Having been with RED NOSES for 17 years, it’s incredibly challenging to pinpoint one singular event as the most moving in terms of my humanitarian work.
Our Emergency Smile (ES) programme is now in it’s tenth year and focuses on sharing humour and moments of joy with people in crisis settings. Our ES team is well aware of the fact that providing psychosocial support to people in crisis settings is considered second response humanitarian aid. Nevertheless, every time I take part in an Emergency Smile mission, I’m reminded of the fact that there is an overwhelming need for humour and laughter in times of hardship.
Recently, I was head of our ES mission to Reyhanlı in Turkey. Together with a team of three clowns, I travelled to an area that had been affected by the recent earthquake. Despite having been involved with so many ES missions before, I was apprehensive before travelling to Turkey. Working in a natural disaster site was unchartered territory for us and I had the feeling that we were entering the unknown.
Indeed, this mission presented unique challenges. The destruction cause by the earthquake was unlike anything I’d ever seen in my life. Furthermore, we dealt with lost luggage, broken suitcases, and even a broken-down rental car. However, despite the many obstacles we encountered, our ES mission in Turkey impacted me massively.
Through the power of humour, our team was able to connect almost immediately with the diverse group of people we worked with on the ground. From young children to the elderly, we experienced so many beautiful and touching moments and I was reminded almost daily of how the art of clowning creates and encourages human connection.
Our team encountered people who had lost almost everything in the earthquake. Nearly everyone we had contact with had been impacted in some way. As a result, those we were working with were incredibly receptive to our different artistic formats, such as clown shows and musical parades. Moments of laughter and connection were constantly present, regardless of factors like language barrier and age.
A particular instance I remember is on the day of our final show, the children from the local village gathered to watch the clowns. They were incredibly engaged and responsive. But not only children were getting involved. Even elderly members of the audience were excited to play around with the clowns. It’s small moments like these that point towards the importance of mental health and humour in crisis settings.
This recent experience in Turkey truly served as a reminder as to why we do what we do here at RED NOSES. As one woman I spoke to in Turkey so beautifully put it, “We were happy people once and today, you bought the laughter back.”
Natalie Porias is the CEO of RED NOSES. She has been at the company for seventeen years and started her career as an intern. She frequently leads Emergency Smile missions as the Head of Mission and is a firm believer in the power of laughter.