Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon

by Center for Amazon Community Ecology Vetted since 2012 Top Ranked Effective Nonprofit Staff Favorite Project of the Month Site Visit Verified
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon
Support native artisans & rainforest in the Amazon

It was about ten o'clook in the morning when we spotted the port of Jenaro Herrera - the small town on the bank of the Ucayali river which was named after a famous Amazonian writer. The “rápido” (long narrow speed boat) slowed as we approached the metal floating dock where a bunch of children and adults anxiously waited with trays in their hands to sell us their products. Some did not even wait for our boat to stop before they jumped on. They crowded inside to offer packets of the town’s signature buffalo cheese and other refreshments to the seated passengers. When I finally managed to get off, I found Italo waiting with a smile and greeted him with a hug.

Italo has been working for CACE for eleven years. His face reveals his years of living in the forest and gives off a kindness that can not be ignored. He helped me carry my bags to the “hospedaje” (local inn) while we caught up on general topics like our family and health. Once I settled in a bit, we discussed our job for this trip. Italo has been observing the number, size and condition of the resin lumps on copal trees in our study areas in the government reserve on his own for the past three years and helping with every other phase of the research for even longer. While we had long hoped to develop a system to sustainably harvest these resin lumps and distill them to extract a novel and valuable essential oil, we finally had to accept that there were not enough of these trees or lumps in the forests around our partner communities for the enterprise to be profitable for the harvesters (See more details in our report: Letting go of the idea we love most). Before wrapping up our study in Jenaro Herrera, however, we wanted to get one more complete photographic record of the resin lumps on the trees we have been observing since 2007. We can use these photos to estimate how fast these resin lumps grow as the weevils inside them mature – key scientific information to better understand the relationship between copal trees, its resin and this specialized insect.

Very early the next day, I put on my boots, grabbed my camera, and found Italo waiting for me outside the inn.   We took a “motocar” (three wheeled motorcycle taxi) to the government research center that is a few miles up the road that eventually reaches Brazil. The road is not paved, so the tires skidded on the muddy ground and jumped when we hit bumps and ruts. Once we got to the center, we entered the forest that provides a large study site for scientists and students. Immediately the mosquitoes came out in force to greet us. They made it clear that they reigned here; we were just passing through.

We walked for a long time under a thick cover of leaves that protected us from the sun, but not from the heat. The humidity was intense, and we were soon sweating profusely. Italo went ahead, paying attention to the trail and everything around it. His years of experience in this environment has remarkably sharpened his vision. He can spot a tiny frog hiding in the foliage meters away when others would only see scattered leaves. I trusted Italo to notice any snakes – my main fear of walking in the forest. When we finally arrived at the first copal tree of the day, I got my camera gear ready.

When the larva of these special weevils chews into the inner bark of copal trees to feed, liquid resin oozes out of the wound onto the outer bark of the tree. As the resin begins to harden, the larva pushes the sticky material to the side to create a protective chamber for itself as it develops over the next couple of years. I took photos of every resin lump we found and recorded the code number of the study tree. Some lumps were near the roots while others were higher up the trunk.  Italo helped me steady a telescopic rod to photograph the lumps in difficult positions and record information about their condition. When we finished one tree, we moved on to the next according to a map that only exists in Italo’s head.

We spent another five hours walking through the forest, finding study trees, photographing resin lumps and using the opportunity to talk. Italo had countless stories to tell – things he has seen, things he has learned, how he respects nature and what these things mean to him. His words are full of the wisdom of an Amazonian woodsman, of a man of the jungle and sweat with alert eyes and tired feet.

While resting on a fallen trunk, Italo reflected, "You know Tulito, I have walked through the forest all my life. I have almost been bitten several times by poisonous snakes.  I have gotten lost in the bush, and I have lost friends who walked into the woods and never came out. I have seen things that you would not believe. But you know, I would not change my life for any other. I have enjoyed focusing on copal because I have learned so much studying it with CACE. I have spent so much time observing the trees and resin lumps that it makes me feel good about myself. I know I'm not a professional, and I have not studied at a university, but I'm not going to feel bad about it. I like the life I have. I have assisted students and professors who have come from several universities to do their research here, and they have learned from me. How do I explain it? I am who I am thanks to the forest."

His words are full of pride, and I deeply appreciated that he shared them with me. Time has passed, though, so we stood up and carried on with our work since we still had to visit several hundred more trees.

When we finished for the day, we headed back to the research station. There was no motorcar at the entrance to take us back to town, but we hadn’t really expected to find one. We walked along the road under the attentive gazes of water buffaloes who were accustomed to people and did not flinch as we passed.  Back at the inn, taking off my boots and resting my tired feet was one of the great pleasures in my life.

We repeated this pattern for several more days.  My tasks became routine, but the forest did not. The forest always seemed to have something to say, just like Italo. While I was used to the rhythm of the city, the change from its fast pace to the life here was memorable. Not everyone has the chance to walk through the Amazon rainforest or to share this experience with someone whose life is the forest. The time finally came to say goodbye to Italo and my other friends in Jenaro Herrera and go home with my own stories to tell.

Italo monitoring resin lump on copal tree
Italo monitoring resin lump on copal tree
Italo and Tulio fishing near the Ucayali River
Italo and Tulio fishing near the Ucayali River
Italo measuring copal tree size
Italo measuring copal tree size
Italo and Angel monitoring copal tree in the rain
Italo and Angel monitoring copal tree in the rain
Resin lumps on copal tree at Jenaro Herrera
Resin lumps on copal tree at Jenaro Herrera
Italo and snake in the forest
Italo and snake in the forest
Lychen patches on copal tree
Lychen patches on copal tree
Italo and CACE volunteer Tracy S.
Italo and CACE volunteer Tracy S.
Italo collecting copal resin lump sample
Italo collecting copal resin lump sample
Italo manually harvesting copal resin
Italo manually harvesting copal resin
Italo harvesting resin lump from copal tree
Italo harvesting resin lump from copal tree
Italo and Campbell Plowden - Project Leader
Italo and Campbell Plowden - Project Leader

Links:

The Center for Amazon Community Ecology (CACE) has been working to develop sustainable livelihoods for native families and support health, education and conservation in their forest-based communities in the northern Peruvian Amazon since 2006. Our best accomplishments have been helping artisans learn to make innovative fair-trade handicrafts and improve their management of the plants used to make these crafts. We have made some progress encouraging small groups of artisans to work together, but many artisans still struggle to cooperate due to poor communication, persistent grudges, a lack of trust, and negative dynamics within their communities.

Apart from my work with CACE, I have been a volunteer facilitator with the non-profit Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) since 2002. AVP sponsors conflict resolution workshops in prisons and community settings throughout the U.S. and more than 50 countries. I had long thought that AVP principles and practices might benefit our partner communities in Peru so a few years ago I incorporated a few fun exercises from AVP workshops into our meetings. The artisans enjoyed these, but the positive effects were short-lived. I was reluctant, however, to propose doing full AVP workshops with them because I didn’t want to seem like I was pushing an agenda for another organization, and I wasn’t confident I could effectively present AVP concepts in Spanish.

My perception of ongoing frustrations in many communities led me to test the AVP waters last March in Peru where I held one four-hour mini-AVP workshop in the Bora native community of Brillo Nuevo and a comparable session in the campesino community of San Francisco. The response to these short sessions was better than I had dared to hope for. Many participants said that that this positive and practical approach to communication was exactly what they needed to help heal rifts within their community and give them tools to work in harmony as they remembered doing long ago. I explained that AVP typically involves conducting a series of three workshops (Basic, Advanced, Training for Facilitators) and promised to try to convene the first level workshop in their community when I returned to Peru in the fall. I could help facilitate them, but I would need help from at least one native Spanish speaking co-facilitator and raise funds to pay for workshop related travel and materials.

After reaching out to other groups over the summer, I was very pleased that we were able to do three Basic workshops with participants six partner communities this past October with financial support from five organizations – State College Friends Meeting, Central Pennsylvania AVP, AVP InternationalCACE and Minga Peru. I was joined by Magaly, a very experienced AVP facilitator from Bolivia and Carmen, an apprentice facilitator from Puno, Peru.

We held the first workshop in the twin native community of Puca Urquillo Bora and Puca Urquillo Huitoto on the Ampiyacu River. Preparing ground rules for the workshop included agreements like “be on time,” “don’t speak when someone else is speaking,” “respect confidentiality,” and “don’t put down yourself or others.” These concepts seemed very basic, but they immediately set the tone for a dynamic that was new for the participants. It was also new for them to sit in a circle with the facilitators rather than sit in rows facing workshop leaders talking at them from a higher platform. We succeeded in creating an environment where people felt safe sharing very personal things with a partner, others in a small group or all 20 participants. The exercises and role plays brought to light many common sources of tension that included discord within and between families and between community leaders and other members of the community. Participants practiced how to share their feelings about difficult situations with others in non-judgemental ways, demonstrate empathy and seek non-violent solutions to conflicts.

One new challenge that our facilitation team faced in this workshop was figuring out how to include two people in wheel chairs in some of the interactive games like “Human knot” and “Crododiles and Frogs” which involved a lot of movement. Our team felt proud to develop creative ways to include them in these activities so all participants felt fully integrated into all of the processes. Another workshop highlight was bringing together people from both villages in a personal and meaningful way that rarely occurs despite their close proximity.

We did an oral evaluation with the group at the end of the first and second day and asked every participant to respond to six questions in writing at the end of the workshop. Others helped a few of the older workshop participants fill out their evaluation form if they couldn’t read or write well or couldn’t express themselves well in Spanish. Two responses that stood out were:

 “I thought this workshop would be just lectures, but it was much better with exercises that helped me consider myself.”

 “I learned what I never knew – listen to the person who is speaking.”

 The second workshop was held at Tambo Minga - a simple workshop center near the town of Nauta on the Marañon River operated by the Peruvian NGO Minga Peru. This workshop’s participants included people from the Cocama village of Amazonas, the campesino village of San Francisco, two CACE Peruvian staff members and an artisan from the town of Jenaro Herrera on the Ucayali River. One major topic of conflict that frequently emerged in this workshop were the challenges families faced when men got drunk and/or abused their wives.

All participants expressed their sense of empowerment to deal with highly sensitive issues in more forthright ways. We deeply explored how differences in peoples’ values can be underlying causes of conflict and showed how becoming aware of and accepting these differences can help establish understanding at a basic human level. This workshop also provided a potent opportunity for people from neighboring villages who rarely cooperate to come together to share common challenges and aspirations. The representatives from one village were acutely aware that their small number of participants was much less than hoped for. This sentiment reflected a general sense that despite its moderate size and relative success selling handicrafts, the dynamic in this village was dominated by an individualist approach rather than a cooperative spirit. The people who attended this workshop, therefore, hoped that they might use the skills they learned to strengthen this spirit which many people yearned for but did not know how to achieve.

One salient comment from this workshop was: “(This process) can help me to be a better person by listening to the opinions of others and value myself.”

The third workshop was held in the Bora village of Brillo Nuevo on the Ampiyacu River. Physical and emotional violence within families and the theft of food and fiber resources from the land of fellow community members were major topics that emerged during this workshop. Core exercises focused on better listening, values, triggers, empathy, and communicating in honest but non-judgmental ways. Considering these ideas and practicing related skills gave people new ways to approach situations that often led to discord, fear, and depression within their homes and dysfunctionality of their community. This negativity had already led many people to leave the community entirely. In the workshop, however, many participants tearfully said they now felt empowered to approach potential conflicts in more positive ways. They only wished they had been able to learn about this affirming style communication years ago since it could have drastically altered negative events which had occurred since their youth.

One notable comment from the evaluation was: “If someone attacks me in a discussion, we will be able to reach a solution. It’s always better to listen and have patience or practice tolerance before acting.”

Participants at all three workshops expressed their great surprise and joy for its interactive format. They often felt that instructors in other workshops looked down on them so they only went to them to receive free meals. Such poor expectations were probably responsible for the unfilled spots in our workshops. Comments made processing exercises and evaluating sessions revealed that participants appreciated learning new ways to consider their lives, communicate and transform their communities to kinder and more cooperative places to live. People also liked gathering in a circle where facilitators helped create a trusting environment for all voices to be heard. This was a sharp contrast to the dynamic in other workshops or community meetings where the presenters or leaders sat on a stage facing everyone else sitting below on benches. This alternate format fostered engagement and cooperation rather than boredom and confrontation.

The evaluations provided insights into some things our facilitation team did well.

 “I loved the facilitators very much because they came to speak about how we can manage conflict. I liked their way of working because they were concerned with the well-being of everyone.”

 “The facilitators were an example for me for how a team is good because they worked together well. This will help me work better in my family and community with coordinated agreements.”

 “The facilitators are very gentle because they manage the workshop with care and speak with clear and simple words.”

 “Very good facilitators – easy to understand, very humble, and that is important because in this way the participants feel more confident. Good people and very comprehensive – thank you for all.”

 People in all three workshops universally expressed their desire to continue this learning process in the Advanced level AVP workshop. One participant commented, “I want to continue to the next level because I want to learn more about how we can change to become united. I have changed a lot in the way I think. I was very angry, but now I feel very happy because you have taught me many things.”

While none of the facilitators had met each other before the workshop, our team enjoyed abundant joy, creativity, and cooperation working together. Our first touchstone was our mutual appreciation for multiple ways that involvement with AVP had nurtured our personal growth and enabled us to empower others. This collaborative spirit was strengthened by sharing personal stories before the workshops, and doing simple activities together to support for CACE’s work with the artisans in between workshops. We relished connecting with people from diverse native cultures in our own way and eat foods unique to the Amazon rainforest. We loved absorbing the sights and sounds of birds, frogs and natural scenery on numerous boat trips and went fishing together one evening. We went dancing with great zeal after every workshop and shared the common fate of poor sleep caused by buzzing mosquitos and itchy legs and bellies from chigger bites. We readily applied our shared experiences to create and refine the workshop agenda on the fly, support each other when one person’s energy or focus was waning, and seamlessly handed off the lead to another team member with nothing more than a simple hand gesture. It’s clear we formed a friendship in a few weeks that will grow and endure for many years.

One benefit for me doing these workshops was that it helped me establish much stronger relationships with many of our partners. Many people previously only knew me as the leader of the organization who bought their handicrafts – often with very stringent conditions. In the workshops, they shifted from calling me “doctor” to “Creative Campbell” – one of my affirming adjective names in the AVP world. These workshops gave some villagers and me a chance to get to know each other as whole people – people who have talents, dreams and problems that go far beyond the making and selling of handicrafts, and they gave me added confidence to apply AVP principles in a more direct way into my work.   In one artisan meeting that we held after the workshop in Brillo Nuevo, a few artisans who had not been at the workshop began talking with each while I was presenting ideas about an upcoming palm management workshop. Rather than talk over them or ask them to be quiet, I simply stopped talking. When the artisan pair realized that the whole group was listening to them instead of to me, they become silent, and I resumed.

While these workshops did not deal directly with handicraft making or caring for trees, I believe that sponsoring them with other organizations will help CACE improve our other programs for one simple reason. Our partner communities realize even more strongly now that we care about the well-being of their community and all of its members. We truly want to listen to them, and help them listen more deeply to each other.

Human knot exercise at Brillo Nuevo
Human knot exercise at Brillo Nuevo
Human knot exercise at Brillo Nuevo 2
Human knot exercise at Brillo Nuevo 2
Facilitators in boat en route to Brillo Nuevo
Facilitators in boat en route to Brillo Nuevo
Facilitators giving participant a certificate
Facilitators giving participant a certificate
Participants at workshop in Nauta
Participants at workshop in Nauta
Huitoto woman selling chickens for workshop dinner
Huitoto woman selling chickens for workshop dinner

Links:

Dear friend of the Amazon,

I’d like to thank you very much for your donations to CACE’s project that has provided vital support to our project to empower forest communities in Peru since 2012. In this report, I’d like to tell you a little bit about some people who have supported us through in a different way through our Amazon Field Volunteers program. We created this special program in response to queries from people that usually sound something like this – “I’ve always wanted to visit the Amazon, but I don’t want to go as a tourist. I want to get a first-hand experience of the people who live there and somehow make a positive difference. I’ve checked out a few volunteer and service programs, but they can cost a lot of money to join, and the times they have trips don’t fit the times I can go. I’ve read about your group’s work in Peru and like what you are doing. Is there a way I can help you there?”

Since 2006, I have answered “yes” to this question to ten people who have joined us in the field for one to six weeks. Saying “yes” began with a process of first asking interested people to tell us something about their background, why they want to join us, and what skills they could share that would support our work or the lives of our partners. If it seems like we are a potentially good fit, I go on to explain in great detail what it’s like to work in the field in the Amazon and visit rainforest communities. This includes a full discussion of the risks and realities of insect and snake bites, eating all kinds of food, using gross outhouses, riding in boats of all sizes for many hours, and proper and improper ways to behave with forest people. Volunteers are generally expected to pay all of their own expenses, assume responsibility for their health, and make whatever donation they can to CACE to support our work. They also need to speak at least enough Spanish to communicate directly with our partners at a basic level. While some prospective volunteers seem great on paper, I ultimately have to decide three basic questions before feeling good about inviting someone to join us. 1) Can I see spending almost 24 hours a day with this person for the duration of their time with us in the field? 2) Will this person be able to handle and learn from whatever challenges they face? and 3) Will this person make a substantial contribution to our work or our partners while they are with us or afterwards?

Here are brief stories about the people who have joined us so far.

2006 and 2007: Marissa P. CACE’s first Amazon Field Volunteer was my daughter who joined me for my first two summers in Peru just before and just after her senior year in high school. We lived both times at the field station run by the Peruvian Amazon research institute outside the town of Jenaro Herrera. I spent most of my time going into the forest to conduct research on the ecology and sustainable harvest of copal resin and later began working with a few artisans who lived in town. Marissa was no stranger to the rainforest having lived with our family in a native village in the Brazilian Amazon when she was seven years old, but she found great satisfaction volunteering at the local health clinic in town. Ten years later, she completed a master’s degree in nursing and is now working at a hospital in Chicago. You can read three essays that she wrote about her experiences in Peru on her blog Marissa’s Amazon Memories.

2008: Greg H. Greg joined us just after graduating from Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University where he was studying videography. He brought his skills, professional camera and adventurous spirit with him to Peru where he documented everything we did on tape for six weeks. This included our first visits to the communities along the Ampiyacu and Tahuayo Rivers.  Before and after the trip, he also edited and co-produced several videos on our YouTube AmazonEcology channel. His essay I need this shot recounts one of his fun memories unexpectedly going downriver on a ferry when he was trying to shoot a water buffalo being loaded on board. Since then, Greg has continued to travel around the world making a wide variety of shows about people and the environment.

2009: Natalya S. Natalya was a Penn State student in journalism when she joined us in the summer of 2009. She was an easy volunteer to bring with us since she had previously ridden her bike all the way across Canada and spoke decent Spanish. Natalya focused her service with us interviewing many artisans in the communities where we were just starting our handicraft development program. We’ve incorporated many of her profiles in social media posts, videos and GlobalGiving reports. Check out her essay What it takes to be a journalist. I especially love this passage below.

  “Elvira had introduced me to this silence. I had arrived at her doorstep exhausted from folding and flipping my tongue in mangled Spanish for three hours with the other village artisans. Instead of asking the usual questions, I watched her weave a handbag out of chambira, a local palm tree. Her 16-year-old daughter, Lisbet, watched me, and I watched Elvira, and Elvira watched her hands. We listened to the rain on the thatched roof. By my United States cultural standards, the silence should have been awkward, but it wasn't.”

You can read more pieces by her in: Report from the Field: Natalya’s Log.

2013: Luke P. and Amrit M. Luke is my son and was just finishing high school when he spent the summer with me in Peru along with fellow Quaker Amrit Moore who was studying for a master’s degree in Museum Studies at the     in New Orleans. As we traveled from village to village, Luke first shared a few lessons about climate change and the environment with young students and later found it more fun and satisfying to lead interactive classes in English. Amrit is a talented artist who devoted most of her time to preparing illustrations of the plants that artisans use to weave and dye fibers in their handicrafts. She also gave some artisans a basic lesson in drawing so they could do their own illustrations. Luke came away from the trip with a deep appreciation for the way that forest people pursue their lives with a positive attitude in spite of the harsh environment that can vex new comers to distraction. You can read five essays that Amrit wrote about her experiences in Artist in the Amazon.

2015: Tracy S. As Tracy approached her 34th birthday, she embarked on a remarkable journey to take part in at least 34 acts of service with different non-profit organizations around the world. I feel very fortunate that we were able to host her in Iquitos for several days where she helped us with the mundane but important task of classifying handicrafts and then sent her off to Jenaro Herrera for a week where she worked with our field assistant Italo to help him develop a better graphic way to collect data on resin lumps and the fruiting status of trees. The blog and Facebook page she created to report on her travels called 34tunate has now been converted to the timeless Be4tunate. Tracy epitomizes and has inspired many others to become “giving adventurers.”

2017: Donna and Chris M. Donna is a photographer who spent much of her career analyzing landscape photos taken from government overflights in international cooperative agreements and after retirement started using her skills to take quality pictures of pets seeking adoption at animal shelters. We first connected online via an announcement in VolunteerMatch.org. Two weeks after we met with the modest intention of discussing how she might help us edit some photos of handicrafts, she and her husband Chris arrived in Iquitos to join us for two weeks. During their stint, Donna took great pictures of our visits to several partner communities and trained our Peruvian media guy Tulio how to take great photos of crafts for our online store in a table-top studio. Chris applied his wizardry with equipment to clean and upgrade the grinder and distiller we were using to extract rosewood and copal oil. When they left, we gratefully accepted their gift of a Nikon SLR camera. Donna is now producing a range of lavender oil products and still edits photos for us from time to time.

2018: Alvaro M. and Natusha C. Alvaro is a Spanish graphic designer and visual researcher who contacted us while traveling through South America with his partner performance artist and video production assistant Natusha from Aruba. After numerous exchanges via Facebook Messenger, we met up in Iquitos during my last trip to Peru. Their energy, skills, and the timing was right to invite them to join Robin Van Loon and me on our trip to the Ampiyacu where we delivered hundreds of rosewood tree seedlings to families in Brillo Nuevo and Ancon Colonia. They recorded hours of video and sound of those activities and interviews with our partners which they are now turning into high quality videos to share what it means to these people to receive and care for these trees that connect them to their past and give them opportunities for the future. Stay tuned for links to their work.

Thank you again for your support that makes our work possible. Please contact us if you would like to learn more about the Amazon Field Volunteer program.

Marissa and co-workers at local health clinic
Marissa and co-workers at local health clinic
Greg and video camera in the rain with friends
Greg and video camera in the rain with friends
Natalya chatting with Bora artisan at Brillo Nuevo
Natalya chatting with Bora artisan at Brillo Nuevo
Luke measuring tree seedling with Bora woodsman
Luke measuring tree seedling with Bora woodsman
Amrit drawing with girl from Chino
Amrit drawing with girl from Chino
Thirty4tunate Tracy and Italo
Thirty4tunate Tracy and Italo
Donna with artisan Doris and animal friends
Donna with artisan Doris and animal friends
Chris adjusting shredder with CACE coordinator
Chris adjusting shredder with CACE coordinator

Links:

This past February and March, I made two trips to visit several of our partner communities in the Ampiyacu River area – once to help with a workshop where artisans learned how to make three types of woven bird ornaments (see Report #27) and the second time to deliver a new batch of rosewood tree seedlings. While spending time in Amazon villages is second nature to me, I wanted to focus this report on sharing some images and related stores that may help you appreciate the different way of life of the people who live in communities along these smaller tributaries of the Amazon.

1 & 2. Our trip to the Ampiyacu usually begins by taking a large boat from Iquitos to the town of Pebas. The gas stations located on floating houses near the port provide fuel for all locals and travelers who need fuel for their smaller boats or motorcars. I liked the image of a cat feeding on something at the entrance to one of these houses. As I got closer, it seemed to be some kind of salamander. When the cat became aware of me, the meaning of his/her look couldn’t have been any clearer.

3 & 4. Even in the small town of Pebas, the evidence of campaigning and the pitfalls of local politics are highly visual. Many houses become full-size murals for people running for mayor. I often stay in a hospedaje (small hotel) owned by a former mayor who is constantly visiting the festivals of neighboring villages to animate his base for his next run. Municipal and/or regional government funds were used with great fanfare to build a narrow paved path from Pebas to the large Bora village of Puca Urquillo so people could travel the few miles in a motorcar in 10 minutes instead of making a 30 minute trip by river. One of the bridges needed to cross streams going into the Ampiyacu collapsed within months of completion and remain unrepaired for over a year.

5, 6, & 7. One daily activity for people (almost always seemingly women and girls) who live in these communities is washing clothes in the river. For families with a lot of kids, this also means spending time hanging wet clothes out to dry. This can take a while in the rainy season since they often need to brought inside. Almost all of the wooden houses take on a familiar grey weathered look, but every now and then, someone has added a creative flare to brighten the look of their home.

8, 9 & 10. Where there are no roads, much of life along the river depends on using small boats. Most families use a peque-peque (a dug-out canoe with a small motor) to get around, but it’s also common for one man to go out in a smaller craft to fish near the village. The fellow in this photo first ignored us, then scowled at us, then gave us a big smile when I waved while passing by. While boats can last for several years, their duration depends a lot on what kind of wood they are made from Eventually, they get beaten up to the point where it’s not worth it to repair them and they get waterlogged. At least their degradation does not present the eyesore and troublesome waste products left in the wake of our dead cars.

11 & 12. Where income is low and there are no markets nearby, people who live by the river and forest depend on wild animals to satisfy an important part of their diet. Men may dedicate a night or several days to hunting trips, but they are alert to take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself. While going up the Yaguasyacu River from Pebas to Brillo Nuevo, we spotted an agouti swimming across the river in our direction. When it detected us, it quickly changed course and swam in the opposite direction. Our driver Oscar followed it back to the bank, jumped out of the boat, chased it through the brush (it wasn’t able to climb up the steep hill), grabbed it and dispatched it. I was admittedly silently routing for the agouti to escape, but I completely understand how this event helped Oscar provide several days of meat for his family with a minimal investment of time and no money spent on ammunition.

13 through 17. When we arrived in Brillo Nuevo, Yully asked our artisan friends to come by our house with any crafts they had finished from the previous order. A group led by Casilda has proven to be the best organized since they finished their group’s hot pads and hair barrettes on time even if some of them are more comfortable having their picture taken than others. They are now learning to do their own quality control before delivery their crafts to us. Ena and others use a lighter to burn off bits of the loose chambira fiber hanging off of their hot pads.

18. Some years ago Brillo Nuevo used a good chunk of the funds we provided in our “social rebate” program (from a percentage of our craft sales from their village) to build a little house which they intended to a be “community pharmacy” – a place where one of their own residents could sell common medicines to members of the community in a way that would be more convenient than getting some from the government health post that was frequently closed or didn’t have medicines available. The project worked well in the first cycle, but unfortunately when the person in charge of the pharmacy went to the city to buy new medicines, she simply left town and never returned to the village. The experience left them sour on the concept since they didn’t feel like they could trust anyone else to do this job better. The house was later converted to a sort of village communications center since it now houses the solar powered ham radio (mostly used to communicate with other villages) and public telephone. One person does have the job of answering any incoming calls and using a loud speaker to call the person to the phone or go track them down at their house. They get no salary for this duty but customarily receives a tip from anyone who has been alerted to a call. No telemarketers need bother calling.

19, 20 & 21. Ancon Colonia is the village that is farthest up the Yaguasyacu tributary. I don’t go there often, but I am always amazed with the diversity of animal pets I find in this small community surrounded by forest. This time, I saw a boy and his sister share their affectionate embrace with a pet armadillo. When they released it to the ground, it immediately went into action scouring the ground for any worms, beetles or other tasty invertebrates. Dogs are also common pets, but I thought it was unusual to see one pooch enjoying a cushy shady spot on a tangle of fishing net under a house.

Thank you very much for your support of our project.

1. Cat at Pebas dock
1. Cat at Pebas dock
2. Cat in Pebas with salamander
2. Cat in Pebas with salamander
3. Mayor candidate mural on houseboat in Pebas
3. Mayor candidate mural on houseboat in Pebas
4. Broken bridge on path to Puca Urquillo
4. Broken bridge on path to Puca Urquillo
5. Women washing closes in the river
5. Women washing closes in the river
6. Children and clothes at Ampiyacu river house
6. Children and clothes at Ampiyacu river house
7. Pink house near Pebas
7. Pink house near Pebas
8. Family in peque-peque en route to village
8. Family in peque-peque en route to village
9. Smiling man fishing from dugout canoe
9. Smiling man fishing from dugout canoe
10. Sunken boat in Ampiyacu River
10. Sunken boat in Ampiyacu River
12. Agouti swimming across Yaguasyacu River
12. Agouti swimming across Yaguasyacu River
12. Oscar and agouti
12. Oscar and agouti
13. Casilda measuring chambira fiber hot pad
13. Casilda measuring chambira fiber hot pad
14. Ena burning hot pad "champoso" (loose fibers)
14. Ena burning hot pad "champoso" (loose fibers)
15. Casilda artisan group from Brillo Nuevo
15. Casilda artisan group from Brillo Nuevo
16. Casilda with three models of hair barrettes
16. Casilda with three models of hair barrettes
18. Public phone in Brillo Nuevo
18. Public phone in Brillo Nuevo
19. Boy with armadillo pet in Ancon Colonia
19. Boy with armadillo pet in Ancon Colonia
20. Pet armadillo in Ancon Colonia
20. Pet armadillo in Ancon Colonia
21. Dog in fishing net in Ancon Colonia
21. Dog in fishing net in Ancon Colonia

Links:

I loved attending two workshops that CACE organized last month for top-level artisans from the Marañon River to teach fellow artisans from the Tahuayo and Ampiyacu River how to weave bird ornaments with chambira palm fiber. In the first workshop, brothers Kleiber and Jamner from the village of San Francisco spent two days teaching 24 artisans from Chino how to make the channel-billed toucan, tropical screech owl, purple gallinule and wire-tailed manakin. The group included men and women from sixteen to sixty years old. I had been buying bird ornaments from Marañon artisans for two years, but this was the first time that I and artisans from these other regions saw how they were made from scratch.

Surrounded a dozen eager artisans in one half of the artisan meeting house, Kleiber asked everyone in his group to first form a ball with chambira by wrapping a strand around and around its center until it reached the size of a large cherry to form the core of the body. They next formed a second smaller ball for the head, connected the two with a three-inch long piece of wire and then wrapped fiber around this to form the neck.  In the following hours, they progressively attached other bits of wire which they wrapped with different colors of fiber to form the wings, tail, beak, legs and feet. As the first day came to a close, everyone in Kleiber’s group had a bird that resembled a toucan while the members of Jamner’s group each produced an owl. We placed all of the ornaments on a bench and asked the group to point out features that they thought were well made and which ones could be improved. The details and expression of one of the artisan’s toucan were even better than the one made by her teacher. Norma said, “I’ve seen this bird in the forest around here all my life, but now I know I can bring it to life for others through my art.”

Kleiber told me, “It was incredible to me to see how fast these artisans learned how to make this complicated bird. I really appreciate how seriously they got involved with this process. It’s harder to get people from my village to focus on this kind of thing for this long.”

Romelia and her husband Jorge both learned how to make an owl and gallinule from Jamner. Jorge said, “I’ve been a carver for years and can weave a basic chambira bag, but I never thought I could make a little bird as beautiful as this.” Estelita who is the president of the Chino artisan association called Manos Amazonicas (“Amazon hands”) said, “This workshop was valuable for all of us. We can now design and make new kinds of crafts to sell to CACE and tourists. I know these visitors will want to buy crafts representing some of the birds they can see in our forest and by our river. This workshop also attracted new people who haven’t been part of our association before. It would be great to increase our group with more dedicated artisans.”

Two weeks later, we convened another skill-sharing workshop in Puca Urquillo – the dual Bora and Huitoto village near the town of Pebas on the Ampiyacu River. We recruited Pablo, another artisan from San Francisco to join Kleiber and Jamner as teachers since we had invited artisans from all of our partner villages in the region. About 40 artisans joined us for breakfast, and this number swelled to 66 as people arrived from more distant villages. Our artisan teachers had their hands full so many participants so we scaled-back the pace and had each one teach the 20-23 people in their group how to make one bird well in two-days. The featured birds were the Amazon kingfisher, lineated woodpecker and rufescent tiger heron. There was a lot of energy in the “locale” (community meeting room) as dogs and wandered around and participants swapped bits of chambira of different colors, but they soon settled into a focused flow of watching their teacher demonstrate each step in the process, try it themselves and then refine it with feedback from their teacher. Some artisan moms breastfed their babies while they weaved, but kids who were three years or older played non-stop on the stage or ran around outside.

This was the first time that these artisans had made a bird, and they were not making easy models. The tiger heron (which they called the “puma garza” – mountain lion egret) required sewing multi-colored loops onto the chest and then carefully cutting them to resemble the bird’s ruffled feathers. The woodpecker had a bright red crest on its head (like Woody Woodpecker) which needed shaping and combing to look just right.   Kori said, “I feel like I’m learning to be a hair-stylist for birds.”

As Tulio interviewed artisans outside the workshop, most offered two similar comments. The first was that it was hard at first to make their bird, but the teachers explained the process well and they were confident they would get better with practice. The second was that they all wanted to have another workshop to learn how to make different types of birds. Maria Elena said with a smile, “I’m proud of the kingfisher I made; now I want to learn how to make a macaw.”

A week later, I had a farewell dinner with Kleiber and Jamner at a restaurant in Nauta where we discussed workshop highlights and ways they could engage their student artisans even better. They were excited about teaching more workshops and wanted to keep making new models of birds themselves. They were anxious to try and raise their bird craft-making another level by making more birds in flight so I gave them a dozen photos of various species with their wings out. The day before I left Iquitos for home, I received a box with new prototypes made by the pair in the past ten days. I was astounded by the life-like shape, colors and fine touches on their flying hoatzin, roseate spoonbill, purple gallinule and black-collared hawk. It’s great to know that we can support a few top artisans to keep pushing the boundaries of their creativity while enlisting their support to welcome other artisans to this journey of weaving beautiful birds of the Amazon.

Jamner showing Romelia how to weave owl in Chino
Jamner showing Romelia how to weave owl in Chino
Artisan feet holding chambira palm fiber
Artisan feet holding chambira palm fiber
Sarita weaving bird with baby in Chino workshop
Sarita weaving bird with baby in Chino workshop
Artisan weaving wire-tailed manakin bird ornament
Artisan weaving wire-tailed manakin bird ornament
Jorge and Romelia with purple gallinules and owls
Jorge and Romelia with purple gallinules and owls
Rosa and three daughters from Chino with birds
Rosa and three daughters from Chino with birds
Purple gallinule and tropical screech owl ornament
Purple gallinule and tropical screech owl ornament
Channel-billed toucan and purple gallinule models
Channel-billed toucan and purple gallinule models
Kleiber showing Liz how to make tiger heron model
Kleiber showing Liz how to make tiger heron model
Artisan daughter and tiger heron ornament
Artisan daughter and tiger heron ornament
Artisan sewing eye onto tiger heron ornament
Artisan sewing eye onto tiger heron ornament
Artisan sewing wing onto tiger heron ornament
Artisan sewing wing onto tiger heron ornament
One artisan weaving; one artisan nursing
One artisan weaving; one artisan nursing
Pablo shows artisan how to cut wire with pliers
Pablo shows artisan how to cut wire with pliers
Bora artisan making lineated woodpecker
Bora artisan making lineated woodpecker
Jamner artisan group making kingfisher ornaments
Jamner artisan group making kingfisher ornaments
Cutting achira seeds to make eyes for woodpeckers
Cutting achira seeds to make eyes for woodpeckers
Bora artisan Kori with woodpecker ornament
Bora artisan Kori with woodpecker ornament
Young Huitoto artisan with kingfisher ornament
Young Huitoto artisan with kingfisher ornament
Flying hoatzin ornament
Flying hoatzin ornament
Flying roseate spoonbill ornament
Flying roseate spoonbill ornament

Links:

 

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Organization Information

Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Location: State College, Pennsylvania - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @Amazon Ecology
Project Leader:
Campbell Plowden
Dr.
State College, PA United States
$76,001 raised of $90,000 goal
 
622 donations
$13,999 to go
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