Emergency Smile Mission to Serbia and Kosovo

18.August 2022

Our international team of healthcare clowns from Austria, Hungary, Lithuania and Poland worked for over three weeks in several cities of Serbia and Kosovo in cooperation with Save the Children, Atina, Centre of Youth Integration (CIM), Terre des hommes and the international Organisation for Migration (IOM) to bring psychosocial support to hundreds of refugee children and their families.

According to UNHCR, as of August 2021, Serbia hosts 5,051 refugees and persons under other forms of international protection coming from over 50 countries. Most of them are accommodated in operational governmental centres across the country and mainly come from Afghanistan, Syria, Bangladesh and Burundi.

For more than three weeks, our team was on the move, sharing moments of lightness, hope and joy with children and their families from all over the world. Through parades, shows, Circus Smile workshops and Humour Relief workshops, they managed to spread joy and raise the mental wellbeing of hundreds of people.

Accommodation centre of Krnjaca in Belgrade

During this mission, we focused our work on the Krnjaca asylum centre. Krnjaca is the name of one of the poorest districts of Belgrade and is located about five kilometres from the city centre. The shelters of the accommodation centre, run by the government’s refugee agency “commissariat”, were built over 50 years ago for a private company, but in 1992 the site started to be used for the displaced people of the Yugoslavian civil war. By 2015, most of the refugees come from farther away countries like Syria, Afghanistan or Burundi. The premises of Krnjaca camp look their part – the buildings are old and not always rainproof. The meals are served in a separate building. In theory, residents are not allowed to cook for themselves because electricity is scarce. The centre can hold about 1.000 people in total, right now there are about 500 people.

In the camp the team held parades, performed shows and did a round of Circus Smile. The team worked with 100 children, 20 caregivers and 10 aid workers.

The Burundian children were very calm, compared to our experience in other camps. Probably this is also a result of not having to undergo a traumatic and dangerous travel to get there. The camp management did not mind the clowns and the community welcomed them fondly.

During this part of the mission, the team also worked in the centre of the Belgrade-based organization Atina. They presented a show, did a small version of Circus Smile and held a Humour Relief Workshop for the staff members. Atina does a very important work, combating trafficking in human beings and all forms of gender-based violence, and we hope to be able to collaborate with them in a more intensive way in the future. 

Working with Terre des Hommes in Prishtin

The team spent the last 10 days of the mission working with the Swiss non-profit organisation Terre des Hommes in their daycentre. The centre provides food, play and art classes for refugee children as well as legal and social guidance for their parents. It has been working for over three years and the effect of their long-term assistance is visible. In the centre, the team performed a show and then held several days of Circus Smile workshop that ended with the final performance, where the children got to be the stars. Showing their skills for an audience of friends, family and aid workers.

The children were considerably open to engage with what the team offered. They were as interested and attentive as one could wish. They treated the objects and props very carefully and it was possible to notice that they felt at home in the centre. When they had a little presentation at the end of each workshop day, the children (and youth) respected each other’s presence on stage and let everybody have their moment to shine.

The overwhelming success of the collaboration with Terre des Hommes lead to a deeply moving Humour Relief Workshop for the staff. Almost 20 people joined, and the concept really paid off: the first part was play and fun and the second half, of the two hours, they managed to get everyone involved in complimenting their colleagues and leaving the group without words.

“The amount of connection you created will feed me for the rest of the year. When I saw your work with the kids, I felt hope for their future”. - Terre des Hommes officer

This mission was partially financed by the Alta Mane Foundation.

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