photo: Jakob Polacsek

Interview with Frederik Birnbaum, 
Project Lead for the RED NOSES Emergency Smile Programme

Behind the scenes:
Emergency Smile on the rise

RNI: Why is RED NOSES International intensifying the Emergency Smile programme?

Frederik Birnbaum: We are intensifying our efforts around the Emergency Smile programme, because with Emergency Smile we bring joy and our special humorous approach into places in the world where it is badly needed. This we want to do more of!

We are now in a phase where we are looking to build deeper and more strategic partnerships with the humanitarian aid organizations we already work with. This includes for example the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) and Médecins sans frontiers/Doctors without Borders.  To do this we need to be available for missions, and to be ready for such missions we need to review our structures with Emergency Smile. A limiting factor can be the number of specially trained healthcare clowns and to avoid a ‘bottleneck’, we need to increase our internal capacity. This means increasing the number of trained clowns, but also the number of mission coordinators who travel together with the clowns on missions.

RNI: Which crisis areas is RED NOSES International visiting trough Emergency Smile and how are the choices made for the countries RED NOSES go to?

Frederik Birnbaum: Emergency smile is our global outreach program. We go to areas and countries in states of permanent and/or forgotten crisis. At the moment the ‘emergency’ in Emergency Smile is more an aspiration than a correct designation. We go to crisis areas, not emergency areas where disaster has just struck. Perhaps in the future we will have developed strong enough partnerships with humanitarian aid organizations who are first responders in order to send clown teams to assist on very short notice. A special focus in such cases would be on providing stress relief for the aid organizations’ first responders, rather than the people affected directly by the disaster.  In a humanitarian catastrophe, the first aim is always to save lives. We help those amazing people that are concentrated on saving lives to connect with their inner strength and allow them to look at things differently. It is an exciting aspiration for sure.

RNI: Who are the beneficiaries for this programme?

Frederik Birnbaum: The beneficiaries of the programmes vary from country to country, as every mission will have a different focus. Sometimes there will be overlaps, sometimes not. Of course, on every mission we go to work with children in need of joy. But with the introduction of humour workshops for staff and volunteers, we have enlarged the scope of what we offer with Emergency Smile and in this way we have increased the number of people benefitting from our missions. For example, a child coming to the community health centre in Mongo, deep in Sierra Leone, to take blood, is now met by a more empathetic team of medical staff, who knows and understands the importance of using humour to decrease the fear and stress around blood taking. It is a little thing, but who knows what it will lead to and where it will end. 

RNI: What are the plans for 2018? Where do you see Emergency Smile in 5 years?

Frederik Birnbaum: In 2018 the guiding principle is quite simply to deepen our cooperation with the IFRC. We are planning to carry out 4 missions with the IFRC and national Red Cross/Red Crescent societies in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Serbia. At the same time, we are looking to keep working with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and to go back to Sierra Leone in November 2018. On top of this, we are also exploring the possibility of going to Lebanon to work with Syrian refugees and perhaps also cooperate and exchange with local Lebanese clowns. We have our hands full in 2018!

In 5 years, I see Emergency Smile as being one of the most recognized programmes of the whole RED NOSES group, with a large and motivated pool of clowns and mission coordinators, a consistent and stable fundraising and a new mission taking place every month, within stable partnerships with other aid organizations, and maybe one or two ‘new’ and explorative missions per year. 




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