Dr Clown

September 14, 2018 by Henry Benjamin
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Amnon Raviv has earned a PhD in medical clowning, a subject which is intensely serious but produces smiles from so many who have so little to laugh about.

Amnon at work
Photo: Hezi Panet

In Australia to share his knowledge and skills with others, Amnon Raviv took time out to talk to J-Wire.

JW:You were trained in theatre and left Israel in 2000 to live in London. What were your initial plans?

AR:  I went to London to attain an MA in theatre and to gain experience.

JW:  What drew you to medical clowning?

AR:  I was in early 20s and was in Amsterdam where I bought a camper van planning to travel for a few months throughout Europe to perform street shows. I ended up doing juggling, clowning and playing music for four years. No mobiles at that time, so I would call my parents once a month in Ashkelon to check out if they were OK. So after four years, one call was did not give me good news. My father told me my mother had cancer and had been hospitalised and operated on in the Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem.

JW:   What did you do?

AR: I caught the first plane I could to return home. I didn’t tell anyone I was coming and went straight to see her in the oncology ward. It was very emotional. We were laughing and hugging. I accompanied her for months as she went through all the treatments. She recovered.

JW: And then?

AR: At that time I knew that I wanted to visit these wards to bring some smiles into these tragic lives. I didn’t do any clowning when my mother was in the hospital.

JW:  Did you any medical clowns at the time your mother was there?

AR:  No.  I had heard on the grapevine that something like medical clowns exist…but in the USA.

JW:  So I started doing medical clowning and 16 years ago I joined the Dream Doctors project and I started to teach medical clowning at the University of Haifa and at the medical school in the Ben-Gurion University. I wanted to understand more about medical clowning and started to study the effects ending up with the first medical clowning PhD in the world focusing on medical clowning for patients with life-threatening and incurable diseases. I was at teacher at the Haifa University which had launched a BA degree in medical clowning. Now they have initiated an MA degree in medical clowning in Tel Hai College in the north.


JW: Do you only teach in Israel?

AR: No. I give workshops and lectures around the world. I was in South Africa for two weeks before coming to Australia. It is an new initiative in South Africa so I went teach new students. They had a background in theatre. Most of the students were from Soweto. We had five days in the studio and five days in township hospitals.

JW: What have you done in Australia?

AR:  I worked with the Humour Foundation and gave the lectures and conducted workshops. It was amazing. People came from all around Australia.

JW:  Have you worked with Arab children?

Amnon at work
Hezi Panet

AR: Sure. I have worked with everybody. This is a non-religious all nationalities organisation. Unfortunately, I cannot go into the Palestinian areas…but did work in a hospital on the border with Gaza with both Jews and Palestinians with acute disorders. I also work at the Sheba Tel Hashomer hospital where I befriended many Palestinians.

JW: How many medical clowns are there in Israel?

AR: There are about 100 professionals…and many more volunteers.

JW: How many are there in Australia?

AR: About 60.

JW:  I am aware that you deal with patients in the areas of oncology, paediatrics and geriatrics. Do you have separate routines?

AR:  Is it a different type of clowning for a little kid than it is for an adult but the fundamentals are the same. The core is savour connecting with people. When you have the rapport with patients you can show humour and fantasy.

JW: Is there a special story.

AR: Tin 2012 in paediatrics in a large hospital and I was asked to work in the adults oncology. After two years, the administration told me they had run out of budget and I was just to restrict to paediatrics.  When I said goodbye to the patients they said they would not let me go as the believed the clowning was so important to them. The patients used social media to contact the administration requesting that the budget was maintained as it was important for them.The head of the department added her name to the request.The hospital in Tel Hashomer had up to that time booked the medical clowns to coincide with the days on which patients received chemotherapy. They restored the budget.

Amnon Raviv’s dream is for medical clowning to be available “in every hospital in the world”. He told J-Wire: “Modern medicine deals with the body but the clowns treat the soul. The boost the healing process.”

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