Sheetal Agarwal has a passion for smiles. She and her team of volunteers arranges for medical clowning at a children’s hospital in New Delhi.
Clownselors believes in being ‘smile hung-over’. It was this phrase that caught my attention the most.
“Clownselors came into being simply because of my obsession with smiles,” says Sheetal Agarwal, Founder.
In January 2016, 30-year-old Sheetal met a medical clown, Dhara Patel, from Vadodara. She was so intrigued by the concept, that she read about medical clowning and searched the internet to find a group which practices it in Delhi. There was none. So, with Dhara as inspiration, Sheetal decided to start her own venture. Her first Facebook post seeking volunteers drew 30 responses. For the first workshop, only 15 people would be sufficient.
Sheetal met the director of Chacha Nehru Bal Chikitsalaya, and without any prior clowning practice, a team of five began their stint with laughter on July 9, 2016.
Initially, we had butterflies in our stomach, but when we began, there was no looking back. We tried as many antics as possible, and could see children smiling and laughing all around. Since then, we have been learning while doing, recounts Sheetal.
In a world of increasing stress, there are more frowns than smiles. Added to that, hospitals are grim places for everyone, especially children. Hospital clowning, or clown-counselling aims to spread joy and help children forget their pain for some time.
Clownselors don colourful wigs and hats to visit paediatric wards of government hospitals on Saturdays. They wish to help and heal children, and to ease the stress of parents, doctors, and nursing staff. The air of fun helps children forget their illness for a brief while.
Laughter reduces stress and reduces pain by releasing endorphins. The result is a positive outlook and newfound bonds.
A key feature of medical clowning is distraction therapy. If a child is undergoing a painful procedure, a clown distracts him while a doctor conducts her examination. In this way, Clownselors demystifies and humanises the hospital environment for children.
“The intent is to reduce pain and help in quick healing of children,” Sheetal affirms.
Sheetal has many stories to tell. There was one little girl in a hospital ward who just would not smile! Everyone tried and laughed along. Finally, Sheetal’s wig fell off and the girl smiled. Her parents were in tears as she had not laughed in many weeks. Blessings were counted that day.
Once there was a little boy who did not eat or drink anything. The Clownselors promised him a balloon if he drank a glass of water, and drink, play and smile he did!
In one isolation ward, lay a sad child. Her bed was right at the door. Unable to enter her ward, the Clownselors could not play with her. She kept looking outside, and Sheetal started making faces at her from her doorway. She smiled after weeks of lying almost still in bed.
A differently-abled girl in yet another ward smiled every time a balloon touched her face. Her father said that it would be of no avail as she could not move her limbs. But, with much effort, she raised her hand and threw the balloon back. Sheetal remembers never having seen laughter that pure.
Clownselors is funded wholly by Sheetal’s family in Haryana. The team has dedicated volunteers who meet and clown every Saturday. The dream is to take clown-counselling to more hospitals and old-age homes, to the aged and to the differently-abled. Sheetal hopes that her volunteer base increases so that more smiles are spread.