About me: I have been performing magic since I was a boy and while I have been a professional humanitarian campaigner and programmer. My name is Jamie Balfour-Paul using the stage name Jamie Jibberish as I use a lot of nonsense magic language! I am a UK citizen living in Lebanon (and in the Middle East generally for the last decade). A year ago I become full time as a magician but still humanitarian - thus Humanitarian Magician - for deprived and vulnerable children mainly refugees in Lebanon.
The need: There are over 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon; and almost half a million Palestinians (including those displaced a second time, now from Syria). 1 in 4 of Lebanon's population is a refugee.
Up to 30% of refugees - that is 450,000 - are children. whose lives along with vulnerable Lebanese kids are inevitably very hard.
What I have done to date:
For the last year I have done magic shows working with over 40 international and local charities, some with repeat shows. Work has been around the country in camps, activity centres, and overcrowded schools (shared with Lebanese kids). The objective is to help make the kids happy and smile and take stress out of their traumatised lives - hence the initiative is called Magic For Smiles. There is also potential for psycho social value through magic for which I am engaging with a university in ongoing research.
What I need funds for:
The initiative over most of the last year has been largely self-financed with only periodic modest fees, which approach I can no longer sustain. Your donations will help me expand and continue this work so more kids are reached, and possibly into Jordan. Costs cover: a) my basic living expenses in Lebanon b) transport to different centres and camps across the country and maybe Jordan c) production of promotion materials online and offline d) equipment and supplies e) marketing support f) outreach and practice time as far as resources allow. I am targeting another six months work time after which I will review both the market and further fundraising potential. I also seek limited private shows to subsidise the humanitarian, but so far have barely been able to tap that market which is also of far less interest.
I will be very grateful for any help you can give me in this opportunity before me - there are always too many kids eager for more happiness and possibility through a touch of magic in their tough lives.
For more details see Facebook MagicForSmiles and http://magicforsmiles.com/
To date I have performed 240 shows with 118 organisations working with children, since early 2016. Included in these have been 30 private shows and festivals which help subsidise the focus of the work which is humanitarian.
The majority of Lebanon has now been reached, most recently in the far south of Lebanon right next to the Israeli border, and in N. Bekaa near the Syrian border.
The smiles on the children's faces remain the driving force behind Magic for Smiles. The initiative continues to provide benefits beyond entertainment and de-stressing. There is ample evidence of potentially increased cognitive skills, concentration levels, interaction, imagination, self-confidence and motivation.
Promoting humanitarian magic is not without its challenges. The activity is still seen as of novelty rather regular value by some, other organisations may be simply too busy, and others are unable to be flexible enough. And of course, funding is a big constraint on sustaining programmes in general leave alone Magic for Smiles which depends mostly on its own funding. Across Lebanon funding for the Syria response has reduced and funding cuts (by the US) for UNRWA upon which many Palestinians depend is already being felt. Finally, a research institution has not yet been secured to front the research on the impact of magic.
Pipeline and opportunities:
Magic for Smiles still occupies a unique niche which represents a major strength. It is also currently undergoing a registration process - once registered as a charity, its profile will be strengthened and funding opportunities increased. The portfolio offered will diversify further looking to a greater extent at tuition packages, along with more concerted attempts to find partnerships with which the integration of magic within psychosocial programmes can be better explored.
The initiative is still largely self-funded but there is during late October a fundraising drive in the UK. This process has also rejuvenated the appeal for which the link is pasted here - all contributions really help however small https://www.gofundme.com/humanitarian-magic
Thank you so much for your interest and support
28 July: I have now reached 20% of my crowd-funding target I am so very grateful to previous and recent contributors – however these are now irregular which means that any future updates depend on contributions made.
In the period since May 5 to the early July (after which I took went to the Edinburgh magic convention and took leave), I have conducted over twenty shows. This was focused on the run up to and the month of Ramadan, and followed by a full week marked by World Refugee Day.
Further shows were delivered in several Palestinian camps under the auspices of Beit Atfaal el Summoud – in Shatilla, and camps in Tyre. Shows were also carried out in the grossly under resourced settlements in Akaar with Mishwar Amal and Relief and Reconciliation for Syria. As well as other schools in Lebanon Ramadan was marked by shows for street kids with Makhzoumi Foundation in the specially created Ramadan village in Beirut. For World Refugee Week I did shows with International Medical Corps, and Secours Islamique Francais in five areas around the country. Tuition work has not proved possible of late, such is the number of kids with a preference expressed by organisations for touching the many rather than focus on a few trainees.
I am expecting to do a mission to Jordan in August working with vulnerable refugee and local children. I am also on standby for a mission to Iraq based on the previous mission made in April - the focus on Mosul has been a distraction to many and busy organisations. At the end of August, I will be joining the Yellow Days festival in Leros, Greece with Syrian refugees.
Marketing is characterised by two campaigns on both humanitarian and private shows – through hashtags #comingtogether and #happysurprises respectively. Social media needs to be more targeted to generate bookings which are all the result of bilateral outreach. The research element looking at the impact of magic within psychosocial support has been ongoing, but the formal engagement of an academic institution has been put on hold for bureaucratic reasons.
Al Arabiya Al Jadeed expressed great and immediate interest and did the following coverage of the Makhzoumi shows in Arabic and English (a few bits not quite right) including an interview with myself.
And incase convenient, the crowdfund link is below – still open for business!
Many thanks and bye for now
5 May: I have now reached 15% of my crowd-funding target and I am extremely grateful for those who have contributed and shared the post to date. The campaign is naturally still live so I just wanted to give a few other highlights:
I have given ten shows since the last update. The children have been mostly Palestinians many of whom are also Syrian Palestinians. The Palestinian shows have been in UN run schools for Palestinians, and through Palestinian NGOs. In many ways the Palestinians are tougher kids and more entrenched in a life of despair - given the camps in Lebanon are so old and overcrowded with little or no help from the host government who never expected the Palestinians to stay for so long after 1948. There are frequent stories of kids dying from water and electricity cables (intertwined all over the camps) meeting their fate.
The Syrian kids I worked with are definitely those with least or no institutional exposure – thus very hard to control. However, a school in the hills of Damour south of Beirut, set up by an extraordinary dedicated individual involving the Church provided a venue for a wonderful day’s magic with the over 100 Syrian kids. And up in the hills of Akaar Northern Lebanon Mishwar Amel is doing amazing work with local groups fostering creativity among very stressed out Syrian kids in makeshift camps, and observed how the magic was able to increase levels of concentration not achievable in the classroom.
I have just done a trip to Iraq and was able to link up with a number of local and international organisations for hopefully future collaboration – in the Erbil governorate where all NGOs in Iraq have their national office and where many camps exist, and close to the ongoing crisis in Mosul. I am on standby for work in the Jordan refugee camps after a visit earlier this year.
Plans are being put in place for a scale up in the run up to Ramadan with local and international NGOs and direct in the Syrian camps. There is a sustained need for traditional and social media marketing.
Last months media coverage was picked up by Relief Web
Incase convenient, the crowdfund link is below – as a reminder I have been running the Magic for Smiles initiative in Lebanon for around a year, largely self-financed but this approach is no longer viable (and there is evidence of the voluntary approach not being taken seriously)
Many thanks and bye for now
It so happens that media coverage planned for sometime happily coincided with the launch of the crowdfunding. I wanted to share the two articles below:
• The main daily English newspaper in Lebanon covered a show in Bar Elias in the Bekaa valley where some amazing volunteers under the name of Eyes of Syria have established a small activity centre for kids - these kids living in plastic tents have never known a school or an organised venue of any kind before http://snip.ly/1gbis
• From a show at a school in Tyre South Lebanon run by the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees (including from Syria) – the school was bursting at the seams with the numbers of excited students which reached 140.
Shows in the last two weeks (all free):
Syrian Eyes – a voluntary based group has established a centre for kids in a camp in Bar Elias in the Bekaa valley – these very high energy kids have never been to school or seen any formal institution to accommodate them. They are tangibly desperate to de-stress, and lighten up wonderfully when there is any event just for them.
Barouk School in Shouf, 1.5 hours southeast of Beirut:
The school is an exemplary one accommodating both Syrians (afternoon shift) and Lebanese. No one knew how many would turn up but in the event the room was full to bursting.
Ramalla School in Shatilla camp Beirut:
This camp has been in existence since 1948 and remains chronically marginalised and dependent on the UN whose funds are constantly depleted. The UN (UNRWA) school is the only UNRWA one in the camp and houses 650 pupils. We could only take 1 stream initially of over 100 but several more streams attended in the end making the age range 9-12 among 160.
Incase convenient, the crowdfund link is below – as a reminder I have been running the Magic for Smiles initiative in Lebanon for around a year, largely self-financed but this approach is no longer viable (and there is evidence of the voluntary approach where needed is not taken seriously either)
Many thanks and bye for now