A life devoted to laughs and helping others; literally around the world
An honest appraisal from his drama coach six years ago saying he couldn’t sing, led London boy Andy Bownds to switch from singing to performing a comedy routine. That one defining moment led to a thesis on the benefits of laughter, clowning trips to Peru and Vietnam and a life in Uganda focused on building sustainable economies.
It was in 2009 when attending Winchester University that Andy’s professor told him he wasn’t a natural born singer. He switched to a clowning routine and eventually wrote his dissertation on the benefits of laughter. And, that’s when “Sox” – a lad his friends teased as having smelly feet — was born. As part of his research for the dissertation, his online research led him to Jed “Duffy” Selter, co-founder and president of the board of directors of Caring Clowns International.
Caring Clowns International is an all-volunteer, IRS tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organization comprised of clowns across the U.S. and several other countries. These clowns donate their time at over 80 events internationally and across the U.S. including orphanages, children’s and other hospitals, events for homeless children and adults, residences for abused women and children, schools for the disabled, retirement centers, VA hospitals, events for kids with down syndrome and disabilities, and children whose parents are in prisons and correctional facilities.
In addition, the organization raises funds to help kids in need around the world.
One of the group’s annual events is traveling to Lima, Peru as part of Komedyplast where surgeons perform facial reconstruction for poor children while the clowns….well they clown.
Sox was invited to join the group. To save funds for the 11 day trip, Andy slept on the kitchen floor at a mate’s house. The group of clowns visited four children’s centers and a school in the slums of Lima. A comedy act at a shanty town in Lima heightened Andy’s awareness of how much he has in his life.
Andy’s first trip to Peru which he described as “life changing.
He returned to Lima again the following year and also, through connections with Caring Clowns International, visited Vietnam clowning for 10 days including an orphanage in Hanoi along with fellow clown “Sidekick” Andrew Teale. To read about their time in Vietnam see: http://www.caringclownsinternational.org/vietnam/
His greatest challenge while in Vietnam was doing a comedy routine for a school for the deaf and blind; half of whom couldn’t hear him and the other half who couldn’t see him. “It made me a better clown,” Andy said.
Andy clowning at the deaf and blind school in Vietnam.
Following his passion for helping those less fortunate, Andy eventually found his way from London to Masaka, Uganda. He is the Community Partnership Manager at the Uganda International Marathon. http://www.ugandamarathon.com which held its first race on May 24, 2015. Over 1,000 runners from around the world which to date raised 380,293,060 Ugandan shillings for charity, making it the second largest fundraising event in Ugandan history. The money is helping support nine projects in the Masaka area including children’s schools and community support organizations.
Andy with “Sidekick” Andrew Teale after he completed the Uganda International Marathon raising money for Masaka.
Andy working with Action for Integrated Community Development — one of the Marathon funded projects.
And, if traveling around the world clowning, coordinating a massive marathon doesn’t keep him busy enough, Andy and a partner started Ssaza Community Resort Farm, a fully stocked and thriving fish pond. The pond is stocked with no, not clown fish, but rather 7,000 tilapia. “The best way to develop a country is to start a sustainable business and employ people,” Andy said. He and his business partner built an Olympic-sized pond on 1 ½ acres of land raising fish that grow to 500 grams (one pound) which are then sold in markets to the Masaka villagers. The profits from the sale of the fish are then reinvested back into the Masaka community.
Ssaza Community Resort Farm and dog Buddy looking over his land.
In addition to traveling the world as a clown, the marathon and fish pond, “Sox” also finds time to clown in Masaka including a recent Christmas Party where the party goers were expecting Santa in a red and white costume, but instead got Sox, with a red nose. Something was lost in translation! But everyone enjoyed the evening.
Andy is gearing up for this third trip with Caring Clowns International to Peru in January of 2016. Many of the same families return each year to the hospital, hoping that their child will be one of the lucky ones selected for the much needed surgery. “The kids and the parents remember you, so that makes it so rewarding,” Andy said.
The clowning trips, like the ones to Peru, involve long 12 hour days and give Andy time to reflect on his university dissertation on the benefits of laughter. “Is there really an impact if I get someone to laugh?” Andy reflects. “There’s medical proof of the healing effects of laughter,” he said.
So, as he continues traveling the world clowning and devoting his time to the marathon and building a sustainable fish pond business in Uganda, Sox will be remembered by many for sharing his many talents….and his smile.
Photo’s summarising the 2015 Uganda International Marathon.