JOHANNESBURG – Smiles of delight were painted on South African children’s faces after a group of Dutch clowns entertained them with their vivid red noses and brightly-colored handkerchiefs.
Jans Koopmans, Willem Hans Elbrecht and Peter Vrinds, known by their stage names Bluf, Pluum and Puk, fly to South Africa every year-and-a-half to perform for children and this week paid their ninth visit to Johannesburg, stopping by schools in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
“You can always perform in hospitals and things like that, but here in Africa there are so many children that need something extra. So why not to clown here?” Elbrecht told EFE after finishing the first performance in front of some 400 children, aged between 4 and 12, from a Catholic community school in the suburb of Yeoville, southeast Johannesburg.
“In the beginning, I thought I don’t bring food or build them a house, but there are people who have nothing and we give them some good memories. They have so many problems in their heads, but like this they can be children again,” Elbrecht said during the visit by Africlowns, an NGO he founded 16 years ago.
The show begins with children sitting quietly, watched by their teachers, but their faces light up when they hear the music of a clarinet in the background before the clowns enter the auditorium.
Anticipation is transformed into giggles when Bluf gets stuck in the door because she is wearing a giant rubber ring shaped like a pink flamingo, and from that moment the children cannot stop laughing.
Still in their school uniforms and grinning, the children explained to EFE that they had never seen a live clown show before.
“The kids love them. It’s so good for them to have such a thing like this,” Martha Mente, the director of the school, which has students from multiple African countries, from Angola to Zimbabwe through Congo, told EFE.
In addition to Yeoville, the Africlowns also performed at schools in the Soweto district, in southwest Johannesburg, and at a children’s hospital, among other places.
Koopmans and Elbrecht are full-time professors while Vrinds usually works with disabled people, so they make use of their vacation time to take these trips to make children happy.
“I love to say like I’m refreshing my energies. You spend a little but you get so much more from the children,” said Elbrecht, adding that “sometimes it’s hard work but it’s very nice.”
The organization is mainly supported by small donations, many of them from the circle of people close to the three clowns.
Though the organization originally intended to take the Africlowns to different African countries, South Africa has been the site of all its performances for now.
At the moment, Africlowns’ efforts are concentrated in South Africa, in places that according to Elbrecht do not even appear online and where clowns are really needed to remind children of their right to have fun.