An inspiring clown therapy initiative brings joy and laughter to sick children in one of the world’s most troubled regions It’s a dark, difficult period for the Holy Land. Yet despite the troubles of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Sister Lucia of Caritas Baby Hospital in Bethlehem is swapping her nun’s habit for striped socks, brightly coloured clothes and a generous splash of face paint. She’s coordinator of the Band of Smiles, 12 volunteers who work at the hospital and make up the very first clown troupe on the West Bank. Twice a month, the team brings colour and laughter to the hospital, to spread joy among sick children in this conflict-torn region. These children include seven-year-old Mahmud, a cystic fibrosis sufferer whose condition requires regular uncomfortable physiotherapy. As the clowns sing to him during this treatment, his eyes light up and he begins to laugh. And he’s just one of hundreds of success stories that help lift spirits and – ultimately – boost health. The Caritas Baby Hospital is financed and managed by children’s charity Children’s Relief Bethlehem. The hospital goes beyond political boundaries and offers medical aid and ongoing, wider social support to over 34,000 children each year, regardless of nationality or creed. And it plays a vital role. As a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, children here are constantly susceptible to poverty, hunger and death. Many do not have access to even the most basic medical care. Says Mr Andreas Bachofner, Chairman of Children’s Relief Bethlehem UK, ‘Given the lack of medical provision in the region, the work of the Caritas Baby Hospital offers potentially life-saving care to thousands of children every year.’ As for sister Lucia, she’s looking forward to the upcoming Band of Smiles Christmas show. It’s a musical for patients, mothers and employees, but she remains tight-lipped about the details. What’s certain is that it will involve lots of smiles and laughter. And these are things every child deserves – wherever he or she happens to grow up.