POND ISLAND - In September last year, a devastating Hurricane Irma ravished St. Maarten and downed the spirits of thousands in the population who had lost their homes, their jobs, and much of their spirit to live.
Two months later, a performing group of clowns came to the island to lift those spirits and bring some much-needed laughter to St. Maarten’s beleaguered residents. The performers were from the USA, Australia and Brazil, and all teamed up with local theatre director, Albina Matuzko who herself donned her own clown’s nose and costume to make up the quartet of performers under the umbrella of Clowns Without Borders.
The dynamic team were continuing a tradition of performances by volunteer clowns all over the world who make such visits following natural disasters and other calamities where their unique art form and laughter has proven to bring as much relief to the hearts and souls of shocked communities as food parcels or shelter or promises of funding for recovery programs.
The four clowns performed for 10 non-stop days and warmed the hearts of more than 3,500 residents of all ages and from several different communities on the French and Dutch sides of the island.
Indeed, the program was such a success that another group of clowns are again on the island this week to once again bring laughter and joy to the St. Maarten/St.Martin community - still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria in September last year.
The team are on the island at the invitation and coordination of Ukrainian director Albina Matuzko of the Behind the Beyond the Foundation, also the initiator of the Clowns Without Borders visit following Hurricane Irma last year.
Starting this week, some 16 clowns under the title “Walking as One” are performing their “Relief” acts around the island. Kirsten Lupke of ClownSpirit is the actual initiator of the ``Walking as `One” phenomena in Holland, which another visitor, Annemiek Van Haaren, took the organizational leadership to make the idea of bringing “Walking as one” clowns to Sint Maarten a reality. The Volunteering clowns are supported by individuals, organizations and families of clowns in the Netherlands.
The clowns are on the island from Feb.25 till March 4, visiting:
- Elderly clients of the White and Yellow Cross
- Mentally challenged clients of Sister Basilia Center
- Elderly residents of the Red Cross
- Elderly clients of Hope Estate’s Old Citizens recreational Centre
- Mentally challenged clients of Begeleid wonen in Hope estate
- Little League baseball After-school
- Children of the foster homes: Benjamin Home and I can foundation,
- Willem Alexander special education Primary school
Albina says the visiting troupe are keen to also meet with St. Maarten people on the streets where they will demonstrate their playfulness and contact with the community by displaying their own brand of amazing talents and impromptu performing routines.
“They are all very skilled in the art of emotionally disarming people they meet by touching them visually and mentally with what they do so naturally,” said the locally-based director.
She says residents can look out for an open, fun atmosphere in which they will not only be entertained, but also feel connected to some very special and giving people who travel the world over lifting the spirits of communities like St. Maarten that has suffered a shock, reminding these communities that, in essence, we are all walking as one community.
For Albina it’s a return to a role that she loves to play and badly missed when her co-players from Clowns Without Borders left the island after their own successful visit last year.
“As a clown with the team I brought so much joy to so many faces that I was quite moved and I was at a loss when I could not see those happy faces again,” said Albina.
“The first time I experienced such a loss was my first day out without my red clown’s nose and a woman approached me screaming. Not because she was excited to see me as the children in the school children were when I entertained them with my clown’s nose on, but because I was too “stupid”, according to her, for parking in a wrong place,” said Albina.
She said she tried to joke, since being stupid is one of the greatest compliments a clown can get, however she realized she did not have her nose on.
“Almost instinctively, I searched it in my bag for something I surely know I could defend myself with – my little red nose. But to no avail. I found myself crying the whole way home thinking how protective it could be to maintain the guise of a clown forever,” said Albina.
She honestly believes that people living on St. Maarten, exhausted by the effects of Hurricane Irma and trying to get their roofs and their businesses back, must also be frustrated with losing their connection to the world.
“With such things to worry about such as dump fires and elections recovery funds, we need clowns around us and interacting with us now, as never ever before. The souls need to be softened; the smiles have to get rid of sarcasm. ,” said the theatre director and part-time clown herself. To her this shows the power of the clown and how the red nose creates its own magic.
She says all of the above is why she would like to create any opportunities possible and for as many people as possible to meet with the visiting clowns and to forget, if only for a few minutes, some of the negative things that may be going on in their lives so that they can just crack a smile, clap for joy or laugh out loud – And Albina says - the louder the better for post hurricane relief.