Clowns bring smiles, good cheer to hospitals in crisis-hit Venezuela

By Genesis Carrero Soto

Caracas, Feb 11 (EFE).- Expressions of fatigue and worry at Venezuelan hospitals change to smiles when Doctor Yaso’s clowns walk through the door.

Lightening the mood at clinics, youth shelters and other institutions is the main priority for the 2,800 volunteers of that non-governmental organization, which for the past 17 years has sought to combat the despondency associated with illness and acute supply shortages in that crisis-racked country.

Dressed in lab coats and brightly colored socks, leotards, handkerchiefs and head gear, the clowns start their visit by gathering in a circle and summoning up the positive energy they’ll need to entertain their audience.

They then start moving about the facility, telling jokes and mimicking the doctors and other medical personnel as they hastily make their rounds.

“The important thing is to not lose sight of our mission. Our goal is to bring some levity to (those settings), bringing games, smiles, joy, hope and companionship,” one Doctor Yaso volunteer, Laura Maldonado, told Efe.

The coordinator of that organization in Caracas, Amilcar Ruiz, said the visit is not all fun and games.

“It’s not simply going to a hospital and making people smile, but also listening to them and embracing them. In this case, because of the pandemic, we can’t do much hugging, but there are people who need that,” Ruiz told Efe. “There are people who simply need you to stand next to them and look at them. With that alone, that person’s face changes.”

He added that the volunteers prepare for the visits by attending workshops in which they learn to manage any situation that arises and ensure patients’ emotional wellbeing.

The clowns earn laughs and applause from the patients, many of them children, as well as the gratitude of parents and other loved ones who treasure those moments of diversion from weightier concerns.

Maldonado, a Doctor Yaso volunteer for the past five years, said the organization decided three years ago to expand its reach to vulnerable communities that also are suffering from illness and shortages of basic supplies.

“We transitioned three years ago, prior to the pandemic, from hospital clowns to humanitarian clowns,” she added.

And further adjustments were needed after the onset of the Covid-19 health emergency, when it was no longer possible to visit hospitals and the volunteers had to try and cheer up children with 15-20-minute recorded video skits.

They also began performing their routines in public parks and squares and paid visits to people’s homes, providing a different experience for residents of various Caracas neighborhoods and helping patients and their families forget about their problems momentarily.

Ultimately, the volunteers’ main goal is to alleviate some of the anguish and sadness patients feel and instill a bit of hope with each belly laugh, Ruiz said. EFE


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