Almost time for the 12th Annual Belén Festival, August 2-16, 2017, 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.”
This year we will build upon the work of previous years: murals, workshops, community health outreach and of course, clowning.
Over one hundred clowns from around the world will come together to share experiences and ideas. Despite the size of the clown volunteer group, our community design makes it easy to connect with your fellow clowns. Everyone adds a special spark to the group energy. Each volunteer belongs to a small family group, which is facilitated by an experienced clown. The small group experience will help you get your feet on the ground, bond with other clowns, and plan your daily activities.
Beginning clowns will have the opportunity to learn simple clown techniques during orientation workshops. There are also several workshops offered throughout the Festival. These serve to build trust and friendship amongst the entire clown team, while also enriching and providing new skills whether you’re a new or seasoned clown. If you have a talent that would lend itself well to the workshop format we encourage you to share: please indicate in your application if this is something you are interested in! Also, during some evenings our trip elders (Patch Adams, Johnny Glick, and Carl Hammerschlag) will host discussions with an opportunity to explore questions about the philosophy of clowning and community work.
What we do:
Our focus is in the community of Lower Belén where we will clown and work each day. Small clowning groups go to hospitals, care facilities, prisons and hospices throughout Iquitos. 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/Family meetings/evening activities.
Enjoy this short video with clips from the Belen Festival last year! Video by Leonardo Ramirez.
For South American, Central American, & Mexican passport holders the total cost is $650. For ALL other passport holders, the total cost is $1250.
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.
As North Americans who earn a currency that has more global value than the currency earned by our friends in South America, it is our responsibility to recognize this difference as inequity. To resolve this imbalance, we’ve created a price that is roughly equal within the context of the economy where people earn their living. If we ignored this calibration, most of the teachers, artists, musicians & clowns from South America who make the Festival so rich would not be able to attend.
Therefore after much thought and conversation between the North & South American factions involved in Festival production, we’ve decided that:
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!
Email BelenFestival@patchadams.org with any questions.
Registrars & Pre-Trip Clown Support
Production & Development
En Belén Team
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 12th annual Belen Festival. This trip happens just once a year!
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