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Venezuela sends in the clowns

BY PJ HELLER | LA GUAIRA, Venezuela | January 15, 2000

LA GUAIRA, Venezuela (Jan. 15, 2000) - Sitting on wooden bleachers in a

government relief center, Igor Esqueda isn't hard to spot.

Dressed in a clown outfit and wearing a blue, yellow, red, purple and green

wig, he is peering carefully into a mirror as he carefully applies brightly

colored face paints.

In the midst of the devastating floods and mudslides in Venezuela in

mid-December -- an estimated 400,000 people are homeless and upwards of

30,000 were killed -- Esqueda and a group of five others from this hard-hit

area are trying to bring some happiness to those who survived.

"We believe we have a special role in helping," explained Levea Revello, a

teacher who is also coordinating the clown program.

Every day since Dec. 22, the group has traveled to shelters and relief

areas, carrying presents for children -- most of whom lost what little they

had in the floods and mudslides -- and small bags of treats to eat.

"We're trying to bring them some happiness, some fun," said Revello, who is

also one of the clown troupe. "We're trying to bring happiness where there

is sadness."

The group was formed at the urging of Marlene de Laya, wife of Alfredo

Laya, governor of the state of Vargas. The clown troupe includes a

preschool teacher, a grade school teacher, special education teacher and a

psychologist in addition to Revello and Esqueda. All except Esqueda are

from La Guaira, one of the hardest hit areas in the country.

None of them had worked together before.

Esqueda arrived here from San Juan, Puerto Rico, two months before the

floods and was conducting clown workshops with local youngsters.

On the way to spread some cheer, the group is conspicuous riding in the

back of a pickup truck through the streets here, smiles on their faces.

To hear members of the troupe tell it, they are getting as much, if not

more, from their efforts than the youngsters they are visiting.

"We get an incredible amount of satisfaction (from doing this)," Esqueda said.

"The smiles and waves, it just fills our hearts with so much love,"

Revello said. "It gives us such an uplifting feeling. It just gives me

goose bumps.

"It's hard for me to describe (the feeling) in words," she added. "We don't

receive any financial gain -- but the smiles from the children are worth

everything."

Posted Jan. 15, 2000


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