Archives for August 2015

VE Affiliate “Maloca” Brings Kamayurá Chief to UN to Tell of Crisis in Amazon


Kamayurá chief tells UN of crisis in the Amazon

Chief Kotok of the Kamayurá indigenous people recently addressed the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) and described the crisis faced by his people and other indigenous groups in the Amazonian Basin in Brazil.

“For those of you who do not know [what is happening] in the Amazon, we are in crisis,” Kotok told the forum in late April. “There is a lot of deforestation and we drink poisoned water. They’re putting poison in the water and we eat poisoned fish,” he explained.

As UNPFII Vice Chairperson Dalee Sambo Dorough explained, the cattle industry has contaminated the rivers and streams in the Upper Xingu region and dirtied the fishing grounds of the Kamayurá and other tribes. “Obviously, this has a direct impact on their economies,” she said.

“It was a very disturbing plea,” Sambo Dorough said of Kotok’s address to the UNPFII. “They need help; they are suffering,” she added.


Kotok also said the Kamayurá and the 15 other indigenous ethnicities in the Xingu opposed any changes to the current indigenous laws in Brazil. Congress has long discussed transferring the power to demarcate indigenous lands from the executive branch to the legislature, where the agribusiness, mining and energy industries have significant lobbying power. “I don’t know how it’s going to be,” Kotok said.

Protecting the Xingu Indigenous Park

While in New York, Kotok delivered a proposal from the Associação Terra Indígena Xingu (ATIX) and approved by the Xingu chiefs to protect the Xingu Indigenous Park to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Brazil Permanent Mission to the UN. He also met with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Senior Policy Advisor to discuss ways to preserve the Xingu Indigenous Park.

The ATIX proposal includes the creation of a protective buffer zone around the Xingu Indigenous Park. Intensive soybean cultivation and cattle ranching in the region not only leads to increased deforestation but also pollutes the headwaters of the Xingu River through the use of fertilizers and pesticides. The Xingu River is the primary source of food and water for the Kamayurá and other tribes in the region.

Kotok also wants to clearly mark the borders of the Xingu Indigenous Park. The original markers have either collapsed or been destroyed by intruders, leaving no physical signs to denote the park’s borders. Clear signs act to keep cattle ranchers and soybean farmers out of the indigenous zone.

The Xingu Indigenous Park is the largest indigenous reserve in the world with 2.64m hectares but it is in the middle of the deforestation belt in the state of Mato Grosso.

Cultural exchange

Kotok traveled to New York as part of a joint effort between the support organization Maloca and the International Native Tradition Interchange (INTI). The environmental organization Conservation International provided a grant to fund the chief’s visit.

Kotok’s son Aira came to New York with the support of Maloca and delivered a message alongside his father at the National Museum of the American Indian on 22 April. Aira described life among the Kamayurá, including details on his training regimen for the traditional huka-huka wrestling matches that take place during the Kuarup funeral ritual every year. Kotok organized this year’s Kuarup because his father passed away last year.

Kotok and Aira enjoyed their short stay in New York. They were impressed with the tall buildings but wondered if the fish from the Hudson and East rivers were clean enough to eat. They sampled iced coffee and Buffalo wings while they were in the city but they particularly liked drinking cold water, something they do not have in the village. They did not like taking the subway because they felt stuck in a hole in the ground. They preferred taking the bus because they could take in the sights of the city. But if they felt homesick, they would spend a few minutes on the shore of the lake in Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

The Shifting Landscape of Development Assistance & Funding – Some Recommended Writings on the Subject

USAID Billboard

One of the central tensions in international development assistance is the affect that outside organizations have on co-opting priorities and the direction of action at the local level. In their 2002 article titled Operationalising bottom-up learning in international NGOs: barriers and alternatives (Volume 12, Numbers 3 & 4) Power, Maury, and Maury give one of the best description of this tensions and while now over a decade old, is still very much true. The authors summarize the problem in this way:

“[M]ost INGO interactions with community groups can be defined by a single input: money. While there are often attempts to build a more holistic partnership, once funds are introduced the relationship becomes one of power held by the INGO with the community often forced to respond ‘appropriately’ to INGO’s real or perceived wishes in order to secure the elusive funds. Some INGOs have sought to mitigate this effect by working through local community organisations or local NGOs. However, the unequal power relationship generally is transferred to this relationship as well. Ashman (2000) observes that formal agreements as written by INGOs (a) almost always ensure upward (rather than mutual) accountability; (b) are bounded by timelines too short for effective development (usually three years); and (c) suffer from a lack of mutual agreement on the terms for ending funding (tending to be INGO driven).”

Powers, Maury & Maury go so far as to recommend that because of this problem INGO’s should “cease being operational in the field” arguing that:

“Because such intensive, hands-on activities often demand a deep sensitivity and familiarity with local needs and conditions, we believe it may be most effective if INGOs go beyond decentralising their operations and cease being operational in the field. This can be done by forging ties with autonomous local NGOs which have a proven commitment and track record in handing over controls in the development process to the communities where they are working. To the degree that terms for partnership can be negotiated equitably, the imperative for standardised and impersonal mass reproduction of one strategy, which ironically is often only magnified (rather than adapted) in the process of decentralisation, can be significantly curtailed.”

These concerns are echoed in a more recent 2015 article by Nicola Banks, David Hulm and Michael Edwards, all of who are leaders in the study of organizational development and civil society.

NGOs, States, and Donors Revisited: Still Too Close for Comfort? by NICOLA BANKS, DAVID HULME and MICHAEL EDWARDS. World Development Vol. 66, pp. 707–718, 2015

Summary — Serious questions remain about the ability of NGOs to meet long-term transformative goals in their work for development and social justice. We investigate how, given their weak roots in civil society and the rising tide of technocracy that has swept through the world of foreign aid, most NGOs remain poorly placed to influence the real drivers of social change. However we also argue that NGOs can take advantage of their traditional strengths to build bridges between grassroots organizations and local and national-level structures and processes, applying their knowledge of local contexts to strengthen their roles in empowerment and social transformation.

At its core, Banks, Hulme and Edwards argue that the shift called for by critics such as themselves (in a 1996 article) as well as others, such as Powers, Maury & Maury, hasn’t happened quick enough and as a result, is seriously compromising effectiveness of aid.

Despite the inability of INGO’s to transform their practice, to let go of the reigns and truly empower grassroots organizations, a quite revolution has taken place in development financing brought about by the proliferation of the internet, cell phones, and digital media. This revolution is direct-giving – the ability of individuals to make financial contributions directly to local grassroots and civil society organizations and bypassing the usual INGO intermediaries. The following 2014 article by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) describes the transformation taking place and similar to the previous articles, calls for “new business models” to ensure that these trends financing benefit the peoples with the most need.

“The Changing Role of NGOs and Civil Society in Financing Sustainable Development” by Sarah Hénon, Judith Randel and Chloe Stirk, Development Initiatives DEVELOPMENT CO-OPERATION REPORT 2014 © OECD

Summary — The role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society in financing sustainable development is important, but it is changing. While domestic resource mobilisation and international commercial flows are growing very rapidly, they are not equally available to all. NGO finance, capacity and expertise are critical for populations at risk of being left behind. This chapter outlines the scale and trends in resources raised and mobilised by NGOs and civil society, and identifies a rise in direct giving by the public. It finds that the classifications of countries into “developed” and “developing”, and models based on raising money in the “North” and spending it in the “South” do not fit well with the distribution of poverty across and within countries. New business models are needed. To achieve the post-2015 global goals, civil society finance and expertise are needed, along with new cross-border partnerships between organisations working on similar issues, supported by increased transparency and civil society space.

The central actor in the Village Earth approach is a particular type of intermediate organization that focuses on supporting grassroots initiatives from the bottom-up called a Grassroots Support Organization (GSO). Rather than being dictated by the priorities, time-lines and methods of donors, GSO’s form a long-term alliances with a particular region and are committed to its long-term empowerment. In a 2008 article in the Journal of Community Practice, GSO’s were described this way:

“A subset of NGOs has decided to move beyond social service provision and invest in initiatives that build the human and financial resources of impoverished communities. Focusing on diverse issues—from health and the environment to political mobilization and microenterprises—these NGOs share a common approach to the communities with which they work: They foster the long-term empowerment of impoverished populations by assisting them in decision making and the mobilization of resources and political power. This core approach is what defines these development NGOs as grassroots support organizations.”

In the Village Earth Approach one GSO can support several grassroots community-driven initiatives and organizations across an entire region.  In this way, we support the development of two levels of social organization, regional AND at the grassroots community level. GSO’s provide temporary organizational support, fiscal sponsorship, funding, networking, advocacy, and training to these grassroots organizations so they can access the resources they need to develop and refine their strategies, giving them the time to develop organically rather than being rushed simply to meet the demands of donors. Where one GSO can serve as a support hub for numerous formal and informal grassroots organizations, Village Earth serves as an international hub for a multiple GSO’s around the world, providing access to international donors through our fiscal sponsorship based in the United States and Europe, organizational support, training, networking, and advocacy support services. 

In the traditional aid system funding flows from top-to-bottom. Often mirroring that flow is decision-making and power. According to Powers (2002) “While there are often attempts to build a more holistic partnership, once funds are introduced the relationship becomes one of power held by the INGO with the community often forced to respond ‘appropriately’ to INGO’s real or perceived wishes in order to secure the elusive funds”. A common dilemma that occurs with the traditional funding model is the competition that is created between the NGO and communities over funds. For example with a well project, since the Community oftentimes doesn’t know how much is budgeted for the project, they will seek to get the best well they can get. The NGO, on the other hand seeks to economize and get just the quality of well that will do the job since any funds remaining can either be used to purchase more wells or be used to cover other aspects of the project, like salaries for its personnel. The Village Earth decentralized funding model eliminates the built-in competition between outside organizations! Here’s how it works. Rather than funding and decision-making flowing from the top-down, In the Village Earth decentralized model, each level of organization is ultimately responsible for it’s own survival and for generating its own funding, but with support and training from the level above it. In exchange for these services, the level above retains a small percentage of any funding generated through the partnership. All levels are also provided support and training to develop income generating programs, eventually eliminating the need for outside funding. For example, the GSO can work with grassroots to create income generating services to meet locally determined needs, such as micro-finance services, training, organizing farmers’ or artisans’ markets, supporting a marketing cooperative, computer and telecommunications, etc.

This is a radical departure from the traditional system. Instead of grassroots organizations being dependent on the NGO, the NGO is now dependent on the grassroots and Village Earth is dependent on the GSO’s, creating a monetary incentive for providing relevant and timely support services that benefit the grassroots. It also creates an incentive for grassroots organizations to increase their capacity and become formalized so they can retain the overhead paid to the GSO and for the GSO to longer need the support from Village Earth.

Topics discussed in this article are also discussed in the following courses in our online certificate program: Approaches to Community Development & Development and the Politics of Empowerment.

VE Affiliate Eco-V Boosts Biodiversity & Environmental Consciousness with Urban Eco-Gardens


Village Earth Global Affiliate Eco-V is building awareness and appreciation for the natural environment among urban youth through the development of an gardens in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is one of the most bio-diverse countries in Asia, considered by Conservation International as one of world’s 25 biodiversity “hot-spots”. Protecting this rich environment for the long-term means training the next generation of environmental stewards. Eco-Friendly Volunteers based in Sri Lanka runs a number of programs for youth and kids to expand their thinking & positive behavior change is encouraged by having “Eco Gardens”, places for urban Bio-diversity conservation and learning.


“There were 6 species of butterflies in the area when we started the Eco Garden in 2013 but now we have 59 species recorded so far. “

Youth and kids get training within this Eco Garden & get inspired what they see at urban setup. We started this in September 2013 and already obtained the organic Participatory Guarantee system certificate for Eco garden. There were 6 species of butterflies in the area when we started the Eco Garden in 2013 but now we have 59 species recorded so far. Fortunately we were able to buy the adjacent piece of land which we are expecting to expand Eco garden activities into 455 square meters.


Eco-V Director, Kanchana Weerekoon teaching youth about the importance of protecting Sri Lanka’s rich biodiversity.

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