Monday, November 29, 2021

Amazon Pueblo Fall 2021 Newsletter

 Amazon Pueblo Fall 2021 Newsletter

While slowed during 2021 because of the pandemic, our mission to support the education of indigenous students in the Amazon goes forward!

In this update we briefly review was has happened since the summer and touch on our plans for the future.


Education for the Amazon

Fighting Corruption


When our program director arrived in the village of La Libertad in July he was told that the village students from grades seven to twelve were not going to a regional school in Macedonia, were not being visited by teachers, and had not received any study guides for the past six months.

The students and parents were told that there was no gasoline available to visit La Libertad or to provide any services.  However, the director of the Macedonian school and the teachers were passing the village bi-weekly while they were traveling to the city of Leticia.  They also were continuing to receive their salary.

The director of Amazon Pueblo investigated this problem, spoke with the Secretary of Education in Leticia, who stated that gasoline had been provided during the time our students had no educational services.  With the help of Amazon Pueblo, the community of La Libertad submitted a formal inquiry with the Education Secretary.  Two weeks after this the educational services were restarted in Macedonia.  A formal investigation is now underway into what happened to the gasoline and why the students were not receiving services.

While we are thankful that things have improved, it is of utmost importance that the villagers understand their rights, how to fight corruption and to avoid being taken advantage of.  With proper education, the students will gain this knowledge.

 

Scholarship Program

School shopping in Leticia

The student program had a difficult time this year, due to the pandemic.  While the younger students had in-person school in La Libertad, it was only for three days per week.  Due to corruption problems, the older students had no educational services.

Additionally, it was very difficult to find all of the students who were in the program during the previous year.  Eight students from 2020 did not continue to receive scholarships.  They were replaced with eight new students.

Four of our older students left the program, not wanting to continue studying in 2022.  They, and many others, left to work in the coca cultivation fields in Peru.  We believe the lack of school (and their need to have money for their families due to the collapse of tourism) directly contributed to their decision to leave La Libertad.

In all, we gave out 35 scholarships for 2021.  This was the most we have ever provided.  It is hoped that all students will be back in school full-time after the new year.

 

Health Center

The village chief and secretary planning in Leticia


We are planning to start building the health care center during the winter of 2022.  The center will directly improve the health of the students it serves.  Parasites are one of the biggest, and most easily treated, problems that plague the students.  Concertation during classes and homework times is difficult when they are malnourished, have intestinal pain, and various skin irritations from parasites.

Overall, through the health center we will achieve the following five things:

  1. Provide a place for the students and their families to receive basic health care.
  2. Provide a place for medication to be stored.
  3. Provide training to specific members of the community to treat illness and injury.
  4. Provide a secure place for health and community records to be stored.
  5. Provide an office and dormitory for visiting health care providers.

 

Logistics and Support

Building Repairs

Without constant vigilance, the harsh climatic conditions of the jungle quick damage our structures and materials.

During the past fall, we repaired and maintained our buildings in La Libertad, including:

  •      Repairing the stairs to the second story building
  •         Repairing the rotted wall and installing waterproofing by our main water tank
  •         Updating parts of the electrical system
  •         Fixing leaking roofs

The repairs by our 2000 liter tank

Solar Panel

One of the most time-consuming tasks of our work was installing a 530-watt solar panel and wiring the kitchen.  It works, but a safe system to switch between village power (available for six hours per day) and our solar system must be installed.  Additionally, three more buildings need to be wired during the winter.  We are installing an electrical grounding system and electrical conduits, which make the job a bit more complicated, but very secure.  Our hope is to one day be completely reliant on solar energy for all of our electrical needs, including refrigeration!

Solar panel equipment

Aluminum Boat

At last, we have a small, six-meter aluminum boat exclusively for the project’s use.  This is lighter, uses less gasoline, is faster, and more stable in the water than our old wooden boat.  It also does not need to be replaced every three years due to rot. 

The first time our boat sees water

Motor Repairs

Our motor is over three years old and was bought used.  However, it is still running well.  We maintain it regularly, change the transmission fluid, and have installed an additional inline fuel filter to help us use the frequently contaminated gasoline found in Leticia.  With continued care, we hope it will last for at least the next year.

Motor repairs in Leticia

 Cell phone signal amplifier

The community of La Libertad has been without reliable cell phone coverage for the past two years.  Before that, we had had a cell phone signal amplifier, but that was struck by lightning during a particularly intense thunderstorm.  After many shipping problems, we expect to receive a new amplifier in December.  Our new installation will include a heavy-duty lightning rod.  When we can connect easily with the outside world, the opportunities for business, safety, and health should be increased.


Cell phone signal amplifier


Fundraising

Craft Fair

We attended the first craft fair since the pandemic started.  It was moderately well-attended.  In all, we made about $550 in profit.  The majority of our sales were from emerald jewelry, but we did sell some handcrafts from the village.


Holiday Craft Fair at the Augusta Civic Center

Emeralds for the Amazon

We are expanding our emerald jewelry offerings to high-quality emerald and gold.  The pictures do not show the beauty, brilliance, and remarkable color of these gems.  The ring was appraised by Chamber’s Jewelers in Thomaston, Maine at $8,550.  The earrings were appraised at $2,750.  Below each image are links to our YouTube page which shows 360-degree videos of the jewelry.  All profits from our jewelry sales go towards the project.


360-degree video of the ring



360-degree video of the earrings


Giving Tuesday


On giving Tuesday (November 30) we started our fundraising efforts for next year.

 

Sponsor a Student

To continue or to start sponsoring the education of a student please visit our Facebook fundraising page or our Chuffed donation portal.  A donation of $120 will support one student for a year.  Donations of less than $120 will help to support the logistics of the scholarship program.

Scholarship students on their way to school

Build a Health Care Center

By far, our most challenging effort is in building a much-needed health care center to support our students and their families in the village.  In the image below, the boy is suffering from skin and intestinal parasites.  At night the pain is particularly bad.  He frequently woke up crying.  One week after treatment with $1 of ivermectin drops he had remarkable improvement.  He had been suffering for months.  At the time the picture was taken he was 13 months old.  He weighed 12 pounds.

To help us build the health center please visit our Facebookfundraising page or our Chuffed donation portal.  We want to build the foundation, walls, and roof this winter.  Little by little, we hope to continue improving the center until it can meet the basic health care needs of all the students and their families.


Jason

 

Thank you for reading about our project.  Happy Holidays!



Saturday, June 26, 2021

Return to the Jungle: Our Amazon quest continues

In late July we are returning to the Amazon.  During the pandemic our future was uncertain.  Now we are committed to going enthusiastically forward in our quest for education in the river communities!


Scholarships

We have added eight new scholarships for 2021, bringing our total to 35!  Thank you to all of our patrons for believing in the future of the village children.

Students of La Libertad getting ready for school.

Health Care Center

We have raised funds to start building a small health care center in La Libertad.  While we are short of the total funding we need for the center, we are off to a good start.  The building will be made of concrete and blocks.  This will provide a more permanent structure than the wooden construction that is usually used.

The health care center of Macedonia, five kilometers upriver
from La Libertad.  We would like to build ours in this style.

Projects

Other projects on the slate for this year include:

  • Installing a 600-watt solar power system
  • 24-hour refrigeration for food and medicine
  • Replace our small wooden boat with a slightly larger rot-resistant fiberglass boat
  • Restart our volunteer-led tutoring program
  • Increase our cultivation of cacao and fruit trees


Website

And last, we have a NEW WEBSITE!  It is now fully encrypted with SSL security.  This site focuses directly on our mission.  It uses many pictures to visually describe what we are doing.  Thank you to our many volunteers who contributed the beautiful photos which were used in the creation of the site.


Thank you and please read our blog or Facebook page for the latest news!


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Goodbye to our cargo boat...

 And thank you for all the journeys for which you carried us safely!


Sadly, our 12-meter cargo boat rotted after three and a half years of use on the river.  Wooden boats, even when painted, almost never last past three years.  It had made over 100 trips up and down the river carrying our students, villagers, and supplies for our work in La Libertad.  We also loaned it to other people for cargo work to help the people of Zaragosa and our neighbors across the river in Peru.


The boat was
The boat was made by Israel in the village of Puerto Alegia.  It took about
two weeks to construct.  The boat was first painted with a polyurethane-based 
paint to slow the rot.


We installed a roof on the boat to offer protection against the sun
and rain.  This was a welcome addition but did add a significant amount of
weight and wind resistance to the boat.


Trips in the boat were very comfortable.  We had plastic sheets
that were lowered on the sides during heavy storms.  This protected
our passengers and cargo.  Because of the boat's size and weight, 
it was very stable in the water, even during storms and high waves.


This is the back entrance to La Libertad.  Sometimes, when the
water was high, it was difficult to navigate the smaller jungle
tributaries.  We would often get stuck on underwater wood or 
on overhanging branches.


After two years we resealed and painted the boat.  Six months
before this a tree fell and destroyed the roof on a trip through a
tributary.  Luckily, the roof protected the passengers but was destroyed.


Our last big school shopping trip to Leticia.


The final resting place of our boat, in the back of the village
in the river tributary.

The Future
We have not decided if we will build another cargo boat of wood, upgrade to one of fiberglass, or rent larger boats when we need them for transport.  We still have our smaller, seven-meter wooden boat for transport and light duty.  

Please enjoy this video of one of the trips upriver from the fall of 2019.










Saturday, January 2, 2021

Happy New Year from Amazon Pueblo! On to our work in 2021...

Thank you to our friends for believing in our project during 2020 and beyond!


Thank you to everyone who donated on Facebook, Chuffed, or directly to us by check or cash.  Facebook is less than transparent on the information of people who donate to us, especially by the "donate" button on our Amazon Pueblo page.  We would like to take this opportunity to recognize everyone who helped the indigenous youth of La Libertad, Leticia, Tabatinga, and Caballococha.  

Thank you, Olivia L(very much), Dianne and Dana, Debbie and Eric, Steven, David, Nancy, Marion, Maryann, Chuck, Hakki, Starsha, Barbara, Julie and Craig, Mark, Johanna, Trice, Randy, Hanna, Alina, Sandra, Barbie,  Gina, Stella, Mike, Janice, Santina, Patrick, Diane and Ian, Josh and Crystal (also very much), Rudy and Joan, Rose, Steven, Irene and Joe, Mia, Jessica and Rand, Janet, Corrine, Diane, and JoAnna!

Tax Information

Everyone should have received a receipt from either platform for tax purposes.  This year, the IRS offers a special deduction of up to $300 for people who do not itemize and take the standard deduction.  This is unchanged for people who itemize.  If you do not have a receipt and would like one, please contact us.


Our plans for 2021

  • Overall, during 2020 we have had a little under $14,000 in donations.  This was fantastic!  We now have over $10,000 in the bank and accounts receivable for January for our work in 2021.
  • We have a total of 29 scholarships for this year.  We hope to fill one more before returning to the Amazon this spring
  • We have added SSL security to the Amazon Pueblo website.  This will stop the "this site is not secure" warning when people visit us.  It is also one of the first steps to having an e-commerce page on our site.
  • This January we are planning to update the website to make it easier to understand the project, navigate, and to interface a bit better with Google AdWords.  We are also working on getting out our financial reports, which will be posted on the website.
  • During the past two years, we have received a little over $360 from Amazon Smile donations!  This represents over $52,000 of purchases on Amazon.  Please follow this link to support us with your purchases at Amazon.com.  Thank you to everyone who has signed up to help us through this program!

Our budget for 2021

  • Student scholarships 3200
  • Health care center 2500
  • Solar panels and electrical system 1000 (very important, as this will allow us to store anti-venom in 24-hour refrigeration for snake bites)
  • Building repairs and construction 1000
  • Education support program 500
  • Travel and transportation costs 500
  • Administrative costs 300
  • Emergency/Reserve fund 1000



Our recipe book fundraiser

  • We will publish a cookbook with the favorite recipes from our students' families, former volunteers, and the directors.
  • Each recipe will include a story about why they picked it.  We will also have pictures of the authors, the food, and the Amazon.
  • We will publish it on Amazon.com, in an electronic form, or by print-on-demand.
  • Our print price will probably be around $15 each, and we will sell them for $25.
  • We will be contacting people, gathering recipes, and putting everything together over the next one to two years.
  • So please be on the lookout for an email from us requesting a recipe!

Happy New Year!

Monday, November 30, 2020

Amazon Pueblo: Giving Tuesday 2020

This year has been marked by pain and loss.  But also with resiliency, generosity, and hope.  Please consider supporting our work on this Giving Tuesday.

Thank you to everyone who has helped us and followed our news updates over the past year.  You can make a difference in the lives of the students in the village of La Libertad, Leticia, Caballococha, and Tabatinga.

Donations

Below are the programs we are funding during 2021.  We have provided an option to use Facebook or Chuffed to place a donation.  Facebook charges no fees.

Student Scholarship Program Donations

Facebook Scholarship Link        Chuffed Scholarship Link

Health Care Center in La Libertad Donations

Facebook Health Center Link        Chuffed Health Center Link


Our work during 2020

Here are the links to our major blog posts for this year.  Please read them if you would like more information about our work.

Amazon Pueblo Winter/Spring update 2020: COVID-19, clones, scholarships, boats, and more!

Great news from the Amazon! Recovery in the jungle.

Amazon Pueblo: Should our work go on?

SOS in the Jungle: Save Our Students' teeth!

Fishing nets during Covid

Warning: Pirates Terrorizing the River Villages of the Colombian Amazon!

Covid food relief during the quarantine, June 2020


Mil gracias!

Ben Angulo 

Director, Amazon Pueblo


Thursday, November 26, 2020

Covid food relief during the quarantine, June 2020

Food for the Village 

After three months of strict quarantine in Leticia, we returned to the village with food relief.  The income of the villagers had been devastated by the Covid restrictions, which eliminated travel and tourism.  The thing that we found most shocking upon arrival was the weight loss experienced by the villagers, especially the children.

Thanks to the donations of the friends and supporters of Amazon Pueblo, we were able to deliver food when it was most needed.

The chief and two volunteers from La Libertad carried the food from the stores in the dock to the village's boat.

Thank you to Betty, the owner of the Piranita dock.  We keep our boat there when in Leticia.  She, and her staff, are always friendly and helpful.

After loading the food onto the boat we started the three-hour trip upriver.

We were greeted with a warm welcome when we arrived at the port of La Libertad.  The helpers quickly moved the food to the Maloka, a gigantic thatched hut used for village meetings.

We then organized the food into bags for each family.  The families received rice, pasta, sugar, chocolate, salt, flour, cooking oil, soap, and a chicken!

Over 80 heads of the family received the food distribution.

Everyone helps to give out the bags and to carry them home.

All of the families were very thankful for the food.  It really raised the morale and hopes of the village at a difficult time.  Thank you to all!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Warning: Pirates Terrorizing the River Villages of the Colombian Amazon!

Pirates in the River

If you had told me 20 years ago that I would one day be starting a social media campaign to stop REAL pirates, I would not have believed it.  BUT HERE IT GOES...


When I arrived in the village seven months ago, there was talk of pirates in the river.  I didn't think much of it, as I knew that there were instances of people having things stolen by criminals in isolated parts of the Amazon.  As I had many other things to do, I didn't investigate further.

But the rumors I was hearing about the robberies were increasing.  Some of the villagers started to warn me to be careful, as I had weekly trips on the river.  Then, one month after the quarantine in Leticia was eased, the father of one of our students in the Amazon Pueblo scholarship program was robbed at gunpoint!  Days later in a second incident, one of our scholarship students and his brother were also robbed.

Going upriver in our boat.

At this point, we asked many questions to understand what was going on.  The remaining part of this post contains the information that we learned and the possible actions that we may take going forward.  We have not included the names of the people we spoke with in order to protect the identities of the people.


A bit of background

For the last two and a half years a criminal band has been living on Isla Corea (Korea Island), a large island close to Isla de Los Micos (Monkey Island).  This is about 3 miles downriver from the village where we work, La Libertad.  The band is composed of Peruvians (Isla Corea is located in Peruvian waters) and Brazilians.  Their island is about 25 miles upriver from the Brazilian border.  They have been periodically robbing people passing in small boats, the indigenous of the communities upriver from Isla Corea.  They are pirates.

The Colombian coast guard is very aware of the pirates.  The difficulty in stopping the criminals is because the coast guard is not allowed to enter and arrest anyone in waters outside of Colombia.  When the coast guard is patrolling, the pirates retreat to their island to go further upriver (a day's travel) to rob in another area.  That is why this problem has persisted for over two years.

One afternoon we passed a Coast Guard
patrol boat in front of Isla Corea.

Contact with the Colombian Coast Guard

After we learned a good amount of what was happening, we went to report it at the Coast Guard base in Leticia.  At times it is easier for a foreigner to talk with the police or other authorities.  The indigenous people do not always trust, or outright fear, the police or military.

The coast guard base of Leticia

At the base, we waited for about 30 minutes to speak with someone.  The person we spoke with was courteous and attentive.  He knew exactly what we were talking about.  He expressed his frustration with what was going on.  He said that they were working on a diplomatic process with the Peruvians to stop the pirates.  He asked us to send him our report using the cell phone application WhatsApp, which is common and one of the most reliable ways to communicate in the Amazon.  When I arrived in my apartment in Bogota I sent him the report.

Here is the modified version of the report:

Dear .......,

Thank you for speaking with me in Leticia.  At this moment I am in Bogota.  Here is the information I collected from the villagers of some of the affected communities:

On October 2nd six boats were robbed by the pirates.  I spoke with one person from Puerto Triunfo who was robbed that day at 10 am.  He said they had the following weapons: two mini-Uzis, one assault rifle, four pistols, a shotgun, and a machete.

Mini Uzi

It was reported to me that the criminal band consists of 4 Brazilians and 6 Peruvians from Puerto Alegre 2nd zone.  They include members of a specific family; four brothers.  They live in a group of 6 or 7 houses on the Island of Korea.  They have a 7-meter aluminum boat with a 40 hp motor.

Map of Isla Corea pirate base and surrounding communities

The pirate base of Isla Corea
They frequently leave to rob people from the top of the point of the Island of Korea.  When they are being pursued by the law they exit from the river at the bottom of the island.

They steal almost anything of value; motors, cell phones, watches, food, shoes.  They hit the people during the robberies.  On the island, they have a depository where they sell the boat motors and other goods.  For example, a stolen longtail 13hp motor (called a "peke peke" in the Amazon) may be bought for 100 to 150 dollars, 20% of its new value.

The everpresent peke-peke motor of the Colombian Amazon.

The people of the indigenous villages above the Island of Korea are afraid to pass the island or to fish in the area.  They tell me that the pirates have been operating in the area for the past two years, but the frequency of attacks has recently, and greatly, increased.

When the Colombian Coast Guard is patrolling the area, the villagers tell me that the pirates go upriver to steal from people further upriver in Tabocal on the Peruvian side of the border.

Peruvian flag

The villagers told me that the police of Santa Sofia are aware of the problem, but do not call for help when they see the pirates.

I was told that more than a year ago a group of people from Macedonia reported a robbery to the police in Leticia.  After they made the report, the pirates went to Macedonia and threatened the lives of anyone who reported them.  Since this time, the villagers are reluctant to make further reports, for fear of being killed.

The villagers told me that the police of the Puesta Yauma de PerĂº first zone are paid 2,500 Reales by the pirates every 15 days as a bribe to allow them to operate.

Please keep me updated on what is happening and the safety of the area.  If I can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

Ben Angulo 

The result of the letter to the coast guard

I contacted a friend in Colombia who followed up with the letter I sent to the Coast Guard.  She said they are in the process of trying to stop the pirates.  She mentioned that a recommendation from our contact at the Coast Guard base was to have the villagers travel with guns.  I'm not sure if this would improve or complicate the problem.  So far, no one has been killed by the pirates.  Might the escalation of arms cause more problems?

A single-shot, 20 gauge shotgun from Peru.  These
are homemade and sell for around $100 each.  Many
villagers use these guns to hunt small game.

I have been attempting to contact others about the pirate problem, but communication is very difficult in the region.


Our Plan to Stop the Pirates

Gather information  We can document when attacks occur, look for patterns, and get a better idea of everything that is happening.  This will allow us to make more informed decisions

Photograph with telephoto lenses
from the Colombian side of the river?

Drone flights to take surveillance pictures/video of
activity on the island and river?

Organize the villages Meet with all of the villages being affected by the pirates.  Arrange times for the villagers to travel together in small boat "convoys", which are less of a desirable target.  Have all the villages contribute to the collection of information.

Report activity to the police and coast guard  We can periodically report on the action of the pirates to the authorities.  We may be able to more effectively coordinate the travel times of the villages to the patrol times of the coast guard boats.

Warn people and spread the word A reason that the pirates are able to continue to do what they do is that people are afraid to take action against them.  They are afraid to report to the authorities.  They are afraid to talk.  We can do this by making connections to the outside media, be it in Leticia, Bogota, Colombia, or the world.

One thing we DO NOT want to do

We do not want to make the problem worse.  As we mentioned earlier, so far no one has been killed.  Through the actions by Amazon Pueblo, we do not want to be responsible for the serious injury or death of the people of the river villages.  However, we do want to stop the piracy and the pirates continuing exploitation of the vulnerable people of the Amazon.  We want to help.


What do you think?  Please comment below with any ideas, and spread the word about our mission!


Saturday, November 14, 2020

Fishing nets during Covid

Fish to live
The first few months of the outbreak were the worst, food-wise, in the village.  Over three-quarters of the villagers' income was from tourism, which became nonexistent overnight.  They started to plant more crops to eat, but they would take months to grow.  One thing that we could do for more food was fish.  This is one benefit of living along the Amazon River!



While it is possible to fish with a hand line, it takes a lot of time and does not provide enough fish for a family.  Mostly the children fish by hand, which they truly enjoy.  But when they need to feed a family of eight or more, fishing nets are the answer!


At the start of the pandemic, we did not have enough nets to meet the increased food needs.  This is one area where we could easily, and quickly, make a difference.  Below are pictures that show the way nets are prepared and used.  

Preparing the net
The materials used were bought in the city of Tabatinga, Brazil.  In all, the cost was about $40 USD for one net.  The materials needed are: 150 of net, 150 feet of 1/8 inch cord, one pound of lead weights, 200 feet of heavy, black, nylon thread, and many small, empty, plastic bottles or small chunks of styrofoam.


To prepare a fishing net takes about three days of work.  It will make a net that is about 150 feet long.  Mainly adults and teenagers work to make a finished net.


First, the outer covering of the cord is removed.  This doubles the length of the cord.  The cord is then tied to the tops and bottom of the netting with the heavy thread.  This is the most tedious and time-consuming part of making the net.  The parents will usually teach their older children how to make the proper knots and spacing.  Lead weights are placed along the bottom of the net so that it will sink properly in the water.

Gabriel working on the net.  He was much faster and more
 accurate in his technique than I was.


A boring video of Ben preparing the net.


Fishing on the Amazon
Along the top of the net, at spaces between 10 feet, small plastic bottles, or chunks of styrofoam are secured.  These are not bought, they are saved or scavenged.  They then go onto the river in small wooden boats.  They may or may not have small, gasoline-powered motors.  Depending on the water level and the time of year, they may travel up to one-half hour to their fishing spot.  Then the net is lowered into the water.  After one hour or more in the water, the nets are pulled up, checked, and brought back to the village.



Bringing the catch home
When the fishers arriving at the village they are greeted by their family and friends.  They help to take the fish out of the net.  At times this is dangerous.  Piranha that has been caught in the net, while they are eaten, can also cause a serious bite to the fisher!



After sorting, the fish are ready to take home.  When a catch is very good, they will give some to their friends or neighbors, or sell them to others in their village or neighboring villages.




The best part
At home, the fish may be salted to eat at a later time.  More frequently it is fried in a pan with oil, grilled over an open fire, or cooked into a stew.  The villages eat fish for up to three meals a day!



At last, the fried fish and bread are ready to eat.  Delicious!



Please enjoy this video of the catch arriving and fish being cleaned.  Thank you for the video, Stephan!