Bonnie Eccles and Joan Barrington arrived at the Santiago de Cuba airport greeted by warm infectious hugs and smiles by Dr Manuel Verdecia, Edwardo Montoya and Circe Negret. Following this, Aniet Venereo, the National Director of the Therapeutic Clowns of Cuba, met us in the Casa Grande Hotel to prepare us for the TCI upcoming workshop. We had 15 participants signed up for our special invitation workshop, five non clowns and ten who had previously experienced some hospital clowning.
Their professional backgrounds varied from social workers, physiotherapists, doctors and medical students. The first day covered theory and practice for introductory therapeutic clowning. Goals and expectations were established as well as tools of the trade, living the experience as a therapeutic clown with specific patient populations and how therapeutic clowns are supervised within their facility. Joan was pleased the 'Beyond Laughter' video was well received with informed questions and answers following the viewing. I had the pleasure of working with Laura Fernandez, a clown teacher living in Germany, for the next two days, focusing on theatre and vocal exercises, movement, visualization, drawing students clown possibilities and shadowing Bunky, Joan's persona, onto various units. By day three, specific exercises helped participants transition into their own clown personas. A special 'red nose' ceremony took place to celebrate the creative time together and to encourage the participants to continue in their successful launching of therapeutic clowning in Cuba.
Welcoming remarks were presented by our host Dr Manuel Verdecia followed by the Keynote Address by Joan Barrington, Director, Therapeutic Clowns International (TCI). This 'Scientific Conference' was attended by over 100 delegates from different regions in Cuba, as well as from Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, Spain and the United States. Each presenter gave a short progress report, which included their participation in ongoing professional development, meetings and workshops. There were also events held to publicize the presence and work of therapeutic clowns in their regions. Medical personnel and therapeutic clowns spoke on topics such as intervening with pediatric patients at hospitals across Cuba, demonstrating partnerships of therapeutic clowns and medical staff, coping with bereavement, and showing us how special toys were made from recycled materials. There are now 6 hospitals in Havana with therapeutic clowns, one hospital in Santa Clara, two in Santiago de Cuba and one in Camaguey. In total there are 45 therapeutic clowns in Cuba.
Our TCI Cuba Representative, Adrienne Hunter presented our report from the Healthcare International Meeting held in Portugal in March 2016, with a powerpoint presentation and showing the Jovia video, 'La Belle Visite' on clowning with seniors.
On the last afternoon of this wonderful congress, cancer patients and their families were invited to a lunch where certificates were handed out to honour participants and a stage show for families followed. It was decided that they would hold the next Cuban Art and Health congress in two years time, 2018, in Havana.
For Aniet Venereo and Adrienne Hunter and myself from TCI, attending the Healthcare Clowning International Meeting in Lisbon, Portugal this March 21st to 23rd 2016 was a trip of a lifetime. Inspiring and motivating us as we met 300 participants from 30 countries in the glorious venue of the Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian. The excitement in meeting our international colleagues, barely scratched the surface of the feelings we experienced. As Paul Hooson, our therapeutic clown in Vancouver said in his post conference email – ‘it was amazing to see so many, working at such a high level, in so many parts of the world – the youth with mental illness in Israel, war torn countries like Kosovo, rare diseases in Africa, Angola, NICU in Japan, Autism in Holland, the elderly in Scotland, the poor in Peru– the list goes on and on’ and of course our Therapeutic Clowns International’s timely explosion of training and launching of therapeutic clown programs in Cuba.
David Langdon, our Canadian Representative for Therapeutic Clowns Canada at this conference, said ‘Canada came of age, last week, and we took our rightful place as pioneers and innovators, striving to further our knowledge and commitment to service, best practices, learning, and growing. It was magnificent. And having so many representing Canada so eloquently, was truly humbling.’
For myself having Karen Ridd, my mentor from the 90s, present at this 30th Anniversary of global hospital clowning was very special.
Our days began at 9:00 am and finished at 7:00 pm with plenary sessions taking place in the mornings i.e. Community in Construction, “What is a Clown Organization?”. Alternate break out work sessions were offered in other locations each afternoon. Evenings were filled with very special party or cabaret themes set in some magnificent venues. We were so grateful and appreciative that the coordination of so many sessions had been seamlessly organized. On-site volunteers were most welcoming, and the breaks between workshops provided plenty of time for impromptu networking and story-telling.
The Group of Therapeutic Clowns of Cuba in partnership with Therapeutic Clowns International (TCI) made a full presentation, accompanied by a power point, of the seven year process of establishing and developing the profession of therapeutic clowning across Cuba. This project was very well received great interest and support from many of the countries attending this groundbreaking conference. Future relationships are now being nurtured with our professional colleagues worldwide.
Joan Barrington, Executive Director, Therapeutic Clowns International
Adrienne Hunter, Representative in Cuba, TCI (Clowns4Cuba), Aniet Venereo (Clowns4Cuba)
Our TCI Therapeutic Clown and friend, Lucy Ibarra, ‘Princesa’ was getting married! The day before the wedding, November 6th, Lucy, as Manager of Special Events, invited Therapeutic Clowns International (TCI) to present with her, the profession of therapeutic clowning to approximately 100 of her colleagues at CRIT, The Centre for Rehabilitation for Children.
CRIT’s, mission statement is Love and Science for the Service of Life, and is the largest facility of its type in Mexico, with 22 Centres across the country. The Hermosillo CRIT, has 1000 patients, 0 to 18 years, travelling through their Day Program daily, receiving specialized treatments for disabilities i.e. MS, Muscular Dystrophy, polio and numerous neuromuscular challenges.
Lucy did a fun warm up for the staff, followed by the showing of our video ‘Beyond Laughter’ in Spanish followed by me talking about how ‘Bunky’ was born at SickKids and evolved over the many years and how our travels began abroad. Pertinent questions brought forward were around hiring, relationships with children in critical care, how we companion long-term patients, how a therapeutic clown meets the child where they are; emotionally, physically and mentally; ethics and principles in the profession of therapeutic clowning; how I was accepted at SickKids back in the 90’s as part of the staff and accountability, keeping stats.
The staff was very receptive and enthusiastic and invited TCI to come back and offer workshops for staff and prospective therapeutic clowns, so they might integrate therapeutic clowning into their ‘toolkit’ of special services to their population. Two Directors gave Bonnie Eccles, TCI and myself an in- depth tour of the centre and were most generous in their explanations around what they offer families. During this tour, we had an opportunity to meet and play with their mascot, Yolin, the big yellow heart you see here in the photos. ‘Yolin’ is the Mayan word for HEART.
Another center TCI visited in Hermosillo was Manos ala Vida, Hands for Life. This wonderful facility is for adults from 18 to 35 with Down syndrome. The population here are taught strategies for integration into their everyday community i.e. the work environment, how to work in the home/cooking etc., making crafts (artisans – making and selling of piñatas), skills in photography, learning to be waiters, waitresses, salespeople in a store and so on. These various skills are used for becoming as independent as possible within their community. Wonderful friends made here.
Our wish and intention is to return to our friends made in Hermosillo and hold a workshop with Lucy and have ‘Princesa’ and a partner therapeutic clown work within the walls of the wonderful CRIT.
In February of 2015, Joan Barrington, Director of Therapeutic Clowns International (TCI), returned to Cuba with her professional clown persona, Bunky, to meet with the Cuban therapeutic clowns whom she trained in 2012 and 2013, and who have gone on to train others. She was accompanied by Adrienne Hunter, TCI Clowns 4 Cuba Project Coordinator.
Beginning in Santiago de Cuba, they spent three days with Dr. Manuel Verdecia, an oncologist at the Hospital Infantil Sur and his clown troupe Cruzada por la Alegria (Crusade for Happiness), and with Eduardo Montoya, psychologist and founder of Psicopayasos (Clown Psychologists) at the Hospital Infantil Norte. Both Dr. Verdecia and Eduardo Montoya are engaged in research on the benefits of therapeutic clowning in their hospitals. Along with Reyna de la Paz Campos and Aniet Venereo from Havana, both trainees of Joan's, they demonstrated how music, stories, origami, puppets, magic and spontaneous play can develop relationships with parents and patients.
Santa Clara was the next leg of the journey. Here they were hosted by an established 18-year expressive arts project at the provincial children's hospital, Por una Sonrisa (For a Smile). Aniet and Reyna facilitated a five-day workshop on therapeutic clowning to be integrated into the Santa Clara project. This gave TCI the opportunity to observe the Cuban trainers as they incorporated methods and materials from our previous 2012, 2013 workshops. This time together also allowed Joan as Bunky to be shadowed and mentor new trainees and staff.
Finally in Havana, where programs have already been active since the 2012 and 2013 workshops, Joan conducted an assessment and received updates from therapeutic clowns at three pediatric hospitals: the William Soler Pediatric Hospital, the Cancer Hospital and the Juan Manuel Marquez Pediatric Hospital.
As a conclusion to our visit, key representatives from each of the cities we visited met to discuss methodology, code of ethics, techniques, models of therapeutic clowning, research, and a viable and sustainable organizational structure and plan to achieve the eventual extension of therapeutic clowning throughout Cuba. Aniet was elected National Coordinator, as were Regional Coordinators to promote training in the eastern, central and western regions. The next meeting of the national group was held in Santa Clara in June 2015, fully supported by the Cuban Ministry of Public Health and the Cuban National Children's Theatre Company, La Colmenita.