Laughter and nutritious food through WFP's school feeding help Haiti's schoolchildren face life in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Anne Poulsen looks at the work of "Clowns Without Borders".
As the stereo blasts out music, the clowns enter the schoolyard. Some of the children have never seen such a sight and run to the nuns for comfort.
Three clowns from the Spanish branch of the NGO Clowns without Borders (Payasos sin Fronteras) are in town to offer laughter as an outlet to Haiti’s children.
They will allow the 525 kids of Jean Paul II School in the Tabarre suburb of Port-au-Prince to forget the tensions that darken their daily lives in a country which is the poorest in the western hemisphere and has been marred by decades of political and social unrest.
Most of the children sit completely spellbound for the next couple of hours and watch the clowns as the show unfolds.
They burst out laughing as one of them repeatedly falls over her massive shoes and applaud loudly as another makes a handkerchief disappear just to make it reappear from the pocket of one of the school boys' trousers.
With the support of the Spanish Cooperation in Haiti, the three Clowns without Borders are touring some 20 schools throughout Haiti – the majority of them supported by WFP through its school feeding activity.
School feeding, to which Spanish Cooperation is an important donor, allows school children to have one nutritious meal a day.
The meals make school more attractive, boost enrolment, promote regular attendance and enhance the performances of the 290,000 primary schoolchildren fed by WFP in Haiti.
This is a rare moment of happiness and dreams for these children who come from very difficult neighbourhoods
Sister Perpétue Noël
Haiti’s education sector is one of the least developed in the world. More than one third of school-aged children have no access to school. On a national level, it is estimated that about 500,000 children have no basic education.
Even though food and education are important cornerstones for the future of a child, there are other children’s rights that are as equally important, such as the right to laughter and the right to play, according to the Spanish Cooperation.
Sister Perpétue Noël, head of Jean Paul II, agrees: “This is a rare moment of happiness and dreams for these children who come from very difficult neighbourhoods. Look how happy they are. It is good for their health.”
After almost two hours, the show is over and the clowns get surrounded by kids all eager to pull on their red noses.
It is the first time that Paul Kemsey, 13, has met a clown: “You have to promise that you will bring them back here. They have to come back. Many, many times.”
Deeply fascinated by the magical handkerchief, 11-year-old Samantina Gabriel wants to know how it is possible to make it disappear and to make it change colour.
“It’s simple,” explains one of the clowns, “the only thing you need to do is to work real hard. As you do in school”.