Adam Rasgon Jerusalem Post 20/03/17
Abu Shaaban, a medical clown from central Gaza, was inspired to work as a medical clown after first receiving treatment in Israel as a cancer patient.
“Where are you from?” a young girl being treated at Hadassah University Medical Centre in Jerusalem asked Abdullah Abu Shaaban, a medical clown from central Gaza Strip.
“I am from Haaretz,” Abu Shaaban responded in fluent Hebrew, referring to the Hebrew term for “the land”.
“In the North or the South?” the young girl responded sitting alongside her mother.
“I will make it easier for you,” Abu Shaaban said. “I live in the centre”.
After a number of incorrect guesses, Abu Shaaban told the girl his home is next to Egypt.
“Gaza?” she answered incredulously.
Abu Sheeban replied in the affirmative, smiling at the girl, who had not expected to meet a medical clown from Gaza.
Abu Sheeban a 23 year old resident of Deir al-Balah, a modest neighbourhood south of Gaza City, first came to Israel in July 2007 for cancer treatment. His mother, a doctor, know that he could not be treated in Gaza’a facilities, but felt uncomfortable with sending him to Israel as it would offend her medical colleagues, Abu Sheeban recalled.
She sat quietly at home for 10 days and then decided there was no other choice but to send her son to Israel to receive treatment. Abu Sheeban, was accompanied by his uncle as his mother was denied permission to enter Israel, found he had developed a rare form of cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma.
He needed to undergo rigorous chemotherapy and surgery to remove the tumour, and well as bone marrow treatment. Both treatments were performed successfully over a period and Abu Sheeban was eventually declared cancer free.
Throughout his illness he felt anxious and worried about his future, but when he was in the hospital, medical clowns transported him to an alternative reality and brought a smile to his face.”I felt so great at the time. The clown had pulled me out of my depression and brough joy into my life,” he said “I knew at that moment I wanted to be a clown.”
In mid-2008, Abu Sheeban returned to his homeland and continued his schooling there. While he started his studies at the Islamic University in Gaza to be a journalist in 2014, he know he wanted to pursue a career as a medical clown.
Abu Sheeban worked with the two organisations for more than a year, but they did not have the resources to educate him. Struggling to find a way to develop his skills, Abu Sheeban resorted to YouTube videos and other websites to educate himself.
The only problem is medical clowning is unheard of in Gaza.
“In Gaza, there is not much interest in medical clowning, but I found two organisations that, amongst other work, bring medical clowns to hospitals in Gaza,” Abu Sheeban said “So I went to them and became a medical clown for the first time.”
In mid February 2016, Abu Sheeban was searching for medical clowns on Facebook and added Sasha Kapustina, an American-Israeli filmmaker as a friend.
Kapustina, who had just returned to her hometown in Los Angeles after months of filming a documentary on medical clowns in Israel, was surprised by Abu Sheeban’s friend request.
“I got a Facebook request from Abdullah and I was like, What?” Karustina said “I looked at his Facebook page and noticed he writes in Hebrew, and I thought this was interesting.”
Kapustina also noticed that she and Abdullah had many mutual medical clown friends and concluded he must be a clown.
“We spoke over Facebook and Whats App for several weeks and Abdullah told me how he wanted to come study clowning in Israel,” Kapustina said “ so I reached out to David Barashi, a clown at Hadassah, about looking into the the possibility of Abdullah training with him.”
Barashi liked the idea and presented it to Eitan Kerem, Hadassah’s Head of Paediatrics who gave it his blessing. Barashi, Kerem and Kupustina agreed that Abu Sheeban would come to Israel for four weeks to train under Barashi’s instruction, and for Kuperstina to film him for her documentary.
Kapustina then contacted the Coordinator of Government activities in the Territories and helped Abu Sheeban obtain a permit.
During the month of February, Abu Sheeban worked with Barashi, learning medical clowning formally for the first time.
“I didn’t realise how complicated clowning actually was and it was hard for me to internalise that at first,” he said “but I tried to hone my skills and gradually improved, with the help of my teacher”.
“I want to continue to learn, but I’ll have to rely on the internet again when I return to Gaza,” Abu Sheeban said. “ I love the work, it allows you to enter a world where your religion, language, race doesn’t matter. What is important is that we are all human,” he said “ so I will continue to do the work, even if I am not paid.”
Since returning to Gaza, Abu Sheeban has already volunteered as a clown four times at al-Rantisi Children’s Hospital, employing his skills he learned from his fellow clowns in Israel.
Abdallah Abushaban, a 23-year-old man from Dir al-Balakh in Gaza, wants to be a medical clown.
Posted by Haaretz.com on Sunday, March 19, 2017
For more on Hadassah’s Medical Clowning see our Hadassah UK’s page https://hadassahuk.org/hadassahs-hospital-clowns/