Sunday, November 26, 2017

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Yuca (Fariña) Factory: Production in the Village

While my last post briefly mentioned our fariña plant, we now have a full report!  

During 2017 the three most successful parts of our program were the student scholarships, community garden, and the fariña plant.  Here are the details of our work with the community which made the plant possible.

Students from La Libertad

Yuca is called cassava in English.  Yuca, plantain, and fish make up the majority of the diet of the villagers.  Yuca is easy to grow in poor soil conditions, is drought resistant, and is an excellent source of carbohydrates.  However, it must be processed.  Unprocessed yuca contains traces of the toxin cyanide.  The yuca is either fermented, boiled, or roasted to remove the cyanide.

When yuca is ground and roasted it becomes fariña.  Fariña retains the nutritional benefits of the yuca and is good for months in storage (if kept dry in plastic bags).  Fariña may be produced in amounts of up to 500 pounds per producing family every six months.  It may then be used by the family, sold locally, or brought to the city of Leticia to be sold.
The yuca plant.  It can grow up to 12 feet in height.  Out of the 40 families in La Libertad, about 20 regularly grow yuca.

The roots are the edible part of the yuca plant.  After harvest the roots must be eaten or turned into fariña within four days.  After four days it spoils and is inedible.

The roots are peeled and soaked in water for 24 hours.  There are two types of yuca; white and yellow.  The white is less bitter.  It is boiled, used in soups, and fried.  The yellow is very bitter and contains more cyanide.  The yellow yuca is typically made into fariña.  When processed if becomes much less bitter and nontoxic.

Pictured is Richard and Carmen with their children.  They are using a motorized grater to grind the yuca.  Before the motorization all grating was done by hand.  This was very time consuming and led to repetitive motion and hand-grating injuries.  Now instead of needing one day to grate, the yuca may be grated in about an hour.

The children are next to the new yuca press.  It removes the water from the yuca mash.  This is done before the yuca is roasted.  When much water is removed the yuca takes less time to roast.  The old press took about 24 hours to remove the water.  The new press removes more water in less time; only three hours.  The design above is the third prototype.  Each board is two inches thick, made of hardwood, and weights about 80 pounds!  The pulley system allows one adult to raise and lower the top board without help.  The cost to build this system was $75.

Here is a video from the first time we pressed the mash.  This was a historic event for the villagers.  There are five families (about 40 people) that use the yuca plant. 

Here is the oven that is used to toast the yuca.  We hope to build a new oven in 2018.

The yuca must be moved and turned during roasting or it will burn.

It normally takes around three hours to roast a pan of yuca.

After the fariña has cooled it is placed into bags for storage or to sell.

At last, the finished product is ready to eat.  Yum!!!!!!

Thank you for reading about out project!

For more yuca information, with recipes: 

Please help us to continue our work on this Giving Tuesday, November 28.  We are trying to provide scholarships to at least six more students during 2018.  Anyone donating $100 or more will be able to sponsor (if they wish) a boy or girl from the village.  

Sponsor a student, change a life!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Drama in the Amazon: Narco-traficantes, alcohol abuse, hard work, scholarships, and a new partnership!

A lot has happened this year; we are going through much change, and change is good… 

First the big news

For the near future we are no longer sending volunteers to La Libertad.  Narcotics traffickers were living in La Libertad.  We also had problems with alcohol abuse incidents by some villagers that negatively affected our work.  In addition, the villagers wanted free services that we were not willing to provide. 

Narcotics Trafficking

This year I learned that narcotics traffickers (narcotraficantes) from Peru were growing coca (the plant from which cocaine is produced) very far in back of the village.  While I or other volunteers have never had any problems with these people, the possible danger they presented to our future guest could not be dismissed.  However, this problem may be solved.

When my sister and a friend visited was the first time we noticed something was up.  New Peruvians were hanging around the village.  They didn't seem to have a reason for being in La Libertad.  They were friendly, but they also seemed out of place.

Recent good news!  Our contact person in the village said that one month ago the Colombian National Police raided and burned the coca fields.  The narcos that had been living in La Libertad have fled the village.  I have confirmed this with other sources in the Amazonian capitol city of Leticia.  They did not capture any of the narcos (I believe they were tipped off by someone in the police/government).

Unfortunately, the only people they captured were 7 La Libertad villagers who were tending the fields (unfortunate for the villagers AND unfortunate that the people mainly responsible evaded capture).  One of the people they arrested was the father of one of the 8 children that we sponsor in the village.
At this time all villagers have returned to La Libertad.  I do not know what, if any, charges have been filed against them.

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse problems negatively affected the running of the programs.
There was one time during the year when I saw all the village come together, organize into committees, and get work done.  They also self-critiqued their work during follow-up meetings.  All the work was voluntary.  The event was for the annual anniversary party.  It was a great time and over 400 people from neighboring villages attended parts of the three-day party!
When one of our project volunteers was with the boat, things went well.  But when we did not have a representative with the boat, irresponsible alcohol use led to unsafe travel conditions.  We did not want our boat to be involved in a river tragedy.  Additionally, the cultural use of alcohol in the village did not contribute to many of the goals of hard work, meeting goals, and sustainable practices which we hoped to achieve.

Because of these problems, we are now focusing on teaching sustainable business and person values to the youth.

Student Scholarships and Sustainable Business Training

In spite of no longer having volunteers live in the village, we are continuing to support the students of La Libertad with school scholarships. During the past year this was one of the most successful parts of our program. The kids were always great with us, always willing to help, and never complained (as some of the adults frequently did!).

We give support so the kids are able to stay in school, to learn values, and to learn about the principles of business and sustainability.  Our work is to help the upcoming generation make a positive, lasting change in La Libertad.

The school kids are building a garden around the school.  They are planting both vegetables and flowers.  They were hard at work for about three hours!

This is the downstairs classroom of our new guest house.  Here the kids are doing an activity led by Orchidy, a volunteer with the project from Leticia.

Hard Work in the Village

We did much work this year in the village. We built the new two-floor guest house and classroom, built a 39 foot wooden passenger and cargo boat, built and planted a community garden, gave scholarships to 8 students, hosted a 200 person Christmas dinner, planted 25 grafted cacao clone seedlings, and brought El Sena (the national technical training institute) into the village to teach the adults classes.

It was sad when we left. The kids did not understand why we had to go. Many of the adults, if they didn’t directly benefit from us, didn't care if we stayed. The adults that did care were powerless against the vocal minority of the people who seemed to be spiteful.

Christmas dinner.  We fed over 200 people.  While it is mainly for the young people of the village, we turn nobody away.

The first trip with our new 39 foot wooden boat.  It has a small 15 hp outboard motor.  The trip takes about 1.5 hours to go downstream to Leticia, and about 3 hours to return.  The boat can carry a maximum of 25 people.

The finished guest house.  The living area is on the second floor.  The classroom is on the first floor.  We collect the rainwater from the roof and store it in a 1000 liter tank.

In the guest house there are four beds with a lockable storage area above each bed.

Camilo is planting one of our first cacao trees.  He is an instructor from the Colombian National Training Institute called El SENA.

Camilo also taught the adults how to compost, create soil, and how to plant and care for different vegetables.

Some of the cacao clones are in the foreground.  The tomato plants are in the background.

The yuca-farina processing plant was one of our best accomplishments this year.  In this picture Richard's family it grating the yuca.  The next step to to press the mash to remove water before toasting.  Richard's son, John Carlos, is one of the 8 students sponsored by the project.

A New Partnership in the Jungle

One of the best things that happened after the problems in La Libertad is our new partnership with a nonprofit organization in Leticia.  They are called Funmi-roca (Fundacion Misionera De Refugio Y Orientacion Cristiana De La Amazonia.)

Funmi-roca is a Christian organization. They are very nice people. Their mission is very similar to ours. Funmi-roca supports education, character values development, leadership through sports, and sustainable business.  They are willing to go to La Libertad to provide services, but we have not yet made the introduction to the community.  They will allow us to have a year-round presence in the Amazon. They also have very good accounting (a dedicated Colombian accountant) practices and oversight.

To learn more about our new partner please visit their Facebook page, Funmi-roca.

Freddy and Lina are two of the directors of Funmi-roca.  The are in the picture with our friend Angelica from La Libertad and their children.
Our Future in La Libertad

We are going to talk to the people of La Libertad when I return to the Amazon in January. The problems in the community were mainly due to me firing our boat pilot and banning people who were drunk (and illegally transporting alcohol) with the project's boat. This caused the guilty people to say bad things about the project (mainly that we were taking advantage of them). Then other villagers wanted us to give them free medication and free boat rides. We were not willing to do this. These problems, and the presence of the narcotics people in La Libertad, are the reasons why we no longer send volunteers to the village.

Before leaving the Amazon I spoke with a friend in Leticia who works in the indigenous community of San Francisco next to Puerto Nariño (2 hours upriver from La Libertad). He has had disagreements with the community 7 times in the last 9 years, each time resulting in his temporarily leaving. He said it is like being in a dysfunctional relationship!

While we did have problems with individuals in the community, we are not giving up.  We seek to do the best with the resources we have.  We seek a long-term solution to the problems of La Libertad.  We believe the solution which will allow us to reach our goals is through the education of the youth.

This is the yuca press.  Each hardwood board is two inches think and weights over 80 pounds.  The mash (placed in a synthetic burlap bag)  is pressed between the two boards to remove as much water as possible before toasting.  We have installed a system of pulleys so it may be easily raised by one adult.

Giving Tuesday Fundraiser on Tuesday, November 28

We will be having our yearly Giving Tuesday fundraiser on Facebook.  This will start at 8 am Tuesday morning on November 28.  Please visit us on our Facebook page to help support the indigenous youth of the Amazon,
 Support a Student

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Attack of the skin-burrowing parasitic nigua: A post for Columbus Day

My first blog post in many months!  Much has been happening with the project, but I thought I would share an event that happened last Spring in the Amazon.  The topic, a very small parasitic insect in the flea family.

I was walking up the ramp-stairs to my neighbor's house when his children looked at my big toe in my sandaled foot.  They all stopped talking and looked at each other.  I though, "What's up with that?"  Then came the start of my education about the nigua, also know as Tunga penetrans.

The first sign that something was up.

First I asked around and found out that I had a parasite living in and feeding on the blood in my toe.  They called it a nigua.  They said it would grow larger and release larvae worms, which would then come out of my toe.  They said that I must dig it out with a needle.  I chose to cut it out with a scalpel, which was less painful and destructive to my skin.

Here are the pictures!

The initial cut.

All larvae must be removed.

When no more larvae are found and the blood starts to slightly flow
the nigua is gone!

After the surgery with my medical assistant Jason.

Click on the link to see what happens in untreated cases!

And why this post around Columbus Day?

"The first European description (of Tunga Penetrans) was published in 1526 by Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés,[13] where he discussed the skin infection and its symptoms on crew members from Columbus’s Santa Maria after they were shipwrecked on Haiti.[14] Through ship routes and further expeditions, the chigoe flea was spread to the rest of the world, particularly to the rest of Latin America and Africa. Wikipedia

Just one more contribution by Columbus!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Amazon Pueblo pictures: New boat, new guest house/classroom, new community gardens, and new volunteer

The project has been very busy during the past two months.

  • We received a generous donation which allowed us to purchase a 39-foot cargo boat and motor
  • We are nearing completion of a new 2-floor multipurpose guesthouse and classroom
  • The work on the community gardens is progressing well with the help of an instructor from the Colombian training institute El SENA
  • We are continuing our work to build the yuca processing plant
  • We are very happy to announce that we have the first three cacao clones planted in the village!

Please enjoy the pictures of the work done with the help of our volunteers, donors, other organizations, and the people of the village.

The Boat
During the early part of this year we had many problems with finding safe, adequate transportation.  This is also a problem faced by many in the community.  It is difficult to bring agricultural products to the market in Leticia.  It is also difficult to bring food items and building materials to the village from Leticia.  Our new boat helps the community to more easily secure this needed transportation.

The boat was built-to-order in the Peruvian village of Puerta Algeria.  It is 12 meters (39 feet) long.  It is built mostly from cedar wood.  It can carry two metric tons of cargo safely.  It is powered by a 15 horse power Yamaha outboard motor (not pictured).

The roof is made from zinc laminate.  It provides a measure of protection from the sun and rain of the Amazon, which can be very intense.  We hope to add minimal-weight siding in the future.

Our first trip in the boat was to take the eight students, who are being sponsored by the project's supporters, to do their second school shopping trip.

Our second trip in the boat was a trip to Leticia for the villagers attend appointments and to go to market.  On the trip back upriver we picked up additional passengers.  We charge 2 dollars one-way.  The fare we charge pays for the gasoline and the maintenance of the boat.  The system, with our fare charge, should be economically sustainable.

The New Guest House and Classroom
Our current guest house is small and it's wooded walls are rotting.  The new guest house will be slightly larger, 5 meter by 6 meters, and have two floors.

The first floor will house up to four volunteers.  The volunteers may be from the Amazon Pueblo project, but they may also be from other aid and support organizations.  Anyone helping the village is welcomed to stay free of charge.

The second floor will be a classroom.  The classroom will be used to teach English, math, business skills, agricultural classes, and for meetings.

Of the 47 houses in the community, only three have two floors.

The house during the last week of construction.  The community garden can be seen to the left of the house.

Even before the house is finished it is being used by Camilo (an instructor from El SENA) to teach an agriculture class.

The Community Garden
The villagers grow no vegetables except for a small variety of peppers.  The community garden will provide them with another source of nutrition and, if they garden well, another source of income.  The community garden was made possible from a grant by the Maine-based Flannel Shirt Fund.

Camilo is giving the practical part of the agricultural class by using the community garden started by the project.  Every day between 10 and 15 students attend the class.

The village children also learn about and help to tend the garden.  They were very excited to see the first sprouts from our cucumber seeds!

Cacao is the plant from which chocolate is made.  It is a good crop to grow in our region of the Amazon.  It has the potential to provide much employment to the people of the village of La Libertad and the surrounding villages.

Ben is holding a cloned cacao sapling.  It is of the variety CCN51 cacao.  It is very resistant to illness.  It is used to make commercial chocolate, like hot drinking chocolate or baking chocolate.  This sapling is one of the first three clones to be planted in the village.

Yuca Processing Plant
The yuca processing plant makes farina from yuca.  Over 75% of the villager families grow yuca, about half of these regularly make farina.  Farina is a granola-like product made by grinding and toasting yuca.  It has good nutritional qualities, a tasty flavor, and an excellent shelf-life.  The process to make farina is very labor intensive.  The processing plant reduces the time to make the farina by about half, with much less repetitive motion and hand-grating injuries.  The farina may also be sold by the families to generate income.

This is yuca, a starchy root.  It has been harvested and pealed.  It must be used within three days of harvest or it rots.  Yuca takes about five months to grow.
After pealing the yuca is grated and placed into large sacks.  Before the grating machine was purchased all grating was done with small hand graters.

The sacks of grated yuca are then pressed between two large boards to remove much of the water.  This press was designed by the project based on a plan from Africa (where farina is also produced).
The yuca is then toasted for three three hours in a large pan.  It must be constantly stirred to prevent burning.  Pictured here is the old yuca toaster.  It is made from mud.  We have yet to build the new toaster.
This is the finished product.  It is made from a yellow variety of yuca (yuca brava) which is different from the white variety which is commonly used for cooking.

Our Newest Volunteer
Gina is our most recent volunteer.  She is from the northern coast of Colombia.  She lived in the USA from 15 years and attend university in Florida.  Gina spent three weeks volunteering with the project.

Gina is helping construct a flower garden that is being built by the teachers and students of the village school.

Gina also taught English, math, and dance to students and adults.  Additional she helped with building projects and maintenance of our grounds.  She was well-like by everyone.  We hope to see her return soon.  Thank you Gina!