Our red-nosed volunteer commitment began when Italo met Patch Adams in 1994 at a holistic medicine convention in Milan, Italy. Patch – a doctor, clown, artist, and “shaman” – was in Italy for the first time to present the revolutionary idea of a new medicine based on happiness, compassion, and love.
After the Russian Clown Tour in 1997, Ginevra received a letter from the Gesundheit Institute. Patch has asked us to create a group in Italy for “Caring Clowns.”
A new movement of red-nosed volunteers was born. We called the group: the “Ambassadors of Smiles.” In the beginning, the four of us accepted the invitation, which was the beginning of Clown One Italia.
Patch explained that they were planning a general group called “Clown One International.” Along with Patch’s clown friends in the US and the invaluable help from his son Zag, the idea was to have a plane dedicated to providing “first clown aid.” We were going to fly to humanitarian emergencies around the world. We were even looking for a Boeing 747 to be donated to the Gesundheit! Institute. The plane would carry a group of Caring Clowns from around the world and quickly travel along unusual routes to emergency or distressed areas of the world to bring humanitarian aid, love, and the joy of clowns. In a short time, we realized that the plane would have been difficult and expensive to maintain. However, this did not stop our original idea. We moved on from the plane to focus on other strategies.
After receiving Patch’s proposal to “open an association in Italy with great pleasure” and to “work together to make this project an example of joyful service to alleviate suffering in the world,” Ginevra and Italo created Clown One Italia ODV (voluntary nonprofit association). Italo Bertolasi, traveler, photographer, and a profound connoisseur of Asian cultures, becomes the first president. Meanwhile, Ginevra Sanguigno, actress and clown, will follow Dr. Adams and armed with a beautiful red nose to help her in her extraordinary diplomatic missions.
In 1997, Universal Studios bought the rights to Patch’s book: “Gesundheit!” and created a movie starring Robin Williams that was based on Patch’s life. Patch became famous, and a huge wave of sympathy for this idea of healing spreads all over the world. Like a wave, after the release of the film, many schools and groups of caring clowns are born.
“We took the clowns out of the circus,” Patch explained, “We took [the clowns] to the hospitals. And today, we visit war zones with clowns! … I knew that being a clown would promote peace … there are many tools of diplomacy, and I hope that everyone will find the ones that suit them best.
“If each of us used these tools to bring peace to friends and neighbors, we would have a beneficial effect on the whole world. When I imagine an international negotiation, I wonder what would happen if each head of state brought with them their favorite joker. I believe it would ease tensions and encourage vulnerability for the common good. Consider a career in nasal diplomacy!“.
In many volunteer groups, the presence of women is prevalent. Patch has often said that the world can only be saved if it is ruled by women because women are wise and maternal, stronger and more determined.
The humanitarian project and the Clown Tours all over the world were conceived by Patch Adams and his medical-artistic staff at the Gesundheit! Institute, which is how Clown One Italia ODV began. Today, Clown One Italia gathers “smile ambassadors” – doctors, volunteers, and other entertainers – to offer a “clown-like intervention” in various humanitarian emergencies.
We’ve visited conflict zones like Bosnia, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Palestine, Côte d’Ivoire, and Nepal. We’ve also been to areas affected by serious disasters: a tsunami in Sri Lanka, an earthquake in Haiti, in Nepal, and again when Japan was hit by the 2011 tsunami.
In Japan, our sister group, Clown One Japan NPO, was founded and coordinated by Mariko Kanemoto. She works with hundreds of volunteers from across Japan to bring love and care to all. With Clown One Japan, Clown One Italia visited families affected by the 2015 tsunami.
We’ve collaborated with Gesundheit Institute on projects in Russia, Cuba, Brazil, Peru, and Argentina. From 2000 to today, in collaboration with the Gesundheit! Institute, we have carried out humanitarian projects and built schools. In 2005, in Cambodia, a school in the rural area of Anhchanh Round. In 2015, after the earthquake in Nepal, a school in the mountain area of Yarsa.
Our association also offers training to enhance joyful creativity and greater awareness of its resources and aid strategies. With actors, bodyworkers, writers, visual artists, we offer theatrical dramatization workshops, juggling, animation theater, as well as dynamic meditations and dance, all this to strengthen the human and charismatic qualities of those who will then have to take care of others. The caring clown helps others through a path of awareness, love, and truth.
Today in Italy, more than two-thirds of the small tribe of “Clown del Cuore,” born from Patch’s dream, is made up of women of all ages. These “Ambassadors of Smile” are present in hospitals – especially in pediatric wards – and in other reception facilities (migrant centers, disabilities, youth centers). We give “pills” of joy, dialogue, and tolerance. We have entered the era of women! Which honors other values such as human “fragility” and vulnerability.
The ability to listen and also to take care of others in an atmosphere of trust and brotherhood is an art that Patch teaches us. Patch says he learned all this from his extraordinary mom, which made him rediscover the value of words, gestures, and relationships that give consolation and hope and again the value of the time dedicated to visiting those who suffer.
To transform the medical act into a “revolutionary” gesture, Patch says: “For us, healing is not just prescribing medicines and therapies but working together, sharing everything in a spirit of joy and cooperation. Health is based on happiness – from embracing and playing the clown at finding joy in family and friends, satisfaction in work, in being able to make peace by rediscovering one’s healing talents in the ecstasy of the arts.“.
In 2000 Patch decided to take us to war: it is an opportunity to experience the art of “rocking the world with a smile” in the devastated corners of the planet: Bosnia, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Palestine, Chechnya, Armenia.
In 2002 we were in Kabul where, together with Patch and a tribe of clowns from all over the world, we met the doctor hero Gino Strada of Emergency, who is in tune with our feelings. He told us, “If one of us, any one of us human beings, is suffering like a dog right now, is sick or hungry, it affects us all. It must concern us all because ignoring the suffering of a man is always an act of violence and one of the most cowardly.”
In Afghanistan, our mission, organized thanks to the nonprofit Rider per Vivere, became a film, “Clown’in Kabul,” directed by Enzo Balestrieri and Stefano Moser. The film made our humanitarian commitment known to a huge audience. Patch explained further: “We started promoting clown missions in difficult and risky contexts, even in war zones.
“Armed” with good doses of courage, cordiality, and benevolence, it was immediately evident that being amiable and cordial predisposed people to a warm human contact. In an alienated and sexist world like ours, with a huge gap between social classes, we soon realized that clowning was a tool capable of transcending not only the status quo but also taboos, prejudices, and racism by forging strong ties with the essence of the individual.
We wanted to get involved by exposing ourselves to the vulnerability and truth that characterizes these moments. In all these years, I have found myself in difficult, problematic, and painful situations. I can tell you that being a clown has always allowed me to “circumvent” these fears, tensions, dangers, and obstacles, thus allowing me to alleviate the suffering of others. Patch also draws with precision this new figure of humanitarian hero – the “Clown of the Heart.” He must be full of love, an enthusiast, an artist. He combines the wisdom of the “doctor” with the healing magic of a shaman with the special talent of knowing to recreate, in every context, harmonious and friendly relationships.
The art of care is not learned in schools but directly on the street, by engaging in years of volunteering in contact with “naked” life. In real life, Humanitarian Clowns missions are a real “martial” art that produces an apprenticeship of conscience that makes us stronger and more aware. We then employ all of ourselves in the noblest and most humane of missions of taking care of others and knowing especially of those who suffer.
In these humanitarian aid missions, you rediscover the magic of words and the intimacy of smiles and hugs that help us live. Time and again, the healing power of the loving touch creates a strong emotional impact and can show consolation, reparation, and effective nourishment. Mother Teresa of Calcutta reminds us that: “being unloved, unwanted, forgotten – this is great poverty, worse than having nothing to eat. Love is the only great medicine.”
Caring clowns travel the world wearing a red nose and extravagant, colorful dress that transforms us, not only in the eyes of children, into wizards and merry healers. When you travel to war-torn countries, you have to deal with life and death and with the great suffering of those who have been wounded. On the other hand, when you “travel” to other lands of pain, for example, hospitals, you will have to relate to the devastation of the disease that profoundly alters our life and brings out the anguish of death, physical pain, and loneliness. In both cases, the sufferer has an extreme need for closeness and love.
-Ginevra & Italo
All images by Italo Bertolasi
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