The Spirit of Big Five Foundation reflects the core beliefs of Big Five to conserve and protect the best of what our planet has to offer.  That encompasses conserving and protecting wildlife; working for poverty alleviation for some of the most vulnerable among us; education and healthcare for the next generation; and preserving the integrity of our global cultural heritage.

Kipi Robotic Education Program

Active since: 08-01-2021.  Region / Location: Peru

Let me introduce you to Big Five’s partnership with Walter Velasquez, an ingenious Peruvian teacher known for creating Kipi, the world’s first Quechua-speaking robot. Walter is a computer and design technician, who received undergraduate degrees in biology and chemistry and a postgraduate degree in educational sciences. Primarily though, he is a teacher with a genuine vocation for providing high quality inclusive education to kids in his beloved Huancavelica.

Due to the onset of the pandemic in 2020, schools in Peru were closed and education was provided through the internet and TV. However, in impoverished regions like Huancavelica with a lack of internet access, education is still a challenge and virtual education is unavailable. Despite these difficult circumstances, Walter got the idea to build a Quechua-speaking robot with recycled materials and solar energy. This robot has been previously programmed with the school curricula so Walter could raise the attention of the kids that were curious to learn and interact with this robot in regions where kids are still not able to visit a school. Kipi is a robot that can project videos through its eyes, interact with the kids with questions and answers, and soon will be able to use artificial intelligence and teach in over 40 local dialects.

His idea was so authentic that he was recognized as “promoter of Sciences in Peru” by the National Council of Science and Technology and awarded by the Peruvian Parliament. Above all else, what encourages him to keep working hard on improving the robots and reaching more communities is the joy of the kids while they learn and interact with Kipi. Currently, Walter has received the support of a private company to build 7 additional robots so he could bring education to more kids in rural areas. However, there is still a long way to go as half of the kids he teaches do not have internet service at home and still cannot receive a proper education. Due to the area’s geography, Walter travels by foot to each remote house in the mountains of Huancavelica with Kipi carried on the back of a llama or a donkey.

Huancavelica is one of the poorest regions of the country which has been hardest hit by domestic terrorism and is one of the main cocaine-producing regions today. Young children, devoid of access to education and basic quality of life have left no choice except to join in this illegal trade.

With your journey, the Spirit of Big five Foundation is investing in and supporting Walter’s education project, supporting a better quality of life and opportunities for hundreds of kids all with a way to fight against narcoterrorism through accessible interactive education.

 

Guatemala Eco-Filters for Schools Program

Active since: 06-01-2021  .  Region / Location: Guatemala

Sadly, 95% of all water in Guatemala is dangerous to drink. Guatemala’s water is the leading cause of death in many villages and one out of four rural public schools do not have potable water. This is how the Eco-filter school program was born. Its main two objectives are to distribute drinking water to community schools and involve parents in the “water for life” initiative so that children have access to purified water in both their school and at home. Parents can purchase their water filter with access to different forms of payment plans that Eco-filter offers.

Eco-filters are handcrafted by local artisans and composed of a ceramic filtering unit (made of clay, sawdust, and colloidal silver) that hangs inside a container equipped with a top and a spigot for the filtered water. In the filtering unit, the fired clay produces microscopic pores that trap turbidity and bacteria. Each filter lasts about two years, and afterward, the filter can be used to enrich the soil and grow food.

So how does the program work? First, Eco-Filter assigns a community representative to identify the school that is most organized, motivated, and has high parent involvement. Once the school has been identified, the delivery of water filters is scheduled. On the day of the delivery, the Eco-Filter representative explains the importance of clean drinking water, the benefits of the water filter, and the payment plan options. The school principal is responsible for inviting all parents to the event to ensure control of the donations. If parents subscribe to the “water for life” initiative, they receive their filter.

A donation of US$35 covers the cost of one filter for one classroom, including the delivery and training. This eco-filter will provide 25 children with purified water for two years in a public school in the rural communities of Guatemala.

 

Jetwing Youth Development Program

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 Jetwing | Big Five ToursThe Spirit of Big Five Foundation, working with the nonprofit Jetwing Youth Development Program (JYDP) helps fund training for children of war in northern Sri Lanka around Jaffna. These children were born into and grew up in a war zone. As a result, they are dealing with substance abuse issues and premature death.

At a time when conflict and other crises devastated many industries in the country, older children, especially those from rural marginalized communities, faced stiff odds in getting jobs that offered a career path. Because there was no real prospect for employment in the north and these young people were considered unemployable by many, the downward cycle accelerated. The average age of death among them is 31.

JYDP was initiated in 2006 with the inception of Jetwing Vil Uyana property in Sigiriya; The Jetwing Youth Development Project originated from a need to encourage young people in the area to consider a career in the hospitality industry. The JYDP put these young men and women through tourism training and found them jobs in hospitality within Jetwing hotels in Sri Lanka.

The program evolved, focusing on improving socio-economic wellbeing in rural and marginalized communities through employment in tourism. It also positively influences the country’s reconciliation effort. The training is free to students, who earn certificates equal to internationally accepted NVQ standards, and employment opportunities at a Jetwing hotel.

Rasiyapriya Udayakumar, a young woman from Jaffna, joined the JYDP to create a better future for herself. She went through the six-month program that included professional and personal development, encompassing theoretical and practical training. English language, tourism and hospitality, hotel operations, general etiquette, and health and safety at work were studied. The final phase was on-the-job training, which she completed at Jetwing Yala, a property in southern Sri Lanka. She learned and perfected culinary skills. She now works in the kitchen of Jetwing Jaffna. Rasiyapriya supports her family and is well on her way to fulling her dream to become a renowned chef.

UPDATE 2020
With every dollar the Spirit of Big Five gives to this project, JYDP creates opportunities for young people like Rasiyapriya to embark on careers to become skilled professionals in the hospitality industry. This allows successful graduates to develop sustainable sources of income that will grow as they progress in their careers, empowering them to support their families and their communities.

 

Awamaki

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Awamaki | Big Five ToursAwamaki was founded in 2009 to connect indigenous artisan women to markets outside their villages. In remote Quechua villages, most women do not speak Spanish, read or write. The men work on the Inca Trail, and the women stay in the village to care for children, animals, and farms. Women have no education or opportunities to help them earn money for their families, but they are skilled in spinning, weaving, and the arts of Peru’s rich textile heritage.

Awamaki is making a lasting impact in the remote mountains of Peru by giving rural Andean women a place to learn skills and have opportunities previously unavailable to them. They come to this women’s association to learn how to create and launch a small business creating authentic, high-quality products. Awamaki invests in women’s skills, connects them to markets, and supports their business leadership. The efforts provide women with a reliable source of income so they can increase their families’ quality of life and well-being as well as help lift their communities out of poverty. The cooperative operates a store in Ollantaytambo and sells in the United States through our online store, trunk shows, and partner retailers.

Awamaki was formed in early 2009 to support a cooperative of 10 women weavers from Patacancha, a rural Quechua community in the Andes of Peru.  The association’s founders, Kennedy Leavens, from the U.S., and Miguel Galdo, from Peru, had worked together at a predecessor organization with the weaving cooperative for two years. When that organization collapsed, Miguel and Kennedy formed Awamaki to continue their work with the weavers. The organization grew rapidly to include programs in health and education, as well as other artisan cooperatives and a sustainable tourism program. In 2011, Awamaki spun its health program off into an independent sister organization and made the strategic decision to focus on income improvement and market access through fair trade artisan cooperatives and sustainable tourism. It has grown, too, in the number of women helped. The organization now works with eight cooperatives helping nearly 200 women.

Awamaki also offers training in quality control, product development, and technical skills improvement.  During training, they teach color combination, natural dyes methods and weaving to measurement to weavers; fiber selection and spinning yarn to specified weights to spinners; stitching and reading patterns to knitters; and sewing, garment pattern-making, and design to seamstresses.

The programs to develop sustainable tourism for the area also include a homestay association, a Spanish teachers’ cooperative, and market access for both. It also includes community cultural tourism excursions to visit Awamaki’s weaving cooperatives, where products can be purchased directly. Sustainable tourism projects mean meaningful cultural experiences for travelers and they promote appreciation of Andean traditions and ways of life.

The artisans use their earnings to pay for essentials and education with 80% of artisans ranking food as the top expense for which they use their Awamaki income. Household and education came next.

When a cooperative of women starts in our program, typically no member of the cooperative earns the same or more than her husband. After 5+ years in our program, 68% of women in the cooperative report earning the same or more than her husband.

Awamaki’s accomplishments include:

  • Growing from ten to nearly 200 artisans over nine years
  • Built four artisan centers in artisans’ villages
  • Graduated first artisan cooperative in 2017 and will graduate the second in Oct 2018. This means that they have completed the business readiness program, acquired clients, and are ready to walk on their own as independent successful businesses
  • Partnered with 35 retail stores in the U.S. to sell the women’s products

The organization has developed a unique and sustainable model. Some 80% of its income comes from programs that generate income for both the artisans and Awamaki, which means that 100% of the donations are directly invested in women’s capacity-building, training, and market access.

UPDATE 2020
For every $1 Awamaki receives in donations, they provide business training and market access that allows the women they work with to generate $4.10 in income to support their families. Awamaki currently supports 180 women artisans in our programs, who in turn support 612 children and elderly or disabled adults. Awamaki artisans working in tourism made $976 each, while the rest made $465 each, on average.

 

Ereto Primary School Program

Active since: 06-01-2016.  Region / Location: Tanzania

In 2013, the headmaster started approaching surrounding Maasai communities in Ntulelei, Tanzania asking parents to allow their children to attend school. In this area, children have no access to any local government-run schools, nor do they have the means to travel to any outside of their villages. The Maasai people of the area are primarily farmers, and their children start at a young age learning how to manage the farm and daily duties. The responsibility these kids take on at an early age leaves little or no time for schooling. These farms are how they put food on the table and a roof over their heads. Out of the 300 surrounding communities, China was successful in bringing 20 kids together, starting on a literal patch of dirt, the Ereto primary school’s story begins.

Over the past five plus years, Big Five’s nonprofit, the Spirit of Big Five Foundation, along with partnered contributors helped make this dream a reality. First, it provided the concrete for the foundation and walls, then followed the desks and a blackboard, a long-awaited roof and much needed windows and doors, most recently metal shelves to prevent termites from eating the books. Along with the large construction related donations, there were also books, supplies, shoes, and much more for the kids and teachers. Today, more than 215 kids are working hard towards their education in much improved conditions.

The headmaster is currently working to build a teacher’s dormitory as the teachers must travel up to 18 miles, on the back of a truck for the first 11 miles, if they catch one, then by foot, uphill, through the mud for the remainder. The dormitory will include two rooms and a kitchen, with room to expand. The goal is for the teachers to be able to make the transit less often, staying the night when needed. With teachers refreshed and well rested, kids eager and excited to learn, the school will continue to bloom with an expected 300 students by 2022.

 

Through your contribution, together we can all make a difference to bring a glimpse of hope and opportunity for a better quality of life to those less fortunate.