by Stu Dawrs
photo by Kent S. Hwang
"We know the real value of this work, from having been on the other side of that dark valley," says Leonardo Bella over a cup of tea in the cafeteria of Oahu’s Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children. Knee-socks and propeller-topped hat aside, it’s a rare unclownish moment for Leornado, his wife Una and their son, Luigi, as the family takes a break during an otherwise nonstop morning of bedside performances for ailing children and their families.
Today, Luigi is a happy and healthy five-year-old, but as a toddler he suffered a serious burn. While waiting for him to heal, Leonardo and Una—he a musician and she a professional clown—came to understand just how hard hospitalization can be for all involved. In response, the Bellas—who moved to the Islands from Jerusalem several years ago—founded the nonprofit Children’s Hospital Project in June 2001. Since then, funded solely by donations, they’ve traveled to Oahu every three weeks from their upcountry Maui home, visiting as many as sixty rooms during each seven-day stint—the ever-smiling Una singing, joking and performing laugh-inducing sleight-of-hand tricks, while Leonardo gently strums his guitar and Luigi just plain turns on the charm.
"Una is the professional, but Luigi is the true clown of the family," Leonardo chuckles. "When the children see him, they have instant rapport."
In the end, though, it’s not just the keiki who benefit. "Sometimes the parents are lower than the child," says Una. "But as long as we can get either one of them to smile, the other one comes around."
For information on making a donation to the Children’s Hospital Project, call (808) 385-8181.