Tag Archives: Amazon

Building a better bug ornament

In 2007, I spent a month near Jenaro Herrera on the Ucayali River.  While I spent most of my time studying copal resin ecology at a research station, I also wanted to meet local artisans to see if CACE could help market any of their handicrafts.

Peruvian artisan Dora Tangoa from Jenaro Herrera holding achiote fruit pods used to dye chambira palm fiber. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Dora Tangoa with achiote fruit pods. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

One Saturday afternoon, I met Dora and her small group of fellow artisans at her home and watched them lay out some bracelets and necklaces made with rainforest seeds and simple bags woven with chambira palm fiber.  I bought some samples of each and asked them to make some chokers with certain colors at my teenage daughter’s suggestion.  CACE sold enough of these in the U.S. to buy some supplies for the public school when I returned in 2008.  That summer, Dora took us out to her field and showed us which plants provided the seeds and natural dyes to make her crafts.

Peruvian artisan Rosa Estela Mozombite Tangoa with chambira palm fiber insect ornaments made in cooperation with the Center for Amazon Community Ecology. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE.

Rosa Mozombite Tangoa with chambira insect ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE.

Sales of the loose woven bags (called “xicras” in the local market) were never great for us, however, and over the next few years, sales of the seed jewelry slowed to a trickle.  In 2011, we started developing Christmas tree ornaments with artisans in the Ampiyacu, and I invited Dora and her group to come up with ideas of their own.  Dora wove a miniature pot, her aunt Hilda made a miniature plate, her niece Doilith wove chambira stars with seeds, and her teenage daughter Rosa made little butterflies and grasshoppers.  We did so-so with the first three types, but the insects were an immediate hit.

Chambira palm fiber bee ornament made by Jenaro Herrera artisan in cooperration with the Center for Amazon Community Ecology. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Chambira fiber bee ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Over the next few years, we tested different colors, sizes and types of new critters – sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident.  We learned (probably not surprisingly) that people much prefer pink, yellow an orange critters over black ones with any color.  One batch of giant purple bees were produced due to misunderstanding over the Spanish meaning of “fuxia.”  So, some ornaments have sold very well while others are lingering long in our inventory even at “clearance” prices.

Chambira palm fiber butterfly ornament made by Doilith del Castillo in cooperration with the Center for Amazon Community Ecology. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Chambira palm fiber butterfly ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/CACE

Last year, we asked Dora and company to increase the number of legs on the critter ornaments from four to six so they would have one more realistic element on them.  This past trip, I asked her group if they would like to try to advance this process a step further by trying to weave replicas of specific types of insects.  I had downloaded a variety of photos of butterflies, dragonflies and bees from the internet onto my laptop and went over each image with them at Dora’s big table in front of her house.  They embraced the challenge – each one agreed to make a prototype of one or two new “species.”

I checked in a few days later and was thrilled to see the progress of Doilith’s Amazon darner (Anax amazili) which closely represented the dragonfly’s shape, colored tail bands, and fine lacey wings.  Hilda’s blue morpho butterfly also had a lot of promise.  Dora had skillfully captured the green orchid bee’s hind legs used to carry pollen and resin back to its nest, but her “ronsapa” bee needed more work since its head resembled a bull-dog snout.

Amazon darner dragonfly and chambira palm fiber ornament made by Doilith del Castillo in cooperration with the Center for Amazon Community Ecology. Photos by Bob Thomas & Campbell Plowden/CACE

Amazon darner dragonfly and chambira palm fiber ornament. Photos by Bob Thomas & Campbell Plowden/CACE

I admit that most members of the public neither know nor care if these ornaments are anatomically correct, but I do hope we can develop models with our partners that will be attractive enough to sell and gradually educate buyers about real rainforest critters along the way.  It seems this type of understanding can only help to increase people’s desire to preserve the forest and support sustainable livelihoods for its traditional peoples.

It has been rewarding to see that creating and selling more crafts has allowed Dora and her relatives to improve their houses and invest more in their children’s education.  I am glad that CACE has played a role in this process.

Boost your support for Amazon conservation and communities

Give your support for Amazon conservation and communities a boost today with a donation to the Center for Amazon Community Ecology. Donations made to CACE today after 9:00 am (EDT) through GlobalGiving at www.AmazonAlive.net will receive a 30% matching donation until matching funds run out.

If you live in Iquitos, Peru, please come meet CACE director Dr. Campbell Plowden and project manager Yully Rojas at the Dawn on the Amazon Café on Tuesday, March 24 from 7:00 to 9:00 pm.

See photos below of a recent CACE artisan workshop, armadillo ornament, hot pad and belt made by artisans from Brillo Nuevo and Puca Urquillo.

Bora artisan Rode R from Brillo Nuevo with a woven Shushupe snake model belt made in cooperation with CACE. Photo by Campbell Plowden / Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan Rode R from Brillo Nuevo with a woven Shushupe snake model belt made in cooperation with CACE. Photo by Campbell Plowden / Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Artisan training workshop sponsored by CACE at Puca Urquillo with one group of particpants thanking GlobalGiving for their support of the project Photo by Campbell Plowden / Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Artisan training workshop sponsored by CACE at Puca Urquillo with one group of particpants thanking GlobalGiving for their support of the project Photo by Campbell Plowden / Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Artisan Milda Q from Puca Urquillo Bora with her hot pad made from chambira palm fiber in cooperation with CACE. Photo by Campbell Plowden / Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Artisan Milda Q from Puca Urquillo Bora with her hot pad made from chambira palm fiber in cooperation with CACE. Photo by Campbell Plowden / Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan Ines C with her woven armadillo ornament.. Photo by Campbell Plowden / Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Bora artisan Ines C with her woven armadillo ornament.. Photo by Campbell Plowden / Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Woven armadillo ornaments made by Bora and Huitoto artisans with Center for Amazon Community Ecology. Photo by Campbell Plowden / Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Woven armadillo ornaments made by Bora and Huitoto artisans with Center for Amazon Community Ecology. Photo by Campbell Plowden / Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Exploring a new partnership with Maijuna native communities

March 5, 2015

Maijuna boys in boat. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna boys in boat. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I just returned to Iquitos after a successful four day visit to the Maijuna native community of Nueva Vida in the Napo River region of the northern Peruvian Amazon. The main purpose of the trip was to meet their artisans and see if they wanted to work with CACE to develop and market several new models of handicrafts. I also wanted to explore the potential for harvesting copal resin with them and distilling it into fragrant essential oil as a new source of sustainable income for the village.

Campbell Plowden and Shebaco at Maijuna party in 2009.  Photo by German Perilla/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden and Shebaco at Maijuna party in 2009. Photo by German Perilla/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

My journey began with a speedboat ride at dawn from Iquitos to the Amazon River town of Mazan with my CACE videographer companion Tulio Davila. After stocking up on supplies, we eventually met up with our Maijuna guides Everest and his father Sebastian “Shebaco” Rios Ochoa.

Michael Gilmore discussing map with Maijuna in Nueva Vida (2009).  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Michael Gilmore discussing map with Maijuna in Nueva Vida (2009). Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I first met this friendly confident native leader through long-time Maijuna friend and CACE board member Michael Gilmore. We had danced together after a Maijuna federation congress in 2009, and he hosted me last summer in Sucusari when we conducted a quick search for copal trees near his village. I much appreciate that he gave me the name “Baiyiri” – the Maijuna word for copal.

Maijuna leader and elder photo at FECONAMAI congress 2009.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna leader and elder photo at FECONAMAI congress 2009. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Our original host for this visit was going to be Walter Perez from Nueva Vida, but on two days’ notice he had flown to Lima with two other Maijuna to meet with the Peruvian President. This was a critical meeting that marked the final hurdle to winning government approval for a regional protected area that would encompass the four main Maijuna villages in the Napo and Putumayo River region and the forest in between. This struggle to gain legal recognition for their traditional lands coincided with a multi-year battle against a road project that would go through the heart of it. I wished Walter well on his mission and was happy to have Shebaco with me again for mine.

Maijuna statue at Puerto Huaman. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna statue at Puerto Huaman. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Like many native groups, the Maijuna are striving to improve their standard of living and standing in modern Peruvian society and maintain certain aspects of their culture that give them pride and sustenance. The Maijuna were once called by the derogatory term “orejones” (big ears) because they had the custom of placing increasingly larger disks into their ear lobes. They gave up this practice a generation ago, but they embraced a program led by linguists from U.C. Berkeley that has reinvigorated the teaching and use of the Maijuna language by all generations.

Chambira palm fiber basket woven by Maijuna artisan.  Photo by Michael Gilmore

Chambira palm fiber basket woven by Maijuna artisan. Photo by Michael Gilmore

Half a dozen women from Nueva Vida learned how to make decorative baskets from chambira palm fiber that were similar to ones made by campesino artisans from the Tahuayo River, but their skills languished for several years because the workshop’s sponsors did not provide follow-up support to market any baskets they made. Since there was a new spark to this enterprise, Michael thought that this would be a propitious time to connect with these budding artisans.

Campbell Plowden discussing basket design with Maijuna artisan.  Photo by Tulio Davila/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden discussing basket design with Maijuna artisan. Photo by Tulio Davila/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Due to our late start from Mazan, we didn’t get into Nueva Vida in Shebaco’s peque-peque (motor canoe) until well after dark. After setting up our tents in our host’s main room and a quick supper of tuna fish and crackers, we went to sleep. My visit began in earnest the next morning by meeting almost the whole community. I spoke no Maijuna beyond my nickname, but showing and discussing a video of our handicraft project with other artisans quickly established a common language dealing with chambira palm fiber and other plants used in making woven crafts.

Maijuna artisans of Nueva Vida. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna artisans of Nueva Vida. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

There was no doubt they could make the kind of baskets we wanted, but it took a patient dialogue to sort through which dye plants they had available to make certain colors and which colors we should avoid using in our initial designs unless we wanted to provide artificial dyes from the city. Our discussion about pricing for the baskets was uncomfortable for a time because their scale was different than other villages we have bought similar products from.

Maijuna elder sleeping next to copal flame. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna elder sleeping next to copal flame. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

While the Maijuna were all familiar with the basic uses of copal resin – burning it for light or boiling it to caulk their canoes, they were fascinated to see and hear the stories about the intimate relationships that copal resin exuding from the trees has with various weevils, flies, ants and bees.

Maijuna harvesting copal at Nueva Vida.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna harvesting copal at Nueva Vida. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

For two days I accompanied Shebaco and rotating four-man teams from Nueva Vida to search for copal. We had most luck finding large fresh lumps on trees on or near the tops of little hills and spent the other half of our time slogging through swampy low lying areas.

Maijuna harvesting copal with machete lashed to pole. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna harvesting copal with machete lashed to pole. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Harvesting a lump was sometimes as simple as cutting it off with a machete at chest height. A team member lashed his machete to a pole and thrust the blade under lumps that were attached to the trunk ten to twenty feet from the ground. In a few cases, a spry Maijuna wrangled his way up a nearby small tree or vine to get at some lumps that were twice as high. Two men tried to catch the dislodged lumps below (in Tulio’s long-sleeve shirt the first day and an old cassava carrying bag on the second) while trying to keep dry resin bits from falling in their eyes.

Maijuna tossing copal lump down.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna tossing copal lump down. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The teams quickly adopted our protocol of not harvesting small fresh resin lumps so the weevils inside them could mature and stimulate more resin lumps in the future. They also understood that while they could take old black lumps back to their homes to stoke cooking fires, the dry odorless lumps were not worth distilling because they had lost most of their essential oil. We collected GPS points at all of the trees to aid in finding these trees again in five or six years and combine them with satellite landscape data to help identify other good sites for finding copal trees in more distant Maijuna forest areas.

Maijuna artisan Elena and dolphin ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Maijuna artisan Elena and dolphin ornament. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Other highlights of my time in Nueva Vida included fishing with Shebaco and Everest and meeting Elena, an artisan who had woven a beautiful river dolphin as a sample keychain. After Tulio talked with her, I commissioned her on the spot to make fifteen more as Christmas tree ornaments. I was impressed that Tulio was able to sincerely engage with people who are understandably often very shy in this situation to become comfortable enough to share something about their craft making and other aspects of their lives. In the final hours of light, I was very happy to reach an agreement with the president of the artisan association about making an initial batch of baskets for us.

Yully Rojas measuring copal tree with Maijuna team.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully Rojas measuring copal tree with Maijuna team. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Our Nueva Vida hosts were accepting if circumspect in sharing their evaluation of our visit with us. Every community in this region has had multiple experiences with visitors from various groups coming in to pitch one project or another – many of which lack follow-up or don’t go well for other reasons so I understand why they temper their enthusiasm for a new venture until it proves worthwhile. I already felt a bond with Shebaco, but I was encouraged that several people from Nueva Vida asked me one and only one simple question: “When are you coming back?” So the dance has begun. I hope to see thirty beautiful baskets in three weeks as the next step.

Shebaco observing copal distillation in Iquitos. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Shebaco observing copal distillation in Iquitos. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Back in Iquitos, our project manager Yully set herself to the task right away of distilling the resin collected at Nueva Vida. It was great to learn that it shared the highest yield of essential oil we have produced so far from any region. Analyzing a sample of it will help determine its composition and commercial potential. If these aspects prove positive as well, the next step will be to formulate a management plan to guide the development of this local enterprise in the years to come.

Hello Peru rainy season

February 24 – Panama City airport

I’m excited to be leaving for Iquitos today. It will be in the middle of the rainy season when both tasty Amazon fruits and mosquitoes (with and without malaria) are abundant. I’m ready, though, because I get to spend a whole month away from the coldest winter I remember after living in central Pennsylvania for almost 20 years. The snow has been pretty, but repeatedly freezing my fingers and toes while shoveling my and a neighbor’s driveway has grown tiresome.

Squirrel on snowy porch in Pennsylvania. Photo by Campbell Plowden

Squirrel on snowy porch in Pennsylvania. Photo by Campbell Plowden

As I started packing two days ago, I saw a squirrel perched on the hand rail of our back porch with her tail curled onto its back giving it a Mohawk look. As she looked at me through the window, I wondered if she was just curious about me or wanted to come inside for a reprieve from the extra chill. I donned five layers to walk my lab-mix Juno, but I did smile when I saw her running with her head lowered to plow fresh powder into her open mouth. It reminded me of a black skimmer slicing through the ocean surface with its open beak to scoop up tiny fish.

Ania teaching Jill to make hot pad. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Ania teaching Jill to make hot pad. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I’m also excited about spending a month to advance CACE projects in Peru. It’s hard to believe we are now nine years old! I will again visit the native villages of Brillo Nuevo and Puca Urquillo where we are doing back to back workshops to help 80 Bora and Huitoto artisans learn to make popular models of hot pads, belts and ornaments. I also want to ask them about their goals for their families and communities to gauge how much time they really want to invest in craft-making compared to other ways of making money and tasks of daily life.

Yermeth Torres with frog ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yermeth Torres with frog ornaments. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I’ll return to Jenaro Herrera to begin winding down our basic research on the ecology of copal resin as we apply results from these studies to help our community partners sustainably harvest resin from their forest and distill it to marketable essential oil. I’m looking forward to seeing the women artisans from Chino to pick up a new batch of woven frogs whose expressions reflect their creators’ warm personalities. I also want to record how they’ve used CACE social rebate funds to tend young chambira palm trees planted to supply fiber for making the frogs and their signature Tahuayo region baskets.

Campbell dancing with Maijuna. Photo by German Perilla/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell dancing with Maijuna. Photo by German Perilla/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Thanks to CACE board member Michael Gilmore, I will return to the Maijuna village of Nueva Vida to help their artisans make six models of small baskets we can try to market in the U.S. I’m hoping for good health and energy since I spent several days languishing in a hammock after eating something funky at an otherwise wonderful festival.

Rode making guitar strap. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rode making guitar strap. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

After my trips to our partner villages, our project manager Yully Rojas and I are going to host our first CACE public gathering in Iquitos. Almost 200 people who live there have “liked” our Facebook page, so we’re going to invite them to a combo presentation and little party. My hope is that we can start to kindle local and interest and support for our project with the people who live in the heart of the region.

Tracy Stayton. Thirtyfourtunate.com

Tracy Stayton. Thirtyfourtunate.com

Near the end of my trip, we will welcome Tracy Stayton to a CACE Amazon Field Volunteer for ten days as part of her remarkable Thirtyfourtunate project. Having turned 34, Tracy has begun a year-long global giving adventure when she will do 34 acts of service to give back and bring awareness to NGOs and their causes around the world. Follow her journey at: Facebook.com/34tunate.



Thank you to my loving family and many friends for your warm wishes as I head south again. May you enjoy the winter outside as much as you can and savor a cup of hot tea when you come back inside.

I also offer thanks to the Rufford Foundation, New England Biolabs Foundation and GlobalGiving Foundation for support of our work in Peru. Please visit wwww.AmazonAlive.net to support our proect.

Building relationships with GlobalGiving – a crowd-source platform with smarts and hearts

The Center for Amazon Community Ecology began like many non-profit organizations – it had one person with few resources and a big dream about making the world a better place. I wanted to conserve the Amazon rainforest by helping native people to improve their livelihoods and communities by selling innovative non-timber forest products as alternatives to economic activities that damage the forest. Our early work was supported almost entirely with the support of a few friends, family members and foundations.

Campbell Plowden and Robin van Loon at Baltimori. Photo by CACE.

Campbell Plowden and Robin van Loon at Baltimori. Photo by CACE.

We gradually expanded our presence on the web, but did not get many donations through our website, Facebook or blog. So in 2012, I started exploring a variety of crowd-source platforms. Kickstarter seemed great for hot business ideas, but wouldn’t work for non-profits. Indie-gogo offered a space for non-profits, but these seemed lost in their mix, and every project had to meet a funding target with a short fixed deadline. Network for Good offers great resources to non-profit groups to raise their profile and funds, but it lacks a central site that attracts visitors interested in supporting a cause or project. Robin van Loon from a partner group Camino Verde told me that his group had received extensive support for his work reforesting native trees in southern Peru through the GlobalGiving network so I decided to give it a try.

Global Giving LogoGlobalGiving is a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC (with a sister group in London) that provides a dynamic platform for other non-profits to raise funds for specific projects that benefit people and/or the environment. GlobalGiving keeps a 15% commission instead of the 5-10% taken by most other platforms, but being part of the GlobalGiving network offers a lot more than a simple mechanism to channel online donations. It offers its partners valuable tools and a place in a community that fosters open communication and mutually supportive relationships between the people in the group, the people that it serves, the people that fund its work, leaders of other groups in the network, and the people who work in GlobalGiving. Playing an active role in this community has significantly increased the number of donors and quantity of donations to our work in Peru and strengthened the quality of our communications and relationships with our partners in remote villages and supporters at home and abroad.

Getting onto the GlobalGiving platform is a multi-stage process that begins by proving that your group is a bona-fide non-profit organization with tax-deductible status (501-c-3) in the US or equivalent status abroad. An applicant also needs to describe its track record and provide several letters of recommendation. After passing this due diligence process, a group can take part in an Open Challenge to earn a permanent spot on the platform by raising at least $5000 from 40 or more donors in one month.

Campbell Plowden giving Amazon presentation.  Photo by CACE

Campbell Plowden giving Amazon presentation. Photo by CACE

The prospect of raising this much money from so many people in one month seemed very daunting to me, but I decided to go for it in a challenge that began in late November, 2012. I began by contacting everyone in my universe and asking them to contribute any amount they could. I sent appeals to high school classmates, former colleagues at Greenpeace, and family members far and wide. I arranged to do presentations at church groups and homes of a few supporters who invited their friends. I wrote short pieces and posted photos on our website, blog, Facebook pages, and Twitter. I asked a few prospective larger donors to make their contribution on Bonus Days when donations were given a 15% match. By December 31, I was thrilled that we had raised almost $8,100 from 65 donors and matching funds from GlobalGiving.

Greenpeace Japan whale campaign reunion

Greenpeace Japan whale campaign reunion

When the challenge was over, I took some deep breathes and looked carefully at the data provided by GlobalGiving to see which outreach strategies had been the most effective for us. Not surprisingly, most of these funds came from my friends, family, or others I met through a friend. What was encouraging, though, was that many people who had known me and my work for years made their first donation to my group during this challenge. Being on GlobalGiving gave my group extra credibility and me the confidence to ask them directly for support for the first time. My friends understood that helping my group earn a spot on the platform would eventually give my group a good chance to receive support from many new people.

GlobalGiving Open Challenge results for CACE.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

GlobalGiving Open Challenge results for CACE. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

While CACE raised far less than the top earners during the Open Challenge, my frequent questions to GlobalGiving via phone, email and webinars caught the attention of a few staff people. A partner associate soon asked me to share my experiences and analysis in a webinar with groups who were considering participating in the next Open Challenge. Since last January, I have participated in almost every webinar and special campaign that GlobalGiving offers its partners including a free two month long online fundraising academy. These lessons, contests, and feedback from GG staff have tremendously helped me improve the proposals, progress reports, thank you letters, photos, videos and social media posts we share with past and potential supporters.

CACE project manager reviewing guitar straps with Bora artisan. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

CACE project manager reviewing guitar straps with Bora artisan. © Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

GlobalGiving also offers its partners great tools and encouragement to improve their communications and relations with the people they aim to serve. As we strive to increase artisan income with new products, we are learning how to better incorporate traditions and cultural realities into the process. A GG volunteer visited our most remote village in the Peruvian Amazon with us to see how we were doing. When she witnessed our project manager Yully in the thick of a difficult conversation with an artisan partner, she offered her empathy and encouragement rather than judgment. I am now looking forward to trying out the new GlobalGiving Storytelling tool with our partners in eight villages this summer.

Amazon crafts at GlobalGiving. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amazon crafts at GlobalGiving. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Beyond its standard offerings, GG has directly supported our sale of handicrafts made by our native partners in Peru. These efforts have included featuring our crafts in their Gifts for Good program, bringing back a batch of our crafts from Peru to the U.S., buying 125 hot pads which they gave to a group of special donors, welcoming us to sell crafts to their staff people in their office around Christmas and inviting us to sell crafts at a big conference about corporate volunteerism in Washington, DC.

GlobalGiving continually encourages groups on the platform to seek input from and listen to their supporters and beneficiaries, and it passionately applies this practice to their dealings it partners. Companies now routinely solicit feedback from their customers in surveys, but it is clear that GlobalGiving is not following a rote corporate mantra. As I participated in one webinar, campaign and Leadership Council meeting after another, it became apparent that every person I interacted with from GlobalGiving genuinely wanted to know how they could improve their site and programs and then actually used partner ideas to do so.

I now think of GlobalGiving more as a “they” than an “it” because GlobalGiving staff people including Alexis, Britt, Katherine, Sonja, and Mari seem to truly understand CACE and want to help us succeed. Their commitment has inspired me to try and help GlobalGiving help other groups do their important work as well.

www.AmazonAlive.net
As of We have now raised $25,248 for our Peru project on GlobalGiving. Crossing the $24,000 threshold gives a group “SuperStar” status on the platform which gives groups greater visibility, opportunities with corporate partners, and a 50% match on donations on Partner’s Bonus Day coming up on July 16. Thanks for contributing any amount you can to help us help our partners in Peru and save some Amazon rainforest? Check out our project on GlobalGiving at: www.AmazonAlive.net.

A fountain of frogs and new bathroom for children at Chino

by Campbell Plowden

Romelia Huanaquiri with woven bowl. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Romelia Huanaquiri with woven bowl. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Melodi Tuesta with woven bowl. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Melodi Tuesta with woven bowl. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Every time I go to Peru, I look forward to spending at least a few days in the campesino village of Chino on the Tahuayo River. I go there primarily to buy some of the beautiful baskets and other woven handicrafts made by women in the Huacamayo artisan cooperative. What makes these trips possible is that we enjoy an easy working relationship with the Rainforest Conservation Fund (RCF) to help arrange short stays at their lodge, meetings with artisans and leaders, and the purchase and delivery of materials for community projects funded with the CACE social rebate from craft sales. Finally, Chino is a very welcoming community in an incredibly beautiful place where I usually get to go fishing on a free morning.

Yully Rojas paddling RCF boat with floorboard in 2010. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yully Rojas paddling RCF boat with floorboard in 2010. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I have sometimes taken a small lancha from Iquitos to Chino (an 8 to 10 hour journey often shared with a boat full of people, chickens, fish and bags of charcoal), but Luke, Amrit and I were lucky that our friend Gerardo, an extension worker with RCF, was available and willing to take us there in their motorboat as long as we paid for the gas. While these trips are not guaranteed to be speedy (we once had to paddle the boat to a nearby village with floor boards when the engine conked out), we made it comfortably to Chino on this Tuesday without incident.

The rainy season was over, but water marks more than a foot above the already elevated first floor on the walls in the RCF lodge showed that this year’s floods had been very high for the second year in a row. In past visits, I’ve share the four bedroom space with as many as a dozen students from Grand Valley University doing an Amazon field course with RCF President Jim Penn, but this time, we had the place to ourselves with Gerardo. The house is no luxury eco-lodge, but having access to a flush toilet, cold shower, gas stove, a generator for light and laptop, and a bed covered with a mosquito net canopy was a welcome upgrade after much more rustic conditions in the Ampiyacu.

Campbell Plowden buying chambira basket from Chino artisan. Photo by Amrit Moore/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Campbell Plowden buying chambira basket from Chino artisan. Photo by Amrit Moore/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

We spent most the next two days watching the artisans and buying their handiwork. They have a well-deserved reputation for making a great variety of baskets woven with chambira palm fiber that has been dyed with a rainbow of local plants. I had bought many of these during past visits at a “feria” (fair) in the same simple building where coop members display their crafts to visiting guests from the Amazon Adventures lodge upriver. This time I had placed an advance order to buy dozens of woven frogs, particularly small ones designed as Christmas tree ornaments.

Dina Peña with yellow frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Dina Peña with yellow frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Estelita Loayza with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Estelita Loayza with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

When arriving in Chino, I learned that my request for woven frogs had generated some confusion and discontent. The cooperative had split the order among interested members so the benefits would not be limited to the one artisan who had specialized in the making these frogs in the past. This division led to a fountain of new designs for woven frogs including the neat innovation of well-defined feet. See other photos of artisans with woven frogs. See photo album of Chino woven frogs on CACE Facebook page.

Orange woven frog ornament made by artisan from Chino, Peru. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Orange woven frog ornament made by artisan from Chino, Peru. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Red woven "jewelry box style" frog with clasp. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Red woven “jewelry box style” frog with clasp. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Unfortunately some women did not make their first frogs with a pleasing shape or imbue them with the personality of their master creator. To compound this problem, the original frog lady had not understood the details of my order so she and her fellow artisans presented me with a squadron of larger than life bullfrogs and only one of the ornament sized peepers I had wanted as a tree ornament. I bought as many of the colorful mid to super-sized hoppers as I thought I could sell in the next few years with hopes that tourists would buy the rest in time. Few artisans left empty-handed, though, since I also purchased my usual quotient of 40 woven baskets and pots.

Woven basket made by Chino artisan. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Woven basket made by Chino artisan. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

The lesson for me (that I learned the hard way three times the hard way this trip) and the artisans was very clear. Handicraft orders should include very specific dimensions and photos of the desired models. It is wrong to assume that just because someone has made something one year that they will remember how to make it the same way the next. That evening I did a slide show of all the baskets I had bought from Chino since 2008 and gave a CD copy of these images to Exiles (an RCF extension agent who lives in the community) to share with other artisans so they could see and replicate some of the stunning designs they have made in recent years. See sample photos of Chino baskets.

Chino artisan with rosario and huayruru seed necklace. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Chino artisan with rosario and huayruru seed necklace. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Chino artisans are also looking to expand their craft-making beyond weaving chambira. The day after the “feria,” most coop members gathered in the open-air common area (with a conical thatched roof) to practice making some complex necklaces with huayruru (Ormosia spp.) and rosario (Nothoscordum spp.) seeds. They used a hand drill mounted upward to drill a hole through the center of each seed and then strung them in patterns according to design specifications of a potential buyer. It was neat to see pairs of artisans working comfortably together to figure out the nuances of different models.

Amrit Moore drawing artisan with girl at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amrit Moore drawing artisan with girl at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amrit attracted the attention of girls and eventually a few boys as she sketched women stringing beads and weaving bags. She admired one multi-strand shiny red, black, and grey necklace so much that she asked Rosa to make a duplicate for her.

Pijuayo fruit at market in Pebas.  Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Pijuayo fruit at market in Pebas. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

While most Peruvian artisans have many plants to dye chambira various shades of yellow, orange, red, and brown, it is surprisingly difficult to find green plants that can impart a durable green color to this otherwise receptive fiber. This visit to Chino, I was happy that two artisans left the necklace-making session to show me how they use leaves of pijuayo palm (Bactris gasipaes) and cocona (Solanum sessiliflorum) plants to dye chambira green. Both plants are common in home gardens and fields throughout the region, although their fruits are harvested more for food than dye.

Pounding cocona leaf with rock. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Pounding cocona leaf with rock. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Artisan Romelia Huanaquiri who had demonstrated other dye plants to me before escorted us to her backyard and used a pole saw to cut a long leaf hanging out from a modest-sized pijuayo palm tree and plucked the spear-like leaflets off the petiole (stiff central stem of the leaf). She then picked a handful of large plate size leaves from a cocona plant and brought them all back to her house. The next stages of processing both plants were the same. Romelia and her artisan colleague Lastemia took turns folding and smashing the leaves with a round smooth stone onto a large flat one.

Cooking chambira with pijuayo leaves. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Cooking chambira with pijuayo leaves. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Each batch of mashed leaves was then put into a pot with some water and a hank of clean chambira fiber to boil over a fire. Romelia removed the pot from the flame after ten to fifteen minutes, sifted out the chambira, and laid the strands on a table to dry in the shade. The pijuayo dyed chambira had a pleasant medium green tint while the cocona dyed batch seemed quite pale.

Romelia Huanaquiri soaking chambira with pijuayo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Romelia Huanaquiri soaking chambira with pijuayo. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Romelia said that it had probably needed a stronger concentration of leaves and longer time boiling. The main reason why Ampiyacu artisans said they didn’t use these plants was that the color in dyed in chambira faded too quickly if exposed to water or sun. We plan to do some controlled studies with these and other plant dyes to test their durability.

Yellow catfish and bananas on canoe. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yellow catfish and bananas on canoe. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke, Amrit and I had a chance to go fishing with Exiles, but the best fish we had were from a couple of large striped (Psuedoplatystoma spp.) and yellow catfish that Gerardo had bought from a local Chino man who had been dropping his line in the water all night. As we enjoyed our supper of fresh doncella, we were also treated to a gorgeous rainbow over the Tahuayo River.

Rainbow over forest on Tahuayo River. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rainbow over forest on Tahuayo River. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Last year, Chino had decided to use its social rebate funds from CACE sales of its crafts to build a basic bathroom for its school children. It took many months to complete, but I was very happy to see that the job had been done well. It was a two-stall wooden structure with basic toilets. A tube had been connected to the gutter from the school roof to funnel runoff water from rain into a large barrel that stood next to the bathroom doors. Kids would need to scoop water from this barrel with a bucket to flush the toilet.

Exiles from Rainforest Conservation Fund at new bathroom in Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Exiles from Rainforest Conservation Fund at new bathroom in Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Luke made his own contribution to the kids in Chino by teaching English to the high school students for both days we were there. Teaching these classes in Chino and other villages was both inspiring for him and gave him an even deeper appreciation for the advantages of his education opportunities at home – benefits that many of his peers at his high quality public school take for granted.

The community meeting convened to decide how to use CACE social rebate funds from the past year of craft sales was due to start at the typical time of 7 pm. While it was a convenient time to gather after work and family dinners, it also coincided with the peak dinner time for mosquitoes. As people casually arrived, the growing assembly resembled an unchoreographed jerky dance as people randomly swatted their shoulders and thighs and stamped their feet. Within half an hour, Solis Zandromo, the Agente Municipal (top elected official in Peruvian villages) felt that a sufficient quorum of residents had arrived to proceed.

Gerardo Bertiz from Rainforest Conservation Fund helping to buy water pump for Chino bathroom. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Gerardo Bertiz from Rainforest Conservation Fund helping to buy water pump for Chino bathroom. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

I presented a brief summary of CACE craft sales from Chino and the amount now available. Proposals came from the floor to carry out various projects, but the group finally reached consensus on a plan to build a cement patio in front of the school so the kids could gather on a dry spot that was often pure mud. If there were sufficient funds, they would also upgrade the school bathroom with a larger tank on the roof so the toilets could be flushed at any time with water pumped from the river because there were often times in the dry season when there wasn’t enough rain to fill the barrel. I passed around a bag of buttered and salted popcorn to the attendees with appreciation for their reaching a decision before the mosquitoes totally devoured me.

Chino leader with water tank for bathroom. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Chino leader with water tank for bathroom. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Back in Iquitos, Gerardo and Solis shopped around for supplies at hardware stores and quickly concluded that we actually had enough budget to finance both projects. I didn’t feel a need to accompany them to buy cement for the patio, but it was fun joining them to purchase the giant water tank and test out the pump. I look forward to seeing the upgraded bathroom during my next trip to Chino in the summer of 2014.

Other photos from the trip to Chino

Amrit Moore in palm spate hammock. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Amrit Moore in palm spate hammock. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Girls playing on monkey bars at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Girls playing on monkey bars at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Two kids at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Two kids at Chino. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Doncella catfish caught in the Tahuayo River. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Doncella catfish caught in the Tahuayo River. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Chino artisans and a plethora of frogs

by Campbell Plowden

Below is a photo gallery of women from the Huacamayo Artisan Cooperative in the campesino village of Chino on the Tahuayo River in Peru who wove multi-colored small, medium and large frogs with chambira palm fiber for the Center for Amazon Community Ecology in July, 2013. Contact CACE at info@amazonecology.org if you would like to purchase any of these items. See accompanying story and photos: A fountain of frogs and a new bathroom for children at Chino. See photos of all woven frogs on CACE Facebook page.

Orange woven frog ornament made by artisan from Chino, Peru. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Orange woven frog ornament made by artisan from Chino, Peru. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology


Yermeth Torres with orange frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Yermeth Torres with orange frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Sarita Mendoza with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Sarita Mendoza with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rosa Sanchez with orange frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Rosa Sanchez with orange frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Romelia Huanaquiri with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Romelia Huanaquiri with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Madita Sinarahua with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Madita Sinarahua with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Liria Enocaires with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Liria Enocaires with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Lastemia Ruiz with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Lastemia Ruiz with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Estelita Loayza with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Estelita Loayza with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Dina Peña with yellow frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Dina Peña with yellow frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Darli del Aguila with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Darli del Aguila with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Dalila Lopez with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Dalila Lopez with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Charlita Espinoza with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Charlita Espinoza with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Carmen del Aguila with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology

Carmen del Aguila with woven frog. Photo by Campbell Plowden/Center for Amazon Community Ecology