Embracing laughter as one of the best medicines
Israel first in the world to develop professional medical clowning
In full clown garb, Shoshi Ofir leads the way from the main street of the Baruch Padeh (Poriya) Medical Center compound to a small building purposely situated in a slightly secluded location.
“This is the Tene Center,” she announces proudly, pointing to the unassuming edifice with her shiny green purse, shaped like a watering can.
The red rubber ball covering her nose, and the pink plastic boots grabbing the bottoms of her colorful coveralls, glisten in the strong Tiberias sun.
Ofir, 50, whose family immigrated to Israel from South Africa when she was seven, is speaking Hebrew with a convincing Argentinean accent, exhibiting a fraction of the many roles she assumes as a full-time medical clown. She slips just as comfortably into a French accent, eliciting smiles from Tene’s staff — which includes a gynecologist, a colorectal surgeon, a pediatrician, a social worker, nurses, two other medical clowns and a secretary.
Unlike the kids with physical ailments, no matter how life-threatening, victims of sexual abuse have had the ‘battery’ of their spirit killed…They come here with deadened expressions, unable to make eye contact.
The Tene Center for the Treatment of Sexual Assault Victims, established in 2001, is the first treatment center in the world that uses medical clowns as part of the protocol for sexual-abuse victims.
Broken and fearful
Ofir acknowledges that what goes on within the cheerfully decorated treatment center is no laughing matter. The majority of the patients are children and teenagers, and they arrive in a state beyond trauma. Helping them heal, according to Ofir, is far more challenging even than cheering patients with fatal illnesses.
“Unlike the kids with physical ailments, no matter how life-threatening, victims of sexual abuse have had the ‘battery’ of their spirit killed,” Ofir tells ISRAEL21c. “They come here with deadened expressions, unable to make eye contact.”
These broken, fearful and suspicious individuals (85 percent female and 15 percent male, most between 11 and 18, according to 2013 data) arrive at Tene after referral by social services or the police. They are interviewed by a social worker and psychologist and examined by a gynecologist, which causes them great distress even though the examining table is embedded in a huge rubber hippopotamus with friendly eyes and a reassuring smile.
This article has been republished with permission by www.ISRAEL21c.org. Click here to continue reading.