10th Annual Belén Festival

August 5-16th, 2015 | Iquitos, Peru

HOORAY! We welcome you to the 10th Annual Belén Project on August 5-16 2015, sponsored by Gesundheit! Institute and Bolaroja Clown Doctors of Peru! 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 (spanish for Bethlehem), one of Peru’s most distressed communities, sits at the edge of Iquitos (pop 400,000), the world’s largest city unreachable by road. Lower Belén (pop. 12,000), 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).

10 years ago, Gesundheit! and Bolaroja clowns, in a meeting with Belén citizens, conceived the Belén Project, a collaborative effort to energize Belén citizens’ dreams for a healthier, happier community. From the original decision to paint every house in Lower Belen, the project has evolved to include workshops for children in art, dance and music; mural painting; community health outreach programs; parades, talent shows, and the purchase of land for the building of a community center, Belén’s first. The Belén Network now consists of a variety of organizations, (Bolaroja, Gesundheit!, Amazon Promise, La Restinga, Selva Amazonica, Pan American Health Organization, and others) whose intention is to provide Belen with support and facilitation of their desired development.

belen4Clowning 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. Caring clowns are cared for by Belén’s people. Through the years, the Belén Festival continues to evolve to more intelligently address Belen’s needs, and to give volunteers opportunities to learn about the roots of poverty, the richness of Belén’s social architecture, their collective creativity and resilience.

As Kate Deciccio, one of the muralists in the Belén project writes, “….. {we are not} aiming to provide a travel service for adults who want a summer camp experience….. we’re working to cultivate a relationship with a community and facilitate opportunity 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.”



Wednesday August 5: CLOWNS ARRIVE in IQUITOS

Thursday August 6: ORIENTATION in IQUITOS


Sunday August 16: CLOWNS LEAVE :(



This year we will build upon the work of previous years: murals, workshops, community health outreach, and of course, clowning.

We, 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 facilitated by an experienced clown. The small group experience will help you get your feet on the ground, bond with other clown family members, and plan your daily activities.

Beginning clowns will have the opportunity to learn simple clown techniques during orientation workshops led by Bolaroja and Gesundheit clowns. There are also several workshops offered throughout the festival including improvisation, movement, music, and meditation. These workshops serve to build trust and friendship for the whole team, to further enrich the new clowns and to provide new skills for seasoned clowns. 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 Hammershlag) will host engaging discussions.


What we do:
We will clown and work in Iquitos and Belén. Each day offers something different. Small clowning groups go to Iquitos hospitals, care facilities, prisons, and hospices , or to Lower Belén for children’s workshops, mural painting, dance, theater, music, etc. Community mental health care will be offered by clown clinician volunteers (if you are a healthcare practitioner, experienced counselor or social worker, etc and would like to participate, please indicate on your application–there will 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 at any of the dining options within walking distance from the hotels or just snack in your room and relax.

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

5pm onward: Dinner/Family meetings/evening activities.

What clown would be complete without the clown costume?!
Please check out our costume video above!



The trip cost is $1550

This includes:

  • 12 night stay in a hotel
  • All breakfasts
  • Transportation to and from the airport in Iquitos and clowning activities
  • All clowning workshops during the festival

This DOES NOT include:

  • Airfare
  • Lunches and dinners (est. $200-300)

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 awhile 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):

  1. To start the process, Please pay the $550 deposit. This deposit secures your place for the 2015 Belén Festival. If you have difficulties with the payment form contact one of the registrars (information below). The $550 deposit is non-refundable.
  2. Upon payment you will be prompted to fill out the Online Registration Form.
  3. Please fill out this international release form upon registration. a) Either use a service such as Docu-Sign or HelloSign to upload the PDF and E-Sign the document and send to alicheffclown@gmail.com or b) Print out the PDF, sign it, and send to Gesundheit Institute, P.O. Box 307, Urbana, IL 61803.
  4. Book Your Flights!

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! Contact any of us for questions.


Registrars & Your Personal Pre-Trip Clown Support

Cara Hodgebelen7

t: 540-435-4164
e: cara.leeanne@gmail.com

Hayley Sklar

t: 602-826-3056
e: hayleyshaps@patchadams.org


Development & Accounting:


Lillie Huggins

t: 540-246-1743
e: lilliesavage@gmail.com

Ali Cheff

e: alicheffclown@gmail.com



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.



Parental Authorization for International Travel 69 KB
Gesundheit Institute International Release Form 76 KB
Gesundheit Institute International Release Form (Under 18 Only) 81 KB



The 9th Annual Belen Festival,

The 9th Annual Belen Festival, August 5-17, 2014, brought 130 clowns from 16 nations together with the children and families of the Belen neighborhood in Iquitos, Peru, a gateway city to the Amazon.

Sponsored by Lima based Doctores Bola Roja and Gesundheit Institute, clown volunteers returned to the streets of Pueblo Libre, Belen’s riverside district, continuing this collaborative community development  project. Clown volunteers from ages 2 to 75 (60 of whom were newcomers) joined with the residents of Belen in an intensive in joyful volunteer service.

Parades opened and closed the festival to celebrate the return of the clowns and the joy of another completed Belen Festival. The celebration echoed through the tightly packed streets of Belen, as music provided by clown musicians and the Peruvian Navy Marching Band combined with the driving Murga rhythms of the percussionists.

The theme of this year’s festival, “Nutrition”, was designed to address the high incidence of malnutrition, which affects one out of three Pueblo Libre children. A traveling street theater production with costumes, music and dance, demonstrated the combination of local and readily available food groups to achieve optimum nutrition. Over the course of the festival, the performance was enjoyed by hundreds of Pueblo Libre children and parents.


Mural artists from the US, Peru and Russia joined with children to beautify Belen.  A series of “Belen Madonna” murals depicted a mother breastfeeding her baby, the most crucial nutritional action for healthy growth and development.

A variety of workshops were held for the children of Belen covering a number of activities like music, dance, art, hula hooping, puppetry and much more.

Clown volunteers visited regional care facilities including orphanages, nursing homes, a residential psychiatric facility, a hospital, prisons, as well as clowning throughout the 12 sectors of Pueblo Libre.

For the 3rd year, Dr. Carl Hammerschlag’s “Street Clinics” brought mental health professionals to the streets of Iquitos and Belen, for free public mental health consultations. These consisted of 20 minute sessions for anyone wanting to talk with “clown clinicians” about whatever was troubling them.  Belen citizens gave very strong, positive feedback to this event.

Through the efforts of VIDAWASI, a Peru-based non-profit organization and Belen Network member, Salud sin Fronteras (Health without Borders), a Costa Rican health advocacy group,  provided free dental care and eyeglasses for hundreds of Belen adults and children.

The Peruvian Red Cross provided educational seminars to Pueblo Libre volunteers in basic first aid and disease prevention, as well as coordinating with Belen’s public health department in a program that treated 800 Belen residents for intestinal parasitosis.

Clown activist and service groups participating in Belen Festival 2014 included:

  • Biciclown (Spain)
  • Caliclown (Colombia)
  • Maria’s Children  (Russia)
  • VIDAWASI (Peru)
  • Amazon Promise (US)
  • Salud sin Fronteras (Costa Rica)
  • Bolaroja (Peru)
  • Gesundheit! (US)
  • Clowns Sans Frontiers (Canada)
  • Uniclown (Brasil)
  • Hagamos Sonreir al Mundo (Argentina/ Italy)
  • Los Payas (Argentina)
  • SOS Sorria ou Sorria (Brasil)
  • SonRío: Payasos en Serio (Argentina)
  • Teatro Kismaya (Israel)
  • El Trotamundos (Puerto Rico)
  • Sonrisólogos (Chile)


Gesundheit Institute would like to thank everyone who was involved in the organization of this years festival for all of their hard work in creating such a wonderful environment of care, friendship and service.

Next year’s Belen Festival is scheduled for August 5-16, 2015. Keep informed by following  announcements for registration on patchadams.org and belenproject.org.

all clowns after the closing parade 2014

The Clowns of 2014

I just got home from Iquitos and we had a very smooth and successful festival including incredible amounts of activities centered around healthy food and nutrition.

We have been talking about the website a lot so I'll get started with working on it straight away... would anybody be interested in helping to translate the current content into spanish or another language please contact me by email.

For those of you who were on the trip: I do really need all kinds of written content for the book as well as the website. Ideally a short but detailed report about a specific event or experience during the trip (around 7 sentences), but please also send me everything else that you would like to share. Photos, Videos, Drawings, Texts, Poems, Essays, Songs, Recipes, Links, everything. 

Here is one: 
Guiseppe's mums recipe for healing Arthritis: Drink the juice of two limes in a big glass of water every morning right after getting up. Put your naked feet into the soil.
Guiseppe had noticed that I had pain in my hand and asked about my health. The next time we met he told me his moms recipe.
(this are 5 sentences)

ok clowns, send me everything you have please! Thank you!


2014 Festival de Belén: August 5th to 17th !!!

The 8th Annual Festival de Belen was a huge success!!! 122 Clowns from 16 countries around the world are currently travelling back to their homes, their hearts full of the joy of clown humanitarian service. We had ten intense days full of clowning, a variety of workshops with the kids of Belen, free mental health clinics, street theater, sex education interventions, house to house visits, a mural project, parades, and a more. You can find videos of the street theater performance and more in the video section of this site. Ok, so all you clown volunteers I hope that you keep on hearing the laughter in your hearts and all of you who have not been with us, take a marker and write next years dates on the wall somewhere where you see it every day.Please register as soon as registration opens, and come with us to clown in Belén next year... Love, Beda


Belen Endures Devastating Flood, then Fire in 2012


Belen Network Responds as Thousands are Displaced

2012 will be remembered by generations of Belen residents, with a 100-year flood inundated Lower Belen for months, followed by a December fire displacing 1000 residents.

In August 2012, after flood waters receded, clowns and Belen Network organizations returned to Pueblo Libre (Belen’s most vulnerable district) with a series of free mental health clinics and an innovative public health interventions (see report of 2012 belen project).  

Read more....