Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Send In The Clowns

Through my "work" on this blog I receive a fair number of e-mails from a variety of groups and organizations seeking to promote their various events and causes. Many are of the pretty standard political bent while others want to pimp books, movies, TV shows, charities, and even tourist destinations.

One such e-mail that I found in my inbox last night had the subject line:

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

At first glance, the words "Humanitarian Clowns" lead me to think the e-mail might be the latest screed from a U.N.-bashing group. However, upon closer inspection it became clear that the title was all too literal.

Washington, D.C., 3 August 2009--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.

PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses Periago 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.

Yes Virginia, there are humanitarian clowns.

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.

We'll still be miserable, but at least we'll finally have some decent artists to collectively express that misery. Pardon my skepticism, but I question whether this is really the kind of assistance the community in question needs. As a friend replied when I forwarded the e-mail:

This reads like a Monty Python sketch--impoverished third world village lacking in health care and international health organization sends in a bunch of clowns.

The least they could is include some bread with the circuses.

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