Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Julie Wells recalls a water based project in Candelaria, Nicaragua

This past May I had the incredible opportunity to travel with Green Empowerment to Candelaria, Nicaragua. The landscape was very rugged and dry, quite unlike our previous village where it rained almost every day. Due to the dryness of this area, the village needed a way to get a ready supply of water. Solar panels powered pumps that pulled the water from an underground reserve to a large container where it was kept.

Piping for the water to flow from the sand filter to its collecting hole

Once Candelaria had water at its disposal, there were other projects soon to be underway. One project was building a sand filter at a woman’s home. Previously, the water used to wash the clothes would fall to the ground along with the bleach used in the water. The water was not being used efficiently. Building a sand filter would catch the wash water and filter out the clean water so that it could be used for other purposes.

We began by going down to the creek and gathering various rock sizes and gravel. A large barrel would first be filled with the large rocks and then decrease in size until the gravel was placed on the last layer. In this way it would act as a filter to catch the bleach-laden water.

After filling the barrel we dug a trench along the hillside that would contain piping for the water to flow down. The water would collect at the bottom and it could be used to water the garden. This project was completed in several hours and it was very rewarding to finish a project that would soon be used by a family. I thought it was an innovative project that was making good use of the water that was available.

Collecting rocks and gravel for the sand filter

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Not in Peru.

In the slums of US cities, livelihoods are not based so much on natural resources, but on wage labor at the bottom of the capitalist economy. But in Peru, and arguably in the majority of the world, the people struggling to get by live on natural resources. Their day-to-day survival depends directly on the productivity of soil, the abundance of water and the access to trees for cooking and shelter.

In Peru, I hear so many stories of rural folks organizing to defend their land, their water, their trees from the multinational companies that come to extract resources and sell them to the rich world. Yesterday, a man from somewhere in the jungle said that there were government engineers snooping around and marking off land 6km into the forest from the farthest villages. At first the engineers said it was protected land, but that villagers could still hunt animals and cut trees for their personal use. But then these engineers stated that no one was to cross this new boundary. Soon other people showed up. With saws. A Chinese company started hauling out the ancient trees by the truckload. The communities formed a “Defensa Ecologica”. The next time the government engineer came around no one would give him food or lodging. Except for one family who finally let him in. They gave him a place to rest…and when he was sleeping they stole his shoes. In the morning, the angry and now shoe-less engineer had no way to tromp through the forest…

Today I talked to Juan Santos Chavez, who has built a micro-hydro system for himself and 9 other families in the village of La Libertad. Juan knows the micro-hydro system depends primary on one thing: water. And water depends on the thickly forested hill hovering over La Libertad. He and the rest of the association has talked to the owner of the forested land about the importance of keeping in forest, to protect the river’s spring for the drinking water and electricity of the village. But the land owner has defended the idea of private property and cuts “his” trees when he pleases. La Libertad say they will try and negotiate, but they have decided to take all peaceful measures necessary to defend their water.

The bloodiest conflict in Peru in recent years was not a clash of the infamous Shining Path with their Maoist ideology, but rather a confrontation in July between police and indigenous activists protesting a law that facilitated access of oil and timber multinationals to the rainforest. It was defense of rights to land and natural resources that sparked this fire.

This theme is echoed in the fight against the mining companies in the mountains of Cajamarca. Peasants march, block roads, and hold vigils to protect their land and water. In an extreme case, the Ronda Campesina captured a helicopter pilot exploring for minerals and made him walk naked around the freezing highland village for days. A mercury spill that poisoned the town of Chorropampa haunts the public memory. In a society and economy based on agriculture, the quick riches of tearing down a mountain lure some but hold know illusions for others who know their wealth and ability to survive comes from the land.

Their wealth circulates from the field to the home, to their plate and back to the field. People don’t have much cash, but they eat hearty meals, have a roof over their head and adobe or wooden walls to keep out the rain. Nature provides and they are willing to defend her.

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The Sacred Valley is full of paradoxes. Stunning vertical landscapes. Tourism and a hippy mecca. Andean Waldorf schools. And grinding poverty…

I first meet up with Sandra and Sandy: two good natured, down-to-earth Canadians who are volunteering in Peru. Sandra with Kuasay Wasi Clinic (http://kausaywasi.org/) and Sandy with DESEA, Desarrollo en Accion (www.deseaperu.org), Green Empowerment’s new partner in implementing a project to improve health through household water filters. With the exciting news from the Metabolic Studios of Annenberg Foundation, the project finally has the resources to really get off the ground. I am in the Sacred Valley to see the team of DESEA, meet the communities and work out the logistics of the new grant.

Ricardinia, the newly-hired field manager, took us out to the communities: Totora, Accha Pampa and Chaipa. While at about 4000 meters (13,000 feet) themselves, they were nestled in valleys with the surrounding peaks towering at the aching heights of 5000 meters (16,400ft). Ricardinia grew up a day’s walk from the closest road, in some hidden village in these sacred hills. She left for high school and trained to be a teacher. She heard the radio ad for the DESEA field manager and was hired on. She is a huge asset as she is the main cultural and linguistic bridge to the poor communities.
In Totora we met Gregorio, the filter workshop manager, who was the young mayor of this adobe village. He was dressed in western clothes and spoke in fluent Spanish with a Quechua accent that made round words sound like triangles. He had attended the CAWST (www.cawst.org) training as is a devotee of the biosand filters that he builds everyday. We caught him with a bundle of wire mess as he was heading to Pampallacta to repair the school’s filter.

When they saw Sandra arrive in Totora, a group of women gathered for a “clinic” (not a building, but an event). They squatted on the ground and unwrapped their bundles of brightly woven cloth to reveal children that needed a nurse’s eye.
We met a woman and her baby that had lost a dangerous amount of weight from diarrhea. She had taken her to the Kuasay Wasi clinic where she was given a dehydration solution. By the time I met the baby, she had gained back some weight and looked like she would survive, but it drove home the point that simple hygiene and clean water are the most important things we can do to save children’s lives.

These communities speak almost no Spanish. They maintain the poetic Quechua language and traditions alive. Everyday clothes look like a celebration, with dozens of buttons on the wrists arranged like pearls on an evening gown, and big flat round hats covered with ornate red cloth that dangled over the edge.

And yet, illiteracy, isolation, discrimination and malnutrition have taken their toll. Sandra describes meeting a woman who could not remember how many of her children had died; was it 5 or 6? I hear stories of a toddler eating paint, excessive alcohol and spouse abuse. I don’t see this kind of malnutrition where I live in Cajamarca, where rural people have few resources, but plenty of food, although both areas show signs of protein deficiency, with a diet based on rice and potatoes.

In Totora and Accha Pampa, we walk into the tiny dark kitchens, covered in soot, to see the filters. Ricardinia translates from Quechua. The people we met said they used the filters daily and even said that they had noticed an improvement in health of the children. They understand that the filters clean. The filters are made in one of the project communities out of local materials. The concrete structure is filled with sand and gravel which effectively remove pathogens.
biosand filter

Ricardina, Gregorio and the team say that everyone wants a filter. But once they have it, there are some (perhaps 15%) who don’t use it. Do they want it just because it’s a new thing to have in their home? It’s modern and different? Daily habits run deep too, thousands of years deep. And introducing some new-fangled things into those daily patterns is a hard thing to do. Even when you know it’s good for you. I know I should floss every day, but I don’t. It seems that here, the filter use and health education is not a secondary complement of filter installation, but needs to be at the core of the program.

school water

This pipe, from a dirty open sink hole, delivers water to schoolchildren

We surveyed the existing water sources. In Totora, there is “agua entubada” (piped, but not potable, water) that just comes from an open river, above which the animals graze… Kids drink from water that comes from an open sink hole near the school. Other communities have gravity-fed water systems that deliver spring water to some of the houses, but not to others.

Sandy has a kit to test for total coliforms and fecal coliforms, which are indicators of unsafe drinking water. The streams have lots of fecal coliforms, the sealed water spring water distribution systems are clean and the filtered water is clean. However, this has shown several of the systems are not working properly and need to be fixed (the sand was not fine enough and the water passes too quickly). This monitoring tool helps them adjust the filter fabrication.
lab test
The complex social and cultural environment will pose plenty of challenges, but also makes the need for the health and water program all the more evident. With the support of Metabolic Studios of Annenberg Foundation, 150 filters will be built and installed. Most importantly, workshops on health and hygiene will be integrated into the program and health promoters trained from the communities. Something so simple can save a life. After spending time with the DESEA team and going to the communities, I am optimistic that this partnership has what it takes.

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Green Empowerment seeks an experienced and motivated Development Director to help support our ongoing work.  The application deadline is November 4, 2009.  Please pass this on to friends, family, and vague acquaintances who you feel can help catalyze the work we do through fundraising efforts.

About This Position
The Development Director will be responsible for developing and implementing a fundraising strategy that incorporates individual donor cultivation and corporate appeals, fundraising events, and submission of grants for capacity-building grants, and to develop and implement digital and written communications efforts.


  • Develop and implement a fundraising strategy for major individual and corporate gifts, in collaboration with the Executive Director
  • Analyze acquisition and retention of donors while developing strategies to upgrade existing donors; develop planned giving program as an aspect of long-term donor cultivation
  • Advance use of contact relationship tools such as our donor database
  • Support and encourage Board fundraising efforts and lead volunteer fundraising efforts with the Fundraising Committee
  • Secure organizational capacity grants from foundations, corporations, or other sources


  • Maintain communications regarding GE’s achievements with the funding community and donor prospects.

Event Coordination

  • Coordinate and refine events to raise funds and foster profound donor relationships
  • Manage volunteer efforts that enrich fundraising campaigns and events

Time Commitment: Full-time position, with flexible work hours

Remuneration: $40,000, employer-paid medical insurance, paid vacation and sick leave

Qualifications: Minimum 3-5 years experience with fundraising in a leadership role.  Experience with communications and event management required.

Education: BA or equivalent preferred

Skills and Knowledge:

  • Proven management and leadership capabilities
  • Experience with donor prospecting, identification, cultivation, solicitation, recognition and tracking
  • Demonstrated success in organization fundraising from individuals, family foundations and corporations
  • Proven ability to develop, manage and complete successful fundraising events
  • Superior written and verbal communications skills
  • Ability to use word-processing, spreadsheet and data-base software required
  • Experience using press releases, written materials, web sites, e-news, blogs, Facebook, and other media required

To Apply: Kindly send resume and cover letter via email to apply@greenempowerment.org by Nov. 4, 2009.  Thank you very much for your interest!

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Ride your bike and tour a solar cell plant. What could be finer on a sunny Sunday morning?

That’s right, the weather forecast for this Sunday is sunny and fine.  It promises to be, in fact, perfect riding weather.  So register to ride, and then register a friend or family member to ride, too!  From the start line at SolarWorld’s USA Headquarters in Hillsboro, OR, you will traverse to PCC Rock Creek Campus and finally to Jackson Bottom Wildlife Preserve before returning to SolarWorld for a tour, beer and food, and great music.  All this for a great cause that you care about: Green Empowerment.

The Stops

PCC Rock Creek Campus (Stop One)
Who They Are: Rock Creek is nestled amid farm and wetland, perfect for PCC’s veterinary, landscape, building construction and biology programs, which use the natural areas for their outdoor learning labs. It houses Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation’s sports complex where students have access to softball and lacrosse fields, tennis courts and soccer pitches. The campus is home to a fully functioning farm with sheep, rabbits, llamas and cows.
The Food

  • Pan Dulce – Mexican sweet bread
  • A treat made with ingredients from PCC’s Learning Garden
  • Fruit

Jackson Bottom Wildlife Preserve (Stop Two)

Who They Are: The Low-Down: A 725 acre wildlife preserve located within the city
limits of Hillsboro, Oregon that serves as home to thousands of ducks
and geese, deer, otters, beavers, herons and bald eagles. Song birds
and small mammals, as well as salamanders and rare wetland plants, are
dependent on the marshes of the Preserve.
The Food

  • Pedal-powered smoothies made with Stonyfield Yogurt and bananas
  • Dave’s Killer Bread
  • Fruit

SolarWorld (Finish Line)

Who They Are: a world leader in high-quality solar power technology.  Under the name Solar2World, the group champions its commitment to economically, ecologically and socially sustainable growth by donating products primarily for off-grid systems in emerging economies.
The Food

  • New Old Lompoc and HUB beer
  • Chocolate Milk
  • Bagels and Cream Cheese
  • Soup from SoupCycle

It’s a unique, unprecedented adventure.  Join us!

How to Get Involved
* Register to ride!
* Invite your friends, family, and colleagues to join you for the ride, and join our Team Challenge
* Volunteer and help us put on a fun ride for a great cause

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Cine-Layan:  A visual feast to move your heart, mind, and soul

CineLayanLogoFinalThe third annual Cine-layan Film Festival, a collection of independently made Filipino films, focuses on environmental and social justice in the Philippines. The two day festival features two full-length films to be presented for the first time in the Pacific Northwest, on June 5 and 6 at the Fifth Avenue Cinema, 510 SW Hall St, Portland.  Katrina Yuen Gonzales, one of the festival organizers says that Cinelayan is a play on the Tagalog word Sinilayan, which in English means “to illuminate ..in the hope that we can see what has been invisible to the eye.”

The festival will feature two documentaries:  Riles (Life on the Tracks) and Minsan Lang Sila Bata (Children Only Once).  Ronnie Scheib of, Variety Magazine says of Riles, “From the first astonishing shots of men, women and children casually moving their belongings from the railroad tracks seconds in front of an onrushing train, filmmaker Ditsi Carolino makes the viewer feel completely at home in what should be the most alien of environments. Thoroughly engrossing documentary about extreme poverty that gives feel-good movies a whole new meaning.”

Minsan Lang Sila Bata (Children Only Once) is “a documentary about child labor in the Philippine provinces. The directors recorded small children working under excruciating conditions in slaughterhouses, sugarcane fields, and ship docks in order to add to their family income. Images of the children’s carefree joy after release from work capture the essence of childhood and emphasize their plight.” — Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival. Director/filmmaker Ditso Carolino has won several Philippine documentary awards. Minsan Lang Sila Bata is a debut by her co-director Sadhana Buxani.

CineLayan Environmental Filipino Film Festival
June 5,  6:00 PM
June 6,  3:00 and 6:00 PM
Fifth Avenue Cinema
510 SW Hall St, Portland

Both Riles and Minsa Lang Sila Bata will be shown at the Friday 6pm
showing, tickets will be sold for $15. Minsan Lang Sila Bata repeats
at the Saturday, June 6 3:00 PM matinee, followed by Riles at the
Saturday 6pm showing when tickets are $10 respectively. Both feature films are in Tagalog with English sub-titles.  Tickets are available at www.brownpapertickets.com.

Proceeds benefit Green Empowerment and the independent Filipino
documentary filmmakers.

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This time of year the mornings are clear bright blue, with almost cartoon-like exaggerations of puffy clouds, but by midday the clouds gather in dark masses and dissolve into an all-pervasive mist and then rain that soaks everything.

After over 2 hours driving with a reluctant taxi driver nervous of the muddy roads, we arrived at Suro Antivo. We found the bend in the road closest to the house of the Teniente Gobernador. In the campo, you have to meet first with the autoridades. “Homero!” we shouted from the hill before descending to his house. A boy echoed back that he was not there, but we could talk to the boy’s mother. As we entered into the field in front of the 2-storey rammed earth house, a straggly dog came to greet us, wagging his tail and bearing his white fangs. We stayed still, backing up, until the boy came to call his dog away. Country dogs are the one thing I fear…and with reason; I was bitten a few weeks ago, but that is another story.

A jovial woman, Gladis, in a straw hat and apron came out, told us that Homero had gone to Cajamarca to collect the money from the bank for their milk sales. He’d taken the lechero (the milk truck) into town, as it is the only form of transportation to the community. Our taxi rental was an extravagance, and perhaps in the eyes of some, excessively expensive. She told us to come in, sit down, and spread a knit fabric down on the wooden bench under the balcony of their home. We took in the scene. Miguel, the sociologist who Daniel and I were with explained that the metal bowl on the ground was used for cleaning the intestines of pigs, to eat them. We guessed that the garden plot was a program of Programa Juntos (a state welfare program). A rabbit hopped across the grass and a tiny kitten curled around the corner. A small girl darted in and out, smiling with her surprisingly light brown eyes.

After a while the woman came out of the kitchen, a small building adjacent to the house and beckoned us in. We walked into the dark space and saw three bowls on the table, heaped high with potatoes and chicken. 9am and I tried to do my best to eat as much as possible, making sure to thank her profusely to make up for my physical inability of eating 10 boiled potatoes in one sitting. We washed it down with a steaming cup of fresh chamomile tea. While we ate, I asked Gladis about her new improved stove. She seemed genuinely excited about it. They’d built it themselves after doing a Juntos workshop. She touted the benefits of the new stove: almost no smoke so her eyes don’t hurt, it uses a fraction of the firewood, it even cooks faster…About half of the women in the community are part of Programa Juntos, which is a government program that gives families with children 100soles a month, but it requires them to have their kids in school and vaccinated, and participate in a range of “self-improvement” programs like the gardens, the improved stoves, sanitation workshops, etc.

We also asked Gladis about the water. She is one of the few people who get water in a pipe from the spring by the cemetery. She said that it comes and goes. When the water doesn’t come they have to literally suck on the end of the pipe to get it flowing again, or conversely blow so hard that they remove the blockage. She said that the water was good, pure, which I found really interesting because we just got the lab results back and there are some 900 coliform per 100ml. Is she just used to bad water? Used to children getting sick, or do they have a resistance to it?

After thanking her profusely, we walked to the source at the cemetery, I showed Miguel around and I expressed my concern. There is a gully in between the hill with the cemetery, and the adjacent hill with the sping, so it appears that the infiltration to the spring would not be contaminated by the water that flows past the cemetery. We will have to hire a hydraulogist to evaluate it. And the water will be treated and tested to make sure it is not contaminated.

We made it up to the hill, where the foreman was instructing community members how to dig the pit for the new tank. Buenos dias ingeniera, they greeted (in the country, just about anyone from outside is thought to be an engineer). The workers are paid by the municipality, despite the fact that the project is to benefit themselves. On the one hand I scoff at the idea, and yet realize that if I was asked to work digging trenches to lay the water lines to my house in Portland I would want to be paid too. Prior to GE/ITDG joining up with the water project, the municipality already had made the agreement for paid labor with the community (and other communities in the area), so while our support is not going toward the labor costs, the municipal support is. We shook hands all around, met the Agente municipal, the other authority in the village. And since it was starting to rain, we scurried down the hill to start our way to the 3rd spring, so we could collect another water sample.

I was in the village last week, where I filled the sterilized bottle with the water gushing from the rocks. But the test came out that the water has “more than 1600 fecal coliform per 100ml”—simply beyond the range of acceptable for consumption. It turns out that the rock wall, from where the water flows, had been constructed that day, so I think the water that was gathered included surface water that washed over the rocks and into the bottle. This time we brought a 1meter piece of hose and pushed it into the rock wall and into the spring itself. We let it wash out, and then took the sample. I dropped it off at the lab that same day and the results show that there are zero fecal coliform. Hurrah, it’s a great source for drinking water.

As we walked back from the spring, the maestro invited us for “a cup of hot water” at the house of his mother-in-law. Wanting to build the relationships, I said sure. The hot water ended up being another heaping meal. We waited on the bench under the awning of the house, watching water stream from the tin roof, while his wife cooked up potatoes, rice and fried egg. While we sat I asked where that house got its water from currently. Turns out the small pond full of water plants and 2 small trout is their drinking water source. I asked some off-color question about the water tasting like trout. The maestro said, no, it’s good water because it’s not stagnant, the water runs in and out of the pond…Then we were served a drink made with that very water. It was hot chicha morada. It tasted fine although I didn’t want to look too closely at the bits of things floating in the purple corn drink…


Daniel, a volunteer from Oregon Direct Action took some pictures and video from this and other projects. Check it out…

current drinking water source

current drinking water source

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