Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Successes! Amazon Pueblo director's report winter/spring 2018

Successes! Amazon Pueblo director's report winter/spring 2018

Our mission is to support the education of Amazonian indigenous youth to encourage sustainable business.

Ben Angulo, project director, during the project-sponsored Christmas dinner

Where We Are/Where We Want to Go
We have refocused our program in the village of La Libertad to support the community's youth.  We have also expanded our connection with other communities in the Amazon.  Part of our expansion includes working with the Amazonian nonprofit organization Funmi-roca, based in Leticia. Funmi-roca gives us a year-round presence in the Amazon.

Points to keep in mind as we go forward:
  • We want to keep our budget under $5,000 per year
  • We are supplementing donations to the program with increased chocolate and emerald sales
  • We will only have the non-profit based in the USA with no Colombian version
  • We will continue to connect with other organizations to help us preform our mission
  • We will assign the responsibility of the buildings and equipment in the village of La Libertad to Gustavo (our main supporter and logistics person in La Libertad) and other villagers
  • We will support Gustavo to develop the “voluntourism” model where people pay (heavily discounted rates) to live in and to volunteer (with assistance from Gustavo) in the village.  

The new volunteer and tourist house in the village

Communication in the Amazon
Communication has been difficult. The internet is slow to the point of being unusable during most of the day in Leticia. While there is an internet connection in the village, which at times is a better connection than in Leticia, there is no person willing to work as the monitor of the computer room (a paid position).
Waiting for my email to load in Leticia
We are working on finding and helping to train a responsible person to maintain the computer room, which is part of the local school, in La Libertad. Having a responsible monitor will bring many benefits to the villagers and to the program.

My Reception in the Village
My arrival to La Libertad was gracious. Gustavo’s sister had been talking with the villagers while I was in the states. She explained the program, our method of supporting business development through education, and from where we receive our money. While there is a ways to go, the relations between the villagers and Amazon Pueblo have improved greatly. Even the chief expressed some remorse at the problems of the preceding summer. Christmas dinner (funded entirely by our Google One Today fundraiser) went well and we hope to expand it to the entire village next year.  READ MORE about the Christmas dinner.

I had planned to stay in La Libertad for two weeks then return to Bogotá, but I extended my visit to six weeks.

Christmas dinner
The narcotics traffickers have left the village. This confirmation was one of the main reasons I needed to go back to La Libertad and to stay for a significant time. The national police from Puerto Narino, a larger tourist town two hours upriver, burned the coca fields and arrested seven villagers from La Libertad. The leaders of the narcos were tipped off before the raid and escaped. They are currently on the wanted list in Colombia, and we hear that they are back in Peru.

The villagers say that the narcos want to kill the chief, whom they blame for the raid. The narcos say that the villagers are “sapos” (snitches). However, the regional government had known about the narcotics operations in La Libertad for at least one year. The regional officials had also been threatening the chief with the removal of the school, stopping aid to families with dependent children, and stopping the social security payments to the elderly villagers. Exactly how the local government expected the villagers to kick out the armed narcotics trafficker (who did not want to leave), I do not know.

We believe that the villagers have learned from this experience. At a minimum, we hope they never allow organized crime to enter the village and to set up operations again

However, as I write this a significant number of villagers, some as young as 12 years-old, are continuing to work picking coca in the fields in Peru. This is work for them and it brings in the money they need to support their families. The pay is not good, but it puts food on the floor. Very few houses have tables.

This year we had to expel a thirteen-year old student that we supported from the scholarship program. He chose to leave school to work in the fields of Peru.

The boy we lost to Peru

Scholarship Program
The scholarship program is improving. We are clarifying the expectations and expanding the program. We currently support six boys and seven girls in La Libertad, two boys and one girl in kilometer 18 from Leticia, one boy and one girl in Tabatinga, Brazil, and one boy in Caballococha, Peru. The students were picked based on their academic achievement, school attendance, and recommendation of their teachers or community leaders.

One of the student we sponsor from km 18 and his mother

We continued to support four of the original eight students we sponsored last year.  These four students did very well in school.  They, and their parents, were very happy to remain in the program.

The four students who did not continue in the program missed more than 15 days of school in the following year, did not pass the year, or voluntarily left the program.  We easily found eager students to fill the scholarship vacancies.

This year we did much better with the control of buying the school supplies. We also have clearer expectations for the students to remain in the program. We hope to start workshops on study skills, responsibility, and sustainability with the students next year.

Our partner organization, Funmi-roca, is helping with the administration of the program in Leticia and Tabatinga. In the future, they may be able to administer the scholarships and run the workshops. We hope to invite them to the next Christmas/Holiday dinner and to involve them more with La Libertad.

Send Jhon Carlos to the museum
Later this year we are trying to bring one of our students and his father to Bogotá to visit the science museum Maloka and to experience the city. We already have $100 donated to this fund. We have started a campaign to raise the remaining needed money (400) later this month. The father of the student is one of the most responsible and supportive parents of the project. Here is the link to our fundraising campaign for this activity, and we need donations! 😀

Jhon Carlos

As we did last year, the children wrote thank you notes for their sponsors.  This year we will also send the sponsors a brief video of each student showing his or her house.

The Boat, Motor, Buildings, and Equipment
This year we are docking the project's boat in La Libertad. Gustavo is taking care of it and he is not charging for the care. He has permission to use the boat and motor when he needs them.

The community or school may also use the boat for approved, non-alcohol related functions. The boat was well made and very sturdy. Nevertheless, it does need some maintenance work this spring. The community may not use the motor. In the past, the community has not cared for the motors, or other equipment in their control.

The students in the project's boat returning from school shopping

We sold the buildings and much of our equipment to Gustavo for a 10-year loan at 6% yearly interest. He has paid back 10% of what he owes, which is very good for him. He is caring for the buildings and equipment. He is also adding to them, at his expense. He uses the buildings for his tour business. He is also continuing to receive and assist volunteers. He offers volunteers a greatly reduced rate to use the buildings during their work-stay. This is the following the “voluntourism” model of the tourism business.

Gustavo with essential oils for natural medicine

Gustavo’s business is called Selva (Jungle) Tours Gustavo. You can check out his Facebook page and website,

Sustainable Business Program
Our support for sustainable business has primarily shifted to the student scholarship program. However, we did have success with the farina processing plant. One of the families that wanted to develop the plant did continue with its construction after we left last year. They built a roof and moved their oven. This winter they improved the oven, building it from clay. This provided better heat, more protection for the roasters, and should last for over 10 years.  READ MORE about the farina processing plant.

The farina (cassava) processing plant
We can continue to informally, as we are not advertising it to the community, offer loans for small projects to responsible, hard-working people who have demonstrated the ability to work with us and to repay us. As the students we sponsor graduate from school we hope to more directly help them to become sustainable business leaders in the community.

For the past four years we have been meeting with Arcecio Rendon, a business person from Medellin who works in the Amazon. He helped bring cacao to the village of San Francisco. This year, he opened a very small chocolate factory in Leticia. He wants us to export his chocolate his to the US. We bought 50 boxes, 25 pounds, to bring back to see how it sells.

Please visit our new chocolate website Amazon Cacao to learn more.

Indigenous-grown and processed organic chocolate from the village of San Franciscio
For the past four years, we have been telling the villagers to grow cacao. Now, when they grow it they will have a place to sell it. One woman of the village has 300 trees in production. They have been neglected for the past two years, but with this news she has returned to weeding and pruning the trees.

We, also, are having the students we sponsor growing seedlings. Once sprouted, we hope to plant 250 trees in the jungle around their houses. We hope this will encourage more production.

Additionally, Funmi-roca planted 200 seedlings in km 18 outside of Leticia.  READ MORE about our work with cacao in the Amazon.

The seedling planted at km 18 outside of Leticia

We spent about $3,100 on Christmas dinner, the student scholarships, repairs, travel, building, website, emeralds/handcrafts/chocolate, and registration fees during January to April. We currently have about $1,300 in the bank.

We expect to spend about $600 during my next trip to the Amazon in May. This will be used for travel, boat and building maintenance, and other costs.

This will leave us with about $700 when I return in June.

Projected budget 2018-2019
Income (raised during 2018)
Donations for student scholarship program $2,200
On and offline donations $1,500 (Giving Tuesday)
Emerald sales $500
Handcraft sales $500
Chocolate sales $250
Total $4,950

Emeralds used to make our first custom jewelry
We have a new emerald website also, but it is still under construction.  You may visit it at

Expenses (for 2019)
Student scholarship program $2,200
Transportation/travel $500
Business development $500
Business, website, fundraising fees $500
Boat/motor/guesthouse maintenance $250
PayPal debt $1000
Total $4,950

That’s it! If you made it this far, mil gracias for all the reading.

Wrapping extra wire from the solar power installation

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