Sep 2, 2020

Adjusting our focus while quarantine continues

Karen delivering hot meals in Medellin
Karen delivering hot meals in Medellin

Hola! As the pandemic continues to evolve at different speeds around the world, Colombia has remained closed down until September, with infection rates across Latin America increasing dramatically over the past months. Via Cocina community activities continue suspended as we look forward to a brighter future, and we've stayed busy in the meantime with some adjustments in focus towards emergency activities.

We are by no means experienced and/or prepared for the logistics of emergency relief (what we can say is that our community cooking classes before the pandemic have helped families prepare their local ingredients in Medellin in different healthy ways while they've been in lockdown, which has helped many); so instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, we've found some creative ways to work with others to help support those who need it most.

In my last report I mentioned that our friend Francis from Canada was fundraising for some emergency food distribution activities: To date we have successfully realized two activities! For the first activity, we held a virtual cooking class for 16 project participants and low income community members, where we made a list of easy-to-find ingredients, portioned for 10-12 people, and we sent a money transfer to each participant so they could buy the ingredients before participating in the class. Each of the 16 participants cooked the meal with our guidance for 10-12 people, including their immediate families and neighbours who are going through tough times right now. Some participants like Karen and Mar also distributed all of the meals they prepared to families and individuals in the streets of Medellin. It was an emotional and successful activity, providing an extremely nutritious meal full of fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and meat proteins, something that many have scaled back on with unemployment currently at over 20% in Colombia. Over 170 people received a hot meal thanks to this activity, and we were happy to have been able to organize it!

We also wanted to reach extremely vulnerable families in different neighbourhoods that have been neglected or underserved by other programs, and we decided to partner with Help Colombia, who is distributing packages of groceries to pre-identified families in the Belen Altavista (el Botadero) neighbourhood. They visited the community in August and had told us they had a list of 15 families to deliver the goods to; we transferred them the money to pay for all 15 families' food, which was projected to last a week for a family of four (which translates into a total of 1,260 meals for them). Attached are some photos from both of these activities (Help Colombia photos provided by Joel Duncan), and we hope to realize one more distinct activity in the coming weeks..

I also mentioned that our friend Catherine in Florida was generous enough to run a fundraiser for us as part of her birthday celebration, and those funds are being put towards some of the outstanding work in the rooftop kitchen, as well as some security metalwork for the training centre sales area, where participants will be selling food and clients will be seated. Unfortunately due to the pandemic the work continues to be delayed, as our suppliers haven't had access to their materials, but we hope to have more photos and good news for our next report.

And last but not least, we need to thank GlobalGiving for supporting our project with a very generous hardship microgrant! This has helped us to pay some project overhead that would usually be covered by our suspended activities, and to continue prepping our spaces for re-opening: we have installed windows in our facade, where the prep area for project participants selling to the public had dust and smoke entering the house (I cannot believe we continued for years without windows, which made cleaning so much more work!). The windows that open also have mosquito screens installed, as mosquitos were entering the training centre during classes and biting class participants. We'll also be installing additional hand washing sinks and equipment in the entrance area, required for new hygiene/biosecurity protocol compliance in Colombia. A big thank you for your support!

I hope you are staying safe and patience hasn't run out as we all learn to manage our lives and projects in different ways. Thanks again, and talk to you soon!

Brian

Blanca cooking healthy meal from virtual class
Blanca cooking healthy meal from virtual class
German and family enjoying nutritious meal
German and family enjoying nutritious meal
Recipes and thank you note from Rivera family
Recipes and thank you note from Rivera family
Families gathered for food distribution
Families gathered for food distribution
Help Colombia grocery distribution in Belen
Help Colombia grocery distribution in Belen
Appreciative families
Appreciative families
Installing facade windows and mosquito screens
Installing facade windows and mosquito screens
May 8, 2020

Staying busy and positive in trying times

One of our new recipes for future classes
One of our new recipes for future classes

It's incredible to see the entire world turned upside down, and as with many organizations who work with tourism and community groups, all of our scheduled activities have been cancelled for the past two months and the foreseeable future.

Before the cancellations started coming in, we were fortunate enough to have a great beginning to the year, allowing us to continue with the rooftop kitchen renovations, all designed by me for the spaces available, including a huge kitchen island that has additional counters stored under one side for larger classes, and drawers on the other side with a stovetop for more participatory cooking around the table. We'll also be able to use this space with project participants to record cooking videos/streams, which is becoming more important during times of self-isolation and quarantine. We've also got kitchen cupboards installed on the wall, which completely transformed the space, and a counter combination with sink, baine-marie heating station and under the counter fridge. With some friends/volunteers (Jonathan, Mar and Germán), we started installing the drywall ceiling before coronavirus was the most popular internet search, and I've continued the work on my own while isolated. I'll need to acquire some materials that aren't available right now to finish the job perfectly, but it's looking very good!

I'm taking advantage of this time at home to advance all types of little project jobs/tasks that have been outstanding for months/years, so I do feel very productive. This goes beyond renovations to include new menus for future cooking classes, so that we can vary the food that's prepared and shared with neighbours (I must say that with all the money being spent on personal groceries right now, I truly appreciate the fact that the community classes allowed me and my neighbours to eat a lot of delicious food over the past years without having to create a personal budget for it). The gardens are also better organized, with new vegetables and herbs growing slowly in as much of the spaces as I could prep without access to more soil and compost (another task on my list is to get our own composting started). All of these activities (in addition to many administrative tasks organizing computer files and prepping to update the website) should also help with productivity and the general project participant experience in the future, which we are as eager as everyone to see start again.

In my next report I'll also have news on a coronavirus Giving Tuesday initiative we're in the process of organizing with a friend from Canada, to distribute healthy food and cooking experiences to up to 500 people in the coming weeks. And we also have a friend in Florida running a generous fundraiser to help us continue the outstanding rooftop and sales space renovations as soon as possible, which is a huge help as we've had to re-allocate renovation funds to pay basic services and loan installments/interest that are not eligible for any relief support at this time. In any case, we are definitely staying positive and healthy here (though I wish it were possible to do some more exercise outside), and we're looking forward to staying better prepared for what comes next!

Stay safe and talk to you soon!

Brian

In-person connections and smiles are missed
In-person connections and smiles are missed
Installing drywall with German
Installing drywall with German
This mask serves a double purpose now
This mask serves a double purpose now
Kitchen Island with additional counters
Kitchen Island with additional counters
Kitchen island storage side
Kitchen island storage side
Rooftop kitchen cabinets and counters
Rooftop kitchen cabinets and counters
Fruit tasting with the new island
Fruit tasting with the new island
Jan 14, 2020

Busy holiday season and more renovations complete!

Picking fresh mint during a cooking class
Picking fresh mint during a cooking class

The end of the year 2019 was a busy one, but I did manage to take some time away and enjoy 18 relaxing days in Peru, where I continued a delicious eating frenzy, and brought back a lot of ingredients and supplies for future cooking classes in Medellin.

December to February is considered high season for tourism here, and I have been kept busy with cooking classes and project tours, which brought in enough money to get a rooftop constructed over the front patio dining area! I repurposed a garage door opener to make the roof partially retractable, in an effort to not completely lose the beautiful mountain view from the rooftop gardens. With one of our trusted workers Duban, we also cut, welded and installed budget lighting that looks gorgeous, and cost a fraction of what would have otherwise been a very expensive job.

Now that we have the retractable roof done, before we can seal off the stairs leading to the rooftop gardens and make the front area independent (for low-income entrepreneurs and their clients to sell and enjoy delicious affordable food), we need to get all the big construction materials for the rooftop kitchen completed, as it will be very difficult to get the materials upstairs afterwards. That work has also started, as you will see soon!

Hannah has arrived from the United States for the month of January: she came last year for a cooking class while touring Colombia with her mom, then stayed in touch, asking to intern in between university semesters. She's helping in the kitchen with activities, learning how the project works from an administrative and marketing standpoint, and is helping research potential clients online, to help position us better for more activities once this construction finally comes to an end. I'll have lots more to share and show in the next report, as we come ever so close to finishing!

Have a great 2020 and talk to you soon!

New lights installed under the new roof
New lights installed under the new roof
New roof and lights streetview
New roof and lights streetview
Hannah making fresh soup for a group dinner
Hannah making fresh soup for a group dinner
Happy group enjoying their welcome dinner with us
Happy group enjoying their welcome dinner with us
 
WARNING: Javascript is currently disabled or is not available in your browser. GlobalGiving makes extensive use of Javascript and will not function properly with Javascript disabled. Please enable Javascript and refresh this page.