Banner photo for CACE report #26
Dear GlobalGiving supporter,
I admit that I had planned to write a succinct letter like ones that many non-profit organizations send to their supporters in December that sum up their accomplishments for the year with one last request for a donation. In a quiet moment, however, I decided not to write about what we did because what kept coming to me were images of people I have appreciated so much for their help in different ways. I am proud that we now work with over fifteen villages in the northern Peruvian Amazon, but putting this report together made it clear that it takes a lot more than one or fifteen villages to do what we do. It needs artisans dedicated to improving their craft and helping each other; it needs our super-committed small team in Peru; it needs scores of volunteers giving us their time and expertise, it needs hundreds of people buying our partner’s crafts; it needs partnerships with trusted organizations, and it needs individuals and foundations willing to show their faith in our work with gifts of $10, $100, $1000 or $10,000. I hope you enjoy learning about some of the people who made a difference with us in 2017.
It would take a book to share the best stories about the artisans we work with, but a few touched me deeply this year. Doilith is part of a family group of artisans we've worked with in Jenaro Herrera since 2007. While they began making some cool insect ornaments years ago, Doilith has taken this art to a new level. She has used photos and caught butterflies near the forest to draw figures of new species in a special notebook and then used those colorful patterns to carefully weave chambira palm fiber into beautiful replicas of these species. Earlier this year, she went to Brillo Nuevo with us to show Bora native artisans how to make their own butterfly ornaments. I was so impressed with her natural teaching ability, care and patience with other artisans. See more at: Butterflies and Dora’s family group of artisans.
I first met Estelita in 2008 as one of the artisans who wove beautiful chambira baskets in the campesino village of Chino on the Tahuayo River. As President of their association, she has helped her fellow artisans develop new products, create norms for quality control and chambira management, build an artisan house with support from an eco-tourism company, and win respect for women artisans from their husbands and community. She has earned trust from her peers by exploring new ideas, acting with purpose and integrity, and making decisions by building consensus. When we organized the Artisan Leadership Program that brought together artisans from more than a dozen communities, Estelita inspired them as well by sharing her encouragement, insights and energetic approach to every challenge. See more at: and Bringing artisans together and getting out of the way and Artisan leaders gather in Nauta to share info, ideas and fun.
Most of our partner artisans are women, but we happily work with male artisans as well. We bought a lot of calabash tree pod ornaments from a master carver named Rider from the village of Puca Urquillo, but when he hesitated to share his skills with other artisans for awhile, Lucio from Brillo Nuevo stepped up and said he would do his best to teach others. He didn’t have Rider’s talent for carving animals from an idea in his head, but giving Lucio photos created an avalanche of beautiful designs of courting herons, hummingbirds pollinating flowers, and otters fishing. His patience, attention to detail and openness to feedback has made his work the gold standard in the Ampiyacu and better than every carver in Iquitos. We are fortunate he is also an avid teacher to the growing number of teenage and mature artisans who want to learn this craft.
Another innovative male artisan we have just began to work with is 16 year-old Heriberto from the village of San Francisco on the Maranon River. He first learned to weave chambira from his mother and then improved living with his artisan uncle. Heriberto has used his imagination, creativity, and photos to create the best new models of Amazonian birds we’ve seen so far. These include complicated species like the chestnut eared aracari and marvelous spatule tail hummingbird. He is also a cheerful and capable teacher who is enthusiastic about sharing his talents with artisans in the Maranon and beyond. See more at: Exploring egrets and new partners on the Maranon River.
My first visit to the Cocama village of Amazonas in 2016 was marked with a stark contrast. Their artisans warmly welcomed me and demonstrated how they dyed chambira fiber with several plants. Their crafts, however, were mediocre compared to ones I saw in nearby San Francisco. While most artisans initially react with anger or sulleness when we don't buy their crafts, Francisca (“Panchita”), the Amazonas artisan association president told me “Thank you for sharing your honest comments about our work. Please tell us how we can make them better.” Her forthright approach reflected her attitude that shifted when she and her family almost drowned in a river accident when she resolved that just being an average artisan was not good enough. Panchita wants herself and her colleagues to become great artisans, and their improvement in the past two years has been dramatic. There was no better for feeling for me last year than seeing smiles of pride on Amazonas artisan faces when I bought one or more of their woven birds, turtles or baskets. They had worked hard to make better crafts and they knew it. See more at: Second chance to become a great artisan.
CACE Staff in Peru
It is difficult to overstate my gratitude for our project manager Yully. She joined us as substitute field assistant on one trip to the Ampiyacu in 2009 and has been the core of our work in Peru ever since. Yully had already worked on ecological field studies under tough conditions and had experience working with forest-based communities. With CACE she has led teams of men searching for copal resin in primary forests, trained farmers to measure rosewood trees in their fields, handled every aspect of our work with artisans, organized the logistics of bringing together workshop participants from five river systems, managed delicate relationships with partner villages, federations, governmental and non-governmental partners, and taken care of our administrative, equipment, and housing needs in Iquitos. We have no accomplishment in Peru that has not been facilitated by her hard work, versatility and integrity. One particular challenge was sensing when if was OK to approach and when we had to back away from a community where some artisans want to make crafts with us but more families want to make money by growing coca. See more at: Navigating choppy community waters to make smooth bottle carriers.
We first met Tulio when he was contracted by the Field Museum to help teach photography and video skills to young people from the Ampiyacu. We next brought him on board to document our project activities. His easy rapport with people made him ideally suited to interview artisans about their lives and gather information about their economic realities. He has prepared learning materials for artisans including an illustrated resource manual, instructional videos with artisans and produced the video on the CACE GlobalGiving home page. He co-facilitated every Artisan Leadership Program workshop and showed he knows how to present serious topics in interesting and interactive ways and how and when to include fun activities that sometimes had a serious point. He has also been a great companion to share a beer, play cards in a cheap motel room, photograph a bird flying across the river, and cruise around Iquitos on his motorcycle looking for a new house for CACE.
Italo has been a field assistant with CACE since 2007 in our study of the ecology and sustainable harvest of copal resin in Jenaro Herrera. He has used his keen knowledge of the forest, woodman’s skills, and physical toughness to track resin lumps on hundreds of study trees. While Italo lacks a high level of formal education, he has dedicated himself to advancing the project and improving his literacy skills with a CACE sponsored tutor. While prospects for cost-effective harvesting of copal resin in primary forests seem tough, Italo is exploring other ways we can tap this potent aromatic resource. See more at: Letting go of the idea we love the most.
I’d like to thank several of the many people who volunteered for CACE in 2017 in both the U.S. and Peru. Retired photographer Donna first contacted us through VolunteerMatch.Org in response to our search for photo editors. Several weeks after we met at a restaurant in Ohio, she and her husband Chris arrived in Iquitos to help us. She taught our media coordinator Tulio how to take quality studio photos of our crafts, and Chris showed Yully how to maintain our shredder. They then donated Donna’s Nikon SLR camera to us when they went home three weeks later.
I was exhausted from setting up my double-tent at the Romp Bluegrass Music Festival when Tessa and a friend walked into my booth and asked if they could help. They joined the melee of arranging crafts, lights, and plastic tropical plants and then left to catch a late-night band. Tessa came back the next day and every other day until the end of the festival. Beyond helping with sales, she applied her artistic talent to create the Draw a Toucan activity that enlisted kids and adults to draw a picture of this classic tropical bird or any animal of their choosing to post on our Amazon Art Gallery.
Brenda defines the term “super volunteer.” She was a stage manager at the Philadelphia Folk Festiva and still made time to bring me bags of ice to cool my drinks and helped pack up at the end. This year, she helped set up my booth at the beginning and take down my booth at the end at both the Falcon Ridge and Philadelphia Folk Festivals. These tasks alternately include heavy lifting, ingenuity, aesthetic sensibilities, and a lof of patience. I am indebted to Brenda for hanging in there with me with humor and true grit until the last board was tucked away in the trailer at 2 or 3 am. Her amazing parents then picked up the torch and helped me run the craft sale at Lancaster Friends Meeting this fall.
Thanks to many other wonderful people who helped us at 30 other events this year. Special shout outs to the couple who helped me bail water out of the middle of my tent during the Grey Fox festival; Stu, Bill, and Phyllis who kept me laughing and fed; Lois, Nancy and Larry for their long hours of service, and Jackie who wowed me with her gift for connecting with people. Jeremy spent 100 hours helping us improve our online Amazon Forest Store. His work designing special pages will allow us to present stories and images about the people, plants and places that went into making the beautiful products made by our partner artisans.
Our board members and advisors contribute to CACE’s efforts in a whole different way. CACE directors Kat Alden, Michael Gilmore, Audrey Maretzki and Robin Van Loon are mentioned in other parts of this newsletter. Jim Finley has generously shared his experience since I walked in his door in the Penn State Forestry Dept. as a graduate student in 1995. He served on my PhD dissertation committee and has helped me brainstorm approaches to almost every major idea and CACE related challenge over breakfast for the past 12 years. Virginia Hubbs has been a key spiritual advisor, fundraising coach, and conduit to grants from the Caye Foundation. Chris Benner has connected us to students in the Everett Program at the Univ. of California at Santa Cruz who have used their media skills to put together videos to promote our sale of the Amazon Guitar Strap.
Thanks to the hundreds of people who bought crafts from CACE during 2017 at festivals, craft fairs, special events at churches, online and stores owned by friends of CACE. I especially appreciate people who have come back to our booth at the same event for two or more years in a row. Their purchases of our fair trade handicrafts topped $30,000 which broke our annual sales record. This process generates significant income for artisans and their families and helps fund improvements to heath, education and conservation in our partner communities. See more at: Did you make all of these crafts? and What does it really mean to practice fair trade?
I would like to thank a few special craft buyers: 1. Lisa C. welcomed me to the fire circle of Painkiller Ridge camp at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in 2016 and then brought a contingent by our booth in 2017 to welcome us back and encourage them to buy a craft. 2. One inebriated fellow came by our booth at the Romp Bluegrass festival late one night and attached two of our woven parrots to his hat. His inspiration opened up a new approach to marketing these ornaments that normally only perch on Christmas trees. 3. John D. bought several crafts and discussed my past and his upcoming trip to Peru for several hours. 4. Fellow vendor Quetzal drew the best bird of the season for our Amazon Art Gallery. 5. Matt and Allie put together our rainforest puzzle is less time (5 minutes) than anyone else in the summer. 6. Colleen Kattau and other musicians who bought an Amazon Guitar Strap and sang for us. 7. John Tait and his staff at Tait Trees who have sold our Christmas tree ornaments in their shop for seven years without taking any commission. 8. Susan Jermusyk – owner of the Barranquero Café in State College who hosted two craft sales and commissioned our artisan partners to make a replica of the “barranquero” bird. This is the local name in Spanish for the blue-crowned mot mot that frequents the mountainous part of Colombia where her coffee comes from.
CACE is blessed with many partnerships with fellow non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other groups. Our relationships with Camino Verde (CV) and its founder Robin Van Loon are important to CACE now and will likely become even more so in the near future. I was introduced to Robin by our board member Audrey Maretzki who was also on a foundation board that first supported CV then brought us together to support a joint project. Building on CV’s experience planting thousands of native trees at its base in the southern Peruvian Amazon, our first collaboration focused on the rosewood reforestation project in Brillo Nuevo. Three years after showing the Bora farmers how to plant the seedlings, Robin returned to show them how to prune the trees so we could extract their essential oil. Robin's team has now figured out the technical and bureaucratic aspects of managing forest lands, distilling leaves and branches and exporting the aromatic oil. CACE and CV have also cooperated on fundraising and communication projects and are exploring new ways to integrate our operations. We aim to combine our skills, assets and networks to conduct innovative research and community-based projects that conserve forests and support forest peoples. This partnership is also exciting at a personal level since Robin and I have easily shared ideas of how cooperating could amplify our impact, and developed an honest and caring dialogue to navigate this process.
It is also important to acknowlege CACE’s growing relationships with the NGO Minga Peru who introduced us to their partner communities along the Maranon River. We now work directly with some of their artisans to improve the quality, diversity and marketing of their handicrafts. Minga Peru has also supported our artisan work by hosting three of Artisan Leadership Program workshops at its Tambo Minga training center near Nauta. CACE board member and key advisor for our work in Peru since 2008 is Michael Gilmore who founded the NGO One Planet. OP conducts research, community development and conservation projects with Maijuna native communities in the Napo River region. CACE is exploring ways to further support handicraft development in these communities. CACE appreciates the work that FECONA (Federation of Native Communities of the Ampiyacu) does to support 15 native villages in the Ampiyacu watershed as well as its role in facilitating CACE’s work in this region. We much enjoyed working with their president Liz Chicaje who promoted organizing artisans in her region and giving them new opportunities to sell their crafts in Iquitos and Lima.
CACE couldn’t do any of its work without the funds to pay for our programs and staff. We very much appreciate the New England Biolabs Foundation’s support for our work in Peru since 2013. Beyond its grants, its executive director Jessica Brown has welcomed our allies Camino Verde and One Planet to NEBF’s strategic group of grantees it funds in the Amazon and connected us to our new key partner Minga Peru. Allan Thornton became a colleague during our time with Greenpeace and then supported me to gather evidence about pirate whaling in the Philippines, tiger bone trade in Indonesia and illegal logging in Honduras after he founded the Environmental Investigation Agency. Many thanks to Allan and EIA for its grant to CACE in 2017 and renewing its support for us in 2018. Patricia Shanley has supported my work to develop the sustainable harvest and marketing of non-timber forest products since we both worked in Brazil in the late 1990’s. She has been an invaluable advisor to CACE and sponsored several Amazon handicraft sales at her home. This year she and her husband Chris facilitated a vital grant to CACE from the Melza and Frank Theodore Barr Foundation. I could not have strated CACE in 2006 without the faith and gifts of Sheri and Dayton Coles. Their welcome support and keen interest in our progress and challenges continues to this day. Kat Alden is another charter CACE backer and friend whose positive energy, ideas, and financial support (with her husband Bill) has been critical. I also sincerely thank many friends and family members whose regular donations have kept us going and growing.
Finally, thanks to Emily James and other staffers at GlobalGiving who have created a unique platform to direct donations to CACE and thousands of other worthy projects. This year Emily selected me to be part of the first GG mentor program. She also acted as our liaison to a GG ambassador visit to our field sites in Peru and arranged for CACE to offer its crafts to GG staff at its office in Washington, D.C. during the holiday season. In addition to supporting platform partners to improve their online fundraising, GG also provides numerous valuable opportunities to help its members communicate more effectively with the people they were created to serve.
Doilith showing artisan to make woven butterfly
Estelita measuring baskets with artisans
Lucio with carved calabash rattle ornaments
Heriberto with bird ornaments
Panchita with woven egret tray
Yully with artisans at workshop
Tulio photographing coati
Italo monitoring resin lumps on copal tree
Donna with artisan, capybara and squirrel monkey
Tessa and the Draw a Toucan game at CACE booth
Volunteer Brenda with spatule tail hummingbird
Lisa with woven bottle carrier at CACE booth
Quetzal bird drawing at CACE booth
Matt and Allie and rainforest puzzle at CACE booth
Colleen Kattau playing with Amazon guitar strap
Hoatzin and aracari ornaments at Tait tree farm
Robin and rosewood crew in the rain
Emira from Minga Peru coaching audio interview
Liz C. - Artisan and past FECONA president
Jessica Brown (NEBF) and Campbell Plowden
Sheri and Dayton Coles
CACE board member Kat Alden