Update on Safe Water Program

The COVID-19 pandemic is still impacting Colombia in a forceful way. As of August 25th, the 7-day average for new infections is still approx. 10,000 per day with a potential decline in the coming days.  The 7-day average for deaths exceeds 300 per day. The various levels of governments have instituted strict quarantine laws, much stricter than here in Canada but intensive care beds are in short supply in most parts. 

CAPD safe water program has been severely impacted by the pandemic.  Our implementing partner Rotary clubs with projects underway have been shutdown for many months now to comply with the quarantine restrictions and to protect their members and contracted personnel who would normally be visiting communities, managing fabrication and transport of filter components, training beneficiaries in the villages, and physically monitoring use and maintenance of filters in each beneficiary home.  The personnel contracted to work in the various aspects mentioned, have been without income for several months now and many are struggling financially.

One Rotary club is about to finish its project by redirecting a small amount of remaining funds to the delivery of masks and handwashing materials to rural families.  The delivery has been a challenge as well.

Mario Correa with filters ready to be shipped to villages.

On a more positive note, during these months of isolation, there has been some progress.  Bob has worked with various entities to finance (via Rotary and CAPD) 3 filter projects which will start up once it is safe for personnel to do so.

Our good friend and filter champion Mario Correa in Ibague has received notice that the seeds he and his Rotary club planted over the last 2 years have taken root and his club will receive funding from a large corporate foundation to benefit 50 families with filters and training. Great news indeed.  We need more friends like him!

Ivan and Rocio in a pre-COVID training session.

Ivan and Rocio of FRPG (Fundacion Red Proyecto Gente) continue to work with CAPD. They have spent their quarantine time by organizing virtual presentations, improving training materials, and following up with entities interested in co-financing filter projects once the pandemic permits them to do so.  Two entities will proceed with co-financed projects involving FRPG and CAPD, once the pandemic permits.

In the past, FRPG has done many on-site training sessions for implementers but presently this has been put on hold.  Now, they are working on delivery of virtual training sessions, although some aspects still need physical sessions.

FRPG has also been working with approximately 10 community coordinators from existing projects to complete “Certificates of Qualification”.  This is a certification program, developed and promoted by CAWST (Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology), which validates the skills and knowledge of the coordinators.  This program is very attractive for coordinators who may be looking for work with other entities involved in household water treatment and who need some tangible evidence for their resume.  

We thank Ivan and Rocio of FRPG for their continued dedication and leadership in training and development, and our Rotary Partners for pursuing opportunities even during this difficult time.


Green Light response to the pandemic

Green Light Education Assistance Program

Over the last years, Green Light has grown from a program that rewards students who achieve a 75% average with uniforms, shoes and school supplies, to a program that encourages community projects. These projects are aimed at developing common community goals that lead to environmental and financial well-being. They also provide student and parent training in subjects such as substance abuse, inter-family relationships, entrepreneurship and saving.  The latter two subjects are prepared by Investing Hope Foundation (IHF) and delivered by Green Light Facilitators and Coordinators.

The school year started mid-January allowing the uniform and school kits to be delivered pre-COVID to 395 students in Santander and 174 students in Guajira. But activity on community projects came to an abrupt halt in March with the onset of lockdown in Colombia.  

The first post-lock down action was to provide food packages to the families involved in the program.

Soon, the Savings and Entrepreneurship programs got up and running using a combination of virtual and face-to-face meetings. Virtual training sessions on budgeting were provided to Gema Savings groups (20 in Santander and a pilot group in Guajira). To date these groups have saved 41.572.700 COP or $14,560 CAD.

The students were likewise engaged in entrepreneurship activities. Pre-COVID they sold candy, cake, and raffles.

Those activities have largely been suspended but virtual training modules continue to be delivered on topics such as self-care during COVID-19 and the value of entrepreneurship. The savings and entrepreneurship groups will continue until the end of October.

As in Canada, virtual education is challenging due to many factors. The Green Light program is currently engaged in surveying students to better understand their situation. Our goal is to find supportive strategies to help our students reach their academic goals despite the pandemic.

A bouquet to Green Light Facilitators and Coordinators who are leading their communities through difficult times by staying in contact with students and families, offering virtual training, and organizing activities within the pandemic guidelines. Thanks to the IHF for continuing to roll out their training modules and for their oversight through audits.  

We are very thankful that Green Light families are infection-free to date.


CAPD programs during COVID 19

Hello Everyone,

As Colombia learns to deal with the shock of the pandemic, new ways of providing service while keeping vulnerable populations safe are created. FANDIC is a case in point.

The Bucaramanga municipality contracted FANDIC to provide service to 72 vulnerable children and their families. FANDIC developed home programs designed to meet the general needs of those children enrolled in school (26%), those who are independent, semi-independent, and dependent.

Home program instruction kits are provided to the families on a weekly basis. Professionals (occupational therapist, physiotherapist and 2 psychologists) make up the kits and provide individual interventions by telephone, WhatsApp, zoom or whatever media the family prefers.

The parent or caregiver uses the instruction kits to provide therapy to their child with the positive result that parents are participating even more than before COVID. It is, in effect, a powerful example of the effectiveness of empowering families to take charge while providing backup professional assistance.     

This method of working has been a huge adjustment for everyone and certainly more work for professionals and staff. But is has been worth it. Parents are compliant and thankful to have the support of FANDIC. The kits are working well as well as virtual counselling by professionals. The evidence is in their feedback and videos sent of their home treatment sessions.

Please have a look at this short video made by FANDIC about a month ago. English subtitles are posted on the pictures: https://www.dropbox.com/s/04cfb7t1zjyw9jz/VID-20200727-english.mp4?dl=0

It is our intention to provide you, our friends and donors, information on how our programs are coping during the pandemic. Bob and I have suspended our plans to make personal visits until some indeterminate time in the future.    

Thanks for your interest and support,


Custom wheelchairs change lives

Yorcelis with Martha, Coordinator in La Guajira, her mother and John, the engineer.

Yorcelis was simply overjoyed to receive her new chair. She made that quite clear from the moment she locked eyes on it. You can tell by the picture that her house is surrounded by sand; in fact, it is separated from the main highway by a sand road of 12 km. This new chair makes life easier for her and her mother to go to medical appointments.

Alina with Juan Jose in Monteria.

Not all the chairs we provide are new. Many are recycled and refurbished. The chair above has had at least 4 different occupants and is our favourite for small children of 3-4 years.

Members of the Rotary club Ronda del Sinu in Monteria and Marlene pose with Johan in his newly refurbished stroller.

It is a team effort. The local Rotary clubs identify the children to be evaluated and provide all the logistical work. Marlene from CAPD connects the Rotarians with the team at Asodispie plus brings experience and therapeutic skills to the project.

Gerbi with his mother in La Guajira. His chair is a new one to meet his current needs.

The short time I spend with families, gives me an tiny insight into their lives. I meet parents, mostly mothers, some of whom are foster mothers of children abandoned due to their disability. I see the love and care these children receive and realize that they are indeed a gift because our interaction with them helps us to become more human.

I have visited Gerbi and his mother for 4 years. I feel his mother and I connect in a way that is special to me. That connection has a history that speaks of listening, solving issues together, empathy and love. It is in our eyes and in our hearts.

This project is jointly financed by CAPD and our partners, Rotary Club Ronda del Sinu of Monteria, Rotary Foundation Manos Solidarias of Cerrejon, and by Asodispie in Santander. Our technical team in Asodispie consists of John (engineer), Jorge (technician) and Oscar (treasurer).

Thank you to all who have participated with your interest and donations.


Safe Water Project in Ipiales

As part of the CAPD safe water program, Bob visits Rotary clubs in Colombia that are doing filter projects, mostly funded by Global Grants from The Rotary Foundation.  Something new that CAPD started in 2018 is a training program for community volunteers who live among the families receiving water filters.  These volunteers help the Rotary Community Coordinator in organizing community meetings, solve simple problems, and answer families’ questions when the Rotarians or the Community Coordinator is not there.  The initial training is a 2-day workshop at the beginning of the project with a follow-up refresher one year after the project gets underway.  Ivan Castro and Rocio Robayo have been delivering this training, sometimes at CAPD expense and sometimes at the Rotary project expense.

Ivan and Rocio, trainers and facilitators of the Safe Water Program.

Ivan, Rocio and I delivered such training in Ipiales in late 2018, , a city of 140,000, located right on the Ecuador border.  The area is at very high altitude (more than 3,000 meters) so it is cold, very fertile and gets lots of rain.  There are many small landholders who grow crops such as potatoes, broccoli and many other vegetables, within sight of the city.

Potato field, one example of crops in this zone.

The refresher training started off in an indigenous community called “12 de Octubre” where the 3 of us divided into separate groups, each including a Community Volunteer. Each group visited 4-5 homes and noted the physical aspects of the filters, familial processes and volunteer processes.  Later we reviewed our observations and found that the only problems encountered were the lack of a chlorine dropper bottle and incorrect outlet tube lengths .

Group members included Bob, Evan and Rocio, Rotarians from the Ipiales club and Community Volunteers.
Community volunteers are not paid but receive a shirt and a book bag with the program logo among other perks.

This tour and discussion was followed by a massive lunch at 10 am in the morning – they called it a light refreshment. We were in BIG TROUBLE because we knew the community in Guacuan, the next stop, was preparing a huge lunch for the entire community.

In Colombian culture one should shake hands with everyone, and I must say, it took a while.
Bob looked in a few pots and the ladies had been busy – a big pot of Sancocho soup, a pot with 3 kg of rice, another pot of boiled potatoes, and a monster pot of chopped up chicken.

Of course, as guests, we got the biggest portions.  Bob managed the soup but his main plate went back to community members who are more than happy to take leftovers home. 

Next came the speeches and photo opportunities with children, individual families and everyone together

Bob addressing the community.

The feedback from families using the filters was very gratifying.  Biological contamination in this area is extreme and people had been boiling their water with natural gas or wood in the past.  This was no longer necessary with the filters – and the water tasted great!

Bob visits with children from the community.

A couple stories.  Rumour has it that men prefer to drink filtered water after a night of hard drinking, because they wake up in the morning without a tummy ache.  Another gentleman stated that he preferred filtered water when making his guarapo (home brew) because it was sweeter. To each his own! 

Fernando, a 5-year old.

For me the most touching story was this little boy Fernando who, at 5 years, is small for his age. His mother is a conscientious Community Volunteer in the sector ’12 de Octubre’.  Because we were squished in the truck Fernando rode on my lap in the front seat.  As we were passing the Hospital in Ipiales, he pointed it out.  At 5 years of age he knew it well.  He and his mother had visited there several times when he had acute diarrhea. Now that they have a filter, they no longer need to visit the hospital to be treated for diarrhea.

How gratifying!


What does it take to save?

How much do you need to save in order to do a home renovation such as putting a tile floor into your house? Or to send your son or daughter to university? To pay for those orthodontic treatments your child needs?

All these were saving goals mentioned by members of the GEMA savings group. This program is sponsored by the Investing Hope Foundation (IHF) and facilitated by the Green Light Education Assistance program.

Members wrote 3 saving goals, each on a separate paper. The savings goals were then categorized. Goal categories were: Home improvements, travel, education of their children, purchases such as a camera, to pay for emergencies, to start a business.

Saving isn’t a habit for these women but nevertheless they have been doing it since June. There are 17 GEMA groups in Santander, most in rural areas. Membership ranges from 13 – 18 members per group. They meet once a month, but are required to save a minimum of 3000 pesos ($1.40 CAD) each week. From June to September they saved a total of 21,600,000 COP or roughly $10,000 CAD.

Rocio teaches them a method to calculate the amount they need to save on a monthly and weekly basis to reach their goal(s) using a spread sheet.

Materials such as a booklet on saving and calculators were provided by the IHF. They also provide training to Rocio who in turn, trains group facilitators. IHF also provides oversight to the program three times per year.

Members from Los Teres GEMA group getting down to work on their savings spread sheet.
This member was clear on her goal. She wanted to save 300,000 pesos ($140) in 6 months to purchase 20 chickens, which meant saving 12,500 ($5.80) per week.

Some members found the spread sheet exercise easy but for others it was a new experience. Many did not have a clear savings goal or know how much their goals would cost. BUT they helped each other and, in the end, everyone was able to do the exercise.

I was very curious to know how people with no saving culture managed to save. The two women above provide examples but the majority of the members save by spending less. I was astonished when they admitted that it was easy to save. However, they had not been saving on a regular basis. Instead they had been scraping money together by one means or the other to meet emergency expenses. Stressful!

It is our hope that the GEMA groups will encourage members to continue to save and to invest their savings in small business ventures. Our goal and their goal? To improve quality of life for themselves and their children.


Entrepreneurship for families with disability

The previous blog spoke about an entrepreneurship project with students. This blog presents an entrepreneurship project in FANDIC that involves people with disability and their families. This project received funding from the Rotary Club of Calgary South.

The purpose of this micro-enterprise project is to provide an employment opportunity for disadvantaged people. Selected individuals were invited to participate in training offered by the Chamber of Commerce on topics such as entrepreneurship, administration and finance. Some used the training to improve their own businesses; others are involved in this micro-business project. Many save their earnings in a Gema Savings Group (more about that later).

The sales booth in the Mesa de los Santos. Pictured from the right are Marcela (project coordinator), Bryanda (Fandic treasurer), Adela (vendor), Marlene (CAPD), and Bob (CAPD and member of the Calgary South Rotary Club).

The booth sells Sweets and Chocolates Caballero, products developed by Isidoro Caballero, the ‘chocolate’ man I wrote about last year and whose products are now registered with the Colombian food and drug agency. Adela, the vendor, is a member in the Gema savings group in her zone.

Products on sale at the booth.

A variety of items are available at the booth including candies, chocolate for making chocolate milk (with and without sweetener), chocolates filled with fruit and coconut, and FANDIC’s pound cake.

Andres (Fandic driver) demonstrates the compactness of the booth. The booth fits into the backpack he is wearing and weighs very little.

Andres sets up the booths in the Sunday Farmer’s markets while Marcela goes through inventory with the vendor. FANDIC currently has booths at 2 Sunday markets and a booth in a 15-day market to sell handmade products. Their plan is to continue increasing the number of booths, thus providing opportunity for more people.

Marcela and Andres (right) pose with the vendor, Carmen, and her daughter Myra (left).

Myra, a young client of FANDIC, receives on-the-job training in sales from her mother. Her enthusiastic approach to life has won the hearts of fellow vendors. For her mother Carmen, this micro business is an opportunity to add to the meager family income. She is also part of a Gema savings group.

Mrya provides information on the products I am buying – a box of fruit-filled chocolates and chocolate for making hot chocolate.

You bet I’ll be back to buy more chocolate goodies next week!


“YES” to Entrepreneurship

Last November, Bob, Rocio Nuñez (National Coordinator of the Green Light Program (GL)) and I visited the Investing Hope Foundation in Bogota to learn about their entrepreneurship program with school children. Impressive to say the least!

YES group in Mesa de los Santos

This year, the program was brought to Santander where there are 6 groups, two in rural schools and 4 in Fandic. Group size ranges between 12 and 18 students. Seeing this is a pilot year, Rocio is facilitator of all the groups but she will provide training to other facilitators with the GL program so programs can be opened in other schools next year.

Bob and I visited the Yes Groups in the Mesa de los Santos and in Fandic. We were enamored with the enthusiasm with which the program has taken hold and will try transmit some of this enthusiasm from them to you.

Students submit earnings.

First order of business is for the students to submit their earnings to the elected committee who records the intake and the balance between earnings and the amount owed for raw materials.

Students select sweets to put on the skewers.

Rocio shows them how the skewer or “pincho” is to be constructed. Students select a 3 large candies and 4 small candies for each pincho.

Two Fandic children construct their Pincho

Then they begin to construct their pincho. Those in Fandic receive assistance in helping them with the process. It is used as a teaching moment to teach numbers, colours and relative size. It also helps to improve dexterity.

The pincho is wrapped in a bag and secured with a ribbon.

The pincho sells for $0.50 of which the student earns $0.25. Besides the pincho, the students sell pound cake baked in the Fandic bakery, chocolates made by Isidoro’s chocolate factory, and candy bags. Since July, the two groups in the Mesa have sold 1,433 pinchos and 996 pieces of pound cake for a total of 822,000 COP or $411.00 in savings.

The children sell to family and friends. Some of them have pre-orders. Their earnings go into a box and accounts are triple checked. At the end of the year, they have the option of opening a savings account in the local bank. They can either withdraw the money or continue to save. Some saving goals are the purchase of clothing, a telescope, a camera and for travel.

A Mother poses with her pre-school daughter and her niece.

Parents are anxious for their children to become involved in the program because they recognize the value. The smallest girl on the left is 5 years old. Her mother on the right told her what to do, but she made the pincho. The middle girl is a cousin, who was quite productive!

Entrepreneurship and saving have taken hold! More on this topic in weeks to come.


What’s happening in Colombia?

It has been a long time since I have contributed to this blog but that doesn’t mean that lots hasn’t been going on! Our Colombian partners have been very active in our absence! And soon, we will see their new initiatives with our own eyes (and camera) so I can show them to you.

But in the meantime, to whet your appetite, I’d like to present you with a link to a new product from ASODISPIE. It is called HandBike and it converts a manual wheelchair into an electric wheelchair that can travel over rough, unpaved paths.


The engineer who developed this product is John Portilla. The HandBike is a by-product from technology developed in a larger project supported by the Rotary Club of Calgary South (Bob’s club) to recover abandoned electric wheelchairs whose electrical components had failed. John developed an “in-house” electrical control that is many times less expensive than the foreign one. More about this topic in a future blog.

For now, I invite you to view a short 1:20 minute video showing the features of the handbike. Please click on the link to see the video: https://youtu.be/2yaPBrqz-Oo .

Talk again soon,


Update on the “Chocolate Man”

Remember Isidoro, the man with the chocolate factory, that I wrote about in May 2018? At the time of writing, he was looking to raise funds so he could register his products with Invima, Colombia’s food and drug regulatory agency.

Isidoro in his old store.

The first piece of good news is that Isidoro is now in the process of registering one line of business, the one that produces chocolates and candies. He thinks that once he is is able to increase the distribution of these products, he will raise sufficient funds to register the second line, the chocolate used for hot chocolate.

The front of the new store, looking in.

The second piece of good news, is that Isidoro and his new partner opened a new store in a high traffic area. The new store is located about an hour from Bucaramanga and overlooks the reservoir created by Sogamosa Dam. The view is beautiful.

View from Isidoro’s new store.

I was there a week after it opened, so much of the potential of the new location is yet to be realized. At that moment, one could only purchase chocolate products and beverages.

Customers making decisions on what to purchase.

While others relax and enjoy the view.

This location has lots of potential for menu expansion as well as for other services, according to Isidoro’s partner. We wish them success!!

This is a “special interest” blog as Isidoro is not a CAPD project. He is, however, a friend who warms our hearts with his accomplishments.