Once a child knows a clown will be coming to visit they quickly forget where they are and look forward to seeing them. The clowns arrive and take the place of any sad thoughts or worries the children may have with bursts of laughter, jokes, magic tricks (that don’t always quite work) but most of all empathy and zest for life.
Olivier and Veronique are two of these laughter professionals who work to fight against children’s illnesses armed only with a suitcase of fancy dress, a few makeup brushes and their big hearts.
Fancy dress and makeup to warm the cockles of their hearts
Veronique has worked as a hospital clown for 11 years now, “the clown costume turns us instantly into a child’s playmate. We’re no longer an adult talking to a poorly child, we are 2 playmates who meet up and become friends in a matter of seconds. This special status allows us to develop a good relationship from the first meeting. The children’s parents also benefit from the clowns and have been known to shed a tear or two and why shouldn’t they have a hug with Rosalie and Groom, the clown alter-egos of Veronique and Olivier? A clown can enter the most intimate of family relationships, normally a space no outsider can inhabit. It normally takes time to develop human relationships but in hospital relationships are accelerated and deepened much faster than usual, “you enter the family sphere for an hour in which you play, you laugh, you cry, you console, you joke, you mime and then you laugh some more.” How do teenagers react to Rosalie and Groom I ask Veronique? “The clowns give teenagers a chance to say no, to express their refusal and anger, feelings they can’t always express with the doctors or nurses”, explains Veronique, mum and full-time clown.
Laughter as a cure-all, turning a hospital into a home from home
The power of positivity is a proven phenomenon, laughter can indeed accelerate recovery and make the time pass faster than feelings of sadness and anxiety which is why the actions of the Soleil Rouge clowns have a real impact on the daily lives of children in hospital. It is possible to recover through laughter with a little help from the clowns. “It’s an incredible job,” says Olivier, “to know you have brought hope to the parents, and joy to the children. Your character has effectively taken the sadness in the room and thrown it out of the window, he explains with his words and gestures as if he is miming the action of tearing the sadness from his soul. “We laugh, play music, tell jokes, bring smiles, silly games and frivolity to their situations”. I come to understand that these clowns are like a pressure release valve as much for the parents as the children but also for the medical teams for whom their day-to-day isn’t always as rosy as Rosalie’s cheeks. Once the clowns have been to visit the children don’t see the hospital in the pastel colours of their arrival day but filled with colours and possibility, a place where they can live through their surgery or treatment.
The clowns support the families, but who supports the clowns?
Families of children in hospital for long stays need the support they find in the fun and games that the clowns bring and it’s these memories that the children cling on to the most. Once a month the clowns meet up to share ideas and games that they can, in turn, share with the children. Their groups are growing but they need funding and rely solely on donations. They depend on companies like Oxygene to help promote their good work and donate money so they may continue their good work. We at Oxygene, being a company that welcomes children to our ski lessons every day during the winter, are touched by the efforts of the Soleil Rouge and are delighted to be able to support them. Together we can draw smiles on the faces of these children and help improve their chances of recovery. To demonstrate the power of laughter and to publicise their work the Soleil Rouge clowns came to La Plagne and Val d’Isere resorts, to bring our end-of-week medal ceremonies to life with their antics. Watch our short video to see what they got up to.
If you have been touched by their fight for hope and joy you can also support the Soleil Rouge. Personally, we learned a lot from these clowns. Every little bit helps including every smile given and received in response. Thank you Soleil Rouge for getting in touch.