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…

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Update from the photography project in Colombia

It has been very exciting to start seeing the first pictures from the photography project going on in Colombia. The ten foundations that received cameras are learning how to use them and getting the opportunity to share their stories and images with people from all over the world. karen taking fotografiasGetting all the foundations to upload their pictures to Flickr, and place the appropriate tags, descriptions, and titles, is difficult, because, for many of them, they're stepping into totally new territory, trying to navigate the internet, social networking sites, and slow connections, but I'm more convinced than ever that we're on the right track. Our Necessities This past week, Kevin Hanson and Michael Burch, two volunteers who are currently in Colombia helping me with this project and volunteering with various other NGOs, spent a couple days last week in Bucaramanga, visiting the Living Hope Foundation. They were astounded by how committed the people from the foundation were, and Kevin, a soon to be law student, was able to learn a great deal about the way organizations can go about advocating for the rights of kids with cancer.
I'm realizing, as I attempt to coerce the ten foundations into actually uploading all the pictures they take, that it will take a lot of training to make them familiar with everything that flickr will enable them to do. Learning to share digital stories and images with an online community is like learning to speak a different language, and, in order for them to invest time into this endeavor, there must be an incentive. It's difficult to explain to my seemingly technology-savvy friends the concept of creative commons copyrighting and citizen journalism, so, quite predictably, it is also difficult to explain the concept to hungry children who have been displaced by the violence. Still, it's not as difficult as one might imagine, because, as soon as they start to get the idea, they get so excited, because the camera offers them the first chance they've ever had to show their reality to the outside world.
During the next month, I'm going to begin a new, open-source, digital photography-based, educational, online grant proposal project. I know... it sounds a little out there, and I haven't quite figured out what to call it, but the basic idea is that foundations will apply for small, 500-1000 dollar grants by using digital images and descriptions within photo albums on Flickr. Having a applied for countless grants, I know the process is boring and often a total waste of time. When you apply for a grant, and don't get it, you feel like the entire process was wasted energy. No one reads the grant except the committee, or person, that makes the decision, and you often never get a good explanation for why a grant was approved or denied. You hope you have a contact with the donor and you cross your fingers. Why aren't grant proposals open to the public? Why can't we all see all the proposals that all these different organizations make? Why can't they be educational and interesting? The process should be educational for both the people and organizations that apply for the grants, as well as for the public in general. So, my goal is to use small grants as ways of teaching foundations to use the new internet technology that will help them get the word out about their cause. They will have to describe their foundations' mission and the proposed use of funds with photographs and descriptions open to the public on Flickr. Thus, even if they don't get a certain grant, they will have created an online multimedia space that describes a certain social, political, or economic issue, and they will have learned how to use a new type of web based software more effectively. After all, we've all had plenty of practice with microsoft word!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Colombian Citizen Initiative to Rescue FARC Hostages

The Collective Civilian Rescue is the response of many Colombians and people from abroad, who are, sincerely and without reservation, committed to doing something to get our fellow citizens out of where they are being held. We know that we are taking on a difficult objective, but, without a doubt, we will achieve it.
All are invited, the only condition is that you not bring your political banners. The only thing that matters is a love for Colombia and the will to carry out our unique humanitarian task, which is, to "rescue civilly" those who have been unjustly deprived of their liberty.

This is the mission statement of a collective initiative which began as a Facebook group. The group, composed of young people from Colombia and supporters from all over the world, is preparing for an unprecedented rescue mission to the Colombian jungle to demand that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) release the civilian hostages they have detained there. Colombians have been encouraged lately by a strong surge in citizen involvement and nonviolent protests such as the 5 million person peace march against the FARC which took place on the 4th of February of this year. This march is a continuation of this movement and an indicator of the renewal of hope and civic unity among the Colombian people.
A representative from the group told Caracol Radio that they are currently in the initial planning stages and are in the process of consulting with security experts, humanitarian organizations, and Colombian and international NGOs to assess strategies for the march. They hope to secure 1,000 volunteers willing to march. Right now, they plan on starting on June 16th, from Villavicencio, near the center of the country, and marching all the way to San Jose de Guaviare, which is where many hostages have been received after liberation by the FARC.

I have found that this initiative, and many other happenings in Colombia, are not commonly covered by English language news media. Rescate Civil has a blog in Spanish and I will do my best to update the blog with any English coverage that emerges.

"I am a free man only so far as I recognize the humanity and liberty of all men around me. In respecting their humanity, I respect my own". Mikhail Bakunin

Monday, March 17, 2008

Peace Without Borders

On March 16th, Colombian, Venezuelan, and Ecuadoran singers got together to offer a free concert in Cúcuta, on the border between Venezuela and Colombia. The idea came from Juanes during tensions between the the three countries a couple weeks ago as a way of reminding people from all three Andean countries of the great connection shared between them. The concert was titled, Peace Without Borders and was organized in a matter of days by artists eager to work for peace. The concert was attended by more than 200,000 people.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

One Right Hand and One Smoking Gun

Colombia has once again disappeared from the news, and, while I'm thankful not to see the skewed and slanted coverage that characterized last week's reporting of the "crisis", I find myself equally frustrated that the mainstream media seems to have stopped their coverage right in the middle of an ongoing saga. Although CNN, and almost all English language news would have us believe that last week's meeting of the Rio Grupo in the Dominican Republic marked the end of the crisis between Uribe, Correa, and Chavez, back at home, the plot thickened as another high ranking member of the FARC was killed; this time by a most unlikely assassin.

First, although Ecuador responded with indignation when it was suggested that they were offering refuge to the FARC, an article published by El País, in Spain, reports just the opposite. The FARC camps in Ecuador are permanent camps that allow for the storing of weapons and the transport of drugs across the border. The Colombian military reports that it has been the victim of 39 attacks from the other side of the border. In the words of an ex-guerrilla fighter, "the FARC wears the uniform of the Ecuadoran military and moves along the border in trucks." This new information, long suspected by Colombians, makes it a little easier for the world to understand why the military had to go ten kilometers over the border to seek out Reyes.

The death of Reyes and the confiscation of his computer has provided another important window into the operations of the FARC and the behind the scenes political alliances that have surrounded Chavez' work as "peace negotiator" for the liberation of kidnapped civilians held by the FARC. The international community has been hesitant to criticize Chavez openly after having several successes in the release of several kidnapped civilians, but it's now clear that his agenda was far from strictly humanitarian. It turns out that Chavez had pledged 300 million dollars to the FARC to be given in installments of 50 million dollars throughout the year. This information comes from several confiscated computers and the testimony of several recently demobilized guerrilla members. Second hand weapons were among the other in kind donations offered to the Colombian terrorist organization by Chavez.

The President of Colombia and Colombians in general are obviously furious at the betrayal of Chavez but they're not surprised. Chavez has long been known to have deep rooted sympathies with the extreme Leftist insurgency group, and at least now, these ties are clear and obvious enough that Chavez will be left exposed to the light of international public opinion. Still, many questions are left to be answered. Harboring terrorists, a phrase Americans are used to hearing in White House reports on the Middle East, is a serious charge that has devastating consequences for the civilian population. The support from Chavez and the complacency of Ecuadoran officials with respect to FARC operations has allowed the terrorist group a safe harbor from which to organize kidnappings and massacres launched almost exclusively on the civilian populations.

But the FARC presence in Venezuela and Ecuador isn't all bad, according to many military strategists, ex combatants, and community leaders. It also means they're feeling the pressure of the military, and no longer have the stronghold on Colombia that allowed them to carry out their operations for freely for so many years.

The Colombian conflict is complex and academics and politicians alike have struggled to arrive at coherent explanations and solutions. That said, one of the most enlightening and hopeful commentaries that Colombians have heard in years come from an illiterate man who never even finished second grade. Pablo Montaya, better known as "Alias Rojas" spent sixteen years in the FARC, lured by the promise of a better life, and for years unable to see a viable way out of the group. Last week, as the his brigade felt the military closing in on them, he made the decision to kill his commander, Iván Rios, and turn himself in to the Colombian military along with Rios' computer, his right hand, and a wealth of inside information on the past and future of the FARC terrorist activities. Rios' hand, cut off in a scene straight out of the movies, was sent with a messenger, turned in to the army, and checked for fingerprints in order to prove that it was, in fact, Rios who had been killed.

When asked why he chose to desert and why he hadn't done it earlier, Rojas tells Caracol Radio that before, no one was sure what would happen to people that turned themselves in to the military, but now, the government has made it obvious that they provide rights, guarantees, and a clear path to people that wish to leave the armed groups. Since Uribe took office, over 10,000 FARC members and 35,000 from the paramilitaries have demobilized. During the last week, Uribe's popularity, which has been consistently above 70%, rose to a record 82%.

As Rojas sees it, the FARC is on their way out. The fact that they're borrowing money from means their own wealth is withering. He speaks of the meager rations and poor treatment given to members of the FARC and assures us that the group long ago stopped representing the voice of the rural poor. He offers a call to all members to demobilize and predicts that the FARC will be defeated from within more than from the outside as mistrust and deceit among leaders and combatants cause them to fumble and fall.

All in all, things are looking up for Colombia. In the words of Rojas, the death of Reyes and the right hand of Rios "has split the FARC's history in two parts", and the resulting revelations about financial and political ties to Chavez give Colombia and Uribe the smoking gun they needed to secure international solidarity for a hard line against terrorist groups and the countries that harbor them.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Newsworthy news from Colombia!

True to form, mainstream media has covered the Colombia-Venezuela-Ecuador "crisis" in gripping detail, making sure to alert Americans on the latest details of Venezuela's troop movements, border squabbles Ecuador, and FARC rebel deaths. People who have never so much as brought up Colombia in conversation with me have emailed, called, and inquired with concern about the "close call I had with the fighting in Colombia". "So you got out just in time," they ask me, no doubt imagining all of us ducking behind cars to avoid the gunshots. I resist the urge snap at them, trying to remind myself that people ask me questions like this because they are misinformed, not malicious. I'm sure I harbor mistaken stereotypes about many people and countries, and I hope that those who know better will forgive my ignorance and kindly inform me.
When I heard the news that Raul Reyes of the FARC had been killed in a raid by the Colombian military, I'm almost embarrassed to admit it, but I felt a certain morbid sense of excitement, even joy. The FARC no longer enjoys any support within the Colombian population and their supposed fight for poor Colombians and social justice has diminished to an incoherent mixture of kidnappings, indiscriminate violence, and terror. Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, has used the hostage exchange between Colombia and the FARC as a tactic to push his own agenda, and, as his close ties to the terrorist group becoming increasingly apparent, Colombian and Venezuelans alike, are crying enough is enough.

The February 4th pro-peace anti-FARC march in Colombia was a direct reaction to  President Chavez' appeal to the international community which asked for the FARC to be taken off the list of terrorists. Colombians won't stand for it. Millions of protesters all around the world gathered peacefully with signs like the one above, proclaiming, "yes, they ARE terrorists". 5 million people marched in Colombian cities alone, which is over 12% of the entire population, and simultaneous marches were carried out in over 165 cities around the world. CNN reported that  "thousands" had marched. Let's be clear about the difference between "thousands" and "millions".

When the Colombian military killed Raul Reyes last week, ten kilometers over the border into Ecuador, it was considered one of the biggest victories for the Colombian military in years. Chavez responded to the violation of Ecuador's sovereignty, with his characteristic temper tantrums and name calling, but this time, he ratcheted things up by breaking diplomatic relations with Colombia and mobilizing troops to the border. Meanwhile, Venezuelans are increasingly unable to meet basic needs with rationed goods, staggering poverty, and growing divisions. Breaking relations with Colombia carries a high price for many average Colombians and Venezuelans who cross the border every day to work and who depend on the economy of the other.
Colombians rolled their eyes and shook their heads at Chavez' antics, which have reached cartoon-like proportions in the recent months, and Uribe assured Colombians and the world that we would not fuel the fire by moving troops or breaking relations, and, for most, life went on as usual. After all, the raiding of FARC camps had happened in Ecuador, not Venezuela, and both borders are a long way from major Colombian cities. That's why Ecuador and Venezuela have been such a convenient refuge for members of the FARC, and a computer uncovered in the raid shows that ties between Ecuador, Venezuela and the FARC may run deeper than anyone realized. The bottom line is that the whole "crisis" was played off by mainstream media as a legitimate showdown between Venezuela and Colombia, and this really isn't fair to say. The Colombian government had no choice but to seize the opportunity to close in on high ranking leaders of a terrorist group that has been tormenting the Colombian people for more than 40 years. And no, there was no shooting in Bogotá, no civilians were in danger, and the event shouldn't scare you from going to Colombia anymore than our National Guard troops on the border with Mexico should dissuade tourists from visiting the United States.

What should, however, call your attention is that yesterday, while CNN replayed the same blurb five thousand times about the so-called crisis in South America, which wasn't much more than another one of Chavez' temper tantrums, tens of thousand of Colombians once again took to the streets to march peacefully in favor of the victims of paramilitary violence. They conducted vigils and ceremonies for the disappeared and displaced people and called on all Colombians to keep working toward peace and reconciliation for the victims of the armed conflict and against paramilitary violence and massacres. But this, of course, didn't make the news. We were too busy watching Chavez stomp his feet and waive his arms, stirring the South American pot, and diverting attention from the all things truly newsworthy.

Blogged with Flock

Monday, March 3, 2008

Saturday afternoon in bed...

Yesterday, I spent the whole day getting a new Flickr account and blog set up for the participants in the "Lives Worth Sharing" photography project, and today, Fundación Esperanza Viva (Living Hope Foundation) in Bucaramanga, Colombia, posted their first photographs taken by child cancer patients with the camera they were selected to receive. This photograph, titled "Saturday Afternoon in Bed" was taken by a young patient on a Saturday afternoon.... I was struck by the contrast between the serious reality of terminal illness and the apparent carefree coloring we hope for and expect during childhood years. You can see more pictures from the project at
Also, you can visit the Spanish language blog (I'll have the English one up soon) for the project at:

Blogged with Flock

Now what?

Well, after being back in the United States for two days, it's clear that I had once again deluded myself and others into believing I'd have lot's of time for blog posting, phone calls, trip reports, and email catch up... I was quite certain that having the Colombia trip behind would give me ample time to sit back, reflect, organize and relax a little, but, as was to be expected, the list of possibilities, expectations, and opportunities is at least ten times as long as it was before the trip. Luckily, though, my yearning for some down time has all but vanished, leaving in its a place a renewed sense of purpose and conviction which should be just what I need to get through the remaining Maine winter.

Colombia has always been able to inspire me to raise the bar just a little higher and part of the reason I try to maintain such close ties with the country is that I prefer to hold myself to Colombian standards than to the standards that are often set for me here in the United States. Here, people often hear that I work in Colombia, and are inclined to think I'm making some great sacrifice, risking my life for the sake of others.... However, the 11 Americans who accompanied me on this trip I think now understand that this is not the case. When I'm in Colombia, not only do I feel deeply inspired by the creativity, intelligence, hope and exuberance of the people, but I get to delight in the intricacies of a beautifully spoken language, an intriguing culture, and the most bio-diverse ecosystem in the world.

Ironically, it is not going to Colombia that is the sacrifice for me, but rather coming back. In Colombia, it's easy to be inspired to do the right thing, to reach out to others, to step out of my comfort zone, but the real work not letting that feeling slip away, not losing myself when I come back here and face so many more temptations and distractions.

Sometimes it's so hard to know if I'm really making a difference for people in Latin America, or just satisfying my own appetite for adventure and diversion, but at least now, 11 more people have seen a piece of what makes Colombia so magical.

A brief overview of the photography project I keep talking about...

Blogged with Flock

Monday, February 25, 2008

Finally, some pictures....

Every day I wake up planning on having some quiet time during the day to add to the blog, and, like so many other things, it just seems to get pushed farther and farther down the list. It's pretty tough to make blogging my first priority when I'm in Colombia, sharing some of my favorite places in the world with some of my favorite people.
The group of thirteen has now dwindled to a more manageable six as we spend our last few days relaxing in Cartagena, but I thought I'd share some pictures from the last two weeks of activities.

Here's a picture from our first day in Bogotá. Ten foundations were chosen to take part in the photography workshop where Eliza Massey, Sasha Felix, and the other travelers, helped me teach foundation leaders and children from all over Colombia how to use digital photography to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others. They were given a digital camera and continued training and support on the use of flicKr and other web 2.0 tools to help raise awareness and share images and stories directly from vulnerable and marginalized populations in Colombia.
In this shot, Eliza explains the importance of framing the perfect scene and patiently pursuing the subject of the photograph.

Here, Meredith Ralston shows a few young boys from Barranquilla how to check the photographs they've just taken.

Eliza zooms in on a serious Colombian soldier who tries not to crack at a smile at the group of giggling Americans.

Loose donkey the Milagro de Abril foundation in Barranquilla

Samuel, a deafblind 23 year old and his interpreter. Here, he demonstrates the way the braille system works and the way that computers and other new technology can be adapted to help deaf and blind people learn, express, and communicate.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Camden to Colombia....

Heading into day four in Colombia, it still seems slightly surreal to be here with 11 Americans, visiting foundations and seeing projects that I have spoken about so many times, but so rarely been able to share the experience with anyone first hand. So often over the years, I've separated my American life from my Colombian life and my social life from my volunteer work, but being able to spend time with some of my best friends, while teaching them about the country and social projects that mean so much to me is indescribable. We arrived late on Friday night, and first thing Saturday morning met with 10 foundations from all over Colombia to give a workshop on the use of digital photography to raise awareness about social causes and provide kids with an artistic outlet. Eliza Massey acted out the photographic process with her normal enthusiasm and charisma, lying on the floor, crouching down, and lurching behind her subjects in order to show the kids how to get just the right picture.
We listened to the goals and proposed projects of all the foundations, all of which are grassroots initiatives in severely marginalized, impoverished, and often violent parts of Colombia. One project, called Shooting Cameras for Peace, attended our workshop and offered their experiences working with kids, cameras, and violent conflict. We will be working to support the continuance of their project and they will be offering us guidance and follow up support to the foundations in Colombia that have been awarded cameras.
There's a lot more I could write.... we've been visiting neighborhoods, learning sign language with deafblind kids, and today, we visited Fundacion Formemos, the first place I worked when I arrived to Colombia.... I'll add more in the next couple days, but right now, having stopped to rest for the first time all day, I'm realizing how exhausted I am want to try and get at least one full night of rest. My friend Kevin Hanson, has also started a blog. He came to Colombia for the first time several months ago after a trip I helped him organize through Partners of the Americas and, having fallen in love with Colombia, he's back for a couple months to help me with the photography project and intern with various other organizations. Some of you might find his comments interesting as well.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A little help from your friends

Hi! My name is Anna Sideris, I am a long time friend of Alison's, and I will be accompanying her on her next trip to Colombia in February. As we come to the end of our count down to the Colombia trip, Alison is working overtime to get all the details in order, thus I am stepping in as her fill-in blogger. Our group is leaving February 14th for a two week tour through Bogota and Barranquilla. Right now we are all attempting to gather as many donations as possible to carry with us to Colombia because shipping fees are very high. If you are interested in making a donation, the following is a brief list of supplies which would be beneficial:
- school supplies (e.g. paper, pencils, art supplies, etc...)
- digital cameras and batteries
- children's clothing
- cloth diapers
- monetary donations
- anything else which you think may be useful!
All donations should be made to the Global Opportunity Garden. I can be contacted at:
You may also send any donations to:
41 Melvin Hts. Rd.
Camden, ME 04843

Wednesday, January 16, 2008 Wishlist

My Wish List
A couple days ago, I got a great suggestion about how I might make it easier for people to donate things that the foundation needs. As many of you know, I've made a pledge that all donations will go directly to people and projects in need. I don't take a salary, and I pay for all administrative fees and airline tickets myself. But, in order to do that, I need everyone to keep helping me. I've started a Wish List on Amazon to help make it easier for everyone to make donations, and, so that you'll know exactly what your donation is going to.
You can click on the icon, or search wish lists on for Alison McKellar's wish list, which is titled Global Opportunity Garden.
Thanks again to everyone!

Everyone wants to go to Colombia!

Three months ago, when I announced I'd be taking a group of people to Colombia to learn about how different foundations are making a difference in the in world, I thought it would be pretty tough to sell people on the idea. Never did I imagine that I'd have to tell people the trip was full... but it is. Actually, with 11 people, it's more than full.... and I get new requests every day, which is just one more indicator showing me that people really do want to make a difference in the world; sometimes we just don't know how.

The most exciting thing is that everyone knows that they have not signed up for a tourist trip. Sure, we'll be sure to enjoy the beauty, biodiversity, and fascinating culture that Colombia has to offer, but more than anything, we're going to learn, to share our lives and skills, and broaden our global perspective.

But to all of you that didn't make it into this trip, don't worry, we'll be going again soon. I'm literally blown away by all the people who've offered their time, support, and encouragement... now I just have to figure out how to organize everyone.