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

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