Thursday, March 30, 2017

Spring 2017: A quick update

We have been very buys with the project this spring!

We have:
  • Made repairs to the guesthouse, kitchen, and bathroom
  • Constructed a concrete platform for our 1000 liter water tank
  • Designed and built a yuca press
  • Constructed a compost bin and community garden
  • Registered the Association of Farmers, Fishers, and Artisans and Fundación Amazon Pueblo in Leticia
  • Made the banner for the 20 year anniversary of the village
  • Started work on the new project guesthouse and classroom
  • Bought a 12-meter (39 foot) wooden cargo boat with a 15hp outboard motor for use by the project, Association, and of scheduled community trips to Leticia.
  • Initiated the arrival of the SENA Colombian technical training institute to teach a 300-hour course on agricultural production and business to the villagers. We expect this class to start in May.
  
Jainover with a visitor.  Big lizards seldom come into the village,  but this one wanted to see the construction!
Pacho repairing the platform
Eli and Ben are building a compost bin

Humberto and Ben are building the community garden
The second prototype for the yuca press

We made the sign for the 20th anniversary of the village (it is 3.5 m by 1 meter in size)

Next week I will be going to Bogota to start work on our new project website and to meet with people about helping with the village. I will be posting more updates soon!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Amazon Pueblo- Gaining Clarity

As some of you know, I am on the Board of Directors for “The Amazon Pueblo”, which is an organization that was started by my brother seven years ago in the village of La Libertad, Amazonas, Colombia, which has about 350 residents. 

The Decision to Visit the Village

I visited the village 2 years ago, after going through a tough year following my divorce. My brother was at my parents house visiting (while I was living there) and saw me ‘struggling’ through putting together a new budget to move into solo life, with line items such as “going out money” and “eyebrows/nails”. While, I still believe this is responsible and real budgeting while living in North America, my brother said something along the lines of me needing a reality check and that I should come down and volunteer in the village with the project which he had started. Well, he was right. Shortly thereafter, I moved into my apartment and booked my trip down to La Libertad, Amazonas for that same November.

It was a life changing trip for me. From putting my first-world problems into perspective and getting a small, yet true glimpse into what it is like to live without clean water, consistent access to food, or education. But the villagers continue to persist and survive in conditions that most of us are unaware of or lack the knowledge to truly empathize because we have not exposed ourselves to places such as these.


Gustavo and his wife starting the process of making handicrafts
After my 10-day trip in November 2014, Ben, my brother and Executive Director of Amazon Pueblo, asked me to be on the board of trustees. Since then, I have helped put on 2 fundraisers for the project in California and participated in the online board meetings, read blogs and tried to stay updated.  Ben pretty much is a one-man show and has dedicated his life to helping the people of Amazon Pueblo, something I know I could not do.


My Confusion About What "Amazon Pueblo" Was

However, to be completely honest, in this 2 years, I have struggled to figure out exactly what “Amazon Pueblo” does. I knew the ultimate goal was to help the villagers become a self-sustainable community and I’ve always been on-board with supporting it because I have met the people and heard their stories and knew they needed assistance.  However I always felt like the method of getting the people to to become sustainable was changing or didn’t make sense to me as an outsider because there were so many moving parts or, what seemed like, side projects.

That may seem naïve of me to not truly know and understand the ways of an organization of a board I am on, but to be fair, I knew my brother was doing great work and that the money raised was going directly to the village (unlike many corrupt non-profits) and any manual labor was being done by actual villagers who would earn a wage) I’ve seen the benefits to the village, and coming from a world of non-profits, the first several years of any new non-profit can be a bit wobbly with changes until it can finds its grounding or  ‘tipping point.’

Growing Its Legs

With my current trip to La Libertad, one of my main goals was to understand what the is exact mission of ‘Amazon Pueblo’ and how it is going to achieve that mission. Ben and I obviously had a lot of time to talk about it, being with limited electricity, so I think I truly understand where our organization is now. In my opinion, I believe it’s fair to say that ‘Amazon Pueblo’ now has its’ legs.

The volunteer house in La Libertad
The project now has a clear vision, which I don’t think it had before, because it couldn’t. I now understand (which I somewhat understood before, but not enough), that things are different here. As frustrating as it can be for North Americans, the people of the Amazon have a different history, live their every-day life differently, and envision their future differently.

An idea that may have been presented to the people of La Libertad in the beginning years of  Amazon Pueblo which the organization believed would be great for the future of the village, may  not have been accepted by the villagers because they are not used to planning for the future, only day to day. Or, sometimes with frustration, an idea was presented by Ben that he and the chief of the village had worked out and about which the villagers were excited and said they were on-board because they wanted change.  But then after the initial excitment they would not show up to a scheduled meeting or fulfill their role.


It also took about 2 years for many of the village people to even trust that Ben was actually a good guy and not in this for himself. It took this long for him to frequent the village and piece together from different people  where the true issues laid and still lay- was it access to clean water? Education? Lack of leadership? Lack of access to real health care? Lack of jobs? Well, the answer is, it is ALL of these things, and more.

So What Does Amazon Pueblo Actually Do?

Without complete buy-in from the entire village, progress cannot be made. This is where a lot of the difficulty comes in for Ben and the volunteers, the desire of the villagers for change, but the understanding that they all need to contribute and do the work.
Ben talking to the village at a meeting about
working together to improve their lives and the
importance of 'being on board'.

The Amazon Project does not (and has not) want to raise money for ‘x’ and then walk away. Amazon Pueblo wants to educate and provide them with the skills needed to function together, create a profitable village of production, and for that business to be sustainable.


We want the people of La Libertad to look into their future and be excited that they can control it and have a future without constant parasites and sickness. Shifting the mindset alone of the people to being able to use the rich resources in their own backyard to create a profitable and sustainable business has taken the last 5 years- with many meetings, time spent with the villagers to build trust, and have them truly believe in and help create the solutions for authentic buy-in. Amazon Pueblo is the facilitator of this- a real grass-roots organization, to promote sustainability through socially-conscious business and then be able to turn everything over and walk away, knowing that the village has the skills to continue running their business for years and generations to come. To Amazon Pueblo, success is being able to walk away from La Libertad village knowing that they do not need our assistance anymore. In short, their success is our success. 



Simply Explained- Amazon Pueblo´s Mission & Vision of Sustainability



I used to be a bit confused about what exactly ‘Amazon Pueblo’ does. Its´goal has always been to help the village of La Libertad to live sustainability, but the means in which Amazon Pueblo helps the village achieve that mission has morphed many times and has often caused me, a board member, confusion. 



The reason for these changes is because it is hard to get a village of 350 people who have never had  central leadership to buy into an idea (of a foreigner), look toward their future, and then actually start implementing these ideas- after 20 years of having the mindset of day-to-day survival.
Ben and Gustavo discussing next steps for the Yucca Press

After years of my brother, Ben Angulo, Executive Director, researching, speaking with the villagers, hearing contradicting stories of needs, building their trust and having multiple meetings with the villagers and local business contacts, the Amazon Pueblo project has been able to create a more clear vision to achieve their mission.

Mission

The Mission of the Amazon Pueblo is to reduce the poverty of indigenous peoples of the Colombian Amazon by developing sustainable business through connections of people, sound environmental practices and profitable ventures.

Two Parallel Business Plans

Two businesses that we’re currently helping the people of La Libertad develop are:

1. Cassava (Yuca/Farina)

Cassava is kind of like a topping (the texture reminds me of bacon bits

or granola) that is made from Yuca, a starchy root, similar to a potato. Colombians put it on top of soups, fish, meats, or eat it plain. The business will be to grow Yuca plants here in La Libertad and then press it, dry it, toast it and sell it to other indigenous people, villages, or local cities. It is an easy plant to grow in the soil conditions found in La Libertad.

2. Cacao Cultivation
Cacao (the beans used to make chocolate) will grow well in La Libertad. First, the people of the village will need to find and identify the proper clones, along with help from the Amazon Pueblo Project, clear and prepare the land, learn about the entire growing process and then plant and grow the cacao trees. A tree will take about 3 years to grow and produce the beans. The people can then pick, ferment, dry and sell all the beans to businesses that will be able to turn these into bakers chocolate or regular organic chocolate to sell.

These 2 business plans sound great and part of my “let’s get it done!” fast-paced, north American mind set is like, "okay- let’s fundraise, get them the things they need and get this going"…but it’s not that easy:

1. It’s REALLY difficult to fundraise for Amazon Pueblo because like many organizations that need to fundraise, I think its hard for people to truly understand the need unless you have been there (or involved), know someone affected by the organization or cause, or identify directly with that cause.

2. The main mission of the Amazon Pueblo is to create sustainability and in order to do that, we need to take a step back and look at things from a distance…..


The mission of Amazon Pueblo is to reduce the poverty of indigenous people of the Colombian Amazon by developing sustainable business through connection of people, sound environmental practices and profitable ventures.
My friend Tinka and I hanging out with the kids
during their school recess

So, what does “Sustainability” actually mean? 


Sustainability is the ability to continue a defined behavior indefinitely.

Think of sustainability as a 3-legged stool. Without one of the legs, it will not be able to function.  The seat of the stool is “sustainability” and the 3 legs are as follows:




People (Social Sustainability): the ability of a social system (like La Libertad) to function at a defined level of social well- being indefinitely.


Planet (Environmental Sustainability): the ability to maintain rates of renewable resource harvest, pollution creation and non-renewable resources depletion that can be continued indefinitely.



Profit (Economic Sustainability): the ability to support a defined level of economic production indefinitely.


To ensure that the village becomes truly sustainable, Amazon Pueblo needs to address all three legs equally. In order to get to our eventual goal of successful and sustainable business (Yuca/Farina & Cacao production), we must also address the other two legs in parallel.


People in the port of Letitia, the nearest 'big' city.
La Libertad only has one boat for all 350 residents.
If the people are not healthy or working together as a unit, then they cannot be successful in sustaining the other two legs. For example, the villagers do not have access to filtered water and therefore have parasites, people get sick often, and unfortunately, babies dying is a common occurrence. This and other issues must be addressed in order to ensure Social Sustainability and that the people are healthy and educated enough to make good choices and run a profitable business.

The people of the village also must learn about the process of processing the Yuca and Cacao in a sustainable way. For example, they will need to use wood to process and toast the yuca, therefore, they must have an efficient oven and not over use the trees in the area and deplete part of the rain forest.

People, Planet, Profit

Whenever the Amazon Project does something, we run it through the 3-legs of the stool to self-check our decisions, ensuring we are always working toward complete sustainability. The Amazon Pueblo is a ‘connector’ organization and helping tackle the 3 pillars simultaneously by educating and collaborating with the villagers, as well as connecting them to the resources they need to help themselves. As mentioned. Amazon Pueblo does not want to give away things, rather teach them necessary skills or connect them with the resources that they need once they initialize the desire.

Here are some examples:

Access to Clean Water: One of the major problems in La Libertad is not having access to clean water. The water from the Amazon river is contaminated with parasites and amoebas. The typical family does not

This picture is from 2 years ago. 
The black water tank that the company installed is behind
 me and Kaitlyn. I could not find a better pic. They are all no longer 
functioning. When we were there a poisonous frog jumped into one, 
therefore contaminating all the water already in there. 

have a bathroom and many have a place behind their home that everyone in the family uses. Because this is in the Amazon, it rains more days than not  per year, which means these “bathrooms” behind the house run into the river. The people also bathe in this river, as well as wash themselves, their clothes, and their dishes.

The water filter that the 
volunteers use. We must only drink filtered
water or we will get really sick
While the people of the Amazon are somewhat adjusted to these parasites, they still get very sick. Also, when babies are exposed to this in the early months of their lives, many get sick and have diarrhea and vomit, which causes dehydration. Because of no boat transportation to the main city, the babies cannot get to the hospital and sometimes die.

Several years ago, before Amazon Pueblo was established, a Swedish company installed large water tanks and a slow-sand water. However, they did not sufficiently train the people (or they could have been and these people didn’t take it seriously or think it was a real need at the time) and they stopped working.  They also did not have the funds needed to make the repairs even if they knew what to do to fix the filter.

Amazon Pueblo has now connected with a couple of well-drilling companies in Leticia, the nearest city, and is getting quotes for drilling a community well  This would provide clean drinking water to the 350  community members. There is a grant available for this, which Amazon Pueblo would write for the village, through the Coca Cola Foundation.

Education

This picture was from 2 years ago. Now, the ground has
tile, which is REALLY nice for the kids and teachers. 
We know that the children are the future and must receive education in order to have the basic reading, writing, and math skills to make good decisions, and sustain the village and business. The education system is quite inconsistent and still, many families cannot afford to pay the $100 per year needed for supplies for their child.

Amazon Pueblo has recently started a scholarship program. Through donors in the United States, we are sponsoring 8 students each year to go to school. The teachers in the school fill out an application form and recommend a
student that demonstrates their desire and effort to be in school.

Several volunteers have also taught English classes, however, without consistent or long-term volunteers, it is hard to make this regular. We recently received the Hooked on Phonics program, as well as some ESL books and are trying to formalize a simple English program.





Onsite Organic Food, Composting & Health Benefits

One of the cutest little guys in the
village, who is always smiling! As you can
see thought, he has a very distended belly
because he is not properly nourished and
has parasites in his stomach. 
Another project that we have been working on alongside the others is educating the residents about the importance of eating vegetables and using the waste to compost and use as soil/fertilizer. This has posed a challenge, as the majority of people have never eaten many vegetables, let alone thought to grow them here, despite the moist atmosphere.

There was a major effort to begin the mindset shift by  going door to door to explain the health benefits of eating vegetables and the composting process. Garden beds and a compositing site were constructed.

Unfortunately, when Ben left and returned to the States, they were not managed and he found the composting bins unused. We hope that with time and continued education, the people will start to want to take ownership and grow and eat their own produce, which would save them time and money of taking the boat ride into the main city and having to pay for it.
So, there you have it! In order to move forward with the profit leg, we need to ensure sustainability in the other two areas, which often time requires, time, energy and related projects.

A Small Update on the Yuca & Cacao Business

Amazon Pueblo is currently applying for any applicable grants and has contacts with good
One of the prototypes for the Yucca Press. This
press would squeeze the excess water out
of the fermented yucca. 


connections to move forward in our production of Cassava (Yuca) and Cacao. In the village, Ben and the villagers are building 2 prototypes for the Yuca Press. Once they figure out what will work, more presses will be manufactured.

Exciting things are happening in La Libertad! The families and especially the kids (who I’ve mostly connected with) are such positive, happy and special- always willing to help cook, assist in building, clean, wash dishes, often times without being asked.



Thanks for reading and taking the time and energy to learn about this part of the world and what we’re up to! 


Here I am with some of the kids as we cooked "Pizz-a-repas" Pizza made
out of arepas for dinner one night!