Iftar and Story-telling Evening

We organized a very special Iftar for the wonderful residents, and staff, of the SENSES Center for children with special needs on Sunday, July 20.

The event began with a traditional potluck iftar followed by a performance entitled Arabian Story Hour. The show consisted of comical tales and a new rendition of the classic clown routine Pea Soup performed by Mona, Ray and Omar and directed by Mina.

Everyone had a wonderful time and we thank the many volunteers who donated their time, energy and delicious dishes. In addition, we would like to express our gratitude to Barakat for sponsoring fresh juices and fruit salads.

All the remaining dry food, snacks and juice boxes were left for SENSES Center to use. The extra rice, meat, yogurt and donuts were delivered, and distributed, to a near by Labor Camp in Al Barsha. Many smiles were created that night!

To stay in the loop, please like our page: www.facebook.com/clownswhocare or join our mailing list by sending an email to LOL@dubomedy.com. Regular events will resume in September.

Photos by Abel Fernandes and Ayesha Fernandes. To see the full album click HERE.

pea soup 1

group 2 group plates

pea soup 2

plate 1


Friday Magazine Feature


The children clapped with glee as
the clowns performed their stream of comical antics, transforming the common room in Dubai’s Al Noor Training Centre for Special Needs into a haven of joy and laughter, its walls positively filled with the sounds of innocent joy.

As she moved around the room, every ridiculous movement purposeful, Mina Liccione peered out from her oversized glasses and cascading wig to take in the room. Through the use of nothing but raw talent and a little donated time, she had transformed an ordinary moment in the lives of the often-isolated into a joyous one. It was moments like this that confirmed she had taken the right path in life; the one that allowed her to use her abundant talent to put a smile on the most desolate of faces. For, from the start, she’s always believed that “laughter is the best medicine”.

Italian-American Mina, whose favourite
act is one she calls the ‘Audrey Hepburn move’ – is the co-founder of Dubomedy, an umbrella group of Dubai-based performance artists. Her partner, both professionally and by marriage, is Emirati Ali Al Sayed and together they formed the comedy collective in 2008. Since then they have successfully launched, among other things, the Comedy and Urban Arts School in the Middle East; the Dubai International Comedy Carnival; Funny Girls; and the much-loved Clowns Who Care project (CWC).

The CWC voluntary scheme, a niche charitable entertainment venture that brings laughter, smiles and comedy to those who most need it, was born from Mina’s past work across hospitals, homes for the elderly and paediatric wards of New York.

Although having performed since the tender age of three, Mina’s calling to use art for good happened in 2001 when she was spotted in the musical Stomp in San Francisco. As the lead comedic role she was approached after the performance by one of her idols, the legendary Cirque de Soleil clown and actor, Jeff Raz. The man noted for advancing the renaissance of American circus suggested that Mina study at the Clown Conservatory, a leading circus school in the US. Offered a scholarship, Mina jumped at the chance and soon found herself attending circus and clown school by day while performing by night.

Part of the programme involved clowning in hospitals, special needs schools and in community centres – Mina’s first exposure to using comedic talent to help those in pain. “All my life until that point I had done comedy because I loved it and loved hearing people laugh,” she says. “But suddenly I realised as an artist you have a much more important responsibility, especially if you’re a comedian. At the end of the day it’s not about making money, or your ego, it’s the exact opposite, it’s about making somebody in pain smile. That’s why I’m a comedian.”

After finishing the course at the Clown Conservatory Mina, who also holds a BFA in Dance from Marymount Manhattan College, an MFA in Experimental Performance Studies and Composition from the New College of California, worked as its dance teacher and choreographer. She also continued to hone her talent at helping people smile through challenging circumstances.

The 30-something-year-old, who this year was named first runner-up in Philly Arabia’s Most Inspiring Woman in the GCC award, was then offered a chance to move to Dubai early in 2008. She says that before leaving, she spent some time in New York City with her family including her great aunt, who was in a nursing home. “Visiting her was one of my saddest moments. Many patients at the nursing home were lonely and I knew I had to do something to change that.”

So during Christmas 2007, a time when
Mina felt patients would be at their loneliest, she decided to create a show, not only for her great aunt’s residential home but for 20 other senior citizen centres in the city.

The voluntary tour aimed to give the old and often-alone residents a moment to forget their circumstances and to laugh.

“I started writing jokes and tap dance routines,” she remembers. “The older generations really appreciate dance.
I modelled it after a talk show, with Audrey Heartburn as the host. I included an exercise segment so it wasn’t just entertainment. They loved it and after the show we would always stay and have one-on-one time with them, visit their rooms – just make sure they were heard.”

A meeting of minds in Dubai

When Mina arrived in Dubai early in 2008 much of her time was spent overcoming the daily hurdles of attempting to set up the country’s first local comedy community. “It was challenging,” she says, “because comedy is known to be vulgar, dirty and male orientated. It took time for people to understand that I wanted to do [clean] comedy and that it could be funny without being vulgar.”

Her struggle was eased to some extent just four months after arriving in the country. A chance encounter with a man who shared the same vision for a comedy community within the emirates meant the two could join forces to edge the country into position as a frontrunner in regional comedy. “The two of us together was such a great balance,” she says of herself, the expat woman, and her future husband Ali Al Sayed, the Emirati man. “It was exactly what
we were trying to achieve, our goal together was to bridge the gap and use comedy to bring
people of different religions and financial means together.”

With resounding success the couple have been tantamount in the comedy boom that has taken place in the UAE over the past few years and that achievement enabled them to turn their attention to art for a cause. Drawing on her previous experience in clowning in the community in the US, the pair decided to form the CWC. Initially they concentrated on sectors of the community they felt had the most need and were accessible.

Mina says, “It was very evident that there were many centres for children with special needs, and support groups, so we reached out to them.” Over the past five years CWC has visited, performed and led workshops at a host of centres for children and young adults, especially those with special needs.

Their primary focus to begin with was Dubai’s Al Noor Centre; Senses Residential and Day Care for Special Needs; Mawaheb from Beautiful People, and the Dubai Autism Centre where, with a group of volunteers, they began visits putting on comedic performances, actively engaging the children and spending one-on-one time with each individual.

“We build a relationship with them and we see progress,” Mina explains. “We use a three-step process. The first step involves us performing for them so they can laugh at us and feel comfortable. The second step is a workshop, where we teach things like comedy or circus skills. Often they don’t think they will be able to manage the task, but they do, and that gives them enormous confidence. The third step is individual interaction; I learnt from the beginning that this third part is a stage that really works.”

This last step involves developing social skills and the children are asked to tell a story or a joke or demonstrate a skill they have without fear of judgement or criticism. The technique boosts confidence as when children are the ones doing the teaching they realise they also have the power to offer something to others.

Branching out

With the tag line “Art for a cause, not applause. Using laughter as a tool to heal,” the CWC has successfully branched out from centre visits to providing professional entertainment, technical and marketing support for fundraisers while also holding special events in support of humanitarian projects. “We don’t touch money,” Mina explains, “but we use our talent at fundraisers. We donate our time, our services, entertainment… and we help to market charitable events.”

This summer they took the CWC project even further, with their inaugural Clowns Who Care Arts Camp. In July, over a week, a group of volunteers visited the Live It Up! home for rescued children in Uganda, an orphanage that was set up by the Dubai branch of the US-based charity Live It Up Foundation. The 26 children in the home had been found living in one tiny room with a 72-year-old woman they affectionately called Jaja (grandmother) who had taken them in off the streets despite having no money to look after herself.

The foundation placed all the children into temporary accommodation while raising enough money via a series of small events and fundraisers to move them into a new purpose-built orphanage. When CWC asked what they could do to help, the orphanage said they could provide some entertainment over the summer when the children were prone to becoming a
little bored.

CWC designed a project that involved seven core artistic elements – dance, drama, circus skills, visual arts, comedy, rhythm and voice. “It was so appreciated and so rewarding,” Mina says. “Some of the kids at the beginning of the week wouldn’t participate or speak at all, but by the end they were fully involved in a performance. We were so proud of them.”

Branching out to other countries in order to help those in need is something that the CWC envisages doing more of. A return trip to Uganda is planned for next year, but as well as visiting Live it Up!, the intention is to include other communities that are in dire need of assistance. “We want to reach out to kids who haven’t been rescued,” Mina says. “We will always go and visit the Live It Up! kids, but we also want to visit small orphanages surviving with no support and relief centres where people in the slums go to get food.”

“We can’t move a mountain,” Mina says, “but we can do a little bit. We’ve seen what we did in Africa, just putting on a show lets them forget, lets them be kids. We get feedback from the special needs centres here that after we leave the kids laugh for a whole day, so if that’s the response and we can make children smile, then let’s do it.”

Making a Difference

Who: Mina Liccione and Ali Al Sayed
What: Clowns Who Care project
Where: UAE, USA and Uganda
How: A voluntary initiative that works towards putting a smile on the faces of young and old, especially those who have special needs

– See more at: http://fridaymagazine.ae/making-difference/meet-the-uae-s-comedy-crusaders-1.1256412?anchor=poll#sthash.9WqdgOgc.dpuf

Our 1st Arts Camp in Uganda

Reflections: Uganda Arts Camp
by CWC Director, Mina Liccione

I was thrilled to be able to see our idea of a Clowns Who Care Arts Camp come to life this summer. We held our inaugural camp at the Live it up! Home for rescued children in Uganda from July 4-8, 2013. The camp was carefully designed and took months to prepare. Our team of talented volunteers included Ali, Abel, Ellen, Sol, Syma and myself. We focused on 7 core artistic elements: dance, drama, circus skills, visual arts, comedy, rhythm and voice.

Each morning we started with a big group warm-up, call and response rhythms, songs and a new circus skill. We would then split them into three groups based upon their age. Each group would have three, one hour rotations, of dance, drama and visual arts. We would end the day with a final big group activity, ‘a funny’ and a closing circle. On the last day we put together a very relaxed final showing of the performing arts work they created as well as an art exhibit. The children were very proud of their work as were we of them.

Arts camp ended with a graduation ceremony where each participant received a small token of appreciation that of which continued into a dance party. We danced, laughed and celebrated! The children’s confidence had elevated tremendously from the first to the last day as did their communication and creative skills. Their smiles grew bigger by the day as did their hugs. We were sad to have to say goodbye but are blessed and grateful to have shared such precious time with them. We look forward to creating more memories with them and are already making plans for next year.

I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone who graciously donated art, health and hygiene supplies. The kids and entire staff greatly appreciated them and every single item was put to excellent use. I would also like to thank the team of volunteers for their incredible work and the Live it up! Home for welcoming us with open arms, minds and hearts.

I’ve inserted some photos of our adventure below. Hopefully they will bring a smile to your face and inspire you to take a chance on making a difference in the world. No good deed is too small! We each can create more of an impact than we realize and when our energy is focused on good nothing but joy can grow from it. Though I was meant to be the head teacher/director of this camp…. I was the one who learned the most.

I was reminded to:

  • Appreciate the small things in life and to not take a single thing for granted
  • To value the endless love my parents and family have given me
  • That my ego is not my amigo
  • My sole purpose as an artist is to make this world a happier place
  • The power of teamwork and surrounding yourself with passionate and positive people pushes your spirit to new levels
  • The next time I think my meal is taking a long time I need to remember it takes over an hour to get served in Africa! Be patient.
  • When it rains I must remember that for some people they are celebrating the fact they have clean drinking water coming from the sky
  • All of my years of improv training was well worth the work as it was put to good use!
  • Though I can’t change the sadness, war, pain, violence, strife in the world… I can do good and help those in need. I can change myself and my priorities.

I could go on and on but I will end here. My humbled heart is heavy and I hope this feeling stays with me for a long time.

“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in.’ Hungry not only for bread — but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing — but naked for human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks — but homeless because of rejection.” ~ Mother Teresa


For more photos click here: http://on.fb.me/13Is4xh and don’t forget to “LIKE” our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/clownswhocare

Want to join CWC?

Would you like to become a CWC volunteer? We are starting a new mailing list that will update volunteers on upcoming monthly CWC events, free training days, hospital and center visits. If you would like to get involved please send us an email to LOL@vivadubai.com with the subject “Clowns Who Care”. Please do let us know if you have a special talent that you would like to share. Some examples include: singing, music, dancing, circus, story telling, art project guide, baking cup cakes, children’s script writing, photography, organizing rides for volunteers and/or guests…..the list is endless! You can also join us on our Facebook page for daily inspirational posts and to stay in the clown loop. Our page can be found at: http://www.facebook.com/clownswhocare

Welcome aboard! It doesn’t take much to make a difference 🙂

CWC visit Palestine Children’s Relief Fund

CWC visit Mawaheb for Beautiful People


We LOVE going to visit Mawaheb for Beautiful People! Before summer break we passed by for another workshop. This time around we held a Comedy Improv & Circus Arts workshop. Loads of laughs! We are looking forward to our next workshop in September! Many thanks to Alex, Abel, Andre and Mina for volunteering their time and positive energy!

CWC visit Mawaheb