Simply Explained- Amazon Pueblo´s Mission & How it Relates to Sustainability

(written by Crystal Angulo, Amazon Pueblo director)

 

Finding The Mission

I used to be a bit confused about what exactly ‘Amazon Pueblo’ does. Its´goal has always been to help the village of La Libertad to live sustainability, but the means in which Amazon Pueblo helps the village achieve that mission has morphed many times and has often caused me, a board member, confusion. 

The reason for these changes is because it is hard to get a village of 350 people who have never had  strong central leadership to buy into an idea (of a foreigner), look toward their future, and then actually start implementing these ideas- after 20 years of having the mindset of day-to-day survival.

 
Ben and Gustavo discussing the next steps for the Yucca Press

After years of my brother, Ben Angulo, Executive Director, researching, speaking with the villagers, hearing contradicting stories of needs, building their trust and having multiple meetings with the villagers and local business contacts, the Amazon Pueblo project has been able to create a more clear mission to achieve their goals.

Mission

The Mission of the Amazon Pueblo is to reduce the poverty of indigenous peoples of the Colombian Amazon by developing sustainable business through connections of people, sound environmental practices and profitable ventures.

Example of Two Business Plans Being Developed by the Project

Two businesses that we’re currently helping the people of La Libertad to develop are:

  1. Cassava (Yuca/Farina)

Cassava is kind of like a topping (the texture reminds me of bacon bits or granola)



that is made from Yuca, a starchy root, similar to a potato. Colombians put it on top of soups, fish, meats, or eat it plain. The business will be to grow Yuca plants here in La Libertad and then press it, dry it, toast it and sell it to other indigenous people, villages, or local cities. It is an easy plant to grow in the soil conditions found in La Libertad.

  1. Cacao Cultivation

Cacao (the beans used to make chocolate) will grow well in La Libertad. First, the people of the village will need to find and identify the proper clones, along with help from the Amazon Pueblo Project, clear and prepare the land, learn about the entire growing process and then plant and grow the cacao trees. A tree will take about 3 years to grow and produce the beans. The people can then pick, ferment, dry and sell all the beans to businesses that will be able to turn these into bakers chocolate or regular organic chocolate to sell.

Picture of Cacao pods and beans

These 2 business plans sound great and part of my “let’s get it done!” fast-paced, north American mind set is like, "okay- let’s fundraise, get them the things they need and get this going"…but it’s not that easy:

  1. It’s REALLY difficult to fundraise for Amazon Pueblo because like many organizations that need to fundraise, I think its hard for people to truly understand the need unless you have been there (or involved), know someone affected by the organization or cause, or identify directly with that cause.
  1. The main mission of the Amazon Pueblo is to create sustainability and in order to do that, we need to take a step back and look at things from a distance…..

 

Once Again -The Mission


The mission of Amazon Pueblo is to reduce the poverty of indigenous people of the Colombian Amazon by developing sustainable business through connection of people, sound environmental practices and profitable ventures.

 
My friend Tinka and I hanging out with the kids
during their school recess

 

So, what does “Sustainability” actually mean, and how does it realte to our mission? 

Sustainability is the ability to continue a defined behavior indefinitely.

Think of sustainability as a 3-legged stool. Without one of the legs, it will not be able to function.  The seat of the stool is “sustainability” and the 3 legs are as follows:

People (Social Sustainability): the ability of a social system (like La Libertad) to function at a defined level of social well- being indefinitely.

Planet (Environmental Sustainability): the ability to maintain rates of renewable resource harvest, pollution creation and non-renewable resources depletion that can be continued indefinitely.

Profit (Economic Sustainability): the ability to support a defined level of economic production indefinitely.

To ensure that the village becomes truly sustainable, Amazon Pueblo needs to address all three legs equally. In order to get to our eventual goal of successful and sustainable business (Yuca/Farina & Cacao production), we must also address the other two legs in parallel.

 
People in the port of Letitia, the nearest 'big' city.
La Libertad only has one large boat for all 350 residents.

People (social sustainablity)

If the people are not healthy or working together as a unit, then they cannot be successful in sustaining the other two legs. For example, the villagers do not have access to filtered water and therefore have parasites, people get sick often, and unfortunately, babies dying is a common occurrence. This and other issues must be addressed in order to ensure Social Sustainability and that the people are healthy and educated enough to make good choices and run a profitable business.

Planet (environmental sustainability)

The people of the village also must learn about the process of processing the Yuca and Cacao in a sustainable way. For example, they will need to use wood to process and toast the yuca, therefore, they must have an efficient oven and not over use the trees in the area and deplete part of the rain forest.

Profit (economic sustainability)

If the yuca plant and cacao production are not profitable (they loose money or rely on "free outside money" grants or donor donation to remain in operation) they cannot succeed.  The businesses must be able to generate independent profit.

People, Planet, Profit

Whenever the Amazon Project does something, we run it through the 3-legs of the stool to self-check our decisions, ensuring we are always working toward complete sustainability. The Amazon Pueblo is a ‘connector’ organization and helping tackle the 3 pillars simultaneously by educating and collaborating with the villagers, as well as connecting them to the resources they need to help themselves. As mentioned, Amazon Pueblo does not want to give away things, rather teach them necessary skills or connect them with the resources that they need once they initialize the desire.

Here are some examples:

Access to Clean Water: One of the major problems in La Libertad is not having access to clean water. The water from the Amazon river is contaminated with parasites and amoebas.

 

This picture is from 2 years ago.   The black water tank that the company installed is behind Kaitlyn and me. I could not find a better pic. They are all no longer functioning. When we were there a poisonous frog jumped into one, therefore contaminating all the water already in there. 

The typical family does not have a bathroom and many have a place behind their home that everyone in the family uses. Because this is in the Amazon, it rains more days than not  per year, which means these “bathrooms” behind the house run into the river. The people also bathe in this river, as well as wash themselves, their clothes, and their dishes.

 
The water filter that the volunteers use. We must only drink filtered water or we will get very sick.

Whle the villagers of the Amazon are somewhat adjusted to these parasites, at times they still get very sick. Also, when babies are exposed to this in the early months of their lives, many get sick and have diarrhea and vomiting, which causes dehydration. Because of no boat transportation to the main city, the babies cannot get to the hospital and sometimes die.

Several years ago, before Amazon Pueblo was established, a Swiss organization installed large water tanks and a slow-sand water filter. However, they did not sufficiently train the people (or they could have been and these people didn’t take it seriously or think it was a real need at the time) and they stopped working.  They also did not have the funds needed to make the repairs even if they knew what to do to fix the filter.

Amazon Pueblo has now connected with a couple of well-drilling companies in Leticia, the nearest city, and is getting quotes for drilling a community well  This would provide clean drinking water to the 350  community members. There may be a grant available for this, which Amazon Pueblo would write for the village, through the Coca Cola Foundation.

Education

 
This picture was from 2 years ago. Now, the floor has tile, which is REALLY nice for the kids and teachers. 

We know that the children are the future and must receive education in order to have the basic reading, writing, and math skills to make good decisions, and sustain the village and business. The education system is quite inconsistent and still, many families cannot afford to pay the $100 per year needed for supplies for their child.

Amazon Pueblo has recently started a scholarship program. Through donors in the United States, we are sponsoring 8 students each year to help with school costs. The teachers in the school fill out an application form and recommend a student who demonstrates their desire and effort to be in school.

Several volunteers have also taught English classes, however, without consistent or long-term volunteers, it is hard to make this a regular program. We recently received the Hooked on Phonics program, as well as some ESL books and we are trying to formalize a simple English program.


Onsite Organic Food, Composting & Health Benefits

 
One of the cutest little guys in the
village, who is always smiling! As you can
see thought, he has a very distended belly
because he is not properly nourished and
has parasites in his stomach. 

Another project that we have been working on alongside the others is educating the residents about the importance of eating vegetables and using the waste to compost and use as soil/fertilizer. This has posed a challenge, as the majority of people have never eaten many vegetables, let alone thought to grow them here, despite the humid atmosphere.

There was a major effort to begin the mindset shift by  going door to door to explain the health benefits of eating vegetables and the composting process. Garden beds and a compositing site were constructed.

Unfortunately, when Ben left and returned to the States, they were not managed and he found the composting bins unused. We hope that with time and continued education, the people will start to want to take ownership and grow and eat their own produce, which would save them time and money of taking the boat ride into the main city and having to pay for it.

So, there you have it! In order to move forward with the profit leg, we need to ensure sustainability in the other two areas, which often time requires, time, energy and related projects.

A Small Update on the Yuca & Cacao Business

Amazon Pueblo is currently applying for any applicable grants and has contacts with good

 
One of the prototypes for the Yucca Press. This
press would squeeze the excess water out of the fermented yucca. 

connections to move forward in our production of Cassava (Yuca) and Cacao. In the village, Ben and the villagers are building 2 prototypes for the Yuca Press. Once they figure out what will work, more presses will be manufactured.

Exciting things are happening in La Libertad! The families and especially the kids (who I’ve mostly connected with) are such positive, happy and special- always willing to help cook, assist in building, clean, wash dishes, often times without being asked.

Thanks for reading and taking the time and energy to learn about this part of the world and what we’re up to! 

 
Here I am with some of the kids as we cooked "Arepa-pizzas" Pizza made out of arepas for dinner one night!