THOUSANDS of refugee children have discovered the wonders of magic, thanks to an Oxford man's unusual show.

Jamie Balfour-Paul, a full-time 'humanitarian magician', has spent the last three years bringing smiles to the faces of vulnerable children across Lebanon through his Magic for Smiles initiative.

The former aid worker performs his one-man shows under the stage name Jamie Jibberish in front of crowds of up to 200 people.

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Many of the children are Syrians traumatised by war and Mr Balfour-Paul aims to positively impact their lives through magic.

He said: “My motivation is the smiles on the kids' faces, but there are so many other benefits.

“There’s the cognitive skills, the imagination and the teamwork, plus the trust and self-confidence.

“The kids are stressed out, traumatised or bored and often in cramped and grim conditions.

"It’s the perfect thing to lift their spirits."

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The majority of the Middle Eastern country's refugee population is Syrian, while there are also many displaced Palestinians.

In 2016, the then part-time magician set up Magic for Smiles, a largely self-financed scheme that welcomes extra funding where possible

The magician takes his show to locations across Lebanon, from schools and urban areas to informal Syrian settlements and long-established Palestinian camps.

Mr Balfour-Paul's stage name stems from the use of 'magical mystery language', although the shows are mostly conducted in Arabic.

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The hour-long performances normally attract 70 to 80 people and aim to be as interactive as possible.

Mr Balfour-Paul only needs a table and a mobile sound system, while he uses everyday objects such as bottles, balloons and oranges.

He said: “My repertoire is a bit more broad brush than it would be in the UK.

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“Kids love anything and I don’t have to be quite so selective.

“I use small, everyday objects to make the impossible seem possible. If it was too high tech it might not have the same impact.”

The 57-year-old spent two decades working for Oxfam and has been based in Oxford for the last 15 years.

Mr Balfour-Paul is a 'lifelong believer in aid' and has held charity positions including country director, campaign manager and advisor in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa.

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During that time, he helped farmers in northern Sudan grow vegetables for the first time and was attacked by rebels in northern Uganda.

After three decades as an aid worker, he resigned from his job in the Middle East to combine his twin passions of work and magic.

He has held approximately 260 shows since then, working through 120 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Lebanon.

Oxford Mail:

Despite performing up to three times per week, Mr Balfour-Paul admits it can be difficult to persuade NGOs to let him hold his shows.

He said: “It’s a different form of aid.

“I’d like to do more but the issue is promoting it, as magic is a bit of a novelty."

He is currently back in the UK, but Mr Balfour-Paul will soon return to Lebanon and is hoping to expand into Turkey, Jordan and Iraq over the next few months.

For more information, visit his fundraising page at