Patch Adams: Global Outreach of Humanitarian Clowns

To be a clown is to realise love through humour.  Those of us who choose to clown to bring love and peace to the world, do so by example.  I recall Patch saying on the Healing with Humour tour of Russia that people think what we do is great, it is ordinary he explained.  What he was meaning was reaching out to people with love is natural in a normal world, in a world that is so repressed it is met with surprise, to our surprise.

It has been and still is the greatest experience of my life and I can not compare it to anything I have done.  The sense of success each time I clown is undefinable, as joy rings in my heart like a thousand bells.  This is the feeling of falling in love with humanity.

So with that learn more about Patch Adams and his global work to connect our world through his love of clowning and helping to see another world is possible.

Humanitarian Clowning and Gesundheit Global Outreach

What is Gesundheit Global Outreach?

Gesundheit Global Outreach is the Gesundheit! Institute’s international service. Formed in 2006, Gesundheit Global Outreach (GGO) encompasses clowning missions, humanitarian aid, building projects and community development around the world.

The international service work of GGO complements Gesundheit’s functions on the land in West Virginia, and Gesundheit’s healthcare design and education outreach. The goal of Gesundheit Global Outreach is the improvement of health of individuals and communities in crisis from sickness, war, poverty and injustice.


Patch Adams formulated the Gesundheit vision in the late 1960s, and since then the Gesundheit! Institute has been an important voice in dialogues around health care delivery. Gesundheit’s international service began in 1984 when Patch led a clown trip to the Soviet Union as an act of “nasal diplomacy.” The original focus was volunteer bedside clowning in hospitals, and soon widened to include orphanages, schools, psychiatric facilities, nursing homes, and special needs facilities. While the clown trips to Russia have continued every year with volunteer clowns from around the world, further clown trips have been added to touch the lives of people in over 60 countries on 6 continents. Gesundheit has sponsored and supported grassroots humanitarian organizations throughout the world and continues to educate students and adults in humanitarian volunteer service in developing countries.


The health of an individual is linked to the health of that individual’s family, community, and society. The links between population health, the health of individuals, and political, economic and cultural systems are becoming better understood. GGO embraces the idea that sustainable, responsible and harmonious social change must be grounded in the individual realities of people everywhere, and, at the same time, individual change must be the basis for meaningful social change. In other words, for the society to change, a person (each of us) must change, and for a person to change, the society must change. GGO grounds its efforts in the cultivation of friendships through play, music, and silliness. By making friends in the context of fun, play, and sharing, partnerships can flourish enabling grassroots volunteer projects addressing health, education, and living conditions. We work closely with community members, seeking understanding which can guide more responsible and precise helping gestures. In clowning, we lovingly disturb the status quo and facilitate creative social change, enabling dialog between those with power and those without (men/women, rich/poor, boss/worker, doctor/patient, prisoner/guard, etc). Through collaborative explorations of local issues and needs with community members, we offer assistance in community projects, and education in health care, political and economic policy.

International Clowning Service

The Russia clowning experience has led to the creation not only of Russian service organizations such as Maria’s Children, but has also inspired the creation of hospital/humanitarian clowning organizations worldwide. In the mid 90′s Gesundheit began clowning in other countries at the invitation of local medical, service, and clowning groups. Trips to Afghanistan, the Balkans, China, Chile, Cuba, Colombia, Argentina, Israel and the occupied territories were the settings where we developed our clowning service into a coherent response to suffering, need and crisis. Clown groups in Italy and Peru are among the many clowning groups closely affiliated with Gesundheit! Institute.

Humanitarian Crisis Response; Clowns, Aid and Carpenters

In the late 90′s Gesundheit teamed up with Airline Ambassadors, a service organization whose goal it is to bring humanitarian aid to groups and communities in crisis around the world. Gesundheit!, with Airline Ambassadors has visited refugee camps in Kosovo and Northern Africa and post-tsunami Sri Lanka. Gesundheit teamed up with Clown One Italia, an Italy-based international clown service organization on a medical aid/building project in 2005. This emphasis on bringing aid (medical, food, clothing, etc) via clowns, and building projects was a potent combination. It was clear that deeper bonds could be formed with people when aid was distributed, and work was done in the context of play. To date, Gesundheit, Clown One Italia and Airline Ambassadors are closely linked in many projects around the world. One such project involves JetBlue Airlines, which flies empty airplanes for maintenance to El Salvador. JetBlue flies Airline Ambassadors, Clown One and Gesundheit volunteers (at no cost) to El Salvador where for the previous two years, Gesundheit, through donations, has financed and supervised the building of two medical clinics in rural El Salvador.

Community Development

GGO helped establish The Belén Project, a collaborative community development project in an impoverished community of 15,000 in the Peruvian Amazon, in partnership with Bolaroja Clown Doctors, Airline Ambassadors, Clown One Italia, Maria’s Children, Pan American Health Organization, the University of Peru Heredia Cayetano Medical School and the people of Belén. This represents a significant expansion of focus for GGO. We have never before designed or implemented such a comprehensive and ambitious project (see humanitarian clown trips 2006-2007).

Alternative Spring Break Clown International Clown Trips

GGO also sponsors Alternative Spring Break clowning missions for university students. Last year’s trip was to Venezuela. In the few years GGO has sponsored or been invited on clown trips to Peru, Panama, Italy, China, Mexico, Japan, Cambodia, Russia, and Ecuador. Clown and work missions require no clowning experience. The work can be strenuous and the extreme settings can be difficult for those who have never experienced extreme poverty or human suffering. Feedback on these missions is overwhelmingly positive, indicating great impact on the individual’s personal development and life course. (see Humantarian Clown Missions on to read essays from Alternative Spring Break participants).

Gesundheit Global Outreach and You

A GGO mission can be seen as an intensive experience of altruistic action; a traveling performance troup; a dramatic departure from normal life (like flossing the spirit); carpenters on a building project; painters painting houses and murals; teaching children and adults in workshops on art, play, theater, music; an “playshop” in loving, caring service; an improvisational experimental theater; or as a first row seat to the world one never sees on TV, a world where people suffer and transcend suffering. It is fun, mind-stretching, heart-breaking, and heart-opening. Our clown trips are way on the other side of “normal”, for, as our Dr. Bowen White says, “Normal isn’t healthy!” If this appeals to you, contact us. You may find your normal references will try to talk you out of it (“It makes no sense.” “Why give away my time and money on this?” “It’s too wierd!” “I don’t know how to clown,” etc etc blah blah). However, the hundreds of people from all walks of life who have gone on these trips almost universally vouch for them as deep, fulfilling, beautiful once-in-a-lifetime experiences—a feeling echoed by the thousands of people touched by this outreach.

If, for whatever reason you prefer to support our work in ways other than participating directly in a mission, we accept tax-deductible donations for our projects. You can earmark where you want your $ to go (support a clown scholarship for needy volunteer clowns, support building medical clinics, provide humanitarian aid, support specific community development projects, micro-credit loans for so called “3rd world” women entrepreneurs, scholarships for needy children in developing countries). GGO sponsors 6-8 overseas mission trips per year, most recently Russia, Haiti, Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela. Future missions are scheduled for Peru and Romania.

Read about the Belén Project …

Special grassroots funding request …

Announcements of future trips will be posted on the website If you are interested in being a supporter or participant in Gesundheit! Global Outreach, please contact Kate Slaymaker at

Mohandas Gandhi

“My life is my message.”


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