Sunday, May 3, 2015

Introduction to salvaging shrink wrap for temporary shelters.

This blog entry will be completely overwhelming and way too detailed for most of you. I apologize to anyone subscribed to this blog who may not want such a detailed explanation of how to use recycled shrink wrap for refugee shelters. This is intended as an informational post for my volunteers and for others interested in replicating the project...

As many of you know, I've been following the crisis in Syria for the past several years, and thanks to an organization called NuDay Syria, I've been able to translate my feelings of horror and frustration into a few meaningful acts. For the first time in my life, there's a way to send physical items to people living through the worst humanitarian crisis we've seen in a generation. In my mind, the ability to see the horrors unfolding in real time on social media combined with the ability to actually send things that I've touched with my own hands... well, it eliminates every excuse that might justify our failure to act. It has also catalyzed a certain obsession with trying not to waste anything that might be useful to Syrians. And that's where the shrink wrap project came from. I won't go into all the details of how I got started... you can watch the videos for that, but it's enough to know that we are throwing out massive amounts of highly durable plastic every year. Plastic that does an incredible job protecting fancy yachts all throughout the harsh Maine winter. When it comes off, the vast majority of it is still in very good condition and can easily be turned into temporary shelters for people. All it takes is a quick google image search for "internally displaced tent syria" or something similar and it becomes abundantly clear how useful shrink wrap could be for people, especially those inside Syria who can't get to one of the nicer refugee camps in Jordan or elsewhere. 

I'm in my second year of the project now and I'm getting lots of great feedback and interest from people who want to help, which is great because I need a LOT of help, but I'm running out of time when it comes to explaining the process to everyone. What follows is a somewhat detailed tutorial of the process I use to sort,  fold, and prepare the recycled shrink wrap for shipment. 

For those who want a little more background on the project, you can check out these videos and links.

Video that Josh Gerritsen made about the project:

Short video that I made when I first started this which explains my rationale and basic process:

Here's a recent press release that the Dr. Shrink Company sent out to their customers, encouraging them to donate the ends of their shrink wrap rolls our to our project:

If you want to follow my efforts on Facebook, become of a fan of Maine Syria Relief .... It's basically just an extension of NuDay Syria's page for people that live in Maine. You can find NuDay Syria's official facebook page here. It is updated regularly and is a good way to follow all the amazing things that the organization is doing, but more on that later. I use my house as a drop of location for everything from shrink wrap to medical supplies, gently used clothing, food, diapers, etc... NuDay Syria has a warehouse in New Hampshire and the containers leave from there. 

OK... this is what I'm going to have people read before helping process the shrink wrap at my house, and it may be useful for others interested in expanding the collection in different areas. 

  1. Check for holes and thin spots.
  2. DRY
  3. Clean
  4. Cut off overly hardened and bulky ends
  5. Rolled as TIGHT AS POSSIBLE.

It's useful to think about where the shrink wrap comes from. Every piece will be slightly different. The bow and the stern often have overlapping parts that get shrunk and melted altogether, making it take up a lot of space in the container. Other parts, depending on the shape of the boat, might be too distorted and oddly shaped to be very useful for shelters in Syria. Each piece should be evaluated, but you can often tell by looking at the covered boat itself, whether or not the shrink wrap that comes off of it will be good quality. All 3 of the above boats look pretty ideal. 

Most of them will have this nylon strapping/rope welded into the bottom edges. This is what helped secure it to the boat. I leave all of this. The rope is extremely strong and in some cases the entire boat cover, complete with these ties in places could be used as a rain cover for an existing tent at an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp in Syria. Even if they decide to cut the plastic to be better suited for a certain design, they can salvage all of this super strong rope. If you look at pictures of temporary shelters online, you'll see that rope is always an important part. Try not to cut this rope any more than you have to. 

 This just shows you what the edges look like on the other side. 

This part at the end should be cut off so that it's easier to roll it up very tightly. 

 This is a zipper door. Many of the covers have them because they allow access to the boat during the winter for repairs, etc. I leave them in place. In Syria, they can always cut them out and relocate them to different places on the tent if they want. 
 These are vents that get slipped into a small cut made in the plastic. They are extremely helpful and important because they allow for ventilation. Otherwise, condensation forms on the inside of the plastic and can be a bit of a tropical greenhouse... very wet. Even if these fall out, they should be collected and sent along with the covers. 

Next comes folding/rolling. I double it over in half lengthwise, and then fold it again, and roll it up as tight as possible. The tighter you roll, the less space it takes in the container which is enormously important! Every inch that is taken up by wasted air and loosely packed plastic is an inch that can't be used for something that may save someone's life, whether that be food, medical supplies, a blanket, or more shrink wrap. 

We cannot send dirty, moldy, wet plastic on a container. It runs the risk of creating a moldy environment for the rest of the container which could be disastrous. Sometimes it's worth it to clean off the shrink wrap, but sometimes not. Don't waste a bunch of time cleaning and drying this if you have a whole pile of good clean stuff. If you just need to dry it, the best bet is usually a bunch of towels and it doesn't take as long as you might think. The picture above is an example of something that is probably not worth our time. 

Another thing you have to watch out for is shrink wrap that has these darker grey patches. Often times, these areas are paper thin due to the plastic being "over shrunk" with the blow torch heating tool. If there are a bunch of areas like this on a cover, it's not worth it to send. We want to only send plastic that will last a long time. If it has a couple holes, but the rest of the cover is really good, I repair it with donated shrink wrap tape. Amazing stuff that is used a lot by the people who put these covers on.

At the end, the rolled up plastic can be tied off with a little of the nylon strapping/rope that will inevitably be littering the area. 

These photos are just for fun. I love making test shelters trying to experiment with different prototypes and designs that might be useful for Syrians. They also work well to keep the shrink wrap dry between shipments. 

One of the many test shelters I've built..... also works well to store the shrink wrap because I have to dry it before it goes on the container ship.

scenes from last summer

Recycled shrink wrap, repackaged and on the shipping container.

Some of the pieces are REALLY big and we always lay them out, repair any holes, and dry them. Occasionally, I decide the overall quality is too low and the plastic is too thin or too distorted to bother with. I don't want to send anything to Syria that isn't useful.

The covers usually come complete with vents and often zipper doors. It's fun to make test shelters on my lawn and then I even have a place to store my shrink wrap between shipments.

Another test shelter.

This is how it often arrives.

​Shrink wrap being used as hospital walls in Northern Syria and a special thank you note they taped to the wall for me.

​Shrink wrap being turned into a shelter at a new refugee camp in Northern Syria.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Salvaged marine shrink wrap as refugee shelters in Syria

I apologize for not writing something more in depth, but I just read the Camden Herald article about my work with NuDay Syria and forgot that it was going to reference this blog, so I wanted to post something really quick! Check out this little video and then, for more information, check out ... I'll post a link to the article when it's online, but in the meantime, don't throw away your shrink wrap!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

5 years later....

I keep waiting for the perfect time to resume by blog posts... hoping that somewhere in my life I'll have all the time and inspiration to sit down and write a full explanation of what I've been doing since my last post, but there is never enough time, so I'm just going to write something, however insufficient.... 
As is evident, this blog has been abandoned for the past five years due to the fact that my life took a bit of a turn... Since my last post, I've purchased a house and now have two young boys (ages 1 and 3). The normal responsibilities of life, which I was able to avoid for some time, due to my full scholarship at Stetson University, have caught up with me, and I no longer am able to devote myself full time to volunteering, but I remain as committed as ever to pulling my weight as a citizen of this world, and helping improve the lives of others. I found that my model for helping people impoverished people turned out to be quite unsustainable, mostly because I was never comfortable starting my own non-profit and raising enough money to pay myself a salary. I just wanted to help other people make a difference in places like Colombia and El Salvador, which worked out great until I became totally overwhelmed by hundreds of emails from people who wanted to help, people who needed help, people who wanted to give money, etc., etc.... 

I'm hoping that by resuming my blog posts, this will help me to chronicle and focus my efforts, as well as provide a place to share information I come across that might be useful to others. After working for 4 years at the Watershed School as a high school Spanish teacher, I resigned last year in order to stay home until my kids get a little older and can attend school. I served as the Vice-Chair on the international board of Partners of the Americas, but recently resigned in order allow more time for targeted volunteer projects based here in Camden. 

For now, one of the things I am most proud of my work on this project. More to come later...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Gloria's first ever window and door

Here are some more recent photos from the construction of Gloria's house for which we fundraised $500 dollars back in January. If you don't remember her story, click here.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

12 small victories in El Salvador

Some of you will remember reading about a woman in El Salvador who told us that the greatest need she and her community faced were ten dollar barrels for water storage. Her story was very moving and you can read about it here if you missed it.

With all the abundance that surrounds us, it's unimaginable that this lady was suffering for a lack of a ten dollar water barrel. At first, I blamed human selfishness and greed when I heard stories like this, but now, I think it's more accurate to say that people feel unconnected. They don't believe they can make a difference, and, rather than selfish, they feel helpless or hopeless.

I hear many heart-wrenching appeals for support during my time in Latin America, and sometimes try not to lose myself in frantic pursuits to rescue individuals. I have so often been told that I can't help everyone, that the only way to have a large scale impact on poverty is by not wallowing in the despairs of individuals but rather by thinking logically about solutions for many. We prefer to look at poverty, human suffering, and global inequality as abstractions, too complicated for any of us to solve. Sometimes, though, the matter is much more simple than we care to imagine.

After hearing this story, I wrote blog entries, uploaded pictures and captions to Flickr, saved the woman's picture as my computer desktop, and printed various photos to hang on my walls. One of the people I told was Alison Mynick, a lawyer at Briggs and Counsel, the law firm that has been helping me with some of the legal aspects of the organization. When I told her that ten dollars could buy a water barrel, she immediately said, "well my gosh, if it's that simple, take this donation and get ten of them."
I did exactly that, and am delighted to say that Alison's donation has actually purchased not ten, but 12 barrels for the most vulnerable families of the Las Nubes community on the outskirts of San Ramon, El Salvador.
I also left a digital camera in El Salvador with the community that Our Lady of Good Hope Catholic Parish maintains a sister relationship with, and yesterday, they finally sent me these pictures.

The people are very grateful for their water barrels and I am very grateful to them for all the inspiration and joy they give me. They help remind me every day of just how fortunate we all are, and of how big a difference we can make by doing very small things.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Slideshow Tuesday 6:30PM at the Congregational Church in Camden

Many of you have asked me to let you know the next time I'm speaking about my work in Colombia.

Tuesday, the 29th of April, at 6:30PM at the Congregational Church, in Camden, I will be speaking, along with several others, about our recent trip to Colombia. We'll share a full slideshow and stories from the trip as well as some of our plans for the future.

Many thanks to Helen Kuhl, who has taken the lead in organizing the event. Helen, along with her husband, Jon, has been a big help to GOG ever since returning Camden.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Gloria's new walls...

Some of you will remember raising money for Gloria's new roof and walls a couple months ago. Well, during the recent trip to Colombia, we were able to see the progress that they're making and Kevin, a volunteer in Colombia who has been working with Formemos, tells me that he just took some more recent pictures and that they've made even more progress. If you don't remember Gloria's story, you can read about it here and if you're interested in hearing more about Kevin and his work, you can check out his blog.

Thanks to volunteer, Sasha Felix, for taking these pictures!

If you'd like to see more of the photos taken by Sasha during the trip, check out:

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Seeing globally...

Last Monday, I had the great pleasure of speaking with the Camden Lions Club with member Jon Kuhl and his wife, Helen, who were both with us in Colombia. I shared my experiences working with deafblind people in Colombia and told them about how I learned about the Lions Club on an international level because of the great help they've been to us at Fundación Formemos and Jon and Helen shared their thoughts on ways that Global Opportunity Garden and the Camden Lions Club could team up to help finance vision screenings for rural and displaced children in Colombia. Above, Jon and Helen are pictured during one of the home visits in the community surrounding the Foundation, and below you'll find an article published in the Camden Herald about our presentation to the Lions Club.

Camden Lions see globally with eyeglass campaign

(Created: Sunday, April 6, 2008 4:13 AM EDT)

CAMDEN — The Camden Lions Club had a first-hand look, recently, at how their organization’s eyeglasses recycling program benefits people in need in other countries, and it has been proposed that the Club help fund eye-care programs in a community in Columbia for one year.

Alison McKellar, left, and president of Camden Lions Club Teddy Wilcox. Reprints available online at KIM LINCOLN
Alison McKellar, 23, of Camden, who runs an organization called Global Opportunity Garden, was the guest speaker at the April 1 Lions meeting.

She created her organization after spending six months in Columbia in 2005, volunteering at a farm and school for children who have been displaced by violence in the country.

While there she also worked with an organization that helped deaf blind children, but found that the displaced children at the school were having difficulty with their vision, too.

Through the help of a Lions Club in Bogotá, Columbia, she helped to get 230 children eye exams, and 30 of them were given eyeglasses. The cost was $1,122.

One of the Lions Club’s missions is to conduct vision screenings, support eye hospitals and participate in an eyeglasses recycling program. More than one million pairs of eyeglasses have been collected by Lions Clubs in Maine and distributed to third-world countries, according to club members.

After McKellar came home from Columbia and began telling people about her trip, and what she had accomplished, she found support in this community from people that wanted to help. That’s when Global Opportunity Garden was founded. She then began organizing a group trip to Columbia.

Camden Lions Club member Jon Kuhl and his wife Helen were in the group. Also traveling from this area were Anna Sideris, Meredith Ralston, Sasha Felix, Eliza Massey and Laurie Lane.

Jon Kuhl said that he was very impressed by the ocular center in Bogotá. For $25 people could get their eyes examined, get a prescription and be fitted for glasses. Kuhl has proposed that the Camden Lions Club help fund eye-care programs in Columbia for one-year. The club is still thinking about the idea.

Now back home, McKellar has been speaking with different organizations to inform them about Global Opportunity Garden, and hopes to match up more organizations and their causes to areas with the need.

Global Opportunity Garden also has a digital photography initiative that delivers digital cameras and training in photojournalism in areas of extreme poverty and violent conflict in Columbia.

McKellar is also working with students at the Riley School in Rockport who have helped raise money and also started a letter writing campaign to the students at the Columbian farm school.

For more information about McKellar’s organization, log on to

And as part of the Lions regular club work, members will be collecting used glasses at The Green Fair at Plants Unlimited on Route 1 in Rockport, April 19. They also have a drop box outside their facility on Lions Lane in Camden.

(Kim Lincoln can be reached at

The original article can be found at:

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I need your help!

I know some of you are probably sick of reading all the information I've been forcing on you about Colombia, but please keep reading. I don't often take advantage of people who read my blog by making direct appeals, but this is the most important thing I've ever been involved in.

I know, a bold statement, but I mean it. Last week, I told you about about how I had about a citizen's initiative to organize a peaceful, nonviolent march to the Colombian jungle and demand the rescue of the kidnapped hostages there. Jorge Altuzarra explained, in his interview with Caracol Radio in Colombia, that the initiative began with Facebook groups after a series of hugely successful peace marches in Colombia and around the world. I was so inspired by this grassroots initiative that I posted a message on the Facebook group (which now has thousands of members) and offered to help.

Several hours later, I got an email from Jorge, whom I had heard on the radio, saying that they would be delighted to have my help since they will need to get international news coverage and the support and accompaniment of many humanitarian organizations and individual volunteers. I've now been given an email address, which is and working with a team of people in Colombia, Europe, Australia, Canada, and another Colombian representative in Miami, to get the word out and translate documents to English.

I have just finished translating the open letter from the group that explains the overall goals and mission. There are other documents in progress directed at the FARC, the United Nations, and various humanitarian organizations around the world. I need letters from organizations in the United States expressing support for the non-violent march and media coverage from U.S. or international news media. After all, Colombians are doing their part to rescue victims of kidnapping, and the French have been working for years to free the French-Colombian, Ingrid Betancourt, so let's do our part for our three fellow American citizens that are now on their fifth year after being kidnapped by the FARC.


The idea of a civilian-lead rescue of the more than 700 hostages held by the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) is not new, nor does it belong to any one individual or group. For over sixty years, the Colombian people have been the victim of a vicious and violent power struggle between the National government, and Left wing insurgency groups, and right wing paramilitaries. While violence has diminished in much of Colombia, and there is much reason for optimism, government negotiations with the FARC for the release of hostages have frequently failed. Many of those kidnapped by the FARC, which include several foreigners, have spent the last ten years held captive in the Colombian jungle.

Several recent events have renewed hope and solidarity among Colombians, leading to a uniquely civilian, non-violent, and non-political uprising. On June 17th, 2007, Professor Gustavo Moncayo, commonly known as the “peace walker”, set out on a walk that took him 1,186 kilometers to the capital city of Bogotá, in an effort to promote an agreement for the release of his son, Pablo Emilio, who has kidnapped by the FARC in 1997. On July 5th of the same year, Colombians responded with nationwide demonstrations against kidnapping, and February 4th of 2008, peace marches around the world were organized to speak out against the FARC. More than 5 million people participated in Colombia alone, and simultaneous marches were held in more than 100 cities around the world. For many, it seemed the next logical step should be a peaceful march to the jungle, where most of the hostages are held.

Some prominent individuals, like ex-mayors of Bogotá, Anthanas Mockus and Lucho Garzón, announced the idea in public. Furthermore, the Association of Disabled Policemen (FRAPON), who marched more than 500 kilometers in their wheel chairs to demand the liberation of FARC hostages, proposed the idea after completing their journey in Bogotá.

Nevertheless, the civilian rescue initiative has its origins many years back, inspired by non-violent movements lead by Gandhi and many others around the world, as well as more recent examples of non-violent civil resistance, such as the groups of Colombian indigenous groups who confronted the FARC at the edge of their communities in order to prevent their lands from being destroyed. Indigenous groups can also be credited with the first example of successful, civilian-lead hostage rescue, when, in August of 2004, the indigenous guard, composed of more than 500 people, but armed only with wooden staves, mobilized and entered the jungle to rescue two indigenous ex-mayors held captive by the FARC.

After the February 4th marches against the FARC, many Colombians proposed a civilian rescue initiative in more than 10 groups in the social networking site, Facebook; all with the same idea: to go to the jungle and rescue the people held hostage there by FARC guerrillas. However, only one group turned the idea into a concrete initiative, and, with a defined plan of action, began to unite hundreds of people willing to commit themselves to a clear and viable proposal - in short, to march to San José del Guaviare, the epicenter of the recent hostage liberations, and bring together at least 1,000 volunteers, at least 18 years of age, in good physical condition, and available for at least two weeks, who are willing to march to the jungle.

Under the premise of “strength in unity”, seven groups accepted the invitation, giving birth to the Civilian Rescue Group “LET’S GO GET THEM”, which, under the humanitarian principles of respect for liberty, non-violence, and voluntary disarmament, was made public and presented as an entirely peaceful and humanitarian proposal, respectful of the Rule of Law, and without any political affiliation or bias.

This initiative, which is now under way, is divided in three phases that allow for its execution and success. The first is an appeal to, and examination of, public opinion, looking to establish the group of marchers, minimum security guarantees, and the support of the national and international community.

Being aware of the inherent risks of the proposed zone, which is in the heart of FARC territory, and with such cases as those of the ex-governor Guillermo Gaviria, who was kidnapped during a peace march in 2002, and Ingrid Betancourt, the French-Colombian presidential candidate who was kidnapped during her campaign the same year, the Civilian Rescue Group has adopted serious physical/personal safety measures as a priority of utmost importance for the undertaking of the march. Thus, it is required that the participants be of legal age, in good physical shape, and available for at least two weeks. Along this same line of thought, we are securing the attendance and accompaniment of national and international human rights organizations, as well as some minimum security guarantees that should be offered by the Armed Forces, granted under Article 2 of our National Constitution.

Additionally, we are presenting a formal petition to the National Government for a humanitarian landmine removal squad to go to the zone with us to remove landmines and other explosive devices.

The second phase comprises much more than just a symbolic march between Villavicencio and San José del Guaviare. It is a humanitarian call to the members of the FARC that are holding people captive, to demobilize and unilaterally hand over the hostages to the Colombian people. Furthermore, the Colombian, whose well-being is the supposed objective of the FARC’s armed struggle, invite and demand the members of the FARC, to free, not only their hostages, but also to free themselves and return to society.

This is the essence of our humanitarian initiative, advocating dialogue and reconciliation as a determining mechanism in achieving the peace that we all long for, but demanding an end to kidnapping as a means of manipulating the population and extorting funds. It is now when we most need Colombian people, and all people, to unite as one voice, in one call for peace that will be heard in the greatest depths of the Colombian jungle.

The final phase of our proposal calls for the installation of a center of operations in San José del Guaviare, so that from there, various expeditions may go out into the jungle with the goal of finding FARC camps where the kidnapped hostages are held. However, this phase will only be carried out once the path has been cleared by anti-explosive experts who can guarantee our safety, in this regard. If we are unable to meet this minimum security condition, we will remain waiting, as a group, for seven more days, inviting the FARC to demobilize and release those hostages facing the greatest risks to their health.

Independently of the result of this humanitarian operation, the group of marchers will return to their places of origin on the 27th of June in order to multiply the humanitarian initiative in each part of the country where victims of kidnapping are held. The Civilian Rescue Group will not rest until those unjustly deprived of their freedom have been released alive, and Colombia is free of the tragic and barbaric practice of kidnapping.

Onward for peace…