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: .

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.



In Memory of Armero, Tolima

I had not really internalized the scope of the tragedy that occurred during the night in November 1985, when the volcano Nevada del Ruiz erupted and caused massive and fast-moving mud slides into 6 drainage areas.  The best known of these was the tragedy that befell the municipality of Armero, Tolima, Colombia where 25,000 of the 40,000 inhabitants perished in a few hours.  Those who were not buried suffered from acid burns since the mud mixture contained high amounts of sulphur.

Monument to those who lost their lives. Note the grave marker to the right of Bob’s foot.

This monument gives one a sense of what lies below. The mud zone has reverted to bush over the years, but the bush is littered with grave markers where families died.

What was once the 4rth floor, has become the first floor.

The building you see in the photo was actually the 4th floor of the hospital.

This rock was moved 14 km.

This rock had been a well-known fixture in a stream 14 km upstream from where it landed.

This monument is where the police station stood and where 35 police died.

While there were warning signs that the volcano was about to erupt, there was a simultaneous distraction occurring in Bogota which paralyzed the national government.  This Bogota event was the takeover of the Supreme Court (Palacio de Justicia)  by the armed group M-19.  The outpouring of foreign assistance to help Armero survivors  was truly impressive and  components of that assistance still are in evidence in the region today.

Many survivors ended up in a neighbouring town called Armero Guayabal but the tragedy lives on in their hearts and continues to shape the tourism industry in the region.





Green Light Program Highlights

In November, I toured communities where the Green Light (GL) education assistance program is active. Frankly, I was blown away by the enthusiasm of parents and their projects. This blog presents highlights.


Parent group in la Purnia school.

The parents in the photo above are pretty enthusiastic about their project to raise money for school improvement projects such as a library, a garden of flowering plants and trees, and recycling. First, they planted corn, some of which they sold, and from the remainder they made a typical corn-based snack for sale. They used those funds to establish a library with internet and to plant flowers around their new school.

Their current project is to make and sell cleaning products. Several women took a course in SENA, Colombia’s technical institute, to learn the process. They had just begun to open for business when this photo was taken.

They make cleaning supplies for the kitchen, bathroom, floors, dishes etc.

These types of projects are flourishing in the 17 communities in which the GL program is active. Each community decides on how to raise the funds required to establish a community library, plant school gardens, and encourage recycling.

Students in the GL program with their parents.

Students thank CAPD and Canadians for the assistance received through the GL program.


Parent group in the Wayuu community of San Jose.

What are they holding in their hands? Articles made from recycled material!

A facilitator holds a large decorative item made from recycled material.

The San Jose community constructed a library in which they engage preschool and primary students in the elaboration of decorative items made from recycled materials. These activities raise consciousness in the children and encourage creativity. But that’s not all! They also cultivate crops for sale such as hay and are building a kid’s park made of recycled tires.

Mothers speak about the importance of the GL program in the lives of their children.

The next generation.

This traditional shoulder bag called a “mochila” was made by women in the Jurimakal community.

Other Wayuu communities make and sell these traditional bags, called mochilas, to earn funds for their community projects. These are beautifully hand-crafted bags that resist the wear and tear of daily use.

A bit of fun – posing with the hats gifted by the community. Luis, left, is the facilitator for the community of Jurimakal. Miladis, facilitator of the community of Pinski, is on the right. Beside her is Rocio, the National Coordinator of the GL program and the creative vision behind these projects.

The objective of the GL program is to keep students in school until graduation. Their incentive is a uniform kit that includes shoes and school supplies. In order to stay in the program, they are required to maintain a 75% average mark and their parents must be involved in the program. Each school has a facilitator, a volunteer from the community, that engages the families. They are the backbone success of the program.  There are 820 children in the program this year.


But do they serve coffee?

The state of Nariño is famous for its coffee and it was in this coffee growing environment where CAPD recently co-sponsored a filter construction workshop. The Fundacion Suyusama, co-sponsor,  has been working for decades in rural areas  near Pasto, to improve the lives and productivity of rural folk, through efficient wood stoves, drip irrigation, water system infrastructure, improved seeds, agricultural extension in all its facets, etc.

The Suyusama Foundation logo

Ivan Castro, our partner in FRPG, worked for Suyusame earlier on in his career and he was responsible for brining us together.  Previously a couple of Suyusama people attended the construction workshop in Pasto (previous blog) and it was good to have them involved again.  Bob did not appreciate the significant logistics challenges of having a filter construction workshop out in the countryside but Ivan and his friends in Suyusame made it happen.

Silvia’s demonstration farm

Suyusame leadership & FRPG

In the photo below, you will see a “chiva” which carries cargo and passengers on a daily route.  Without this service it would be very difficult to bring in supplies or send the harvest to markets. The chivas all have loud air horns and you can hear them coming from a distance starting at 6 am, so you can get to the road to flag them down. They are reliable but not comfortable nor fast.

The Chiva delivering our molds, picking up produce

This is the rainy season in Colombia and it had an impact on the training.  We fortunately found a partially finished house, and mixed concrete and filled the molds inside the house and on the porch.  Next morning the house was being used by a group of women preparing a lunch for a meeting in the adjacent church hall.  Our group rose to the occasion and moved the three 350-pound concrete and steel molds to a less crowded workspace by suspending it from a bamboo pole (see photo).  Do not be fooled by the sun in the photos.  Bob continually wished for rubber boots to complement his rain jacket but sadly had to put up with wet feet for 2 days.

How to feed 20 people country style

A welcome spot of sun with fantastic scenery. In this and other pictures you will see coffee bushes and the long slopes of the Volcano Galeras.

Sieving the sand for concrete mix

Assembling the molds

Greasing the molds

The group learned some theory, constructed 3 filter boxes as part of the workshop and learned how to install the filter media. Bob was mighty impressed with the group of 14 men and women.  Everyone jumped into action as soon as the word was given.  Without this proactive attitude the workshop would have been impossible. These men and women now know what is possible when considering improvement of water in the homes near where they play roles as servant leaders.

Compacting the concrete

Relocating the 350 lb beast

Taking the mold off

TENSE – will it work

Strangely enough, Bob did not get a coffee until he asked for it.