Clowns on a mission: Making wishes come true for sick children
On a shoestring budget, 100 clowns in Israel have jumped into action.
Smadar Harpak needed to find a private pool that could accommodate 60 people for a 6-year-old's birthday party. And she only had a day to locate it. She had a few connections, sent some text messages and waited with bated breath. Flash forward 24 hours. There was catered food, bouncy toys in the pool, a karaoke machine and a cake shaped like a unicorn. A young girl with cancer got the birthday of her dreams. "We created an event that they will never forget," Harpak told From The Grapevine.
She's not a party planner, but it's just one of the many hats (and noses) that Harpak wears in her day job as a clown at a children's hospital in Tel Aviv. And despite the silly props, she takes her job quite seriously. She also responds to natural disasters all across the globe. After the 2015 earthquake in Nepal and in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey last year in Houston, Harpak traveled to those locales to help the cities' children cope with the trauma.
But even that was not enough for the 33-year-old. Along with a fellow clown, Michal Korman, the two of them launched a non-profit in 2015 called Clownbulance. The group acts as a wish fulfillment agency, offering sick children the opportunity to make one of their dreams a reality. Today, they have 100 clowns who work across 29 hospitals in Israel. "We are a family of clowns," Harpak said.
"We started it really guerrilla style," she admits. "We did it the clown way – we didn't have insurance, or a budget or things like that." Eventually, they bought a new van – "This one had air conditioning!" Harpak said, laughing – and decorated it inside and out to give it a fun party atmosphere. "We travel with this car all over Israel and make wishes come true."
While her work as a medical clown is certainly fulfilling, Harpak felt like something was missing. "In the hospital, we're always running from bed to bed, from blood test to blood test," she explained. "It's rush hour all the time. As clowns, we need to jump from child to child. I wanted to create a situation where they have a whole day, outside the hospital or hospice, one-on-one with the same person, so we can give them a boost of clown therapy."
One of Harpak's favorite wishes that she got to fulfill was that of a 10-year-old girl who dreamed of becoming a professional singer. Between surgeries and chemo, she was stuck in her hospital room. So a guitar teacher came and helped the girl compose a song. And that's when Harpak stepped in. They loaded the patient into the Clownbulance and took her to a recording studio. They brought in a band, which included the patient's father – who himself was a musician. "It came to life," Harpak told us. "It was really powerful."
Another wish involved a sick teenage boy who dreamed of playing with his favorite basketball team, Maccabi Tel Aviv. And then there was the 19-year-old patient who dreamed of being a supermodel.
But there's the proverbial question: just how many clowns can you fit into one car? "There is a long list of wishes waiting to be fulfilled," Harpak said, and their one van can only do so much. What's more, time is not always on their side when it comes to helping terminally ill children. "Sometimes we can't wait."
Harpak, who just wrapped up a three-week tour of the U.S. giving speeches about her organization, is hoping to see the group grow. Her goal is to have Clownbulances dispatched all across Israel. "I want the ability to have enough cars and enough budget so that none of the children need to wait for the wish. And we can do all the wishes that they can dream."
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Related Topics: Humanitarian