Almost time for the 13th Annual Belén Festival, August 3-12, 2018, sponsored by Gesundheit! Institute!!!
Clowns from around the world return to Iquitos, Peru, near the headwaters of the Amazon River for the Belén Festival, an intensive experience in collaborative grassroots community activism.
Belén is one of Peru’s most distressed communities. It sits at the edge of Iquitos, the world’s largest city unreachable by road. Lower Belén, the riverfront district in the floodplain of the Itaya River, is inundated by floodwaters from January to June each year. Residents experience many problems (lack of clean water, sanitation, adequate health care, education and employment, high rates of illness, violence, alcoholism, drug abuse and teen pregnancy).
Twelve years ago, Gesundheit! and Bola Roja (a Lima-based hospital clown organization that has been instrumental in the conception and evolution of the Belén Festival since the very beginning) conceived the Belén Project. Clowns from both organizations met with the Belén citizens and ever since, we have been collaborating together in an effort to energize Belén citizens’ dreams for a healthier, happier community.
Over the years, the Festival has evolved from the original idea to paint every house in Lower Belén. It now includes workshops for children in art, dance and music. Community murals and health outreach, mental health clinics, parades and street theater. Now, for the first time ever, Gesundheit! supports the En Belén project: a year-round presence of clowns working in the community. We work together with a variety of local organizations (Amazon Promise, La Restinga, Selva Amazonica, and the Pan American Health Organization among others) whose intention is to provide Belén with support and resources to facilitate their desired development.
Clowning is the central action through which we connect with the community. Our experience working and playing in Belén has taught us much: particularly the crucial necessity of coupling our intentions with the performance of deep collaborative social action. Whatever else the Belén Project is, it is also an exploration of the social dimensions of individual and community health. Our “clown strategy” combines play, art, work, healthcare, and fun. Caring actions while working together are contagious.
The Belén Festival has continued to evolve so that we more thoughtfully and intelligently address Belen’s needs and give volunteers opportunities to learn about the roots of poverty, the richness of Belén’s social architecture and their collective creativity and resilience.
One of the challenges that Belén faces currently is an effort by the Peruvian government/local municipality to move the residents of lower Belén to a location away from the river, away from their known livelihoods, and away from their neighbors and homes. There is very little information shared with the residents of Belén and has been largely carried out in a secretive manner. We have been following this process as closely as possible and lending our support to our friends to foster a sense of empowerment and choice in this difficult time. Our hope is that the culture and sense of community of Belén will not be lost to the distress of relocation.
The purpose of this trip is not, as Kate Deccicio an artist/activist working with the Belén Festival said, “to provide a travel service for adults who want a summer camp experience…We are working toward cultivating a relationship with a community and facilitating opportunities for activists, artists, & people interested in public health to come to this community to experiment with ways that collaboration can be useful for both trip attendees and residents of Belén.”
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
For a more detailed description, including articles and photos of previous Belén Projects see:
Also, please watch this Pan American Health Organization documentary about the project.
Gesundheit hosts events focused on education—at the site of the future hospital and elsewhere.
Gesundheit offers an inspiring natural environment, sleeping arrangements, meeting spaces...
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