Friday, November 30, 2007

Catching up...

I've been so busy I've had a hard time getting everything posted.... so many pictures and so many stories.....

Here are some pictures from Ibagué, Colombia as well... about four hours from Bogotá

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ciudad Bolivar

These are a few pictures from Ciudad Bolivar, in the south of Bogotá. Bogotá, like Colombia as whole, is marked by extreme inequality. In the north, the city is as modern and wealthy as anywhere in Europe of North America, but the farther south one goes, the poorer it gets. Ciudad Bolivar is about as far south as one can go, and made up largely of groups of displaced people who have arrived to the city seeking refuge from the armed conflict in other parts of the country. Most people in Northern Bogotá never have occasion to venture to the South and the vast majority of the southerners lack the resources to make it to the North, which is quite beautiful and well organized. In Ciudad Bolivar, I am always struck by the juxtaposition of desperate poverty and spectacular, panoramic views.... it's like nothing I've ever seen, and you really have to go there get a sense for it, but I've done my best to capture some of it in photographs... more to come...

Monday, November 26, 2007

We reached our goal!

I'm very excited to announce that, in 3 days, we reached our goal of raising 500 dollars for a new roof and a stove for Gloria and her two girls. Today is my last day in Bogotá before going to Barranquilla, so I am actually going to be able to give them the money before I leave so they can get started right away. Everyone here is so excited and so amazed that we were able to act so quickly and it makes me feel so proud to be part of a community that cares. I've been able to start with the photography project, so the best part of all of this is that we'll be able to see updates from the construction of Gloria's house, through pictures taken by donated cameras. I'm also hoping that, in February, when I come with a group of people, that we'll be able to see the improvements made to the house, and hear the reaction from the two girls. If anyone is interested in joining me on an educational trip to Colombia in February, please visit my website: and click on "educational trips" or email me at

Thanks so much to all that contributed!

Friday, November 23, 2007

It's easy to forget how fortunate we are and how much we can do...

Today, I was able to return to Fundación Formemos where I worked for several months during 2005 and with which I have continued a close relationship for the last two years. The foundation is set up as a boarding home, a school, a small farm, and a community resource for kids that have been displaced by the armed conflict. There, they teach children from ages 4-18, the skills they need to stay in the rural areas and not displace to the city. The stories of some of the kids are so heart wrenching, it's hard to imagine how they get up, go to school, smile, laugh, and play like any other child. Browsing through their files, there are many girls who have been raped, abandoned, or severely malnourished. One boy is at the foundation because his father is in prison for killing his mother in front of him. Many of the children live at the foundation because their parents are either not around or live too far away, but some come from the surrounding rural area and commute to the foundation in bus, or on foot.
The girl in the picture above is named Dianica. Her mother, Gloria, is mentally disabled and was raped when she was 13. She walks several miles each day to accompany her two girls to the foundation, and, not surprisingly, becomes hysterical if a strange man touches them. The house, if you can call it a house, where she and her two daughters live has no electricity, and only recently has had its dirt floor replaced by a slab of cement. The pictures in the slideshow will give you a closer look, but the conditions are really deplorable.
The social workers at the foundation have worked hard to help Gloria improve as a parent, but she is mentally disabled and unable to get a job. She works at the foundation on the weekends in return for food and schooling for the girls. She's hoping to make a room that has a roof and a floor for the two girls who suffer many health problems due to their living conditions. The social workers at the foundation will take care of all the building arrangements if we can get together the money to make a room for the two girls. Gloria already has some bricks, which will bring the cost down, and Fundación Formemos would handle all the money to make sure it is used properly. If I can raise $500 dollars, we can get Gloria a suitable stove for cooking, and a dignified room for the two girls to sleep.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Interesting energy saver from Brazil

I forgot to mention this earlier.... When I got to the hotel in Brazil, in Sao Paolo after missing my connection to Bogotá, I got to the room and it appeared that there was no electricity... none of the lights would turn on.... nothing. I went down to the front desk and communicated, in broken Portuguese/Spanish, my problem....
It turns out that you have to insert your card/room key into this little apparatus in order to activate the electricity which make it impossible to leave the lights on or the television or anything when you leave the room because you obviously take your card with you... to me, this seemed like a really good way to conserve energy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mal de montañas....

Well, all the traveling, dehydration, altitude change finally caught up to me... yesterday morning, I went to visit the migratory bird project I've been coordinating, and was literally moved to tears by the enthusiasm of the kids and the commitment of the professors.... I'll give a more detailed report of that when I upload the photos and feel a little better.
Then, on my way to my next activity I began to feel the first signs of altitude sickness coming on. I had felt a little dizzy that morning with a bit of a headache but thought it would pass.... then, I just proceeded to get so dizzy and nauseated that I had to go home.... it got to the point where I could even keep water down and became so dehydrated that they almost forced me to go to the hospital... luckily someone suggested that I take a couple pills that would make me stop throwing up, and that worked okay.... they made me drink about three gallons of pedialyte and now I feel a little better but still get quite dizzy when I walk around too much. I'm not sure why this happened because I've been to Colombia plenty of times without getting altitude sickness but I think the sudden change of climate from Brazil, and the fact that I was already dehydrated just pushed me over the edge.


Well, my first evening in Bogotá was great.... I'm staying in Alicia O'Campo's house, the same place where I lived two years ago. My friend, Magda, came over to visit while I unpacked and began caught me up on everything going on in her life. Magda and I met while I was working as a translator for Sense International with deafblind people and instantly became friends with the idea that I would teach her English and she would teach me sign language. We were never ale to stick to the lesson plan though, always finding ourselves drawn away into other conversations. We both seem to share a certain compulsive solidarity with those in need.... For any of you that heard my graduation speech for Stetson, Magda is the girl I talked about.
Magda, though, is in a really difficult situation herself... she studied audiology because her passion is teaching deafblind children to communicate, but literally has to make decisions every day about paying for lunch or paying the busfare to get to work. She has made such an incredible difference in so many people's lives and doesn't even have a steady place to live or the guarantee of enough to eat every day.... If she had even half the opportunities that I have, I can only imagine the amazing things she could do... I wish I knew what I could do to help her, but hopefully during this trip, I'll be able to think of a way. On Sunday, she's going to take me out to Ciudad Bolivar and we're going to photograph and film some of the different kids and projects she's working with... my hope is that when I get back the United States I can raise some money for some of the work she's doing.... I've worked with a lot of Non Profits and volunteers, but I can honestly say I very rarely meet people who are so effective in their work and so sincerely selfless in their intentions.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Stuck in Sao Paolo

If everything had gone as planned I would already be in Bogotá, Colombia but I've ended up instead at Monaco Hotel in Sao Paolo, Brazil. I left the convention center in Ouro Preto at 2:30AM in order to make a 6:30 flight from Belo Horizonte to Bogotá with a connection in Sao Paolo but the flight was delayed and I missed the only flight today to Bogotá. Luckily, TAM airlines was very quick to offer me a hotel voucher and transportation to a hotel. I'm quite exhausted because I didn't go to sleep last night, enjoying my last night of the Partners of the Americas convention, and anticipating that I'd sleep on the plane... As much as I would have liked to get to Colombia today, the good news is that my Portuguese language skills are improving rapidly in this "sink or swim" Sao Paolo immersion... It took a while to get my internet connection going which allowed me to use Skype (a free download if anyone wants to talk to me for free... I should be on a little later... my user name is alisonmckellar) to call Maria Consuelo and Orlando to tell them not to pick me up in Colombia.
I'll write more later after I get a bit of rest....

Here are a few more pictures from the Convention:

Monday, November 12, 2007

From Brazil....

I arrived in Brazil yesterday afternoon and spent the day today participating in the Partners of the Americas Leadership Orientation. So far, I haven't gotten to see much of Brazil because we're staying at a very secluded hotel and convention center a little outside the town of Ouro Preto. While I can understand the importance of bonding and interacting with other members of the organization, it is somewhat troubling to me that a group of people, members of a volunteer organization , and , presumably here in order to promote humanitarian initiatives and cross cultural understanding, would choose to isolate ourselves from Brazilian culture... One of the things that has always drawn me to Latin America is that it's usually much more difficult to isolate ourselves in our own privileged worlds.... In Colombia, the displaced families sitting on the side of the road are a constant reminder of the turmoil caused by armed conflict, and the children selling cigarettes in the street keep us from forgetting the need for better education programs.... perhaps I'm being too critical, but it seems to me that it would be valuable for a group of people getting together to discuss social projects and volunteer initiatives to meet in places that more accurately reflect the social reality of the people we hope to help.
In order to get here, most people flew from various countries and states throughout the western hemisphere, flew into one Rio De Janeiro , or another major city, and then took an additional flight to Belo Horizonte, and then paid for transport by van to arrive at the Estralagem das Minas Gerais in Ouro Preto.... part of me can't help but wonder how many meals could have been purchased for malnourished children with the money spent by 100-200 convention attendees.
Maybe throughout the week the value of this location will become more apparent.
That said, I'm having a great time sharing stories and experiences with some truly remarkable people from around the hemisphere. My roommate is from Trinidad and Tobego and there are about 15 other participants in the leadership orientation from Antigua, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Colorado, Minnesota, New York, and several places I can't remember. Wednesday, people will start arriving for the full convention, which should have about 200 people.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A few notes of thanks before leaving....

Well, I'm leaving for Brazil today and I have, of course, put packing off until the very last minute, but I wanted to try and say thank you to everyone who has donated their time and/or money to the Global Opportunity Garden during these past six weeks. I'm definitely going to forget people here, but I'll keep updating as I remember and as more people keep helping.

-John Orlando for insisting I speak at the Camden Public Library
-Amanda Thorndike for being one of my most active spokespeople and helping me get my day started off right every morning with a jog and coffee.
-Don Briggs and Briggs and Counsel for all their ongoing support, encouragement and legal assistance.
-Russell Kaye for website support.
-Richard Ogle for advice and help creating a business plan.
-Alex Calabi, my new partner.
-Joe Corrado, website and design adivce.
-Mike Shroeder, future design and marketing.
-Kevin Hanson, who will be volunteering in Colombia and exploring microcredit possibilities.
-My parents who have helped me a million times on all fronts.... especially my dad for all the answered phone calls, last minute copying, and support.

Also, thank you to the following people who donated money or cameras to the the Lives Worth Sharing Photography Project:

-Patrisha McLean
-Christopher Dodd
-Union Senior Citizens
-Pat Medeika
-Nate Chapnick
-Meghan Flynn
-Molly McKellar
-Amy Cornell
-Riley School
-Nohora Estes

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Brazil, Colombia, and El Salvador

I will be out of the country from Saturday, November 10th until Monday, December 10th.... I will be checking email periodically and, between November 18th and December 3rd, I’ll be reachable at 011-57-316-276-0707 which is my cell phone number in Colombia.

I will begin by spending in Brazil for a conference with Partners of the Americas, then I’ll spend two weeks in Barranquilla and Bogotá, Colombia, and then a week in El Salvador with Our Lady of Good Hope Catholic Parish before returning to Maine.

I will be updating this page regularly during my trip....

Monday, November 5, 2007

Welcome, Alex Calabi!

One of the most pleasant surprises I have had since starting Global Opportunity Garden was opening my email inbox to find an email from Alex Calabi with the subject line "ready to work". Alex had told me in passing a couple of times that he had some free time and wanted to help me but I figured it would take some reminding on my part. I was definitely wrong... the email read:

... just wanted to remind you that I'm game to start working for you whenever with whatever you've got. I looked all through your website and you certainly know what you're doing, and I'm excited to contribute....

It's been great having Alex to bounce ideas off of and he has some great ones of his own. Alex couldn't have arrived at a better time because things have taken off a lot more quickly than I anticipated, and speaking, responding to emails, inquiries, volunteer interest, and fundraising is beginning to make it impossible for me to do anything like fill out 501(c)3 applications and plan trips and projects in Colombia.

Alex has already been a big help and will be in charge of keeping momentum going while I'm in Brazil, Colombia, and El Salvador.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Thank you

I've been so busy getting ready for Brazil, but I wanted to take a minute to thank all the groups that have invited me to speak during the last six weeks. I feel so privileged to be able to come back to Maine and give my time to some of the schools, organizations, and individuals that have done so much for me over the years.

Camden Public Library
Liz Dailey and her Human Rights class, Camden Hills Regional High School
Cindy Allen and AP English, CHRHS
Lynne Taylor's Spanish 4 classes, CHRHS
Noreen Clark, Quarry Hill Activities
Sheila Caldwell, Sophomore English, CHRHS
Dr. Thom Buescher and his Anthropology class
Nohora Estes and the students of Riley School
Union Senior Citizens Group

Six weeks later....

During the last six weeks in Camden, I've had the opportunity to speak to a number of students, organizations, and individuals about my work in Latin America and have been deeply inspired by the encouragement and support I've received in this community and elsewhere.
With the support of many people, I am in the process of starting a non-profit organization called Global Opportunity Garden whose mission is to provide a common ground that connects people in need with people who want to make a difference one way or another. I will be using my broad network of contacts in Colombia and my experience working with all types of projects and Non Governmental Organizations in order to help people find ways of contributing to the world by donating time, money, and/or energy.
It's remarkable to me the number of people who wish to do something to make the world more fair and equitable but simply don't know how to go about it. Last week, a had the great pleasure of giving a presentation to students at Riley School in Rockland. I showed them pictures from my travels in Colombia and El Salvador and spoke about the horrendous living conditions of so many people in the developing world and was astounded by the maturity, intelligence, and eagerness to help that they demonstrated. They listened attentively and asked thoughtful questions about global poverty and Latin American culture.
They asked about everything from environmental policy in Colombia to strategies for reducing hunger in Latin America, but my favorite question came from a girl who couldn't have been older that 11:

"Is there anything kids our age can do to help reduce poverty around the world?"

She seemed honestly excited when I told her "yes" and at the end of the presentation I was swarmed by other students who wanted to learn more.