The Clown Doctors New Zealand Charitable Trust, launched in New Zealand in 2009, has brought medical clowning to 180,000 children to old people in hospitals and eldercare facilities. At the end of May the charity lost its contract with Starship Children’s Hospital in favour of funding play therapists. Professor Thomas Petschner, the founder and chief executive of the Clown Doctors’ charity said it was now fighting to keep its service going and facing having to scale down its children’s programme.
“It’s heart-breaking for us to even consider this action,” says Petschner. “What we do is an important part of the recovery of sick kids and for the elderly, it injects some happiness into their lives at a time when opportunities for a good old belly laugh can be scarce.”
The charity is seeking a $100,000 injection of funds to maintain the service and have launched a GiveaLittle campaign to encourage the public to get behind their organisation.
The 1998 Robin Williams’ movie Patch Adams brought the need for humour in medicine to the public attention. The New Zealand Clown doctors have all been trained in medical clowning to cover the various medical conditions they encounter so their clowning and the laughter they bring has the sensitivities of sick children in mind. (See an earlier story on Clown Doctors working with children and nurses.)
They also began clowning with older people and three years ago moved into working with rest home residents with positive feedback including one resident saying: “This is the best day I’ve had since I’ve been here. I love both of you. I’ve had so much fun. Can you come back and see me again”.
Petschner said with more than 27,000 charitable trusts in New Zealand the competition for the donor dollar has taken its toll on many great causes including Clown Doctors. But he said he was hopeful that the general Kiwi spirit of giving at Christmas would help them keep the services going and that it would be taken up as a cause by social media as the trust couldn’t afford to advertise.