UK student touches lives in Peru

By Jill Novak

One student trades in a summer by the pool for a red nose and the trip of a lifetime.

When she graduated high school, Elizabeth Dale, an elementary education junior, didn’t ask for a new car or laptop. Instead, she traded them in for a plane ticket to Iquitos, Peru, to embark on a journey of self-discovery.

After being inspired by the movie “Patch Adams,” starring Robin Williams, Dale wanted to get involved and learn how she could make a difference in the world.

“I wanted the opportunity to expand my horizons and see other cultures and how they lived,” Dale said.

After conducting research, she found her answer in The Belen Project.

Each year, a group of volunteers from all over the world comes together with The Gesundheit! Institute to participate in the project. The project is “a U.S.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to health care education and reform, and also international service and development,” according to its website.

To the people of Belen and the volunteers who participate, it is so much more. Unclean water, illness, community violence, lack of education and alcoholism are only a few of the severe problems citizens face in their everyday lives.

With the collaboration of the Gesundheit! Institute and Bola Roja Clown Doctors, a Peruvian hospital clown group, the project provides citizens with the aid they need to solve current problems and the attitude and community participation necessary to tackle future problems. Clown volunteers interact with citizens as friends, not as patients.

“I became fascinated with the notion of really treating patients as human beings, not just as a list of symptoms,” said Julia Telfer, a student volunteer from Elon University in North Carolina. The red nose worn by volunteers symbolizes a positive attitude.

“Putting your nose on lets you be whoever you want to be, go out of your comfort zone to help people you otherwise wouldn’t; it makes you vulnerable,” Dale said.

To better assist the people of Belen and their needs, volunteers, doctors, students and psychologists gain trust by showing them love and generosity.

“The children there grow up with very few material possessions, but they grasp the concepts of community, sharing and love,” Telfer said.

This sense of community that is contributed by each and every volunteer is vital to The Belen Project.

“If you are physically able, and have the love in your heart, that’s all you need,” Dale said.

For more information on The Belen Projector, visit