As some of you know, I am on the Board of
Directors for “The Amazon Pueblo”, which is an organization that was started by
my brother seven years ago in the village of La Libertad, Amazonas, Colombia, which has about 350

The Decision to Visit the Village

I visited the village 2 years ago, after going through a tough year following
my divorce. My brother was at my parents house visiting (while I was living there)
and saw me ‘struggling’ through putting together a new budget to move
into solo life, with line items such as “going out money” and “eyebrows/nails”.
While, I still believe this is responsible and real budgeting while living in
North America, my brother said something along the lines of me needing a
reality check and that I should come down and volunteer in the village with the project which he
had started. Well, he was right. Shortly thereafter, I moved into my apartment
and booked my trip down to La Libertad, Amazonas for that same November.

It was a life changing trip for me. From
putting my first-world problems into perspective and getting a small, yet true
glimpse into what it is like to live without clean water, consistent access to
food, or education. But the villagers continue to persist and survive in
conditions that most of us are unaware of or lack the knowledge to truly
empathize because we have not exposed ourselves to places such as these.

Gustavo and his wife starting the process of making handicrafts

After my 10-day trip in November 2014, Ben,
my brother and Executive Director of Amazon Pueblo, asked me to be on the board
of trustees. Since then, I have helped put on 2 fundraisers for the project in
California and participated in the online board meetings, read blogs and tried
to stay updated.  Ben pretty much is a
one-man show and has dedicated his life to helping the people of Amazon Pueblo,
something I know I could not do.

My Confusion About What “Amazon Pueblo” Was

However, to be completely honest, in this 2
years, I have struggled to figure out exactly what “Amazon Pueblo” does. I
knew the ultimate goal was to help the villagers become a self-sustainable
community and I’ve always been on-board with supporting it because I have met
the people and heard their stories and knew they needed assistance.  However I
always felt like the method of getting the people to to
become sustainable was changing or didn’t make sense to me as an outsider because
there were so many moving parts or, what seemed like, side projects.

That may seem naïve of me to not truly know
and understand the ways of an organization of a board I am on, but to be fair,
I knew my brother was doing great work and that the money raised was going
directly to the village (unlike many corrupt non-profits) and any manual labor
was being done by actual villagers who would earn a wage).  I’ve seen
the benefits to the village, and coming from a world of non-profits, the first
several years of any new non-profit can be a bit wobbly with changes until it can
finds its grounding or  ‘tipping point.’

Growing Its Legs

With my current trip to La Libertad, one
of my main goals was to understand what the is exact mission of ‘Amazon Pueblo’
and how it is going to achieve that mission. Ben and I obviously had a lot of
time to talk about it, being with limited electricity, so I think I truly
understand where our organization is now. In my opinion, I believe it’s fair to
say that ‘Amazon Pueblo’ now has its’ legs.
The volunteer house in La Libertad

The project now has a clear vision, which I
don’t think it had before, because it couldn’t. I now understand (which I
somewhat understood before, but not enough), that things are different here. As
frustrating as it can be for North Americans, the people of the Amazon have a
different history, live their every-day life differently, and envision their
future differently.

An idea that may have been presented to the
people of La Libertad in the beginning years of  Amazon Pueblo which the organization believed
would be great for the future of the village, may  not have been accepted by the villagers
because they are not used to planning for the future, only day to day. Or, sometimes
with frustration, an idea was presented by Ben that he and the chief of the
village had worked out and about which the villagers were excited and said they were
on-board because they wanted change.  But then after the initial excitment they would not
show up to a scheduled meeting or fulfill their role.
It also took about 2
years for many of the village people to even trust that Ben was actually a good
guy and not in this for himself. It took this long for him to frequent the
village and piece together from different people  where the true issues laid and still lay- was
it access to clean water? Education? Lack of leadership? Lack of access to real
health care? Lack of jobs? Well, the answer is, it is ALL of these things, and

So What Does Amazon Pueblo Actually Do?

Without complete buy-in from the entire
village, progress cannot be made. This is where a lot of the difficulty comes in
for Ben and the volunteers, the desire of the villagers for change, but the
understanding that they all need to contribute and do the work.

Ben talking to the village at a meeting about
working together to improve their lives and the
importance of ‘being on board’.
The Amazon Project does not (and has not) want
to raise money for ‘x’ and then walk away. Amazon Pueblo wants to educate and
provide them with the skills needed to function together, create a profitable
village of production, and for that business to be sustainable.

We want the people of La Libertad to look
into their future and be excited that they can control it and have a future
without constant parasites and sickness. Shifting the mindset alone of the
people to being able to use the rich resources in their own backyard to create
a profitable and sustainable business has taken the last 5 years- with many
meetings, time spent with the villagers to build trust, and have them truly
believe in and help create the solutions for authentic buy-in. Amazon Pueblo is
the facilitator of this- a real grass-roots organization, to promote
sustainability through socially-conscious business and then be able to turn
everything over and walk away, knowing that the village has the skills to
continue running their business for years and generations to come. To Amazon
Pueblo, success is being able to walk away from La Libertad village knowing
that they do not need our assistance anymore. In short, their success is our