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Clownselor is the new therapy being used by Sheetal and team to spread waves of laughter in hospitals.

sheetal agarwal

From listening to people say, “You studied to become a clown? What a waste!" to having heard people tell, "What a heart-warming and inspirational story! I have tears welling up in my eyes! You are doing one of the noblest deeds”, Sheetal Agarwal from New Delhi has travelled so much over the years. Her work is one-of-a kind that brings joy to people who necessarily have to clear their frowns. Hospitals have had the bad reputation of being the most serious and gloomy places but not if Sheetal Agarwal steps in with her team. She has been striving to bring smiles to the faces of children and other patients in the hospitals. When Sheetal decided to change the atmosphere of the hospitals, all she knew was nothing beyond the desire to gift laughter to patients but going forward, she made it happen. We all know that laughter reduces stress and pain by releasing endorphins helping in framing an overall positive outlook. This very fact has become the base to what Ms. Agarwal has been doing for years now. How? Read further.


To Start With The Background Story:

Sheetal Agarwal is a social anthropologist by training and is a lecturer by profession. Thanks to the January of 2016, when in a retreat, Sheetal met a woman named Dhara from Vadodara who introduced herself as a Medical Clown. Sheetal, who has heard of circus clowns, was puzzled by the new term “the Medical Clown”. She spoke with Dhara about her work, read about it, found that there were no such people or groups practicing it in Delhi and found herself ready to do it. After a series of talks with Dhara, Sheetal decided to make it happen in New Delhi. Thus, Sheetal’s inspiration behind what she is doing today is undoubtedly Dhara. Besides her, Sheetal was also inspired by Patch Adams, a movie in which a doctor treats patients using humour. Sheetal says that her education also played a key role in what she is doing today. "I am a trained anthropologist and sociologist. I used to be a lecturer. My training in these subjects helped here. We are really taught how to observe and be empathetic. So that really helped in clowning”.


The Lecturer Who Is Clowning In Hospitals:

As Sheetal wanted to take up medical clowning, she realised that it is still a new concept and hardly anyone knows about it. She began with seeking permission from the health ministry and once she received it, she was all set to go! Her main aim is to entertain the patients in the hospitals and bring a smile on to their faces. She knows that it wouldn’t cure their illnesses, but when they are made to laugh, it works for the best. She posted on Facebook, asking for 15 volunteers to join her, for the first hospital visit. She has also taken permission from the director of Chacha Nehru Bal Chikitsalaya to execute this. As none of them knew the basics of clowning, a workshop was planned but it didn’t happen. Also, only five volunteers turned up at the Chacha Nehru Bal Chikitsalaya. However, they didn’t feel dejected and have done a great show on the very first day, i.e.; 9th July, 2016. "We started clowning without any background in clowning. We formed a human chain, started singing and walking around in the hospital. That's how medical clowning started in Delhi”. she recounted.

Medical Clowning – A Great Therapy:

Medical Clowning is all about distracting the patients from what they are going through in the hospitals. For example, if a child is undergoing a painful medical procedure, a medical clown distracts his attention from what’s happening there, while the doctor is examining. This way, the medical clowns lighten the hospital environment for children. “The intent is to reduce pain and help in quick healing of children,” Sheetal explains. As many people came to know about Sheetal’s work, more volunteers started coming in and with this, Sheetal laid foundations to “Clownselors”, "a volunteer group that performs stress management activities and spreads smiles in hospitals!" Clownselors is a medical clowning group in which volunteers deck themselves up as clowns and visit hospitals providing relief from stress and pain to patients. "Clownseling or medical clowning is a therapy used to reduce pain, anxiety and stress using humour," explained Agarwal in one of her blog posts. 


How Is It Different From Circus Clowning?

That’s the question Sheetal answers readily. She explains, “One of the major differences between performance clowning and medical clowning is that, when we are clowning on stage, we are just performing whereas when we are clowning in hospitals, it is mainly engagement. It is about how much can I engage the other person. The concept of medical clowning is that no hospital should deny the patient the right to be happy”. The Clownselors also make sure that they follow rules like no-touch etc. in the hospitals, as they are sensitive zones but it changes depending on the environment. They give happy hugs to people in orphanages and old-age homes. "Unfortunately, the healthcare system is focussed on just the physical body while there is so much happening in the patient's mental health who is admitted at a hospital. For the holistic wellbeing of a person, both the physical and mental aspects are taken care of together," she mentions.


Reaching Out To People During The Pandemic:

With the onset of pandemic, it became difficult for Clownselors to go to the hospitals directly. It was very important that covid patients remain stress-free and thus Sheetal decided to take her services forward digitally. They did live events on Facebook, recorded short videos and sent them to patients to make them smile. "When the lockdown happened, I thought nothing can be done. During the first lockdown, we visited the micro-shelters to cheer the people up. There were some organisations that asked us to do some live events on Facebook. That is when we started exploring ideas about how we can go online. In a year and a half, we have done several online sessions," she said. They also conducted sessions on stress management and how health and happiness are correlated.


Happiness Of Five Years:

When one asks Sheetal how she feels about her work and what response she gets from people, she feels beyond excited to narrate the most wonderful experiences she has had since day one. "After we finished clowning for five hours, we came out and could not stop smiling because we had gathered so many smiles and so many experiences. There were so many parents who told us that our child has smiled after so many days today. He was not eating anything and today, he ate after a week. They had tears of joy seeing their kid so happy after so long." Sheetal feels extremely content that she and her team are not only bringing joy to people but are also helping to speed-up their recovery in many cases. "Our long-term vision is that doses of laughter should be given equal importance as doses of medicine in the healthcare system. Our short-term vision is to reach out to more hospitals," she said.


Reaching Out More:

Clownselors is not just spreading joy in New Delhi, but also in Maharashtra, Haryana, Meghalaya, Manipur, Karnataka, etc. They perform in hospitals, orphanages, slums and old age homes.

“When you treat a disease, you might win, you might lose, But when you treat a person, you'll win, no matter what the outcome!” – Sheetal Agarwal firmly believes in these words from Patch Adams. Keep going lady! The world needs people like you.

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