14th Annual Belén Festival

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August 9-18, 2019 | Iquitos, Peru

It’s time for the 14th Annual Belén Festival in Iquitos, Peru from August 9 through the 18, 2019, 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.




For the last 14 years, clowns, musicians, artists and doctors from all over the world have partnered with the people of Belen to create Festival de Belen. It is a community art and public health festival designed to build relationships, celebrate, collaborate and learn together.

Belén is a community in the Peruvian Amazon. In the early morning, dozens of boats sail along the Itaya River to the ports of Belén carrying commercial goods for the main supplier of food and materials to the city of Iquitos -The Belen Market-.
The residential area of Belen,  Pueblo Libre, where the Festival takes place, is located in the area of Belen at the lowest elevation, along the river. From January to July, this area floods due to the increased water levels of the Itaya River.

The conditions in which most families live in this area are challenging and include overcrowding and lack of sewage or public services. In addition, much of the Iquitos sewage system, drains into  Pueblo Libre and the lower Belén area impacting the health of the people who live there as a result of exposure to non potable water.
Like many communities characterized by conditions of poverty and marginalization, Belén suffers from stigmatization.

Thirteen years ago, Gesundheit! Institute (NGO founded by Dr. Patch Adams) and Bola Roja (organization of Lima hospital clowns that has been fundamental to the conception and evolution of the Festival de Belen) came to Belen and decided to make the commitment to return every year.

DSC_1571In its first years, clowns and community members collaborated on painting houses during the festival. This activity served as a way to spend time together and build relationships. Clowning has been and is the central action through which we interact with the community. The clown creates space for allows us to engage in lateral relationships that serve as the basis of all of our community work. Over time these relationships facilitate bonds of mutual trust, friendships, opportunities for exchange, growth, reflection and joint learning.

Our experience working and playing in Belen has taught us a lot: in particular the importance of articulating our intentions of this deeply collaborative social action. The Belen Festival is also an exploration of the social dynamics that impact individual and community wellness.

Our “Clown Strategy” combines play, art, work, health and fun. While working together, attention and care are contagious.

The Festival has evolved from house painting and now it includes arts workshops, dance, music, mural painting, house-to-house visits, community mental health clinics, street theater, movie nights, clowns in the community and institutions (such as health clinics, the market, etc.) and much more. Also, the festival has grown so today many workshops are lead by community members from Belen, sharing their knowledge, talents and skills.

The purpose of this trip, as Kate Deccicio, artist and activist who works with us says, “We are working to cultivate a relationship with the community by facilitating opportunities for activists, artists and people interested in public health to experience how collaboration can serve both the participants of the trip, and the residents of Belen.”



This year we will continue building on the work of previous years: murals, workshops, promotion of community health and, of course, clowning.

Clowns from around the world will come together to share experiences and ideas. Despite the size of the group of volunteers, our community design facilitates the connection with new clown friends. Each participant adds a special spark for the energy of the group. Each volunteer belongs to a small group, a family, which is guided by an experienced clown. The experience in families will help you land your feet on the ground, join other clowns, and plan daily activities.



Our focus is on the community of “Belén Bajo”, where we are going to clown and work every day. Mental health clinics in the community are offered by volunteer clowns with clinical experience: If you are a health professional or social worker, etc., and wish to participate, please indicate this on your application. There will also be opportunities for clowns to help at these clinics. There are many jobs to fill and each one is an opportunity to connect with the community. Mornings and evenings will be full of joyful work and nights are full of sharing and celebration!

A typical day of clowning is made up of morning and afternoon activities with a break for lunch in the middle of the day:

9am-12pm: After breakfast the clowns meet at the designated meeting place for various activities such as workshops, murals, or a specific clown job.

12pm-2pm: Time for a break for lunch or nap. This is the time to find friends and have lunch (many dining options within walking distance of the hotels) or just relax.

2pm-5pm: Clowns gather to go to the afternoon activities.

5pm onward: Dinner / family meetings / afternoon activities.



We recommend that clowns arrive in Iquitos on Friday, August 9 and return home on Sunday, August 18th. This way we have from August 12 to 16 for activities with the community!


August 9: Clowns and clowns arrive in Iquitos!
August 10: Welcome and orientation meetings
August 11: Initial parade
August 12-16: Festival!
August 18: Clowns and clowns return home :o(



This year for the Festival de Belén we are opening up the opportunity to join some members of our production team in Belén to help with the pre and post planning of the Festival. We are looking for driven and self-motivating volunteers who either have a specific skill set to share or just want to be enthusiastic helpers.


Pre-Festival work will include: communicating with community leaders and friends, preparing materials for workshops, figuring out Festival logistics and finalizing the Festival program. Please consider joining us before the Festival if you have experience in production, have a skill you’d like to teach/workshop you’d like to offer, or community organizing experience. Though it is not required that you are a Spanish speaker, it is preferable that you are comfortable with the language.

Post-Festival work will include: facilitating feedback sessions with the community, wrapping up logistics, and transitioning out of the community. Please consider staying after the festival if you would like to be part of this process.

Please keep in mind when applying to be a part of the pre and/or post Festival that volunteers who decide to come before or stay after the Festival are still required to register as participants for the Festival de Belén. During this time, participants will be responsible for arranging and paying for their own food, lodging and transportation.

Here are the dates:

  • Pre Festival: August 4th-8th
  • Festival de Belén: August 9th-18th
  • Post Festival: August 18th-21st

If you are interested in VOLUNTEERING please fill out this application.

If you have any questions contact Maggie Lally: maggieroselally@gmail.com

Enjoy this short video with clips from the Belen Festival last year! Video by Leonardo Ramirez.



This year, we offer two registration options for the Festival. The idea is that this allows more flexibility and autonomy for clowns to choose the way they want to experience the Festival according to their own needs. Registration Deadline is July 15th!

Collaboration is possible when we recognize our differences. The different situations we live in in our home countries are important to acknowledge and accommodate. This festival is amazing because of the exchanges between people from different places and backgrounds. The price is a very important factor in determining if a person can attend the Festival or not, 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 decisions based on what they need and what they can afford, we hope to reduce the financial burden of this trip. Keep in mind that regardless of the package you choose, each participant will contribute and participate in ALL activities. You will have access to all the same resources and your general experience will be the same. We will all work together in Belen and we will have meetings of the whole group. The biggest difference is reflected in the type of accommodation one needs. For more information, see below:

There will be 2 paths for registration.

Must pay a $100 deposit upon registration

Included: This package will resemble the offer of previous years. The staff will help you prepare for the trip, as well as stay at the same hotel in case you need any advice, guidance or assistance while you are in Iquitos. A 9-day hotel stay will be included in the package price, along with scheduled arrivals and departures from the airport. Before choosing a package, we recommend that you seriously consider what your needs are. Ask yourself these questions to decide which package is best for you.

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

Must pay a $100 deposit upon registration

Included: This package is designed similarly to a conference. The fee that one pays includes all the activities and offers of the Festival, but the rest depends on you. We do not reserve your accommodation (although we will provide some suggestions), we will not arrange for your pick up or drop off at the airport, and there will not necessarily be staff that stays with you in the same place. Before choosing a package, we recommend that you seriously consider what your needs are. Ask yourself these questions to decide which package is best for you.

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)
You can organize your own accommodation.
You have come to the Festival before or have a good understanding of the project (this is not a limiting factor it is just something to consider)
• You have traveled alone before
You do not need someone to look for you when you reach a place where you are not acquainted.
You feel comfortable to stay in places that are not necessarily hotels, such as a hostel or a shared home.
You feel comfortable to stay in a place without the reliable amenities. Such as: wifi, a shower with hot water and air conditioning.

Both Festival packages include:
  • Drinking water for Festival activities
  • Transportation to ALL the clown activities.belen2014-5
  • All clowning workshops during the Festival
  • Materials for clowning activities/workshops during the Festival

The Festival packages DO NOT include:

  • Airfare
  • Lunches and dinners (est. $150-$250)

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!


Want to Participate?

Registration consists of several steps (please read carefully as the process may have changed from last year). Registration for the Belen trip is still open, register now until July 15th!!! 

  1. Complete the Registration Form & Pay your Deposit  Register online, pay your deposit. The $100 deposit secures your place for the 2019 Belén Festival. If you have difficulties with the payment form contact one of the registrars (information below). Don’t forget to agree to the Electronic International Release Form at the bottom of the page.
  2. Book Your Flights! Then, fill out this Flight information so we don’t lose you!

If you have any questions or concerns about the registration process, please contact the respective communication team or if you have general questions you can write to Hayley Shapiro.

No clowning experience required. All you need is the willingness to share your self with the community of  joyful world-makers and an eagerness for social action and education in Belén. Come join us for a unique experience in clowning as a public health adventure!

Registrars & Pre-Trip Clown Support


Festival Registration Communication
English –
Hayley Sklar

Spanish –
Vanesa Romano

Questions: Pre and Post Festival

Maggie Lally


Production and Development
(Hayley speaks Spanish)

Hayley Sklar





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.

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

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