Thursday, December 3, 2015

This winter is the time to visit the Amazon!

If you can come down to visit this winter, the time to plan is here! There are some good reasons to come now:
  1. For people in the northeast US, the price of a plane ticket from Boston to Bogota is the lowest I have seen it in years.  Today JetBlue sent me an email advertising the sale.  During the first week of February the price was $350 round trip.  There may be similar deals in other parts of the country.
  2. The US dollar vs the Colombian peso is the strongest it has been in the past 10 years.

 Your trip could also directly help the project:

  1. Visitors can bring down child-sized life vests that are unavailable in Leticia.  (We could have them shipped, or possibly made for us, but the cost would be high.)
  2. Visitor can also bring down donations of used baby and toddler clothing, which is in short supply in the village.
  3. We are running out of peanut butter.

Please contact me through this blog if you need help with planning.  Here is a link to Planning a Trip to the Amazon.

Former Volunteers

Here are some picture of our last two volunteers, Beatriz and Paloma, from Brazil.  They taught circus skills to the village children.  They also evaluated the village for bio-construction projects like:
  • mud ovens
  • sod roofing
  • composting toilets
Beatirz teaching juggling
Paloma climbing the Aerial Silk
Getting ready to teach the kids
A demonstration
Stephanie on the silk


Monday, November 30, 2015

Please Remember Amazon Pueblo on Giving Tuesday!‏


We help indigenous people of the Colombian Amazon to improve their lives through the development of sustainable business.
By your donation you are joining us to do this.

Thank You!
Amazon Pueblo is an IRS registered 501c3 organization.
EIN 46-0893738

We Have New Life Vests for the Village!

The adults of La Libertad now have life vests.  Our next step, vests for the children.

During times of storms, high winds, or fast current river travel can be dangerous.  The boats belonging to the community members are sometimes not very seaworthy.  At other times the boats are overloaded with people, items to transport, or both.

But how to help? Can we just buy and give out life vests? We don’t believe that will work. As the vests are free, they may not be valued. They may be sold by the villagers so that they may use the money for something that is a more immediate need. The life vests also need to be regularly dried, cleaned, and repaired. The proper use and care of the vests must be taught. All of these factor make the large scale “buying and giving away” wasteful.

Instead, we have created a loaning program, a LIFE VEST LIBRARY, to insure the proper distribution and use of the life vests:
  • We have bought 20 adult vests. This will almost cover the maximum number of people on the river during any given day.  We now need at least 10 child-sized life vests.
  • We will store the vests in a locked room on the village's dock.
  • We will loan the vests out to people who will be on the river for the length of their trip.
  • We will require a small deposit (cash or the equivalent of goods) in order to borrow the vest.
  • We will keep records of the borrowers.
  • We will maintain the vests.

We bought the vests in Leticia.

Hector cutting out the letters

 We printed and cut out stencils with which to mark the vests.

The vests are drying after the painting

We spray painted 'Amazon Pueblo" and "Property of La Libertad" on each vest.

Bringing the vest to the project's cabin in La Libertad

We delivered the vests to La Libetad.  Now comes the difficult part.  We must educate the villagers to use them when needed.  They must also treat the vests with care and return them after use.

We currently have a community project underway to build walls on and to reinforce the village's dock.  The work is scheduled for the first week of December, 2015.  Once this is done we will be able to house the life vest library.

They REALLY need life vests!

Now we need child-sized life vests!  We have part of the funding.  However, the vests are not available to buy in Leticia.  We may have to buy them in the US, then bring them down (little by little) when volunteers visit the village.  (Or have them shipped, which would be very costly.)  If anyone reading this is able to visit and bring some vests with them, PLEASE send me a message from this blog.

We are continuing to accept donations:

Donate Now

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Director's Report November 2015

Dear Friends and Project Supporters,

We now have Internet in the Leticia office!

Blue-gray Tanager outside of our office

I have had a case of “welcome back to the Amazon” intestinal parasites (caused by cryptosporidium cysts) for the past three weeks. If I have diagnosed it properly, then I am now taking the right medication to clear it up. I probably got this from contaminated food/drink in a local restaurant. Unfortunately this has slowed me down a bit.

Washington Trip in October

I met with Sustainable Harvest International. They have a good 5-phase model that helps villages to develop sustainable agriculture. Their model would teach the villagers to grow, harvest, use, and sell their agricultural products. The model is designed to allow the villagers to develop self-sufficiency in their businesses.

I believe it would be good for us to form an information-sharing partnership with SHI. They are very open to this. We could use their model and techniques to help develop La Libertad’s agricultural businesses.

If at some time in the future we can locate funding sources, they may be able to send someone down to work with us. However, this would be some time in the future, and the money and commitment required would be significant.

Meetings with congressional representatives, foundations, and the Colombian ambassador to the USA

What I learned

  • Money is available for our work in the Colombian Amazon –provided by the US and other governments at a national level, as well as by the Colombian government and other foundations. It will then go to our village mostly through government programs. However, just because it is available DOES NOT mean that it is easy to get. Many boxes need to be “checked off” on a grant request before receiving the support.
  • It is most effective to develop connections between the many parts of the government, NGOs, and business, which will strongly support our efforts.
  • One of the main problem faced by development efforts, as stated on the US Embassy on Colombia’s USAID webpage, “is not lack of national funding, but the inability of local governments to put forward effective infrastructure proposals and transparently and efficiently administer funds.”

Steve at the Disabled American Veteran's Memorial

As a result of what we learned, Amazon Pueblo will:

  • Work closely with the community to help them to understand how to voice their needs
  • Teach the villagers to organize into indigenous-led associations to advocate for themselves
  • Teach the associations to connect to other foundations and agencies to apply for and effectively manage development funding
  • Assist the villagers to develop sustainable, socially-conscious indigenous-led businesses
  • Develop a model that may be used throughout the indigenous populations of the Amazon

Basically, we are making connections in Washington with the people who supply much of the money from US programs to Colombia. The money then goes through other agencies and eventually to Colombian entities. If these people in Washington, and the agencies which they support, and the Colombian government know who we are, and what we are doing, it should make the securing of funds more attainable.

Thank you very much to Steve Chisholm and Dan Martinez for helping me to set up appointments and taking me to meet people.

Ben and Miles Frechette (former US ambassador to Colombia)

Ben and Steve Chisholm
Project Updates

Office in Leticia
We have settled into our Leticia office. We will be there until at least May, 2016.

We now have a good internet connection in the office. It is through SkyNet. If you remember the Terminator series of movies, SkyNet was the computer that tried to extinguish all human life on Earth. This is a different SkyNet.
We really need this connection. The internet with other systems in Leticia is unusable. The technology that they use is quite remarkable. It relies a network of O3b mid-Earth orbit satellites.

Boat and Motor
Gustavo repainted the project’s boat and sealed the leaks. We have maintained his motor. We replace the piston, carburetor, coil, spark plug harness, and pull-starter. We need Gustavo’s motor for transportation while we have volunteers in the Amazon.

Motor repairs in Santa Rosa

Life Vests Project
We bought 20 good adult life vests from a vegetarian store in Leticia. This number should be sufficient for the adults. The store was selling them for On Vacation, the largest tour operator in the Colombian Amazon. However, I could not find any adequate child-sized life vests. What they sell here in Leticia is more like a child’s pool toy. We may have to ask volunteers to bring them down to us, little by little. (Anyone reading this who is thinking about visiting us, please contact me.) It would be good to have at least 10 child-sized vests.

Life vests from Leticia

Community Vegetable Gardens
There is a lack of variety and vegetables in the diet of the village. This contributes to poor nutrition. There is strong interest in growing vegetables in small community gardens (raised beds) in different areas around the village. All of these need to be fenced. We also need to create good growing soil.  The phosphorous content of the soil in the village is very low.

I have spoken with Sinchi, an agricultural technical support agency in Leticia. They are helping us with the technical know-how to start these gardens.

Kathy Cartwright, a friend and former co-worker, has encouraged us to apply for a grant from a non-profit she helps to manage called The Flannel Shirt Fund.

Dock Project
It seems like the supplies to repair and enhance the dock and build the pier will arrive in the village next week. I have been meeting weekly with the governor’s office for international relations.

They have also planned for a local artist to work with the children to paint a mural on the side of the dock, for refreshments to be served, and pictures with the community members taken.

Rosana, Suly, Ben, and Liliana in our Leticia office

Christmas Dinner for Village Children
Continuing our tradition, we are supplying the food needed for a Christmas dinner for 150 children of the village. It will be chicken soup and chicken with rice (like fried rice, but less greasy). It was a big hit last year.

Christmas Dinner 2014
Well Project
The well project is more complicated than I initially thought. The first thing I have done is to divide the formally combined well and sanitation (bathroom) project into separate projects. This simplifies the grant process for the Amazonian government and for the foundations to which we are expecting to apply.

While I have a spreadsheet worked out for the Coca Cola grant, this needs to be revised. I also have done a bit more research into grant writing which leads me to do some things to increase our chances of approval.

  1. Get estimates for all the materials that will be used, including a line-by-line cost for the charges by the well drilling company.
  2. Estimate the value of the “goods in kind” offered by the village for the project.
  3. Have the village formally vote on the grant request and their contribution to the project. This is done by a “radicacion” process which generates the required paperwork from La Libertad.
  4. Compile data which supports the need for the project. In this case I must contact the health department and try to get information on the numbers of people sick, and how this affects the village, due to the problems we are trying to address. In our grant request we will tell how the well will reduce the number of illnesses and improve the villagers’ quality of life.
  5. Revise the Excel spreadsheet.
  6. Translate and write the grant request on the Amazonian government’s forms.
  7. Fill out and submit the online Coca Cola grant request.

Bathroom/Sanitation Project
I must basically do the same thing for the bathroom project that I will do for the well project.

Aquaculture Project
I am recommending to the village chief that we do not go forward with the aquaculture project. I believe this is prudent for the following reasons:

  1. The level of reading and experience in following complex directions is very low in the village.
  2. The village did not accept ownership of the dock to the level that they felt responsible for its upkeep. Granted, it is partly our responsibility to imprint the importance of the dock maintenance. We must make sure that they have a good system in place to designate who is responsible for repairs and from where the money will come to make these repairs.
  3. The fish will die quickly if they are not properly cared for.

Cacao Pilot Project
Chocolate production and exportation is the future of the Colombian Amazon! If we don’t do it (sustainably and with social consciousness) someone else eventually will. If we help this production to happen we can guide it in an environmentally friendly direction, for the benefit of the indigenous people who work the land.

  1. The cacao project requires the same data-driven proposal as the well and sanitation projects.
  2. We need $55,000 for a pilot project of 10,000 trees. It would be best to have everything approved and start to plant these in 2016.
The future of the Colombian Amazon

Volunteers in the Village
I am now receiving 1 to 2 weekly requests for information about volunteering. I have put together a volunteer package that I email to our prospective volunteers. The package is pretty realistic, and so far we have only had two people out of the last 10 want to come to the village. I will forward a messages that I sent to a prospective volunteer to all of the directors.

The two volunteers from Brazil, Paloma and Beatriz, are pictured below. They arrived today. They will stay in the village for five days. They will help with the dock project if the materials arrive this week, planning for the community gardens, English teaching, evaluations for bio-construction projects, and circus skills teaching and performance.

Paloma and Beatriz

More Fundraising
Giving Tuesday is the Tuesday following Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It is being developed as a movement for people to give to charity after the spending sprees of the preceding days. I would send out emails, and do blog and Facebook posts. People in turn, hopefully, will share the email and the posts.

So far, we have not had much luck with crowdfunding sites like Razzo and Go Fund Me to bring in pledges. The vast majority of our donations come from people we know.

We will use the following link in our giving Tuesday message:

Amazon Pueblo is a registered 501c3 organization.  All donations are tax-deductible.
(If anyone tries this button and it dose not work, please tell me.)

Money from Grants
All of the grants I am writing include at least a 10% administration allowance. That means that if we receive $15,000 from a grant, at least $1,500 of that may be used for our administration of the grant money to complete the project for which the funding was given. This would give us a lot of help.

That’s it. As always, questions, comments, and advice are needed and appreciated.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Life Vests And Boat To Save Amazonian Children's Lives

This is our second social media campaign.  Please SHARE our story on Facebook, Twitter, or on any other media.  Thanks!

In June 2015 Fermil Arebelo, a 9 year old boy, drowned in the river when his boat capsized. Help us to save the next person in danger.

Fermil with our volunteer Sarah.

The Story

I returned to the village after a three hour boat trip from the city of Leticia. I had two volunteers with me to help in the village. The first, Beki, was a videographer from the United Kingdom. The second, Sabrina, was a dentist from Canada. We had left Leticia a little after 11 am. All of us were volunteering for the Amazon Pueblo project, based in La Libertad, Amazonas, Colombia. We were helping the indigenous people of La Libertad to develop sustainable, socially-conscious business. The village numbers 400 people.

The ride upriver had been a little choppy. The wind had been blowing, which caused waves and made the river navigation a bit more difficult. However, the sun was shining brightly and many billowy clouds passed overhead.

After walking from the river bank to our cabin we noticed a large crowd around the hut of our neighbor, Patricia. When I approached them my friend Wagner came over to greet us. After the introduction of our new volunteers, Wagner told me that the village had lost little Fermil, our 9 year old neighbor. My first though was that he was lost in the jungle, and that he could be found. But from the somberness of the crowd I realized that he had died.

Fermil with his aunt and cousins.

Fermil always loved to help other people in the village, and especially his parents. He was always one of the first kids to greet me after my return to the village. He would carry what seemed to be his own weight in supplies from our boat to our hut.

Earlier this morning he had gone with his father in their small, wooden boat to transport farina (made from dried cassava root) and handcrafts to the village of Puerta Alegria on the other side of the river in Peru. The boat was overloaded, a common but dangerous practice. By the time his father was in the center of the river the large waves caused the boat to capsize. Fermil went overboard and was caught by the current. He was a good swimmer, but he was pulled underwater before his father could reach him.

Fermil with his mother and brother
Back in the village many of the people blamed his father for the boy’s death. When we saw his father he was sitting to one side of their house in a dazed, shell-shocked look. Other people took it for granted as one of the things that just happens in this poor jungle community. They do not have sufficient money for adequate food, shelter, and clothing. Who could afford the luxury of a life preserver? And a big, well-powered, safer boat was entirely out of the reach of all the villagers.

We, the project’s volunteers, want to help to end the needless, avoidable loss of life due to drowning. This was the second child to drown this year. But how to help? Can we just buy and give out life vests? We don’t believe that will work. As the vests are free, they may not be valued. They may be sold by the villagers so that they may use the money for something that is a more immediate need. The life vests also need to be regularly dried, cleaned, and repaired. The proper use and care of the vests must be taught. All of these factor make the large scale “buying and giving away” wasteful.

Bathing at the riverbank

Instead, we will create a loaning program to insure the proper distribution and use of the life vests:
  • Buy 5 baby life vests, 20 child vests. And 25 adult vests. This will cover the maximum number of people on the river during any given day.
  • Build a storage, drying and maintenance cabin that may be used to keep the vests.
  • Loan the vests out to people who will be on the river for the length of their trip.
  • We will require a small deposit (cash or the equivalent of goods) in order to borrow the vest.
  • Keep a record of the borrowers.
  • Periodically maintain the vests.
This whole program is expected to cost $2000.  Any money that we raise above the $2000 needed for the vests will go into a fund to buy a village boat.

This craft is NOT seaworthy

The boat:
  • Will be operated by the village chief.
  • Will make regular bi-weekly trips to the city and other river villages.
  • Will be fueled and maintained by funds collected by the chief during its use.

What will the village provide to this project?

The village will:
  • Be involved in all stages of the development and running of the vest loan program.
  • Supply the wood and labor needed to build the cabin.
  • Clean and maintain the vests.
  • Loan out and keep records of the vests.
  • Give a small deposit of money or equal goods before being able to borrow a vest.

Thank you for helping the people of La Libertad.

Please share our story with you friends on Facebook and on other social media.

Online fundraising for Life Vests and Boat to Save Amazonian Childrens' Lives

Friday, October 2, 2015

Director's Report, October 2015: Fundraisers, Finances, and the Future

A report from the director
Fundraisers, Finances, and the Future

The Amazon Pueblo project is the intermediary between the organizations and agencies that have  many resources and the people of La Libertad.  We use the money we raise to help provide services with a greater impact.  We harness the enthusiasm of our volunteers and the villagers to achieve our goals.  The village will attain profitable, sustainable business if we keep working towards that future.

In this upcoming year we will be helping to develop the village’s infrastructure.  This is needed as we start the first indigenous-run business ventures.  As we prove ourselves with successful completion of the smaller projects, the possibilities of large-scale, highly profitable and sustainable cacao production will become possible.

The public dock (funded by Amazon Pueblo)


These are the goals for the years of 2015-2016.
  1. Increase the number of volunteers assisting the project
  2. Directly develop sustainable business in the village
  3. Make connections and partner with other NGOs or businesses that may assist the village to develop sustainable business, directly or indirectly by assisting with business, health, or educational services
  4. Improve the health and sanitation conditions within the village
House construction

Fundraisers and Finance

A warm thank you to everyone who helped to plan, run, fund, and clean up after all of the fundraisers!

In California we made $2,363 from donations and $120 in profits from handcraft sales.
In Maine we made $706 from the silent auctions, $725.15 profits from handcraft and emerald sales, and $1,817.98 from donations.

Other donations and income for January 1, 2015 until September, 21 2015 is $156.

Our total income (profit) from fundraising, sales, and other income was: $5,888.13. The cost of the goods (handcrafts and emeralds) that we sold was $477. After all of our expenses (fees, cost of goods sold, promotion, travel, software, and subscription services) we currently have $5,447.47 in our checking account, and $100.45 cash in hand.

I expect us to have another $80 in expenses (QuickBooks program cost, Facebook fees, postage stamps) in September/October.

Piranha Party Fundraiser at Trackside Restaurant, Rockland, Maine

The Future

Buying more handcrafts and emeralds
The cost to us from what we sold was $477.  I think it best to buy $477 of handcrafts and emeralds to replace what we sold.

Our recommendations are to buy more bloodwood jewelry, bloodwood carvings, bloodwood key chains, beetle wing earrings, 3 piranha, and 3 blowguns ($177 total).  I will buy these in the village.

As for emeralds we think it best to buy silver rings, stud earrings, and simple drop earrings.  We should keep our selling price for emerald jewelry between $45 and $150.  The total cost of the emeralds will be $300.  I will buy these in Bogota.

Handcrafts from the village


Trip to Portland, Maine
A company in Portland, Ocean Renewable Power Corporation ORPC, is developing a floating hydroelectric power system.  They could possibly provide reliable, 24 hour electricity for La Libertad and the adjoining village.  The cost is expected to be less than the current diesel generator system.  They are interested in speaking with us.  It is possible that we may be considered for a pilot project.  I expect the funding to come from an Amazon Pueblo-brokered ORPC, other NGO, and government grants.  I am meeting with them on October 8 at 11 am in Portland.

RivGen® Power System by Ocean Renewable Power Corporation, Portland, Maine

Trip to Washington DC
I have been in contact with a friend of the project who works for the US State Department.  He is encouraging me to make connections in Washington and the US embassy in Bogota.  He believes USAID would be interested in helping us.

We are also meeting with a consultant from the Chisholm Group.  The group works with NGOs, governments, or anyone else who needs help with the Washington bureaucracy.  They have an office in Washington and Colombia.

The second reason for this trip is to meet with representatives from Sustainable Harvest International (SHI).  They are based in Ellsworth, Maine.  However, for this meeting I need to go to DC.  I met with SHI last October to learn about their organization and to tell them about us.  They mentioned that there were possibilities of us working together, possibly seeking a combined grant to help with sustainable agriculture in the village.  We were not ready to go forward with this partnership last year.  Now we are ready.  The meeting will be between the Field Program director, Program Impact Officer, two Country Directors, and myself. 

The cost of this trip will be $380 for a plane ticket, bus ticket, and car rental.
I believe this trip to DC will help to put us on the path to secure the funding we need for the major works of the project.

Upcoming Expenses in Colombia
Here is what I expect for expenses in Colombia:
  • Repair rot to the kitchen and dock; $300
  • Fees for Fundacion Amazon Pueblo, Association of Farmers, and support; $100 (due in January)
  • Internet; $30/month
  • Local travel costs in gasoline/oil/dock fees; $40/month
  • Boats, motor, and hull maintenance $200
  • Rent?  It is $200/month which I am paying for until we have more income
  • Building a semi-secure storage area in the guest house and building maintenance costs; $300
Project volunteers doing an arts and crafts activity

Possibilities of income

We are applying for grants.  One of our project volunteers in the village, Jeff Sires, said he may be able to help us find and apply for grants.  He has experience in the field.  We may also receive donation money from Destination Compensation.  All grant and donation money would be targeted for a specific program.  Up to 15% of the money from the grant may be used for rent and administrative costs.

Painting the world

Grant Projects

Here are the projects for which we need grant funding.  This list is in order of importance and ease of attainability, more or less.
  • maintaining and finishing the village's raft (We have received approval for a grant from the Colombian government, so hopefully we have this covered.)
  • volunteer support (fix the rot in the kitchen, improve the guesthouse, improve telecommunications/internet, plant and tend a vegetable garden)
  • drilling a well and putting in plumbing and 25 bathrooms in the village (I am applying for our first grant with the Coca Cola Foundation to cover this.  I have also recently received communication with the governor's office in Leticia.  They said that they may be able to help with funding.)
  • buying an aluminum boat and a 30 hp outboard motor
  • aquaculture (Colombian grant money may be available to start this.)
  • starting a pilot project for growing cacao, at least 5 hectares (100 meters X 100 meters) to start  (This is the most expensive and complicated project on our list.  I believe this also holds the most hope for sustainable business.  The grants for this may come from a variety of sources.)
  • Improving agriculture in the village
  • Small business development

Climbing a tree for fruit

Grants Sources

Here are two of the sources that I am using to find grants.  There are also many more.  Anyone may help in our quest for grants.

If any of our project readers are interested in helping us to search and apply for grants, please contact us!
Grant Station is a database of many grants.  They also offer information about applying for grants.
I like this better than Grant Station for finding grants.  They have a great newsletter to which you may subscribe.  They offer a free service.  Next year we may not renew our Grant Station subscription and instead go with this company's premium service.

Village meeting

More Money Needed
The money we have now, I expect, will keep us operating in Colombia until January.  We need at least $1000 more to take us until June.  Anything above that is better.

I worry about Gustavo’s motor.  Gustavo is our main supporter in the village.  His motor is difficult to start, sometimes stops, and needs repairs.  He helps provide us with transportation.  At the least we can help repair the motor.  However, it may be time to start thinking about getting our own motor for the project’s boat.

Gustavo's motor.  It is in need of much repair.

Continued Fundraising
We are currently having a raffle for a lobster trap rocking chair (Thanks Mark, Julie, and Stephen!).  We also are slowly receiving small individual cash donations.  We may give a second try at raising money through a social media campaign.  We didn’t have much luck last time, but we can try again!

Night meal

One of the most important health and safety concerns in the village is the lack of life vests for boat travel on the river.  We recently had a child drown due to bad river conditions.  A campaign to buy, maintain, educate, and disperse (in a borrowing-type program) life vest may be a good way to restart our crowdfunding efforts.

That's it for this report.  Thanks for reading!
(Photo credits to Beki Henderson and Crystal Angulo)

The Amazon River