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Please make a donation towards our grants supporting literacy and environmental stewardship in rural Peru!

April 9, 2013.

Dear Supporters of Las Vidas Mejoradas,

Happy Spring! We hope this latest update finds you all happy, healthy and ready for the time of year we all look forward to. It’s time again to let you know what we’re up to for 2013.

We’d like first to reiterate how we are approaching our mission and work. At present we’re not focusing on clean burning stoves, although they remain needed, but rather on other aspects of our mission. So with that said, over the last few years, largely due to economic constraints, we at LVM made the decision to invite grant proposals from like-minded, small, registered non-profits so to work together, in this case, financially, to help improve the lives of the rural poor in the Sacred Valley of Peru. Quoting our mission statement, we are “….applying a broad based method emphasizing education, health and hygiene, micro-finance, utilization of local labor and materials, and follow-up. Our values center on working together with families to identify and achieve their goals, creating better lives for them and their children.”

We have chosen to sponsor two grants in 2013 in collaboration with two legally registered non-profits that we are personally familiar with: Living Heart, a Peruvian and UK based charity, and an American non-profit, AbrePuertas. Our first grant of $500 to Living Heart will go toward the purchase of library books and plastic covers for their mobile library program, which is now increasing to include three small communities in the high Andes. The second, also $500, will go to a literacy program for children with a focus on environmental stewardship, which will introduce recycling and include purchase of bins to place in the Cuzco and Coya regions of the Sacred Valley. You can read more about both of these at our web page at http://vidasmejoradas.org/ .

This is the point in our letter when we ask for donations. Please know that even small amounts make a big difference in programs like these and that we and our grant recipients depend on them! We strive to have as little as possible go to administrative costs which, on our part, only goes for bank fees and those fees to remain legally registered as required by the State of Oregon. And, equally, when we review grants, we look to each applicant’s administrative costs, so we know the money we raise goes to the program, and not for the benefit of the particular non-profit.

We are in the midst of planning one to two fundraising events in the Eugene and Springfield, Oregon area. We will keep you abreast well in advance so that our local supporters can join us in our mission.

As always, thank you all for your support of our work. And again, please remember that small amounts of money do in reality go a long way in these communities and to the programs that directly affect the quality of life for our beneficiaries. Donations can be made via our web page by hitting the PayPal button or by mailing your donation to Las Vidas Mejoradas, PO Box 1643, Springfield, OR 97477. Gracias.


Steve Bouton and Laurie Iaccino
Las Vidas Mejoradas

Our Blog

March 7, 2013

We’re delighted to announce our grant recipients for 2013!

First, an explanation about how we are approaching our mission and work. Over the last few years, due in a large degree to economic constraints, we at LVM made the decision to invite grant proposals from like-minded, small, registered non-profits so to work together, in this case, financially, to help improve the lives of the rural poor in the Sacred Valley of Peru.

Nearly two years ago, we pondered the cost of a plane ticket, and it was obvious for the cost of one ticket we could sponsor three to four programs like the ones I am about to tell you about. A little money, in this case $500, can go a long way in rural Peru!

Our first selection comes from Living Heart. We have sponsored previous programs proposed by Living Heart and are very excited for the opportunity to work together again. This is a proposal for expansion of their Mobile Library, previously piloted in two communities, where they are now adding a third. They will increase their student beneficiaries from 137-260 and include younger children. Teachers as well will benefit, as often in these small remote communities, they have few resources to stimulate young minds. Together Living Heart will work with teachers and an educational adviser, continuing to increase both the number and range of educational and fun/fantasy books and as well as bring the program to another community. Bringing books that can broaden thought processes, stretch imagination, and open discussion in the classroom will assist these children to get the most out of their education, and potentially, their futures. Our grant of $500 will provide them with many more books and clear film covering for each book.

Our second selection is from Abre Puertas whom we worked with last year. This year we’re excited to be part of program promoting literacy and environmental responsibility. Abre Puertas operates a community center in a small locale and within this program, they are beginning a new library, initially to be open weekly, all day, where 2-12 year old children and parents will benefit from library hours. Plans include story telling, and homework help on this day also. The program will also include opportunities for literacy-based workshops with topics like caring for our environment, plant growing, renewable and non renewable resources and recycling; and a Young Authors Series encouraging writing. A portion of the $500 grant will also go towards buying two recycling receptacles, so to collect plastic and then sell, with the money going to support Abre Puertas programs.

So, yes, it will be another win-win situation for collaborators and beneficiaries alike in 2013! We are so very excited! Great programs, modest costs with huge returns, an opportunity for all of us to give, and dependable, dedicated help on the ground both to initiate and followup on our commonly held endeavors that aim to assist the rural poor in Peru.

You will hear more soon about our fundraiser. planned in mid-June. We’re planning an event serving Peruvian-style chicken dinners and are in process of locating a commercial kitchen and inviting space in the Eugene/Springfield area. Please contact us at vidasmejoradas@gmail.com, if you have ideas!

Meanwhile, please consider making a donation; honestly, small amounts of money can make an incredible difference in these poor communities and the projects we carefully select to support. Please click on our PayPal link or send your donation to Las Vidas Mejoradas, PO Box 1643, Springfield, OR 97477

Again, thank you all.

December 2012 notes

The end of the year is fast approaching! Our grant recipients have been busy providing us with progress reports, submitting new proposals for our joint work in 2013, and perhaps more importantly, participating in annual “Chocolatadas”, whereby Christmas is brought to many children of high mountain communities in the form of a sweet bread, hot chocolate and a small toy.

And we’re updating our page as well. We wanted to organize things a bit better, introduce you to our awesome board, and highlight our current work and partners. Please stay posted for updates on our web page and our work for 2013.

As always, thank you for your support, both financially and otherwise.

Our New Logo!

Thank you Jim Reed!

It’s time for a fundraiser!

Happy spring to all!

We at LVM are gearing up for our fundraiser, June 11, 2012. It’ll be at Ninkasi Brewery, 272 Van Buren St, Eugene, Oregon from 5-9 PM. All day long, Ninkasi will donate 25% of all pint sales to LVM and beginning at 5 and until 9PM, we’ll be there with displays and a silent auction of various Peruvian weavings handmade by the women of the communities we have worked in.

We’ll be raising money for the greenhouse repair and construction taken on jointly by LVM and Living Heart; and for the Leadership program also sponsored jointly by LVM and AbrePuertas that supports empowering young people in small poor communities in the Sacred Valley.

We hope you can join us and if not, please consider making a donation either via PayPal, or directly to Las Vidas Mejoradas, PO Box 1643, Springfield, OR 97477.

Thank you all.

LVM Grant Recipients 2012

Dear Supporters of Las Vidas Mejoradas,

We at LVM are happy to announce our grant recipients. Our decision was reached after much deliberation. It was important to us to select a project that not only reflected our mission but also affected the greatest number of people, and that our grant go to complete a project rather than fund a portion of an ongoing project.

With that said, we have selected the Abre Puertas Project, “Integrated Adolescent Leadership and Healthy Development Program” as our first choice and as our second, Living Heart’s “Repair and Upgrade of a School Greenhouse”. Both will be provided a $500 grant.

The Abre Puertas Project will take place in the community of Coya, approximately one hour from Cuzco. Their program, one year old, is housed in a building donated by the municipality and functions as a community education center serving all generations. Like many Andean communities, little exists in the way of after school opportunities or academic support, with high drop-out rates, teen pregnancy and adults struggling with the problems of alcoholism, illiteracy, and limited economic opportunities. This particular project will take place over six months and will focus on developing leadership opportunities for adolescents. Plans are to form a youth advisory board of 20 members, ages 12-16 that will meet monthly and create projects benefiting the larger community of 50 children and adolescents,. Monthly workshops and/or roundtable discussions suggested by the advisory board will be held with upcoming topics that range from traditional dance and music, to alcoholism and domestic violence. An English study group will support those studying English in school. And most intriguing, a three month long series on sexual health and prevention will be held weekly.

Our second selection is Living Heart’s proposal of a Repair and Upgrade of a School Greenhouse. This project will take place in a highland community above Pisaq, 4000 m above sea level. Living Heart currently has a nutrition program in this locale and feels residents to be very united. An extremely dedicated school director named Emilio has singlehandedly changed the local school from a drab, ruined building to one of the most modern in the area, with many educational materials, the greenhouse, a modern and efficient kitchen, big classrooms and clean toilets and showers. They propose to train Emilio in organic cultivation, greenhouse maintenance and compost making. The greenhouse needs repair; soil will be improved by organic means; and the plastic replaced. The school will be provided with a water tank, hoses, and water connections for the greenhouse, as well as needed tools and seeds. This program will complement their already existing and successful nutrition program.

We are thrilled at the opportunity to partner with Abre Puertas and Living Heart in programs supporting our mutual missions in education and health in the Sacred Valley of Peru!

We will keep you updated on both projects via newsletter and at our web site www.vidasmejoradas.org .

In closing, please consider supporting these small, yet important projects in education and health by making a donation, or by attending our fundraiser to be held in late March in Eugene, Oregon.

We can create better lives, now and in the future.

Thank you,

Laurie Iaccino, RN

President, Las Vidas Mejoradas

LVM is proud to announce it’s grant recipients!

We at Las Vidas Mejoradas want to thank all of the non-profits who submitted a total of eight proposals for review and possible collaboration. We were struck by the fact that there is no shortage of good work to do, or conscientious, caring nonprofits and people behind them in The Sacred Valley. Thank you!

Our decision was reached after much deliberation. It was important to us to select a project that not only reflected our mission but also affected the greatest number of people, and that our grant go to complete a project rather than fund a portion of an ongoing project. As a federally tax-exempt nonprofit here in the US, we are prevented from collecting donations for an individual person (called earmarking), and thus cannot fund such requests, no matter how worthy. We are required to monitor closely how our money is spent, receive regular progress and evaluation reports, visit and participate, even if from a distance.

We have selected the Abre Puertas Project, “Integrated Adolescent Leadership and Healthy Development Program” as our first choice and as our second, Living Heart’s “Repair and Upgrade of a School Greenhouse”. We will be in contact shortly with the above groups to discuss further when the funding will be available for each.

Again we wish to thank you all for your carefully thought out projects and your patience during our deliberation process. Everyone is doing wonderful work and we are proud to be even a small part of it.

We hope that a year from now we will have raised the funds to invite another set of proposals for small grants, and look forward to a continuing collaboration as we all work together to bring una vida mejorada to the people of The Sacred Valley.

2011 Update to Our Supporters

December 20, 2011

Dear Supporters,

2011 has been a year of completion and new beginnings for Las Vidas Mejoradas. We want to take time now to thank you for your support, both financially and through advice and encouragement, as well as to update you on the happenings in 2011 and anticipated work in 2012 for LVM.

Our biggest news is that we successfully attained our tax exempt status in September of this year! This means that those of you who have donated since April of 2009 can now use those as deductions this year at tax filing time. And yes, we will continue to provide receipts for future donations.

We returned to Peru in March of this year and revisited all the families with improved stoves to complete our two year program in Mandorani. Reports of our findings and photos can be found at our website www.vidasmejoradas.org.

Other news is that our work is beginning to take new forms and we are taking the time now in this economic environment to join hands with other small, committed, registered non-profits in the region in support of goals in line with ours. To that end, while in Peru, we researched and visited other non-profit organizations and their work in the vicinity of The Sacred Valley, in order to prepare ourselves to collaborate with other people on the ground in projects reflecting both of our missions.

We solicited and are now reviewing small grant proposals (approximately $500) from several of these organizations. Proposals include assisting with bus costs to transport disabled children to school daily; an adolescent leadership and education program in a small community that promotes completion of their studies, done through support in issues related to family violence, alcoholism and teenage pregnancy; a school lunch program; and repair of a greenhouse in a highland community. Our board is discussing these proposals with the goal of selecting one that best reflects our mission, affecting the most people we can, as well as being sustainable with both a timeline and a future in mind. We will write you later and post to the webpage with more information about the program we select and news of a fundraiser planned for late winter.

In closing, please consider Las Vidas Mejoradas in your annual end-of-year gift giving. We will continue to apply your donations wisely in programs that support healthier lives and environments.

Happy Holidays to All,

Laurie Iaccino, RN

President, Las Vidas Mejoradas

501(c)-3 Federal Tax Exempt Status Attained!

Hello All,

On September 12, 2011 we received notice from the IRS that our application for tax exempt status was approved! What that means for our donors is that any donations made to Las Vidas Mejoradas in the previous two years (from April 2009 to present) can be applied to your taxes when filing for 2011. If you cannot locate the statements that we’ve sent out over this period of time, please let us know and we will send a copy.

So what is in store for LVM now? Laurie plans to write to other small non-profits working in Peru to obtain grant proposals in the areas of health and environment. And over the next couple of board meetings in 2011 we will discuss what proposals we have received and make plans for a fundraiser.

Previously our projects were co-created working hand-in-hand with small communities and carried out with greater amounts of time (on our part) to do the work on the ground in Peru. Now with less time to be there ourselves, and less money, we look to forward to joining hands with other committed, viable small groups to continue our work together.

Thank you all for your continued support,
Laurie Iaccino and Steve Bouton
Las Vidas Mejoradas

Form 1023 is in!

This week Steve sent off a completed 1023 application to the IRS to apply for our formal 501(c)3 federal tax exempt status! Kudos to Steve, Ellen, David, and Laurie. Thanks to all for their time, work, and talents. We will keep you posted!

…Bioferia…Ollanta…new directions

Hi everybody!
One more update here for you. We wrapped everything up in Mandorani on the 15th. Laurie and our friend Luisa went out and did the last two family interviews. A few words about Luisa – she is a Peruvian who contacted us on Facebook while she was getting a degree in Natural Resource Management from a college in Portland. We were never able to meet her in the States, but she took a bus from her hometown of Andahuayllas (sp?) to meet us and see some family and friends (in a strange coincidence, she has a sister in Soncco, where we built 20 ill-fated Inkawasi stoves in 2007). She is the oldest of ten children, from a very poor village in one of the poorest parts of Peru. The new mayor in her town is unfortunately not very receptive to her ideas (the old one was), and so she is now looking for projects to get involved in (or start). Laurie gave her some personal money to get started, and we are considering working with her in the future because she is smart and dedicated and amazing.
The next day we found a great cheap bus line that goes direct from Cusco to Ollantaytambo called Diamante Express (10 soles!). Our friend Leander of My Small Help kindly offered to put us up in her house. We were thrilled to see such unheard-of luxuries as a full size fridge and a WASHING MACHINE!!! Nice beds, too.
Once we got settled in, we continued preparing for a table at the Urubamba Bioferia (kind of an eco-fair & craft market). Early on Sunday morning we headed out to Urubamba (a 20-minute drive) where Tomas had agreed to meet us. For a while we just sat there as people set up the tents and tables, they all seemed to know each other and were really busy. Once things got rolling around 10 AM, we were mobbed by people for six hours straight. Between Tomas, Laurie, and myself we must have talked to 60 or 70 people. Most of them took stove plans (which we had for free), and about twenty took Tomas’ number down. Hopefully he will be able to make some money while helping people! The vendors were eerily similar to the Oregon Country Fair demographic, lots of dreadlocks and hippie garb. But they all turned out to be really nice (lots of these expats aren’t), and we bought a few things from various tables as the day went by. Another nice thing about our table was that it was set apart from the main section, and almost all of the people we talked to were Urubamba families in town for the regular market day (which was also happening up the street). Exactly the people we were hoping to reach. We left at 4 PM, sunburned and exhausted but very happy with how things had gone.
On Monday we took a hike out to where our friend Carlos wants to eventually build a type of eco-village for tourists. Laurie very reluctantly rode a horse partway, while I just huffed it up the constant slope. It took about an hour to get there, and once we did we were maybe 2/3 of the way up the ridgeline. Below us, on the other side of the valley, we could see where we had stayed for the Solstice dawn in 2007. The land has a lot of potential, but the only real development aside from organic crops has been a partial building frame (roof, corners, and floor joists). Carlos is going to be travelling and working over the next year or two and then he might have more resources to put into the project.
Tuesday we went with Carlos to buy food for the children of Thastayoc, the small village with stone/thatch houses that Laurie got so sick at last time (it’s at least 14,000 feet). We delivered the food and checked out the larger-sized stove. Tomas had originally built one with us in 2009, but we ran short of adobe and the stove apparently had not functioned well. It had been rebuilt with a big range hood that connected to the old chimney, and was doing a surprisingly good job of pulling the smoke up and out. Unfortunately, all of Laurie’s careful preparations (no food, coca tea) came to naught and she spent yesterday evening being very sick with soroche once again. So we decided not to visit Sipascancha this Saturday.
Carlos also took us by a school on the Ollantaytambo-Urubamba road called Pachar. It seemed like a location that could really use some help – the greenhouses had fallen into disuse and disrepair because the government had not repaired the water/irrigation system (meanwhile there are two huge rivers within a few hundred feet). In an area which is routinely (and deliberately) neglected by the government because of their leftist voting habits, this wasn’t exactly a surprise – but it was sad. They need an internet connection, those are much more difficult and expensive around here than they are in Cusco. We talked about the possibility of a school exchange with the head professor. As usual we saw a plaque with several nonprofit names on it bragging about the greenhouse, we would bet money that none of them have ever been back to check on it.
This morning we had a long talk with Sonia, the founder of the Living Heart NGO. We will be funding a community stove for them in a village of their choice. Tomas will build it and they will provide followup and updates. We are very happy to be able to work with them, they share our values as an NGO.
Today we are going to visit a family that Paskay helped out with some of the money we paid them for Mandorani follow-ups, and then in the afternoon we plan on visiting Lourdes’ family with Leander. Thursday is free for now but we’re sure it will fill up quickly. Friday we head back to Cusco for a few days of relaxing before the flight.
Thanks again to all of you,
Laurie & Steve
PS we will post pictures once in Cusco–internet too slow here!

Mandorani 2009 Stove Project Follow-up Two Years Out

Hi everybody,

Time for our first LVM update from Mandorani! We´re very happy to report that the project seems to have been successful even beyond what we had hoped for. At this point we have visited all but two of the houses that have stoves, and re-tested most of the people we had results from previously.

All of the stoves are being used in their original form, in marked contrast to our experience in Sipascancha two years ago. Of the 15 stoves in Mandorani, two were supposed to be built after we left, but that never happened. The chimneys are still there, they just didn´t get built for whatever reason. (And, of note, we originally had parts for 20 stoves and parts for 5 stoves were given to a small NGO here, Hampy. Despite attempted contact, we have no word on that outcome.) So we are working with a total of 13 stoves. The 11 we have seen are all in good condition, many were still warm from the morning fire. Anecdotal evidence from our interviews indicates that people are using about half as much wood as before (or at least consistently less). Cooking times are also reduced according to the women using them. Expiration volumes from the lungs (as measured with our peak flow meter) seem to be consistently higher, but we’re going to have to crunch those numbers later on
for more definite results. Blood oxygen levels seem about the same, which isn´t surprising.

Only one stove showed significant signs of wear, we think it was because they just didn’t know how to use clay to patch it up. Victoria, our friend who runs a local store, was in the process of rebuilding her kitchen, so hers was deconstructed for the time being. The other nine looked great. Our friend Florencio said that he had started having problems with draft and smoke, but once he cleaned the chimney it went back to normal – another good sign.

Everybody is telling us that they use the retention cooker baskets, some more often than others. But we haven’t actually SEEN one, and we get the feeling that maybe people are just telling us what they think we want to hear. That’s always a bit of a problem here. We always thought of the cookers as a kind of bonus or extra credit project, so it isn’t a high priority.

Yesterday was an almost perfect day, from the moment we got out of the taxi we ran into everybody we needed to see like it was pre-planned. We are still hoping to make it to Florencio’s house tomorrow, but he is the farthest away and we may not have time. We were also able to return the money we had promised (30 soles repaid, plus five in interest and five to buy a chimney cleaning brush) to every family. Due to some disagreements within the village from the last time, we weren’t sure how we would be received, but only one person seemed standoffish (she still took the money, though). Learning from bitter past experience, we included receipts with every envelope, plus copies of the contract and a one-page “operating manual.”

There were a few other things that were really inspiring. One was that the family who had seemed to have the most problems before (the ones who were throwing all their trash into the neighbor’s yard) was a lot more together, and the son had built his own kind of chimney setup in another of the houses. It was kind of like a range hood, not perfect but a lot better than nothing. On a similar note, everywhere we went in the village we saw other chimneys that we hadn’t built! People told us that it was another project, but we still don’t have all the details. We really really want to look at one, but we haven’t been able to yet. So the idea is out there and being copied, which is what we had hoped for.

Tomorrow we are going back out for the last time, and hopefully we will be able to test the last three families (one of which is a single elderly lady). Then we will be completely done in Mandorani, and move on to Ollantaytambo. We’d like to look at the five stoves that went to Jorge’s Hampy project in Choco, but that may not be possible. In Ollantaytambo, our friend Carlos has two projects he wants us to look at – a guinea pig farming project and a nascent eco-village which is still in the planning stages. We will be happy to leave Cusco’s horrific air pollution and oxygen-starved atmosphere. We think we are really truly done here, if/when we return it will be to work in smaller cities at lower altitudes.

For those of you who want to read more about our personal takes on things, you can check out Laurie´s Facebook page and Steve’s thread on ILX at http://www.ilxor.com/ILX/ThreadSelectedControllerServlet?boardid=40&threadid=52987#unread (scroll down to the bottom for the recent writing).

Photos are also up at the Flickr site, http://www.flickr.com/photos/stovesforperu, or you can just click at the tab on the right under “Blogroll” labeled “Our Flickr site”.

Thanks to everybody for their support, we couldn’t have done this without you.

Laurie, Steve, and Las Vidas Mejoradas

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