How the Flying Seagull project brings smiles and laughs to children around the world
Based in the UK, but with a reach in 23 countries, The Flying Seagull Project tackles the harsh reality of refugee camps through the simplicity of the game. In 2007, while volunteering at an orphanage in Cambodia, the founder, Ash Perrin, identified a gap in the care of the children who live there. While the essentials: shelter, clothing, etc. was respected, an essential element was neglected, explains Ash: they felt confident. Ash saw this gap as an opportunity to create something new and special, where every child would be seen for their true potential. He returned home to recruit other artists, and four months later the first Seagull project was in preparation in Romania. Since 2008, the Flying Seagull project has made more than 220,000 children laugh with more than 4,000 play sessions.
The aim of this social circus project is to transform the most difficult and desperate environments into safe spaces that promote happiness, laughter and the freedom for children to express themselves; spaces in which playing time is not a luxury but is an integral part of daily activity. Made up of clowns, musicians, artists and actors, the Flying Seagull Project team visits refugee camps around the world with their marquee, enriching communities with interactive clown and magic workshops, shows participatory circus and play sessions. As a centerpiece of their mission, The Flying Seagull Project highlights the ‘power of play’ and its essential role in child development, a sense of security and healthy ecosystem of a community. Ash points out that in communities in crisis, despite operating in a thriving environment, gambling is often the first thing to overlook. After 14 years of Seagulls, Ash attests to the socially medicinal nature of the game at both the community and individual level.
“In Romania we were working with adults who had learning difficulties… they were very young adults, teenagers in their mid to late teens. And we were doing a music session … we play with the beat, we play games around the voice and the song, so it’s not a music learning session, it’s a play session which allows the music to be her conversation starter… We walked around the circle introducing ourselves… and at the end we were talking to the staff at the center and they were amazed that one of the boys said his name. And they explained to us that he had been visiting the center for about seven or eight years and had not spoken to them… So, in safety, in the sacredness and in the space given by a game, the young boy felt in trust. and encouraged enough to join us.
The experiences in which play empowers, while distinctive, are not infrequently but a “sea of many”. In a more recent project, Ash witnessed an equally eloquent example working with refugee children in a camp in Greece.
“There was a young man who had lived a terrible journey, him and his family… and that made him very withdrawn, very aggressive towards his mother… So we joined the camp and we set up a tent, and at the end two or three weeks… it had gone from being very aggressive towards us and the other kids, or just not participating, to being our number one participant. Speaking to his mother afterwards, one person who is with us was told that he was just completely changed: he goes to bed early so he has energy for the game session, he now has friends… he chats with his mother telling her everything that happened… literally everything that was after two weeks of playing in our marquee.
The flight of seagulls
Although the UK is its home port, the Flying Seagull project has created safe spaces for children in refugee camps, asylum seekers’ shelters and transition centers on four continents. (A map of their outreach locations can be foundhere!) The project first took root in Romania but quickly spread to Europe during the refugee crisis.
“When the refugee situation appeared all over our televisions and in all the media, it was really evident, as it always is, that at least 40% of those affected were children.
The Flying Seagull project has forged links with a charity called Humanitas, which provides hydrocephalus treatment and training in West Africa. Along with the Humanitas medical team, the Flying Seagulls played the clown to the patients.
“An incredible amount of research and evidence shows that the presence of a playful clown or play person or that kind of character, both during the exam and then before and after the operation, can increase. the speed of recovery of a child ‘(Dionigi et al). One connection seemed to lead to the next, and Ash found that the work provided by The Flying Seagull Project was in high demand.
By integrating into a new and vulnerable community, The Flying Seagull Project takes care to approach a new project in a respectful and gentle way. It often looks like a show, several shorter sessions with the kids, movie nights and discos in which parents are welcomed and encouraged to join, and to educate important members of the community; doctors, priests, mayors, etc.
Securing a location can sometimes be tricky. The Flying Seagulls must first advocate for support and bypass the visa bureaucracy. The COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated these navigations.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on our projects, especially those that were based in camps in Samos, across Athens, in Lesbos… It was impossible to share games and sessions with children without them. put them and their parents. and their elderly parents, all of whom share extremely unsanitary housing, in danger. So all of our international projects were immediately frozen… On top of that, we had to bring our performers home. We had about 30 artists in the field at the time, as well as a team of six of us who were in Norway.
Since every cloud has a silver lining, Ash and his team have learned to learn from a year of quarantine despite their struggles. There is always room for adaptation and in the case of the Seagull, a necessity. The pandemic has forced many artists to get creative and The Flying Seagull Project is no exception. The pandemic has forced Ash and his team to make innovative changes to their pre-quarantine routine, including the introduction of digital packages for their supporters.
“In many schools we have organized an online theater production which used participatory techniques from our live sessions to involve over 6,000 people across the UK. We then launched our Laugh ‘n’ Play UK projects, which are shows and games tours across the UK, and we built a snowmobile, which is a specially adapted large van that now has a side stage and an escape hatch at the front of the taxi. So you can get somewhere, get in from the back, lower the station, put on a show, go back up and leave without ever really getting out of the van, which allows for social distancing. “
What to keep laughing and playing!
Lessons for the clown, wisdom for the world
The influence of Flying Seagulls is not limited to international work. While confined to working within the UK’s borders last year, Ash became aware of ‘the sad, sad truth that so many parts of the UK are in dire straits: food poverty to alienation; and ostracized communities expelled because of their ethnic origin or refugee status. So we realized that there is also a huge amount of work we can do while we are in the UK. In recognition of this need, the Seagulls are now offering activities in the UK on a full-time basis.
The Flying Seagull project is a 100% non-profit organization. In conjunction with international outreach, The Seagulls organizes unique festivals, children’s parties and tailor-made events. These events provide essential funds for working abroad.
Similar to overseas play sessions, at the heart of these events, the Seagulls hope to instill confidence in children and create an environment in which children feel safe enough to be fully themselves.
“We speak to them as equals: we speak to them as equals in terms of respect and as equals in terms of their humor. Kids are funny and they’re lively and silly, which is the same as us, ”Ash says.
Reflecting on his time with The Flying Seagull Project and the lessons he has learned over the past 14 years, Ash discovers the root of the magic and distinctive quality of the circus: “What I learned is that it all comes down to energy… If you do the thing you love, with love, for the people who you think might love it and you share it with them in a loving way, you will create change. . And this is how the world can change, this is how people who have been kicked out, marginalized, forgotten or deliberately deleted, this is how they can feel that they are part of things: this is passion is love, it is energy.
Ash encourages interested readers to get in touch with The Flying Seagulls. “Whatever you have to offer, if you are ready to offer it with love and energy, we will always have a place for it in one of our teams, someday, somewhere! Her final advice to readers is to find a partner for a laugh, someone in their community who would find pleasure and happiness in the talents you have to share and the things you love to do. “If you have something to give, there is someone who needs it. So go find them, don’t wait for them to come to you. Be the change, be the catalyst, be the circus!
To support, be part of or find more information aboutThe Flying Seagull project, visit www.theflyingseagullproject.com.
Dionigi, Alberto, and Carla Canestrari. “Clowning in Health Care Settings: The Point of View of Adults.” Europe's journal of psychology vol. 12,3 473-88. 19 Aug. 2016, doi:10.5964/ejop.v12i3.1107