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Clownselors: The Happiness Bugs
This story appears in the July 2018 issue of School LIVE.
Have you done a very simple experiment with people: What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you read ‘Happiness is _________ ’? Experimenting this with people, we often hear of things like ‘Smile’, ‘Travel’, ‘Family’, ‘Running’, ‘Shopping’, ‘Eating’, ‘Friends’, ‘Love’, ‘Reading’, ‘Dancing’, ‘School’, ‘Vacation’, ‘Work’ and what not. But have you ever thought of relating happiness to medicine, ailments, therapy, treatment and the most dreary places of all, the hospital. Meet the clowns who counsel and replace that gloom with sheer happiness: Clownselors.


Even at the minutest mention of hospitals, one is filled with gloom so overbearing, it would depress the happiest souls. But every Saturday in Chacha Nehru Bal Chikitsalay, a children’s government hospital in Delhi, this gloominess fades away for at least a couple of hours, and right then an ailing child in one of the wards would tell you, ‘Happiness is Clownselors!’


Medical clowning commenced as a professional practice in 1986 when Michael Christensen founded the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit and introduced medical clowns as professionals for the first time in New York City. Since then, the concept has been adopted and adapted by various countries. Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams, a physician, comedian, social activist, clown and co-author of Gesundheit: Good Health is a Laughing Matter, is the man behind the popularity of clowning as a common practice. Clownselors may not be professional medical clowns, they are people from different profession but they are all clowns at heart.


Donned in the attire, a group of happy clowns enter the corridors and transform the seriousness of the hospital into an arcade of happiness and laughter. You’ll see the children who were just now clinging to their parents complaining about pain and discomfort, now playing and enjoying tricks with the clowns. Some would be shaking a leg, others catching the ball, some hiding behind their mothers’ sarees, others pulling out the clown’s red nose. Within just a few minutes, the whole atmosphere of tension and dejection among the parents transforms as they look at their young ones smiling and playing.



It is not really just for children, Medical Clowning is a form of therapy that is practiced for patients of all ages dealing with all kinds of problems life brings with itself. It is not easy to make ailing young children or parents laugh. You can not just fool around doctors and nurses who are dealing with sensitive situations or even jump or dance around the patients in the OPD queue. But definitely, it is worth all the effort if it helps the patients heal better and smile even in distressed situations.



Clownselors was founded by Sheetal Aggarwal in 2016. “As a child, I loved to smile and make everyone around smile too. But little did I know about its healing properties,” says Sheetal in one of her TED Talks. Like any other day, Sheetal was waiting for her flight at an airport where she met a fellow passenger who was a medical clown by profession. Intrigued by the concept, Sheetal looked up on medical clowns in Delhi, but couldn’t find any. Having researched extensively about medical clowning in India, she tried reaching out to the handful of practising organisations and was encouraged by all of them to take on the task herself, on her own. Sheetal coupled her obsession with smiling to this new venture as a call from the universe.

During one of her clowning sessions she had the realisation that would push her further. As I was crossing the corridor, a parent called me out ‘Joker, Joker, please make my child smile too!’ And that’s when I realised how difficult it is to be a parent of a child in pain.” Sheetal tells us about the difficult situations that they face in the hospital, “Some children are in so much pain and trauma that they would just not respond, some parents get frustrated, and sometimes the clowns themselves get overwhelmed”.

According to the Director of the Chacha Nehru Bal Chikitsalaya, Dr. Anup Mohta, the volunteers are very cooperative and everyone in the hospital has welcomed the initiative. He says, “It is a wonderful experience for everyone and especially the patients as it makes the environment child friendly. Our doctors have observed cases where medical clowning by Clownselors has helped patients relax and feel better. Sheetal has also experimented using clowning for capacity building for parents on maintaining hygiene and antibiotic resistance workshops, which have worked quite well. We appreciate the initiative and would recommend it to all.”



In addition to medical healing, Clownselors has been the reason behind the smile of older people at different old-age homes, differently-abled people at special-needs shelter homes and a lot of children in schools all across India.


Clownselors is neither an NGO, nor a non-profit organisation, but just a group of volunteers who come together out of compassion and leave with a smile hangover. Clowning is not just about donning the attire, smiling at anyone you see and bringing out the child inside you. It is a lot of physical exercise, mental balance and controlling your emotions. According to the volunteers, clowning has helped them come to terms with themselves and understand life better. Some of them have paved their path from complaining to gratitude, some have become smile addicts, and some have given up ego and embraced compassion.




Clownselors are on a path less traversed and hence the challenges are unique as well.

After all, the only thing dogs need is a place to bark!



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