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The Art (& Rules) of Gifting to Playa de Oro

Playa de Oro is a community which has most of the necessities. However, these folks survive mainly by hunting and gathering and are largely outside the cash economy. The poorest family does not have a great deal less than the most affluent. No one owns a car or even a bicycle. They do have "ganas" (wants), but their hunger for material things is not nearly as extensive as our own, in part because as yet they are not bombarded in their hometown with advertising aimed at making them crave crap they don't really need. Their unpaved streets are not littered with trash and the village is not surrounded by mountains of garbage.

 
We, as visitors, can change that simpler, saner way of living by giving inappropriate gifts, distributed in ways that cause envy and destroy pride. We try not to do that, and ask others not to. What we ask is that gifts be appropriate (see list below), and that all gifts, no matter how small, be left with the administrator of the lodge, or the village president, to be distributed in the community in a way that is seen to be fair. By making donations in this way, visitors avoid behaving like Lords and Ladies Bountiful, and the villagers do not learn to relate to visitors as Santa Clauses and walking ATM machines.

WHAT IS AN APPROPRIATE GIFT OR DONATION?

The most appropriate gift in a community this poor is one which has a health value or a utilitarian purpose.

* TOOTHBRUSES & TOOTHPASTE. These can often be obtained free of charge from your dentist, and will take up little space in your luggage.
* BANDAIDS, BANDAGES, & ANTI-BACTERIAL CREAM. No drugs, except in very special cases. The village has no doctor and only an occasional nurse to ensure proper usage, nor any refrigeration to ensure proper storage. The villagers have traditional herbal remedies for most ailments. For medical assistance to individuals, see instructions below.
* BATH SOAP, & SHAMPOO-CONDITIONER-IN-ONE. (Shampoo and conditioner separately is not as good, because few in the village are literate, and cannot understand which is which and how they are to be used.)
* SEWING SUPPLIES, especially needles, sissors, and thread.
* BASEBALL CAPS & SUNGLASSES. These are good for eye protection against the glare of a tropical sun.
* MOSQUITO NETS, TOWELS, & WASHCLOTHS.
* COTTON UNDERWEAR. An excellent clothing gift, because it helps prevent yeast infections and jock rash. (Much of the underwear sold in the Third World is nylon, which can cause or exacerbate those infections).
* REUSABLE CLOTH DIAPERS for babies and CLOTH SANITARY PADS for women. Many church sewing circles make and donate such items for distribution in the Third World. Disposable diapers, sanitary pads and tampons are not acceptable.
* SANDALS & RUBBER GUMBOOTS. Sandals prevent children from running barefoot and picking up parasites from the soil. Rubber boots are needed for protection against snakebite when walking in the jungle. Boots should be in larger sizes (6 and up), as small children rarely walk in the forest. It makes no sense to transport rubber boots from abroad, since they can be purchased in almost any Ecuadorian market for $5 or $6 a pair. Anyone wanting to donate boots should either purchase them at the market on the way to Playa de Oro, or leave the money with the village president with instructions to use it for that purpose.
* RAIN PONCHOS are useful, since Playa de Oro is located in one of the most humid places on earth, and there are few days without at least some rain. Playa de Orans prefer ponchos to raincoats, as these are more flexible, to fit different family members. Also, a poncho covers the legs when traveling by boat on the river. Since all visitors to the reserve are advised to bring a poncho, one possibility is to leave the one you bring behind when you go if you don't think you will need later on your travels. Even if you plan to donate it, you should carry it with you for the boat ride out of the reserve, in case it rains. Upon arrival in Selva Alegre, you can give it to the boatman and tell him, "Para la comunidad". Lined ponchos are best, as the thin plastic ones have a life span of about 15 minutes.
*Clothing other than the items mentioned above is not a priority. But if you want to bring good quality children's clothing (durable items which can withstand being scrubbed on the rocks in the river), or want to leave some item of personal clothing behind, that's okay--just leave it at teh lodge for later distribution. (But please, no religious, commercial, or political slogan t-shirts!)
* SCHOOL SUPPLIES: pencils, pens, blue books, chalk, small slates, arithmetic flash cards, crayons, and picture books IN SPANISH which show at least some children of color. Nothing religious, commercial, or showing an abundance of material items. Maps, and posters promoting the natural environment, are nice.
* HAND TOOLS, especially for woodworking. (Wood planes, hand drills & bits, saws, & hammers. These can often be picked up at bargain prices at yard sales and in second-hand stores. Also hand garden tools, wire cutters, and tin snips.
* HAMMOCKS. These can be purchased for about $5 in Otavalo (not in the square, where they cost $15 and up, but in a shop half a block down, on Quiroga St.) Hammocks make comfortable cradles for newborn children, and a nice place for anyone, toddler to senior, to nap in the afternoon. As village cottages are quite small, hammocks are more appropriate than furniture, because they can be unhooked and hung to one side when not in use. Hammocks should come with a length of rope. Hammock hooks are helpful but not essential.
* POTS & PANS. Especially fry pans, and most especially cast iron, which lasts forever and does not leach aluminum into the food as does the cheap cookware sold in village markets in the Third World.
* HAND MEAT GRINDERS. Ideal for grinding the yucca root--also called cassava or manioc--which is one of their dietary staples, and which, without a grinder, requires long, laborious pounding.
* SILVERWARE, all kinds.
* METAL STORAGE CONTAINERS such as cake & cookie tins -- the bigger the better. Great for keeping rice, beans, and other staples safe from insects and rats.
* RESTING MATS for little kids. (These are usually donated to the village daycare).
* ACOUSTIC MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS: flutes, recorders, harmonicas, guitars. Drums are made in the village; no need to bring them.
* Toys and recreational items should generally be something which can be shared and enjoyed by a number of children at once. Favorite games are soccer and basketball. Beach balls are dangerous, because a child might chase it into the river current and be swept away. No plastic crap, please.

GIVE WHATEVER YOU WANT TO DONATE TO THE LODGE ADMINISTRATOR OR VILLAGE PRESIDENT.

The village president and other council members will distribute the items equally in the village. This way everyone in the village can see that they are benefiting personally and directly from the conservation reserve project. Yet they will not be receiving these benefits in a manner which is demeaning, or in a way which will encourage them to start soliciting gifts from visitors. It will be explained to them that the gifts were left by visitors by way of thanks to the community for its hospitality.

MEDICAL ASSISTANCE TO INDIVIDUALS

It is not uncommon for knowledgeable people to walk through the village and see a serious health problem which could easily be treated at what might be an insignificant cost to us, but which is totally unaffordable for the villager. Our policy for providing assistance to such individuals is to do it through the Village President, who will be responsible for managing the money, and requiring receipts for doctors, transport to the city, lab tests, and the required therapy. In exchange, the person receiving the help promises to contribute something to the conservation project when they are able. For example, when the village boat builder became incapacitated by a hernia, a donor, via the Reserve, paid for his operation. In exchange, the old man now greets visitors as the boat arrives in Playa de Oro, and accompanies them around his three-block-square home town to see the school, the church, the cemetery, the soccer field, the daycare center, and so on. This ensures that the money is spent for the medical purpose intended, and that the person on the receiving end can feel good about having accepted it, because s/he is offered a way to repay--and that repayment is made to a conservation project which benefits everyone.

MAJOR DONATIONS

Various individuals have made generous donations to the reserve and to the community. Sometimes this is in the form of undesignated cash, and is used to pay salaries and buy food for the employees of the lodge when income from eco-tourism is not sufficient to meet payroll. On other occasions, a person will donate a certain amount for a specific thing. This can be done in a tax-deductible way through the Earthways Foundation, which is a registered non-profit organization. Earthways Foundation will then give the money (100% of it, with nothing taken out for overhead) to the Reserve, which in turn will ensure that it is used in accordance with donor wishes. For example, in the past we have received funds from individual donors for a year's operating expenses for the reserve, a new roof for the lodge, a boat, a boat motor, and medical expenses for various individuals.

EDUCATIONAL ASSISTANCE

One thing the community desperately needs, which it has been trying to obtain for years, is funding for a teacher--or better yet, two teachers--one for the 30 or so children ages five to ten, and one for the 23 or so children ages eleven to sixteen. This is a federal responsibility, which as yet has never been met, the Ecuadorian government being excessively corrupt and having zero interest in its more remote and poverty-stricken communities. Thus generations of Playa de Oroans have grown up illiterate, and still are. A teacher's salary in a village school is $2100/year. Donations are always needed to keep a steady educational program into the future. If someone should want to fund this project, it would, as with other projects, be done through the Village president and Reserve Project. By doing it this way, the villagers will understand that while the donation is a gift from abroad, it is a benefit received as a direct result of this community's determination to protect the rainforest to which it holds title, and its promise to provide sanctuary for all the wild cats that live there.

 
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