Healthcare clowns from the Portuguese charity Operação Nariz Vermelho

By Alejandro Peña, posted on April 28th 2016.

Allow me to share with you a most original and surprising consulting experience that Rosa Matos, Cláudia Pedra, Cristiano Viegas and this humble Argentinean - true, perfect example of an oxymoron - have recently carried out at the Healthcare Clowning International Meeting 2016 that took place last March in Lisbon.  

Stone Soup Consulting’s projects have proved to be anything but standard or orthodox tasks for me. I am getting used to shifting from intense online benchmarking exercises to track how social stock exchanges finance their activities; to testing my networking skills in an international event where NGO staff, academics and global donors play their annual game of beggars and peacocks or even squeezing my brain in a futile effort to understand why twenty micro-NGOs simply cannot help but see a free opportunity to build their managerial capacities as a curse. In my moments of brighter clarity I go beyond the professional learnings garnered from these experiences and engage in the inherent adventure of connecting with other human beings. I strongly believe that working towards social transformation offers us the privilege of being naturally closer to other people’s dreams, fears and loving drive. In this scenario, laughter sometimes appears as the only way out from astonishment, anguish and suffering. Clowns, and particularly healthcare/hospital clowns, really know what I mean.

With our “note taker” hats on we went from one conference room to another, we listened, wrote and conversed with speakers and participants throughout three long days. The clown’s passion, as contagious as it is, permeated the elegant Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian premises and left us with no choice (I know I can speak for my colleagues here) but have a glance into the clown’s soul.

Among the things I learned I would highlight the unavoidable conclusion that laughter is a cost efficient but still underrated medicine. The achieved wellness of patients results in important savings for hospitals. Happy patients need less medicines, it is as simple as that! . Since the days of “Patch Adams” – a hilarious and heart-breaking movie from the late 90’s starring Robin Williams, remember? -, healthcare clowns have been rapidly overcoming the obstacles that practitioners and hospital staff present them with. Integrative medicine, an approach to care that puts the patient at the center and addresses the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental influences that affect health is spreading rapidly around the world. Moreover, through scientific evidence and professional certifications, healthcare clowns are increasingly gaining their place in hospitals.

More than three hundred participants, most of them healthcare clowns and the vast majority of these volunteers, enjoyed every minute of the conference - the farewell dinner was a really crazy party!. They also reminded me the reason for which I chose to be a fundraiser: I wanted to contribute in making people (NGOs, donors and beneficiaries) a little happier. Just as healthcare clowns do.

Alejandro Peña, member of Stone Soup consultants' team, pursues social and environmental transformation using strategic planning, online & offline fundraising, digital marketing, intercultural mediation and inter-sectoral liaison skills he has developed in the private, public and multilateral sectors, as well as through field work in humanitarian emergency and development operations. He has worked in Argentina, U.S.A., Panama, Mexico, Sudan and Spain.