It’s time for the 13th Annual Belén Festival in Iquitos, Peru from August 3 through the 12, 2018, sponsored by the 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.”
This year we will build upon the work of previous years: the programs developed by the En Belén team, murals, workshops, community health outreach and of course, clowning.
Clowns from around the world will come together to share experiences and ideas. Our community design makes it easy to connect with your fellow clowns. Everyone adds a special spark to the group energy. Clowns will also have the opportunity to learn simple clown techniques during orientation workshops.
What we do:
Our focus is in the community of Lower Belén where we will clown and work each day. Community mental health clinics will be offered by clown volunteers with clinical experience: if you are a healthcare practitioner, experienced counselor or social worker, etc and would like to participate, please indicate on your application. There will also be opportunities for clowns to assist at these clinics as well. There are plenty of jobs to fill and each is an opportunity to connect with the community. Your days will be full of joyful work and your evenings full of sharing and celebration.
A typical day clowning breaks down into morning and afternoon activities with a siesta or lunch break in the middle of the day:
9am-12pm: After Breakfast clowns gather at the designated meeting place for various activities such as workshops, mural, or a specific clowning gig.
12pm-2pm: Time for a lunch break or siesta. This is time to find friends and grab lunch (many dining options within walking distance from the hotels) or just relax.
2pm-5pm: Clowns gather to go to the afternoon activities.
5pm onward: Dinner/Meetings/Evening activities.
Enjoy this short video with clips from the Belen Festival last year! Video by Leonardo Ramirez.
This year, we are offering two different registration packages for the Festival. The idea is that this allows a little more flexibility and autonomy for clowns to choose how they experience the Festival and their surroundings depending on their own needs.
Collaboration is only possible when we acknowledge all of the financial and power differentials that inform our relationships. This Festival is awesome because of the exchanges between people from all different places and backgrounds. The financial burden of the Festival price is the single most influential factor determining if a person can come or not and so this year we have tried to create a structure that makes the Festival more accessible for more people. By offering options that allow people to make choices based on what they need and what they can afford we hope to decrease the financial burden of this trip. Note that regardless of what package you choose you will be contributing and participating in ALL of the same activities. You will have access to all of the same resources and your overall experience will be the same. We will have entire group meetings and all work in Belén together, the biggest difference is reflected in what kind of accommodations you require, for more information see below.
*Before choosing a package we highly recommend that you seriously consider what your needs and experiences are, please ask yourself these questions to decide which package fits best for you.
PACKAGE ONE: $700
Must pay a $100 deposit upon registration
This package will resemble the offering of previous years. Experienced staff members will help to prepare you for the trip as well as stay in the same hotel should you need any advice, guidance or assistance while in Iquitos. A 9-day stay in a hotel will be included in the package price, along with scheduled pick-ups and drop offs from the airport.
You should choose this package if:
• You want to have AC in your room. Note: Iquitos is REALLY HOT and HUMID.
• You want reliable access to WiFi
• You want a reliable shower
• You are more comfortable staying somewhere with Festival staff
You have never traveled alone before (this is not a limiting factor it is just something to consider)
• You are new to the trip (this is not a necessary it is just something to consider)
• You don’t speak any Spanish at all (this is not a necessary it is just something to consider)
• You do not feel comfortable navigating a new and foreign place without some guidance
• You would prefer to have your accommodations reserved and managed for you
PACKAGE TWO: $200
Must pay a $100 deposit upon registration
This package is designed to resemble registration for a conference. The fee you pay signs you up for all of the activities and offerings of the Festival, but then the rest is up to you. We will not take care of reserving your accommodations (though we will provide some suggestions), we will not arrange to have you picked up or dropped off at the airport, and there will not be experienced staff staying with you in the same place.
You should choose this package if:
• You speak Spanish or feel comfortable with languages other than your own (this is not a necessity it is just something to consider)
• I do not have a problem in arranging my own lodging
• I have come to the Festival before or I have a good understanding of the project (this is not a limiting factor it is just something to consider)
• I have traveled alone before
• I do not need someone to look for me when I arrive in a place I am unfamiliar with
• I am comfortable staying in places that are not hotels and would be fine in a hostel or shared home
• I may not have all the reliable comforts such as: wifi, a hot shower, AC
The Festival packages DO NOT include:
If you have any questions about trip costs, or if you want some ideas for fundraising let us know! We have been doing this for a while and we are happy to help!
Ali Cheff – firstname.lastname@example.org
Charlotte Huggins – email@example.com
(Both Vanesa and Veronica are fluent Spanish speakers)
Vanesa Romano – firstname.lastname@example.org
Veronica Ubierta – email@example.com
Production & Development
Hayley Sklar – firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Don't miss the 13th annual Belen Festival. This trip happens just once a year!
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