have hugged them. The HIV kids gave us big wide smiles and warm hugs, even the boys were hugging us. They had no parents, so they were orphans. I spoke to the American convenors of this orphanage and found they themselves were special people. I often find angels doing this work, they sacrifice for others and had they not turned up you wonder what the situation of the children would be. The two I spoke to wanted to make the world a better place by giving. The American woman had come in May and really loved the kids. She told me she had had an auto immune disease and had empathy for the kids. We spoke of the gift of illness not to diminish compassion for a moment but to understand that life is what it is, to help children learn to live with the moment in a positive way was our shared belief. How to see the gifts in cancer, how to see the gifts in amputation, in HIV infection this is the work of accepting life in a positive way. Perhaps in this mindset cures are found and others are inspired by the courage. This volunteer said she said she has to go back to the States in October and really is feeling sad at leaving the children. She said she had learned a lot working with them. She informed me that the kids receive out of date medication to control the HIV infection. I asked her why? She said it was because they couldn’t afford the $3,000 medicines that were better drugs. They purchased from the local area. I thought of pharmaceutical companies and generic drugs being made available. I pondered about poverty and the reality that they receive sub-standard medication when it would be illuminating to see all HIV patients receive quality treatment no matter their socio economic situation. Such is the profit motive.

I then turned to an American guy and asked him about his life in India. His experience had been up and down but he had stayed the path for 4 years. I felt he must be committed to the kids. Any foreigner working in India does have their challenges as bureaucracy can be slow and there is always politics and social issues to contend with. He said he had witnessed a lot of deaths. I thought of the emotional issues with bonding to these beautiful children, it would be painful to see young lives die. He had married an Indian woman and found his own family back in the States dysfunctional and he himself had somewhat detached from them. He was taking his wife back for the first time. I ventured it would be good for his parents to meet her, he didn’t look so positive. He didn’t like the lifestyle in the States, we discussed office work and the focus on material wealth. He had chosen to live in another way.

I can honestly say the children were beautiful with shining eyes and they had their best clothes on. I tried to imagine their life without a family and how they would grow up as part of a large group. We clowns had no issues touching them or being with them at all. They were well behaved and thrilled to get balloons and be entertained with juggling, fun tattoos, stickers, acrobatics, clowning and lots of laughter. We gave as much love as we could.

Social stigma is an issue and the kids get ostracised. Apparently the local high school principal (previous one) had expelled the HIV kids. They were discriminated against by the local medical centres. They have to travel a few hours to Chennai to gain medical attention. You can imagine how worrying that would be if the condition is serious. So they are battling prejudice, no family protection and ultimately death if they do not stay in remission.

Laughter is effective in maintaining remission. I learned this in Southern Thailand at a HIV clinic. Laughter and positive feelings can turn dis-ease around, so our visit would be helping in their healing. That is a beautiful thought.

I reflect on how our world would flourish with more compassion and empathy. However, for this moment we gave them happiness, respect and deep love and that is our job. With that I am deeply happy.

My feet swelled up but I am happy we made a difference. My job is inner peace and balance. So a spiritual practice in just being love. I so love being a clown. I so love people.

Comments from Hope House Staff:

Hope Foundation (Chennai): Aids Home For Children

The Children seemed extremely joyful and care free. Many of them were able to let go and just have so much fun. All guards were down. Thank you so much for providing our kids with such an extremely fun and sill evening.                                                                                                       – Sierra Freeman (Hope Foundation Volunteer)

When the kids first saw you all, I’m sure they had no idea what to expect. They’ve never seen anything like the crazy costumes and make up, but you won them over with you silliness and you fun. I know they loved every minute of the show and it was defiantly not something they will soon forget. You made them forget all about their disease and sadness and let them be kids for a few hours. Thank you for your love and joy.                                                                                                       –Brittany Stranfield (Hope Foundation Volunteer)

Thanks for doing noble service for the Humanity. God will bless you all.                                                                                           –Panineer Setram (Program Director Hope Foundation)

Mohandas Gandhi

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”


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