Silly makeup; serious work

A parade of people wearing multicolored wigs, makeup, and red noses might not seem like it has a serious purpose, but for Lydia Meece this past summer, it certainly did.

Lydia Meece in clown makeup during her internship in Peru. Credit: Will Schneider
Lydia Meece in clown makeup during her internship in Peru.
Credit: Will Schneider

Meece, a senior at Cornell College, took part in an internship in Peru and participated in the annual Festival de Belen, an event sponsored by Doctores Bola Roja and the Gesundheit Institute, two organizations dedicated to clowning and public health. The annual festival brought more than 100 clowns to the Belen section of Iquitos, Peru to help entertain residents while also teaching them about hygiene and public health and offering medical services.

Meece, a biology major, is involved with Dimensions: The Center for the Science and Culture of Healthcare, which is where she heard about the opportunity. Dimensions prepares students for careers in a variety of health professions with research opportunities, internships at leading institutions, workshops and seminars, assistance with MCAT and graduate school preparation, and more. In addition to that, Meece is also deeply involved with the college’s theatre department. Clowning and health seemed like the perfect fit.

Her time in Peru showed her that performance with a purpose can have an impact. There was no medical training required to participate, and most of those clowning didn’t actually treat patients, but they did connect with them, listen to them, and respect them.

The performers addressed things like nutrition, hygiene, and public health risk factors, Meece said, and gave those watching information that they could act on later. Some health professionals were on hand to run clinics, as well.

Meece plans to apply to medical school, and wants to become a doctor of osteopathy. She said she thinks that’s the best fit for her goal of going into family practice, as that path advocates for more connection between physician and patient.

She doesn’t know if clowning will play any role in her future career, but she’s still glad for what she got to do in Peru.

“It opened the door to an experience that I’m really glad to have had,” she said.

Going to school at Cornell College has given Meece a chance to explore what she’s passionate about, and to find a way to join multiple passions in one project.Going to Festival de Belen and performing as a clown in service of public health might not be the most traditional path to prepare for medical school, but she feels prepared.

“I’m not fighting it,” she said. “I’m jumping in.”