Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Day 3


Here are a few pictures of the third day of our trip where we had a nice tour in the morning, a miscommunication in the afternoon, an evening of trying to communicate, and a night of rejoicing due to the resolution of aforementioned miscommunication. Here are some pictures. That night, everyone conversed about the difficulties of community service ITSª.

Roxana, a guide that we hope to take on the job of giving tours, is showing the nursery to the alumni. She is explaining the process of insertions for the plants. Below is a picture of a grafted plant which is used to propogate good plant genes. Ok, I don´t know much about the topic, but you can see pictures of the process at the bottom of this web page

Here are some bags that are ready to receive the sorted cacao beans. There are the BIG beans, mediums, smalls, and things that aren´t really beans.

Here we are in our new hotel, along the river with a beautiful view..

And tarantulas in the rooms. Haha. We moved hotels to get away from the large insects and here we are with spiders the size of your palms (and bigger) next to our beds. PS Alison totally got a baby tarantula in her skirt. It was amazing. She lived.

Eberhard, Shahla, and Alison (with her spider skirt) looking over the view of the hotel.

Yutzos was a great place to hang out. Which was lucky since Adam, Brooke, and Anna ran through the streets of Tena trying to find a taxi to take them to a meeting with Carlos. We found one, had our meeting, cleared up our miscommunications (is there a tour.. not a tour? Why did all the Kichwa go in another truck and not with us, PS what´s the dealio?), and the returned to a bunch of patient alumni. They were all worrying about the delicate and new relationship between MIT and Kallari that had just been cultivated.

It turns out Kallari thought our tourism bus driver was racist, Brooke misunderstood that the canoe ride was three hours, and based off of the lack of clear conversations, Kallari did not have the chance to finish their tour.

Which reminds me a lot about the themes of the Peruvian half of our trip.

Here we are in Manco Cápac and Señor de Luren, trying to complete our documentary. We have a mere ten days left in our trip, and themes of post-disaster communication are swirling through our heads. We are trying to send a message to communities and reconstruction NGOs with our movie while involving the community in taking shots, making editing choices, and shaping the voice of the documentary.

It´s been a very long process. We just showed the community our second draft documentary outside of a community store located between the two little pueblos. We started late, it got cold, and a lot of people ended up leaving. We can´t be sure why. It seemed that they all enjoyed seeing their community on a big screen, their harvests being made more ¨hollywood,¨ and even calling out the names of their neighbors.

But communication isn´t easy.

We stressed six themes in our documentary, topics that I think applied strongly to a lot of the work that we did in Ecuador.

1. Trust between NGOs and communities so that NGOs understand the true needs of the people while also creating moments of exchange of imformation so that the relationship is two-ways

2. Sustainability through investment by the community that is beyond just participation.

3. Clear, honest, and transparent communication that informs communities of how and why decisions are being made.

4. Passionate leadership from the NGO that expresses determination and dedication. Someone who applies the talents and skills of their volunteers in a way that meets their community´s short and long-term needs.

5. Collaboration between NGOs, and government (as well as with communities) to ensure that work is being done in a consistent, high-quality manner with even distributions of aid.

6. Channels for communication that are accessible by communities to express their needs, concerns, and questions to the NGO.

Of course these things aren´t easy. And we´re finding out even more difficulties about this work as we continue editing our documentary.... but more later.

Day 2

With their noses to the grindstone, the alumni started working their tail-ends off on day two. We had the entire day to meet with stakeholders, eat lunch with the community, and finally get our feet wet.

The workshop was a smash success:

We arrived with little time to spare but few from the community beat us there. Robin, Deanna, Kathryn, and Alison helped set up the corn sheller while Brooke, Vikki, Shahla and Anna planned for the nutrition workshop.

Robin said kids are awesome and corn shellers are cool, but she doesn´t know a thing about them and spanish speakers should be doing the bulk talking. So we did. Robin squat down next to the community members and communicated the best she could. Hammers were swinging and the hands did the talking. Below you can see

Here, all the women are trying out the new cornshellers that they´ve made.

Here you can see the de-kerneling happening before your eyes.

The turn out seemed small at first but then as the day progressed, the corn sheller materials got snatched up. In particular, a corn sheller designed in another part of the world was much clamored after. ¨I have a cousin who is a metal worker. I´d like to show this to him so he can make more, better.¨ It was the highlight of Alison´s trip, I think. Then the nutrition workshop with professor Shahla in the picture below. She gave everyone a quick talk about balanced meals and opened up the floor for whatever questions the community had concerning nutrition. There were questions about salt, what kid´s should eat, etc. And Shahla fielded them all expertly. And in the end it turned out to be just right because all the food was gone and everyone ate contentedly.

Deanna(left) fled the scene to work with Judy (right) and Elias (middle) concerning the promotional brochures. A nice twist of a career spun her from mechanical engineer, systems thinker to designer. She´s talented. Like seriously. They talked about the details and the technicalities of the cooperative and chocolate-making process. The results have been good so far, but just you wait in September when things really get rolling. The post-trip relationship that has resulted has yet to fully bud, but I expect full bloom once emails begin to fly.

Erika, Joe, Dick, and Roberta headed straight for the office and hung up a big piece of paper and began mapping out the business of Kallari. After a meeting with Carlos and Leonor, they were able to really start revving their planning engines. Then they spoke with Judy to get finer details about the cooperative (time that Carlos just didn´t have) and the markets in the United States.

Then the alumni split up. Some began to clean up the workshop space while the Tourism Planning group went on a short tour with Kallari to meet some farmers and havea jolly time in the Rainforest amongst all the cacao plants.

Here, you can see that Nick from Global Adrenaline has fancied himself a tree-climbing device and harvested a yucca root. The smile says everything.

Here, Anna tries it out. Looks more like she´s brute forcing up that tree, but you can see the fibers around her feet!

And finally, our community tour guide.

The day was full, and we retired to our Cabañas in the deep woods with the large insects and abundance of tarantulas in the bathrooms. And when we arrived, we laughed and drank some wine. And the night passed pleasantly.

Except for Roberta who had ¨friendly baby monkeys playing on her roof.¨ Well, they were bats actually.

Day 1 (in Tena, that is!)

A brief summary:
1. Factory tour
2. Four hour drive from the mountainous Quito to deep jungle depths of Tena
3. Our first official orientation with Kallari
4. Dinner follwed sleeping the night away in the eco-lodge Cabañas Aliñahui

But how it really happened is a whole other story. Where we last left off, the alumni had just arrived and taken a brief 2-day orientation throughout Quito, learning how to work with communities with the Pachamama Foundation and understanding the tail end of Kallari´s chain of production (cafe and factory). Although we don´t have any pictures, we promise we saw how chocolate was made. Through the entire process from toasting to conching, until the temperature is made just right and each package is sealed by hand.

On a tight schedule to get to Tena by 3pm, we hopped back on the bus. Brooke was breaking out in stress hives, contemplating the intricate consequences of missing the integral meeting with the Board of Directors. Just that morning, the route had been blocked due to massive landslides. How would we pass? Would the road be under construction? Once we started, there was no looking back. Anna reassured her that everything would be okay. Anna is almost always right, too, so Brooke believed her.

Meanwhile, Adam was in Tena sipping on a pina colada. Work had slipped through his fingers and time was abundant. Or so he says.

In the last blog post, you see our journey. We rushed and ran and turned and swerved all the way there. By the time we arrived, our stomachs were in our feet. Judy Logback and Raquel both narrated our path. I don´t think any one will remember every single river, but that´s ok!

(insert story about finding the infamous corn sheller, a tale only to be heard in person)

We arrived though.. thirty minutes early for our orientation. Brooke fainted and Adam took it from there:

Here, you can see how organized our orientation was. Adam had set up name tags, printed relevant documents, and provided the groups with handy notebooks to take down useful information. The Kallari office accompanied each project group accordingly. We had Judy working on promotion materials. Fabricio was working with the Community Workshop Group, naming all the food he could possibly think of. Leonor and Carlos were swept off their feet to work with Growth Planning... and by the end of it, everyone´s heads were spinning.

The most important part, though, is that the alumni worked with the community parter, one-on-one. And Brooke was happy. Adam was happy. And Anna was ecstatic because the rainforest is like her favorite place ever. Period.

Carlos gave a kind welcoming speech to the alumni. He said that everyone thinks that the Cooperative is crazy, but they dreamed their dream and here they are earning more money for their farmers. There was a small part inside of me that stood and applauded when he said, ¨Welcome to Kallari´s house. We are glad you are here.¨ As students preparing for the trip, the moment could not have been any more rewarding.
During our orientation, Robin Millman learned how to make a cornsheller for the first time. As an educator, she was charged with working with the community face-to-face to help them learn more about design and creativity. As a non-native speaker, however, Robin insisted that Adam run the workshop. Here, you can see her doing a fab job at putting together a cornsheller. An impromptu workshop was called as the Kallari technicians showed up on the scene, and Fabricio started pounding away. It was a preview of what was to come tomorrow at 8:30 am when we started the real thing! I´ll give you a sneak preview though.. Robin and Shahla rocked their community interactions and made everyone feel at home. Big kudos to their open ears and hearts. You think that´s cheesy? Just you wait!
After a long three hours of saying hello to Kallari, we trekked our way south for 40 more minutes to the Cabañas. The place is a solar-panel run with rainwater harvesting sort of hostal. It serves dinner, breakfast, and packs lunch in beautiful banana leaves to cut down on its environmental impact. The lodge is 1.2 km from the main road, inside the jungle, alongside the Rio Napo. Here is the view.

When we arrived, however, the hostel was not like the hostel we saw on the internet...


Hello all,
Apologies for the hiatus, but a thundering herd of alumni, coordinators, and travel guides charged through the last ten days of our lives.

Anna remains in Ecaudor to tie off the rest of the loose ends while Brooke and Adam travel another 48 hours from the jungle back to the dessert. The community is far from internet connection, but they will make valiant stabs to blog as best they can.

To tide you over until we are able to blog in detail again, here are some photos of the beautiful scenery between Quito and Tena:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Getchya ´self oriented

If you want pictures, scroll down. You want information? Let's talk.

My grandma is always the first one to read our blog. No joke. She sent me an e-mail today and said, "Good post, but a little scattered." And so per her request, we´re gonna do a run down:
  1. Alumni? I thought it was you two students doing service in Ecuador...
  2. Who´s Anna?
  3. Corn-what?
  4. When did this all happen?
  5. !!!
Adam and I have been spending the last month figuring out the detailed schedules of 9 lucky alumni who dedicated this week to service through the Alumni Association and the Public Service Center. We have chosen Ecuador due to heavy D-Lab involvement (among many other reasons). A particular reason was La Anna.

Anna Waldman-Brown is a physics major at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This will be her third time to Ecuador. Last January, she was here to scout out possible partners and to build up relationships between Ecuadorian organizations and MIT. That´s where Adam I entered.

In our month of work here before the alumni arrived, we attempted to make matches between the skills of our Alumni with the needs of Kallari. It is an incredible opportunity to expose the Alumni to the complexities of international development and partnerships, which they might not have had during their time at MIT. In the words of one alum (more or less), "in my day, there was not an interest in public service. My parents did not have a stable job during the Depression, and it was instilled in me that I needed a career. We all worked for companies and didn't have the chance to really engage with the international community like you students do."

Now Anna, Adam, and I are working as a trio to coordinate the trip's service focus.

We arrived at four different project groups. Each group will develop at its own rate, brainstorm, and come up with individual deliverables. We are excited to get some professionals working alongside Kallari.

In the IT team, we have Eberhard Wunderlich who has over 20 years (humor me, I´m recalling from memory, and so it may be more) with AT&T. Vikki Auzenne at the University of Minnesota who is building an IT start-up from the ground up (and taking classes on the side, mind you!) To design an appropriate Information Technology system to fit Kallari´s current needs with recommendations for the future. If feasible this team will also look into improving the Kallari website.

The "Growth for Planning Team" is powerhoused by Roberta Pittore, a professor at the Sloan School of Management. Her specialty is negotiation which is complemented by Erika William's experience in Silicon Valley. Erika has a myriad of skills, and her particular strength in this arena is her work with small companies in growing bigger. They will be advising Kallari on possible obstacles to be expected in the future as well as mapping out preventative actions to ensure a smooth transition into the expected rapid expansion.

The "Marketing and Tourism Group" is charged with two separate and integrated goals. (1) To design and draft print a non-technical brochure, in many languages, that includes the history and goals of Kallari. This brochure will be used for general promotion during presentations and other events. (2) To research, critique, and recommend how to realistically begin Kalalri´s tourism branch as soon as possible. The team will experience many trial tours to better understand details and logistics. They've got a dynamic mixture of Richard Millman, an aerospace defense company CEO for the past few decades, Joe Levitch, PSC Leadership Council Member and human resource consultant, and Deanna Griffith, designer by day and mechanical engineerg by night!

The Community Workshop group is blessed with the sweet and feisty Robin Millman who is a life-long teacher infused with passion and endearing nutritionist, Shahla Wunderlich. They will promote better nutrition and appropriate corn shelling technologies in a hands-on workshop with representatives from Kallari communities.

Right, so... onto the pictures.

The alumni climb off the bus to go on a contextualizing, educational tour

A street in Old Quito during our town tour.

Architecture! "Some church facade. I can't remember." The alumni are really absorbing.

Our first lunch together at the Choza (the shack) where projects were passed out and the chaos exploded.

Our presentation at the Ministry of Agriculture with Engineer Juan Carlos Barrazueta was about the cacao of Ecuador in the global perspective.

A piece of art by Ecuador's most famous painter, Oswaldo Guayasamín, who painted the emotion and story of his fellow indigeous. Read more here.

After a fabulous jungle native lunch of tilapia, yucca, and plantain soup, we took a picture with the Kallari staff members. Later we split up into groups. One went to Pachamama to have an exchange of ideas and the other stayed to work with the cafe's IT and design needs.

Oh, and here's Kathryn and some kids on the streets shining her shoes. After this photo was taken, the price was raised by double.

To wrap this up... in a short sentence: There's more than meets the eye. I wish I could write more, but the night is old! More explanations to come later and later and later.

The Alums Arrive

Hey from Quito!

All of the alumni arrived yesterday, and as you can see in the picture below, Anna's all decked out in her MIT gear for the welcoming. Yes, she is indeed wearing three name tags.

While we are in Quito, we are working towards preparing ourselves with the background knowledge and skills needed for when we travel to Tena. This means getting familiar with the context of Ecuador, learning more about our community service partner Kallari, and most importantly, learning each other's names. One of the things we are most excited about is the technology transfer of the corn sheller (pictured at the bottom of the blog on alovely ghanian skirt that Anna brought here!) We have been preparing for a community workshop for the 21 indigenous farming areas in which Kallari works. We plan to do some creative capacity building with a fun ice breaker, teaching about the corn sheller and its function, some critical thinking sessions about how to improve the sheller, a nutritional stint, and then a nice LUNCH!

Wait a minute, hold your breath. What?! That's a ton of stuff to fit into one day. And believe me, some of the alumni have been feeling the overwhelming rush as the ol' MIT firehose comes shooting back with loads of seemingly contextless information (thank you to Joe Levitch for throwing the MIT terminology out there). Remember that feeling? Course ya do.

So tomorrow, we will be focusing on giving everyone more direction, understanding how it all fits together, and how we can really focus on service to make a lasting difference.

The better question is.. how lasting can the difference be if our experts will only be here for a week?

Stay tuned....

Friday, July 16, 2010

It rained very hard last night.

 What a cool parrot!!!

Dear readers,

Yesterday was the best day of eating, ever.  Let me explain... We recently moved to another hostel that is off the beaten road and a bit further in the jungle. No one is around to cook us meals anymore like Vilma would do every morning, lunch, and dinner so we have to do it ourselves now.

Yesterday morning, we had a great omelet with tea sort of morning, and as we started to clean up, a parrot poked its head through the kitchen window. Window is a relative term since there are barely walls to begin with, just a few pieces of bamboo and what have you. The parrot was pretty cool, since we had only ever seen him from afar. His name is Roger.

It carefully entered the window and proceeded to poke its way down the side of a cabinet, using its beak as a hand while gripping tightly with his feet. It got a bit closer and you could see all the parts of its feathers and its little eyes searching the room ...


That´s right. Roger zeroed in on Adam´s foot and charged. Luckily, Adam dodged the attack, and I managed to jump out of Roger´s second launch.  I stood on a chair while Adam grabbed a stool to fend the crazy bird off. Down, Roger, down! But this thing was relentless. It finally caught hold of Adam´s shoe and began to nibble bits off. I could only imagine that those black pieces of rubber could have been fleshy nibs of Adam´s foot, and I was glad that Roger´s crazed taste buds couldn´t tell the difference. Shoeless, Adam backed away and called for the owner of the hostel. I stared at Roger from on top of the stool, and Adam strategically edged towards the door.

Finally, Señor Mazon came over to calm Roger down, and give him a piece of corn. Later that night, we had a run in with another animal, much less fierce though. Ants, marching across a bridge with pieces of leaves. 

The morning after, all that remained were the leaves. A trail as if the ants had all just decided to abandon work. I think the rain must have swept them away.  Before you stop reading, just take one more look at Roger´s eyes in that top picture. Not so cool anymore, huh? Just ... hungry.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

STEP 1.5 in "bean to bar": Dia de Compras

We forgot a step from our last post: step 1.5, which is to go around to every farm and collect the cacao from each farmer.

(1) Farm
(1.5) Buying Day and Collection
(2) Collection and Drying Center
(3) Chocolate Factory
(4) Kallari Cafe

Oops, but here it is now!


At 6:30 am, we need to be at the Collection and Drying Center.

"Make sure to bring money for lunch, water for the day, and your patience. Tomorrow we'll be traveling to Kallari's communities and making cacao purchases from the farmers."

At 6:00am, I was still shoveling food into my mouth. Egg sandwich, yogurt, and whatever else I could manage to gulp while simultaneously trying to keep my eyes open. Here is the Centro de Acopios at 6:28:46, when we arrived:

We tried to entertain ourselves while we waited (not too hard, since we already crack each other up without trying) and one of the results was this picture:

ME, holding my favorite rock! Looks crazed, huh? It's 6:30 in the morning, what can you expect? (Hey Grandma Judy! It was like the worry stone from Ireland you gave me. A nice little stone bump to rub. PS I still have that!).

About 30 minutes later, Miguel, a quiet Kichwa farmer strolled up the hill at a leisurely pace. We all said good morning and sat quietly, enjoying the sounds around us. A taxi roared up the hill with Jorge in tow. As he got out of the taxi, he laughed. His eyes looked relieved, "And I was in such a hurry!" A few minutes later, Miguel picked up a grasshopper by its leg from the fence. We watched it breath and flutter.

Finally Juan arrived with the keys, and we took off in a taxi at 8:00 am. Lady Gaga's Bad Romance played loud and proud as we cut through the city streets of Tena. The taxista knew the neighborhood and his car well. It wasn't long before my head was bobbing up and down across the rough gravel roads, and rocks were flying into the underbody of the pick-up. This is one of the bridges we crossed over as we rushed towards the community. Steel bridge knowledge in tow, Adam reassured me that it would not fall down as we drove over it. But I was still scared..

The truck had 4 blue barrels, a tripod to hold the scale, a taxi driver, and 5 passengers (one of which had a wad of cash to buy cacao). We travelled from 8am until 1pm from the Centro de Acopios to Punibocana to Altoposuno and back to the Centro de Acopios. Both of these communities are on the community map that was posted on the ecoalum site, can you find them? We are thinking of returning to Punibocana for some community workshops... here is the view:

(Altoposuno above)
(Altoposuno above)
(Punibocana above)

Cacao can grow in the forest without perfect rows of trees or extensive fertilizer or even insecticide. If you have enough patience and dedication (or time!) to brush fungus and ants off new budding flowers that will later be mazorcas, the red pods will dot the lush greenery on their own. Around the corner from the last picture in Punibocana...

We were doing business. Don't you wish this was your office?

Here, you can see Jorge communicating with the cacao farmers about prices and procedures. As Byron directed us through the maze of gravel roads, I hung my head out the window like a dog hungry for sunshine. Why would any one want to live anywhere else? Turns out, the houses in Altoposuno and Punibocana are on stilts for tigers. Other houses that are close to rivers use them to avoid flood damage. I slapped a mosquito on my leg, and realized that paradise may never be found. But as Adam recently pointed out, there's just about everything here: tiger meat, water, sun, farms of every kind, lush vegetation... and a whole ton of bugs.

In the first community, Punibocana, Byron greeted farmers with small talk about the harvest or follow up with business from the last collection while Adam and Miguel set up the scale. Jorge shuffled through his papers and ran his finger down the list that tells which farmer is organic and which isn't. Byron says that they already know everyone, but they check just in case.

Benoit, the student doing research on organic certification and the rainforest alliance stamp of approval, says that most cacao farmers "grow their crops organically by default. They can't afford fertilizer in the first place."

Alex, another student doing complementary research told us that "the certification is something that seems to be mostly for advertising purposes. The farmers don't understand what it means or why it is important. But people abroad are willing to pay for it."

Vilma's husband, Raul, says that Kallari is being fooled by farmers who say they are organic but use chemicals at key points during the cacao tree's life. Vilma chimed in and said that other farmers sell to the intermediaries behind Kallari's back... with the harvest from cacao trees that Kallari donated! Traitors, they said... but, back to the cacoa...

First, it is weighed.

This is noted. Kallari pays 40 cents per pound that is non-organic and 50 cents per pound for organically grown cacao.

The farmer signs in acknowledgment.

And is paid accordingly.

Passing up the cacao

Pouring it in the bins

And all of it mixed in, yummy!

We collected an astoundingly low amount of cacao this trip. But given that it is the end of the harvesting season, it makes a lot of sense. The farmers from Punibocana gave us most of their last harvests. In total, there was probably a little under 500 pounds.

After driving 40 minutes out to Altopusuno, we were welcomed by dead silence. No one was around besides a man and his horse. They informed us that everyone had brought their last rounds last week so we stretched our legs and congratulated one another for a job well done. In the past, collection days have taken up to 12 or 19 hours. We were done in a clean 4.

Back in the Centro de Acopios, we pour the wet cacao seeds into the fermentation bins.

Within these three levels, the cacao are left to ferment. We put the wet pepas in the top third row where temperatures are monitored and stirred meticulously. The technician knows when and how to push the seeds into the second row, and finally the bottom row for a perfect process.

Here you see our work in a wooden box, and a solar drying bed in the upper right-hand corner. The clever design let's gravity do most of the work since the seeds are pushed straight into the drying bed from the bottom row as soon as fermentation is done.

Good night and farewell!