Clowns Without Borders

Clowns Without Border performers gather an audience under a tree in El Salvador in 2018.

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A Bozeman-based performer and nonprofit leader with a penchant for red noses has partnered with a land mine safety group to create videos, GIFs and games to educate children on the dangers of landmines.

Naomi Shafer, a Bozeman resident and executive director of Clowns Without Borders, is part of an international team of performers and educators creating landmine safety videos in four countries.

Clowns Without Borders, a nonprofit that performs in refugee camps, conflict zones and natural disaster sites around the world, is working with the Mines Advisory Group to create online content to reach audiences after in-person events were halted due to the pandemic.

Mines Advisory Group is a humanitarian and advocacy organization that works around the world to find and remove landmines and unexploded bombs. The two organizations have partnered to create culturally informed videos in Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia and Vietnam.

The groups aim to reach over 9 million people with the digital messages in the four countries, said Shafer, who is also a teacher with 406 Cirque.

With the pandemic, the Mines Advisory Group had to limit its in-person mine education programs. The partnership will utilize Clowns Without Borders performers to create educational programs that are interactive and geared toward children, Shafer said.

MAG estimates that half of the victims of landmines and unexploded bombs in the world are children.

Children are naturally curious. While that’s a beautiful quality, it can be dangerous in areas that are known to have landmines, Shafer said.

“How do we teach this essential information without shutting down their sense of being kids and exploring?” she said.

One of the best ways for children to learn something is to make it age-appropriate, fun and based on empathy, Shafer said.

To make the videos and games effective, they’re aiming for that feeling you get when watching a scary movie, when you want to tell the character, “No, don’t do that!”

In this instance, the message is not to touch an unknown object, stay on a well-worn path and to go tell an adult, Shafer said.

The groups are in a testing phase to determine the best ways to deliver the information in each of the countries. They have made different versions of games and videos to see what is most effective for the target audience, primarily 13- to 18-year-old boys. They’re rolling it out in a phased process in each country for the year and will begin comparing the results between the countries in November, Shafer said.

“We’ve been doing workshops with the MAG staff to learn what’s funny and what’s not working,” she said.

The in-person performances and workshops that Clowns Without Borders has historically conducted were also impacted by the pandemic.

“The pandemic has been hard,” Shafer said. “My work is gathering groups of people who don’t know each other and creating a sense of community.”

In those communities there can be a lot of trauma so Shafer’s goal for in-person events and workshops is for people to be able to make eye contact with each other and to be “open to a positive interaction.”

“It doesn’t cost much to smile at your neighbor,” she said.

While many organizations were able to move their work online, that wasn’t always an option for Clowns Without Borders, with many of its audiences not having easy access to the internet, Shafer said.

Clowns Without Borders and MAG have collaborated a handful of times since 2014. Most recently the U.S. chapter partnered with the Lebanon-based Clown Me In to teach mine safety messages through a series of live performances in Myanmar.

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Juliana Sukut can be reached at 582-2630 or jsukut@dailychronicle.com

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