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Humanitarian Clowns and Health Experts Join Forces, Using Art as a Bridge to Health and Development

Dr. Mirta Roses, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO); Dr. Oscar Ugarte Ubilluz, Minister of Health of Peru; Dr. Patch Adams, founder of the Gesundheit! Institute; and Wendy Ramos, founder of Bolaroja, to attend Belén Festival 2009 in Iquitos, Peru, in August.

Washington, D.C., 3 August 2009 (PAHO) - From 4 to 16 August, art becomes a bridge to health access for thousands of people in a remote and vulnerable community in Peru with the arrival of some 100 humanitarian clowns and international public health experts from 12 countries, as part of the Pan American Health Organization’s Faces, Voices and Places Initiative for the Millennium Development Goals.

Patch Adams and PAHO Director Dr. Mirta RosesPAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses Periago (right, with Patch Adams) will meet with the Minister of Health of Perú, Dr. Oscar Ugarte Ubilluz; Dr. Patch Adams, founder of the Gesundheit! Institute; Dr. Manuel Peña, PAHO/WHO Representative in Peru; and Wendy Ramos, founder and Director of the Bolaroja Association; in Pueblo Libre, an impoverished area in the Belén district  of Iquitos, a town in the Amazon region of Peru.

Local and regional government officials, as well as PAHO experts, will join the members of the Network for Belén, and some 100 humanitarian clowns from all over the world. The art and health promoters will come with their paint and paint brushes and messages to promote health and improve the quality of life of town residents.

This will be the fifth consecutive year in which the clowns—a cadre of teachers, students, doctors, nurses, artists, social workers, public health workers, lawyers, psychologists, therapists, painters, dancers, film-makers, executives--and the local community will joint forces in an effort that has been growing year by year and is now known as the Belén Festival. This year, the main theme will be environmental sanitation–solid waste management.

As in previous years, many of the 15,000 residents of Pueblo Libre, Belén will be awaiting the arrival of this brigade of experts who will bring them art, fun, color, music, and information about public and environmental health, and to promote food safety in the home and in the local markets.  Together, they will organize community fairs with traditional games and health promotion and environmental improvement activities, encouraging the development of artistic talent to facilitate the collective expression of a community often known only for its poverty and ills.

Pueblo Libre, which suffers from a critical lack of basic sanitation, social violence, and a wide range of diseases, will enjoy a healthy public event that is the most visible part of a joint endeavor to foster local well-being and fight the stigma associated with the town and surrounding areas. Previous years’ efforts have already led to a participatory coordinated effort aimed at the full recovery of the area through the Network for Belén-- work that has already yielded concrete results.

Thanks to the efforts of the Gesundheit! Institute, PAHO staff members in its Washington, DC, Headquarters, and private donors, funds are now available for construction of the long-awaited Pueblo Libre Community Center, which will be announced during the festival. This center will serve as both a model of healthy and safe housing/construction and a venue for actively promoting the social development of Belén.

Belén Festival activities will be held with the collaboration and support of the Ministry of Health of Peru, the Army of Peru, the District City Hall of Belén, local and regional governments, the Regional Health Bureau (DIRESA), health networks and micronetworks, UGEL, MIMDES--Wawa Wasi, DEMUNAS, churches, and nongovernmental organizations such as La Restinga, La Canoita, Selva Amazónica, Doctors for Orphans, and Amazon Promise, as well as grassroots organizations such as community kitchens, Vaso de Leche (Glass of Milk), and the neighborhood civic associations of Pueblo Libre. Other participants will include the International Secretariat for Water (France).

Among scheduled activities:

  • Community clean-up brigade made up of Pueblo Libre residents to pick up all refuse and avoid the proliferation of vectors (rats, insects)
  • Free health care kiosk for residents
  • Visits to hospitals, shelters, mental health centers, and schools for children with disabilities, meeting the objective of positively impacting the environment through the presence of clowns
  • Community painting of 150 home exteriors
  • Free workshops on the art of clowning, theater, dance, percussion, games, etc. 
  • Mural painting with the help of local youth
  • Workshop for young people on how to use video cameras (by French film-makers and choreographers) and production of a video about water
  • Parades in which the community, clowns, partners, and government leaders march and a show whose main actors are children from Belén 

A parade in Belén, Peru (photos by Sonia Mey-Schmidt/PAHO)

The Faces, Voices and Places Initiative works with the poorest municipalities and most vulnerable social groups in the Americas. An initiative that reflects the values of equity and Pan-Americanism, Faces, Voices and Places emphasizes advocacy on behalf of the most vulnerable and fosters citizenship-building with an approach based on shared rights  and responsibilities. This is accomplished through an intersectoral, interagency effort that pools action and resolve to ensure the fulfillment of the MDGs, especially in places where national averages have obscured stalled progress and reversals. Faces, Voices and Places focuses on health determinants and has adopted the renewed primary health care concept  and health promotion as its basic strategies.

Links of Interest:

If you wish to cover the event in Belén and/or need more information, contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , Public Information Officer, PAHO/WHO Peru, tel +011 51 1 319 5700, or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , Communications, PAHO/WHO Washington, D.C., USA, tel +1 202 974 3036, Nextel Walkie-Talkie: 164*130428*23; Celular: +1 202 439 9691.


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