Play is such a vital part of children’s development, but for kids living in refugee camps, it’s merely a memory. That is, until Ash Perrin created his charitable circus troupe to tour the world and bring back the laughter
When most of us think back to our childhood, we get nostalgic about playing outside, grazing our knees fearlessly climbing trees, or dreaming up imaginary worlds of wonder. But what if your childhood wasn’t full of fun, wonderment and play? What if you had to grow up too soon? What if your daily reality was facing sickness, or surviving through conflict?
Ash Perrin saw how some children in the world miss out on childhood. They live in harsh environments escaping persecution in refugee camps, are in treatment for medical conditions, or are homeless and alone. He recognised the importance of play and interaction in youngsters’ development and knew he could do something to help. And what he did is fantastic.
In 2007, Ash Perrin (clown name Bash) created the Flying Seagull Project as a charity with volunteer clowns, musicians, magicians, and a whole host of other performers, who travel around the world, bringing light and laughter to children’s lives. As it stands, they’ve visited 15 different countries to deliver some much- needed laughter. Ash says: “Every place is different but kids are the same all over the world. We try to make a difference wherever we go.”
Initially, the Flying Seagull Project’s troupe connect with local organisations and charities to identify where their help in spreading happiness is most needed.
They assess each situation to tailor their smile-giving gifts to it. In hospitals, they might send in clown doctors to cheer up children, or in refugee camps they might put on shows full of silliness for their audience. The team also provide workshops to pass on their entertainment skills and make it an interactive extravaganza for the kids, as they play music, get involved in games, or learn circus skills.
Through their work, the Flying Seagull Project looks to build strong relationships with the people and communities they
help. As the people involved are often socially isolated, making these meaningful connections is a key part of their aims.
And it’s clear they’re effective in doing so. Sem Erkens, from the Belgian Red Cross, describes a recent visit: “We didn’t know what to expect, but they promised us laughter and fun. Looking back, it’s clear that they delivered much more. Bash and his friends put a smile on all the children’s and parents’ faces. Regardless of all the horrible things they have seen, and the harsh situations that they have been through, every child was able to laugh and love.”
When it’s time for the troupe to spread smiles elsewhere, they ensure the laughter remains by providing equipment and training for their local partners. Ash says: “I love it when children work hard to learn a skill, whether juggling or a magic trick. Experiences like that are brilliant, not only because they serve as a welcome distraction from the trauma of their journeys, and the chaos surrounding them, but because of the ongoing benefit – the ability to perform and entertain others again and again.”
Regardless of all the horrible things they have seen, and the harsh situations that they have been through, every child was able to laugh and love
We spoke to Ash Perrin, founder, director and CEO of the Flying Seagull Project about his incredible work.
“In 2007, I was on a backpacking holiday to Cambodia when I found myself playing guitar and doing magic in an orphanage,” he said. “The children were comfortable and happy, but it struck me that these were feelings they didn’t usually experience. I realised that as an entertainer, a clown, who cares passionately about the health and happiness of children, I should do as much as possible to spread love, light and laughter to those who need it most. I wrote the idea for the Flying Seagull Project on a piece of paper that night, and launched it three months later.
“The Flying Seagull Project has grown every year since 2008, in terms of both the number of volunteers and number of children reached, yet we are still very much a grassroots organisation.
“In late September, we embarked on our sixth mission to Greece in the last 18 months – starting in Lesvos, off the coast of Turkey. The conditions here are among the worst we’ve seen.
“But through the Flying Seagull Project, we’ve seen amazing transformations in the children: the burden of premature adulthood lifted; children who do not want to speak becoming vocal, loving members of the group; frowns, fear and anxiety replaced by smiles, positivity and confidence. Earlier this year in Idomeni, Greece, we saw 1,000 children a day, every day, for seven weeks. They would see us arriving on our unicycles, or hear our trumpets, and come running towards us singing and dancing.
“Apart from the lack of basic amenities, one of the biggest problems in refugee camps is boredom. There’s nothing to do. Then we turn up juggling, tightrope walking and playing instruments. We give the parents a welcome break and the children a chance to be kids again.”
While there are children out there in need of a smile, the Flying Seagull Project will continue to tour around, making children’s days. Ash says: “It isn’t a matter of whether we can change the world, it’s a matter of how many children’s lives we can improve. There is more that unites than divides us, so join the laugh-olution and make the world a better place.”
If you’ve got a talent for acrobatics, singing, or simply a passion for making someone smile, you could join the flock of Seagulls as a volunteer. The team are always looking for more helpers who are bursting with energy and enthusiasm to share with the world.
Alternatively, you can help fund their projects by donating what you can or booking the entertainers for your own children’s party. All profits from parties go towards the Seagull’s charity projects, meaning that the laughter and smiles can ripple round the world.