After arriving home I was reflecting on all of the situations I witnessed this week from my travels. I thought about the hospital and all of the kids there. I thought about the schools and free clinics we observed. I started to wonder what the people really feel. The reason I was thinking about that was because based on your own situation, you aren’t aware of what you are missing when it doesn’t exist in your life.
For example, do the children at the school know what other kids have at a school they do not attend? Probably not. We all want to help them improve their lives but right now things are good for them based upon what they have. The school has an additional floor to it and they never had that before so that alone is thrilling for the kids. If they don’t have pens or pencils, they must adapt to make it work. As I was thinking about all of this, I was curious to know if giving them supplies helps or if it is wasteful because they have no need for certain items. It made me think about past lottery winners who have encountered great amounts of money. Statistics show that many end up spending all of the money within a year or two because they never had that much and have no idea how to balance it.
When we donate items in huge quantities, do the people on the other end know how to make use of the supplies or it is overwhelming to them and they distribute it quickly rather balance it over time? I know it is kind of strange thought to cross my mind but I kept wondering if the gift of time or money is better though out my entire journey. I’ve experienced both but for this journey it was the gift of time.
Which one works for groups of people? Which one works for you?
Here is an example: Last year the student council at my school and I tried to figure out if we could give as much time as we did money. We had raised $15,000 together as a school, in just three weeks. We were very proud to donate such a chunk. A month later we took the amount of money, divided it by minimum wage and the number of kids in the school. The number was around 4.5 hours. We then challenged everyone in the school to give that many hours of time. We allowed several months for this to happen. In the end, we raised about 2000 hours which was very low compared to what we gave in dollars. However we didn’t look at it as a failed attempt or anything. We looked at it as we were better at raising money because obviously that is where the passion for giving is in this particular community. If I went to a different school, we might have raised a greater number of hours but less money.
I have been processing this entire thing for quite some time. Time vs. Money…which one is more important and I can’t seem to come up with a conclusion. Both are necessary for a non-profit to thrive. Some people prefer to give time while others prefer to give money. I think they are equally as important.
After being in Peru for the past 8 days, I discovered that my time here is very necessary in the giving back process. The surgeons times is also very necessary. However we wouldn’t have gotten here without the donations of equipment and supplies for the surgeries or teddy bears for the clowns to hand out. I guess my point is, for the past few years people have been saying to me “You inspire me to get involved ” but many people don’t know where to begin. Most people think they have to physically go out and do something while others think it has to be money. Reverse your thinking. Doing more, started for me when I found my passion for volunteering through a camp for children with HIV/AIDS. That experience has led me to volunteer at camps all over the country. However I wouldn’t have been able to start doing at all of the camp without the proper experience and money to get there.
Whether it is time or whether it is money, giving back is giving back and together it makes incredible non-profits such as these two Komedy plast and Caring Clowns International, thrive. I encourage you to find your passion for what you believe in and find a way to use your talents and help. What are you waiting for? Take your next step. It all begins with you!
Yesterday we wrapped up our time in Peru with our final clown show at a free clinic. Nothing went right at all, yet I loved everything about it. I think it all started when we reached our destination and I stepped out of the van to be caught by two women because my clown shoes slipped out from under me. It was quite funny to see and luckily the two women who arranged our schedule for the week, both put out a hand and caught me before I fell.
We unloaded the van and put our backpacks on the stairs so we could start the show. Scooter was ill so it was just us, the three remaining clowns. We started with a magic trick that the wind took and blew them out of the magic bag which spoiled part of the trick. Then in the middle of our second gag, the snakes jumped out of the Pringles can before the skit was even half way over, showing kids what the punch line would be. Finally on our last attempt to save the show with a funny skit, we did the enlarging machine. Another gust of wind came by and blew the curtain of which I was hiding behind and all of the kids saw my props. Needless to say, we laughed about our misfortune and attempt as having a well planned show. It was just not meant to be.
When I think about my life and my big “life plan” I never would’ve guessed that it would’ve included clowning in Peru. How that came about was through a variety of decisions I said “yes” to. I never would’ve guessed that my life would include meeting 12 top surgeons from all over the United States and working on a team with them in order to help children. In fact, looking back I doubt that Jeff the founder of Komedyplast had any idea how much his non-profit would impact the children of Peru. Life is a surprise and you always have to be ready.
Yesterday is a great example of a surprise. When we arrived back at our hotel, an official from the President of Peru was sitting in our lobby. He came to recognize all of the work and efforts Komedyplast and Caring Clowns International have been doing to improve the lives of children in Peru. The country has been so appreciative that they sent someone in uniform over to tell us. Everyone walked away with an official certificate signed by the President of Peru. It was truly a magical ending to such an amazing trip but not because of the certificates. Because someone took the time to appreciate us in person.
Jeff and I happened to be on the same flight home. We talked about the trip and how spectacular it was. He had no idea that it would be concluded on such a high note. He had no idea about the ceremony or that his efforts would be recognized. He was glowing. Glowing with excitement that he should be so very proud of.
You see, this all began with a simple idea that he turned into a reality. This reality has caused life changes in not only children who needed surgery but adults who gave of their time and talents, on the flip side.
Yesterday we arranged for a driver and a van because our trip to Pomploma Alta, was not near. We drove about 40 minutes to a community that was the most impoverished I have ever seen. They do not even have running water. Every day a water truck drives through and fills large blue containers with water. In the states we see these being used as trash bins at festivals.
We drove up into the hills and as we drove on the dusty unpaved roads kids flocked our van. Once the van arrived we opened the door to have kids grab our hands and proudly walked us to their school. They had been waiting for the clowns to arrive. I walked up about 15 stairs to the school to find a chalk board and 15 chairs. Yes that was all. I began to write on the board thinking about how I used to have one in my own classroom.
As I wrote, I realized that I am so lucky to have what I have at my school. I looked around and wondered how the children learn to write or read because they don’t have books, pencils, pens, or anything but a chalk board and chairs. At the same time it also challenged me to want to figure out how to be creative with only those items.
I went back downstairs to get ready for the show. We performed for the children and following it, we handed out noses. We had about 60 kids who wanted noses and we went through 200. We were mobbed by kids needing and wanting a red nose. The values of the children came out as many of them stuffed pockets full of the free hand out. It made me wish we had more to give.
Following the show, I went and played soccer on the steep dirt road with some of the kids. It was not only fun to be playing with them but I was also wearing my clown shoes which made the experience ten times funnier.
We kicked the ball back and fourth and finally one of the boys kicked it to me and I missed it. It went down the hill and bounced a few times back and forth and finally ended up in someone’s home. The hill is super steep and I was told to stay away from the edge. However we had to get the ball back. Lawrence (the photographer) and I looked over the hill trying to figure out how you would even attempt it. Suddenly a group of boys started to walk down it through the rocks, sand, and trash. I felt terrible and I wasn’t sure if they were even allowed to go down there.
A teacher walked by and I asked her how we get the ball back. She assured me that the boys knew how to do it and they could go down and try to find it.
I kept thinking how easy it is at home to get your ball when it bounces into someone else’s yard and how I used to have to ask my mom if I could even cross the street alone. But this went into someone’s home and couldn’t be found. I went back up to take some pictures with kids to find the little boy who lost the soccer ball earlier, kicking it around again.
Later we left and went for lunch. Before we could go to lunch we had to drop off all of our bags and backpacks because if they were locked in the van while we ate lunch, chances are things would be stolen. Even if the driver is with the van the entire time. So we dropped them off and locked them up at an office building and then went for lunch. Following lunch we went to another school and performed. The kids loved it and we spent about an hour after making balloon swords. We had our performance in a fenced in, area in the center of the community. Trash blew in and out as we entertained but no one was bothered by it.
Around 6pm we left. An exhausted clown van drove home and reflected on all the things we saw. I never thought that I would find myself loving yet another way to impact kids in such positive ways through clowning. I am so glad I had the opportunity today to bring joy to children’s lives from a totally different perspective. Today was another amazing day in Peru.
Today I was putting on my make up in the mirror and realized it was day 6 of this trip.
That means that I have put on more clown make up in the time I have been here, then I have used regualr make up, my whole life.
It was a great feeling to know that I am confident enough to be myself outside of this trip yet can continue to be who I am through the grease paint while in Peru.
Today we arrived for the last time at the hospital. We knew today would be rough because our first stop was the burn unit. We arrived with a suitcase full of stuff animals and clown noses. Once we made our way up to the unit we put on gowns. Only three people were allowed in a room at a time. They had six rooms with about 5-7 kids in each.
As I walked into the first room, I was shocked by what I saw. I knew it would be sad but it was harder to know that the children were in so much pain because you could see it. What I mean is when I would look at the children, they would just lay in one spot. Most didn’t want to move and it was obvious as to why. I met two little girls who were sisters. They were 2 and 5 years old. In fact it was the 5 year olds birthday. Both had no hair and were heavily wrapped in bandages. They had the prettiest faces and biggest smiles. Both girls didn’t move because it was so painful. I stayed with them for a long time stroking the quarter of an inch long hair that was starting to grow back. I also rubbed spots on their backs that weren’t burned or bandaged. These two girls have a long road ahead of them.
We visited another room where a little boy was so excited about the clown noses that he ran up to us and took two. He wore one and soon a woman was wheeled into his room. She had burns on 90% of her body. The little boy took out his extra nose and put it on her to welcome her back into the room. It was the cutest thing and he was so proud to celebrate her return.
After going to all of the rooms, we left that area and went to the court yard to make balloon animals and have fun with the kids outside. A little boy came up to me and wanted a picture of the two of us. It was really cute. Over the last few days I feel like I know what it is like to work at Disney World. So many excited people come up and ask for a photo. Sometimes it is even the adult that wants a picture and the kid has to take it.
However my favorite moment today was when I was in the court yard and a little 3 year old boy came up to me and asked for a balloon. Instead I pretended he wanted to dance. I grabbed his hands and he started to dance with me. He started to smile and then we began a kick line. He was beaming. The coolest part was when I looked down beyond his smile at our kick line to see metal braces that were attached from his hips all the way to his shoes. It was really hard to spot but the fact that this child got the biggest kick out of dancing and was able to join in, made my entire day.
We ended our day at a free clinic in a very impoverished area where we put on a clown show for all of the kids who were there. It was a lot of fun and by the end of the day we were all exhausted.
As we drove back to our hotel, I suggested to the others that we should stop at the park and get some pictures on the teeter totters. Little did I know that when you take four people dressed in clown, to a park in Peru, you get a bunch of really excited children following you around. It was a great end to our high energy day.
Today we woke up early and took a taxi to the hospital. We had the best taxi driver ever. As we drove through town, we caused other motorists to once again notice us. Today the reason they were looking at us was because the driver turned the radio way up which caused 4 clowns to rock out in the taxi. We even convinced him to put on a big red nose to drive us.
People would stop and stare, roll down their windows, and ask questions. We always let them know that we were on our way to see kids. They were always appreciative once we told them and many would bow their heads to us and say “Gracias”. When someone really got into our clowning, Duffy would throw a nose into the car and they would smile. One time he even missed the window and the driver stopped his car to grab it with excitement.
We arrived at the hosptial around 8am, parked, and waited in a line to go to the 7th floor. Because this children’s hospital is free for needy families, the halls are CROWDED and it took us about 15 min just for an elevator. We went up with the surgeons and right away saw kids being wheeled in and out of surgery. The floor was extremely busy. We quickly left as we were unable to visit many children on that floor because of the sterile conditions. Instead we went down to the 3rd floor and made our way from bed to bed.
I was distributing stuffed animals to the children as well as trying my best to get them to feel better with a smile. Many of the children were connected to different tubes. The children were in good spirits but when we came to visit many started to glow. Many of the kids looked very malnourished which made me sad. A couple of times I had to hold back tears when I saw a child who looked like they were in intense pain. Instead I just went over and held a hand or rubbed the head of a baby to help ease the pain. I would’ve traded places in a second to release them from the pain they were experiencing.
I also fell in love with one little baby boy, Juan Gabrielle. He was the cutest little baby on the floor just laying in his crib. I looked at him for a little while, rubbed his head, and he began to smile at me. Moments later he even giggled. I asked the nurse if I could hold him and she said yes.
I picked him up and cuddled him for the longest time. The nurse came over a few moments later and said to me “No home…born but no home”. After hearing that I cuddled him more. All I could think about was how much pain all the other children might be in but his pain was different. You see, all the other children had at least one loving parent at their bedside. This little tiny baby might not have anything wrong with him physically but he has no one to love him.
I cuddled him even more and refused to put him back until I absolutely had to. I set him down in his bed and he began to cry. It was extremely hard to walk away from a crying baby who is currently living alone in this world.
Exiting the cab and stepping out to greet families in need was one of the greatest experiences of my life. And lets just say the taxi ride in general was hilarious. So many distracted drivers as we made our way. As we stepped out children flocked us. Parents took out cameras and pushed their children into us to capture the moment. We had arrived at the Peru children’s hospital.
We made our way outside through the hospital, we walked to a room where hundreds of people were waiting. People drove miles upon miles knowing the Komedyplast team would be arriving today. This team of doctors will impact and change lives for so many needy families here. They are the real magic that happens. However the wait is long and every child needs to be present in order to be considered for surgery. Some families wait for up to 5 hours and for high energy kids, that can be brutal.
While I feel like I have the best job ever in the United States, I’m pretty sure I realized today that I have the best job ever in Peru.
Our role as clowns was to entertain the kids as they waited. We used all of our talents to make this wait painless. Some of the children were there for the first time while others were back hoping to be selected for another necessary surgery. One family wasn’t even there for surgery but was so grateful from a previous year, that they came back just to say “Thank You”. The entire day was one I will never forget.
These same children are the ones I will visit in the next few days as they are prepped, operated upon, and recover from major surgery. I’m sure that they will soon steal my heart as they have already captured it today.
I have arrived!
As I flew here “Trouble with the curve” was playing. Although I have seen it before I was happy to view it again because I realized that it relates a lot to this trip. If you are unfamiliar with the movie, Clint Eastwood’s character could be described as someone who is VERY good at what he does. For a living, he scouts baseball players. However he is different than other scouts because he does it all by eye and ear rather uploading player stats. He is good at what he does because his talents for finding the right players are all based upon the connection he has with people. He gets to know everyone and hear their story.
It is the personal impact that he makes with each person he sees and meets that makes him good at what he does. I realized this is a lot like what I’m about to embark upon at the hospitals here in Lima.
This trip is going to be all about giving as much of myself as possible to the children here. Whether it be a smile, hand to hold, or a hug to share, each child will need something technology can’t EVER offer. As much as I love learning about the latest and greatest technology, I’m excited that the power of heart and soul can’t ever be topped.
Each time I pack something for Peru, I am reminded through certain items, what great mentors got me here. I have learned a lot through the work of Dr. Clown, Karen DeSanto, Don/Mary Lamb, and Connie Kennedy. But I am of course very excited to travel with one of my most important influences, Duffy. You have all taught me so much and I have so much more to learn. Thank you all for the support. I’m ready to go because of all of you. And to all the little people in my life (Halley, Drew, Elliott, Liam, Ainsley, Seamus, and my Caruso kids) I can’t wait to share my story with you.
Over the summer of 2011 I was fortunate enough to experience being a volunteer at Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Connecticut. This camp offered me a whole new level of experience. Built for kids who have a life threatening illness, camp was by far the happiest place I’ve ever been. Many of the campers have/had cancer while others struggle with HIV/AIDS, Sickle Cell Anemia, and other uncommon illnesses. A memory I dwell on often is from a specific morning when I woke up my campers. I went around the room and when I got to one of them, she asked me to bring her leg to her. You really don’t think about everything you have until you are carrying a thirteen year olds leg across the cabin to her bunk so she can attach it, in order to get out of her bed and start her day.
Another fond memory was watching campers be liberated from their disease. On talent night I held back tears as I watched a beautiful bald teenage girl (currently going through chemo, at camp) play the piano like a healthy rock star. To see children with backpacks holding the food that feeds them twenty hours a day, sing and dance like they were on top
of the world, was amazing. Standing ovations were not uncommon on talent night. These kids instantly became my heroes.
While I was at camp, I met two volunteers who were the weekly “clowns”. They were not your stereotypical birthday party clowns but rather “Caring Clowns”. These clowns are a part of Big Apple Circus’s clown care program. It involves professional clowns who visit hospitals to heal kids through laughter and play. Inspired by this concept when I returned to Chicago I investigated the idea to see if we had a Caring Clown program. It was hard to find but after searching for a program, I was able to learn alongside a local Caring Clown. Embarrassed to meet her at a local pancake shop because she was in costume, I soon embraced it. I was quickly briefed over breakfast and an hour later, found myself walking into the hospital dressed in wacky mismatched clothes and YES a big red nose.
I proceeded to hand out stickers, sing songs, and tell jokes to some who couldn’t even talk. As I walked around the rehab floor, I recall a woman around my age that was curled up in the fetal position. She was drooling on her pillow while a friend held her hand at her bedside. I remember walking in and having tears stream down my face as I couldn’t hold them back anymore. I didn’t know if I could actually do this without breaking down. I quickly switched my thinking and my only thought was that I needed to make her feel some sort of joy. I asked her if she wanted a sticker. She nodded and I put a sticker on her. I wasn’t sure if she could smile but I could tell by looking at her eyes that she was happy. As I was about to leave, I noticed she had a teddy bear sitting next to her in the bed. I looked at her and said “I think your bear needs a sticker too”. I leaned over to put a sticker on her bear and as I looked up a huge smile started to appear on her face. Sounds came out of her mouth but no words were clear. She began to flap her arms with excitement and Dr. Clown, who I was with, told me that was one of the first time she had ever witnessed this particular woman smile.
Up until that day I had no idea that a simple smile would mean so much to someone in a great deal of pain. I can’t wait to begin my journey in Peru as I make my way to the bedsides of children who will be recovering from painful surgeries.