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To bring happiness, hope and a season greeting to the villagers of the most affected towns in East Samar, Philippines, I joined Plan International and Clowns Without Borders on part of their 17-day visit to those who have lost almost everything but their lives.
Our two vehicles climbed the dirt path of a steep hill and as we reached the peak, I could see the widespread devastation caused by typhoon Yolanda in several communities situated only a few metres from the seashore. Tattered palm trees lay scattered everywhere I looked. A few trees still standing, almost leafless, were the only things left standing after the severe tidal surge tore apart everything in its path.
Among these palm trees, a tiny village, Jagnaya, near Salcedo, was visible. The clowns marveled at the beauty of the place despite the destruction. But what really amazed them was a tall Christmas tree near what remained of a school and in Plan’s child friendly space a big crowd waited excitedly for them.
We arrived in the village and the kids went crazy when they saw the clowns, who began acting the moment they stepped out of the vehicle, dancing, making jokes and playing with the children.
I was amazed at how Clowns Without Borders inspired both children and adults. Everyone moved to the Christmas tree and left what they were doing to join in, cheering, singing and participating in the performance. It seemed they were able to enjoy themselves for one moment, during a time of suffering while working so hard to recreate the normal course of their lives.
Around the school reconstruction has begun. While the clowns were entertaining the crowd, I took a walk along the beach to take some photos of the current state of things. I saw demolished houses and vehicles torn apart. I found the ruins of Saint Anthony of Padua’s church. Only the walls and columns remained. The ceiling was now replaced by canvas to make the place usable for services. The Saints’ images were all inside a niche as if they too had run for cover when the disaster was unleashed. Above the altar an image of Christ lay broken in pieces, as if it was an archaeological relic of times past.
Somehow the villagers continue to not only hope for a better future but work hard to build it. One of the most amazing things is that everyone always smiles, especially at the clowns’ show with their incredible acrobatics, tricks and jokes. At the end of the performance everybody wants a picture with them… all the children, adults and elderly give the clowns high-fives and hugs, and stay with them even when rain begins to pour down.
The sun sets on the horizon and the show is over. The clowns said goodbye, their red noses and funny hats pushing out of the car’s windows as we left the village, with the incredible smiles of boys and girls wishing us a Merry Christmas.