10th Annual Belen Announcement Letter

Group-1 The bells are tolling! This year we celebrate the 10th Annual Belén Festival, the central action of the Belén Project.   We are 10 years into our “marriage”with Pueblo Libre’s families and each year we rekindle and nourish the friendships we’ve been developing over the years. Forget aluminum or tin, vamos a Belén!

Pasacalle-78The Belén Project has gradually centered itself near the heart of Belén through its most cherished members-its children. The workshops, murals, theater presentations, and clowning have consistently stirred the imaginations of Belén’s children, and formed bonds of affection between clown volunteers and Belén families. The “Tell Us Your Story”street clinics, a radical community mental health approach, have provided care and hope for hundreds of Belén citizens.

We are not afloat in a starry-eyed honeymoon phase however. During the last 10 years, the people of Pueblo Libre have endured extreme flooding and fire.  The people, our friends in Belén, continue to experience a whole tangled web of challenges: unemployment, malnutrition, crime, alcoholism, lack of clean water and sanitation, teen pregnancy, family violence and so on. We do not turn a blind eye to these difficulties but engage with the reality our friends face.  Our role as clowns is to honor and celebrate the strength and beauty and example of community that Belén is, hence, the Festival.

Lars-&-Woman-1We hope to deepen our relationship with Belén through a clown residency program blossoming this year. We anticipate a more Belén-centered direction for not only festival activities, but the short and long
term activities as well. Yet the biggest changes seen by the Belén Project have been in us, the clown volunteers ourselves, reflected in a willingness to evaluate our own biases, and to be increasingly able to accept and learn from Belén on its terms.

Each year, a theme is chosen to be explored over the course of the Festival in the street theater performances, the workshops, the mural painting and all the many activities going on throughout the community.  We are thrilled to announce that this year, Belén’s residents have chosen ¨Respect¨as the theme, a wonderful choice for the 10th anniversary of the Festival. It’s a huge honor to share this celebration with our friends in Belén and to learn together, through play and fun, about the role of respect in families, schools and communities.

Clowning-1In closing, I am reminded of a description of the Belén Project by a volunteer 5 years ago. He said, “We are building a bridge. We don’t know exactly where the bridge will take us, but we do know it is a good thing.” The “goodness”of the Belén Project is manifest in the love we share with Belén’s people. But good intentions are not enough. Let us act in the spirit of this love.

– John Glick

Patch Adams MD & Gesundheit Institute, P.O. Box 307, Urbana, IL 61803

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