Friday, July 13, 2012

Ben back from the Jungle! Can´t anything be easy???

I have spent the last week in La Libertad, trying my best with my meager Spanish to have the people of the village understand what the project is and what we are trying to do.  It seem like the project may be taking a change.  The village does not want clean water and sanitation anywhere near the level at which they want BUSINESS!
What do I mean?  When I arrived in the village, as I was walking up the slippery mud trail from the boat landing, I was called to by the elected chief of the village.  He had been drinking at a log cutting/carrying party earlier, and was very forceful in telling me that he did not understand who I was or exactly what the project was for.  He further went on to tell me that I was not authorized to make private business deals with anyone in the village.  He ended with the question of where the village boat was (valued at over 8 thousand dollars) that he had requested from me six months earlier.  It is the custom of the villages to have the chief be the main controller of the village boat.

Over the following days I spoke twice at village meetings of over 100 people, showed my computer slide show to other small groups, and met individually or in pairs with still more people to discuss the project.  I have also been talking with other people, tour operators in the nearby city of Leticia, who have helped fill in parts of the picture.  It seems like most of the people have access to much water which they consider clean (which is NOT, and has been tested by me), and find it bothersome and difficult to dispose of their human fecal waste in ways other that going to the bathroom on the ground within 40 feet of their homes.  They also seem to not value good health as much, instead living with and adjusting to intestinal parasites and other ailments.

What did come up in all of the discussion was the will of the people to find work.  This was the most desirable part of the project by far.  It was followed (as a slightly distant second) by the desire for the villagers to have their children speak English, which was also directly related to the opportunities the villagers believed this would afford their children and families.  And how did they expect the project to provide this work?  By small business loans!

The amounts that they are requesting are usually between 500 and 1,000 dollars. Their plans sound good and workable.  Who is funded might be decided upon by a council of villagers.  And given that all are well-known in a community of 400, the hard workers and ideas that have the most chance of succeeding could be funded.  The money could be lent at a one-time interest rate of 5%, to be payed by monthly payments at a 12 or 24 month schedule.  Simple business plans may be drawn up with the borrowers and loan notes signed and notarized in the city.  When (hopefully) the loans are repaid the money may be reinvested in other businesses.

And how does community improvement and environmental sustainability fit in?  This could be the project´s way to get our foot firmly within the door.  We can also require that the people who profit form the project´s loan give a percentage of their profits back to the community for development projects, including clean water and sanitation.

Well that´s it for now.  I am very tired, had a touch of severe intestinal discomfort earlier, and I must start running around early tomorrow morning to get a resupply of food and the materials I need to mount and connect the solar panel.  Hopefully my next communication will be from my laptop within the jungle!

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