Monday, December 04, 2006

Michael Vehar's Updates (6)

Hello All!!!

Saludos de Bolivia! This list should be just about everyone I know. Please by all means forward this and other emails to anyone you think would be interested in hearing about us and our project. First and foremost I am happy to say that Zach, Clayton, Sly, and Collin are all here and loving the country as I knew they would. In two short weeks Collin, Ruth and I have accomplished the world, or at least it feels like it. The apartment is paid for and we have just about everything we need, including internet.

I cannot express in words how good it is to be back here in my home away from home, doing the work for the project. I knew working with the solar cooker courses would be fun, but I did not think I would feel as good as I have after working with the people. PLEASE... read everything about what we have been doing at our website . We have many great things going on, and check our FUTURE PROJECT link to see other ways we are trying to help the people.

Thus far we have completed one course and worked a lot with the website. Not to mention getting settled into the new country and apartment. If you all could come down here and see the view from the apartment I think you would be happy living here too! Ruth really did an amazing job finding us a great place. I have hung out with my old host family a few times and it is soo good to see them. All the kids are growing up so fast its unbelievable. We usually eat dinner there about once a week there and its great for Collin's and Sly's spanish, not to mention mine. Its been a little difficult because I am sort of the leader of the group. They other guys can get around fine, but I always find myself being like a father here watching out for my boys. I can assure you all that this place is just as safe as Dayton or Cleveland Ohio. So Mom no need to worry.

I don't want this to be long so I will email you all again soon. Please write me, and please check the website, I miss talking and hearing from you all. Thanks again for all the support you have given us. Like I said before I am sooo happy to be here doing what we have spent so much time raising money for, I know this is where I need to be right now.

Paz y amor,



Hola Todos!

Things are moving along well here at The Bolivia Project. We have officially finished three courses and distributed about 70 solar cookers to rural Bolivians. We also visited and lived with a tribe in the jungles of Chapare that fish and hunt for a living, I will write more about that experience in the next email.

last course that we finished yesterday was by far our favorite. When we arrived, there was a young girl in a wheelbarrow, her name was Aned and she was in a car accident 5 years ago. Needless to say our heart went out to this girl because she had both legs amputated from the knee down, and her mobility was limited to only when her mom moved her around. It was then when we decided that we would try and find this girl a wheelchair. The problem is she has one but it was old and small, and the family didnt even use it. So Sly and I went home to Cochabamba to begin the search for a nice wheelchair. It wasn't until the last day of the course, that Ruth came through and found a perfect chair for her. She and Clayton brought it out to the course (about 2 hours by bus from the city). We brought it in and all the people had smiles on their faces, they knew what the chair was for. Her mother was soo happy that she had to go away from the course to cry, and the girl spent the rest of the day happy and moving around when and where she wanted.

I have to say this is one of the greatest feelings I have ever had in my life. The Dad and Mom kept thanking us and telling us how much she needed it. We told them not to worry about it, and that if they are happy, we are happy. I love the fact that because of all you wonderful people who donated to us, miracles like this are possible. Collin and I have the opportunity to use the money how you all would think is best, and we always do. I hope to share more stories like this in the future, and until then we will continue building solar cookers with the people, and educating them on cooking inside the home.

Today we leave for Maccu Picchu, Peru. Ruth and Dave have a international solar cooking conference in Madrid, Spain. So we are going to take some vacation time to see the great Incan ruins. I hope all is well with all of you, and that if you get a chance to write me and update me on your life, I would truely appreciate it. I miss you all and again am so thankful to all that support us and our cause. Hope to hear from you soon, be back in a week!!

Paz y Amor,



Hola Amigos!

First of all as always I hope all is well and your summer has been SUPERMERCADO! I am writing from La Paz on our way back from Peru, more to come about the trip. In the last email I did not have room to update you on our trip to the Amazon to live with a native tribe called Los Bia. This is the most primative I have ever seen people live. No kidding, I could have been making a national geographic documentary. Let me out some stats on this tribe...

There are about 250 total indians native to this area, about 40 families. I would call the nomads because you never know when or where a family might move to for a period of time. The missionary we stayed with is trying to help them live in a community and built awareness for one to help out another, just like our communities. They live day to day... Fish and hunt for food, and eat wild bananas and yuca (type of root like a potatoe), they eat nothing more, 80% of the people has Tuberculosis, another large percentage have mold in their lungs from too much mosture all the time in the jungle, this causes pain when they breathe, air pollution from cooking over open fires is a HUGE problem there, each child might have 1 or 2 changes of clothes, some just run around nude, there is no soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, most adults have about 4 teeth still in their mouths.

Truely, the tribe is in need of a lot more than just a couple wood burning stoves, but we can only do so much. Collin and I feel like we want to make some donations to the tirbe like the everlasting flashlights that I had donated to us. They need clothes, shoes, hats, and so much MEDICINE. We are hoping to talk to the right NGO that might try and start a clinic out there which would be the best thing for the tribe. Needless to say our time there was incredible, the people and children were so receptive to us, and exited that we wanted to play with them, and have fun with the villagers. We even played a huge game of volleyball with the men of the tribe, the gringos held their own for sure!

Anyway, so let me tell you about Maccu Picchu, Peru. Wow, I wish you could have all been there with us but the pictures will definately do at least a little justice. It took us about 22 hours of bussing to get to Cuzco (the capital of the Incan empire) and the city was wonderful. We stayed a night before we took off for the great Incan city high in the Andes mountains. For two days and two nights we spent sightseeing, climbing mountains, seeing beautiful views of the most famous ruins in South America. It was truely one of my favorite trips I have ever made, you should go if you get the chance. We then came through the town of Copacabana, Bolivia and stayed a night which is on Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world I believe. It was all so calm and peaceful. For last night and tonight we are staying in one of Bolivias capitals, La Paz. The highest capital in the world, and a big city with tons to do. Tonight is a celebration in La Paz and there will be concerts and partying in the streets all night. We plan on celebrating as the Bolivians do, and we will return to Cochabamba tomorrow.

Now its back to work but what a great trip we had. I think now I have the travel bug more than I even thought possible. Who knows how we are going to get home in December, but my bet is it will be by bus.... the whole way. Haha!!! I love you all and apprciate the time you take to hear about how I am doing down here, please write me back when you can. Miss you all, saludos a todos, chao de Bolivia!

Paz y amor,



Hola Gringos!

Yes I called you all Gringos, because if you were here with us that is what people would call you. Although you might think it, Gringo is not a derogatory word down here, its just a work they use to describe foreigners with white skin. Even our friends from Australia, Holland, and even Brazil get called this. Anyway onto the project, Kara from National Geographic was here and had a great time with Collin, Chris, and I.

Like I told you in my last email, we traveled to North Potosi, which is about 13,500 feet above you all and freezing cold! This pueblo inhabited probably about 15 families who all wore clothes with the brightest most beautiful colors and patterns I have ever seen. The terrain reminds me of a dessert, and you only really see small brush, mountains, donkeys, llamas, and cows. The people can usually only cook with the animal excrement and small brush, and burning these are horrible for their health. Their houses are made from earth, like adobe, and most are farmers of potatoes.

As I also told you we were extremely excited about this course because of HOW BAD the people needed this solar cooking technology. We worked hard and pumped out 35 solar cookers in two days! However what made an impression on our team the most was the people. The first day began with a parade into the course site which was the small school there. A band of four men played traditional music of that area as we all paraded in dancing. The participants doused us in confetti, sang and danced with us. Needless to say we felt welcomed and loved, and the funniest part was that the music had the beat of west coast rap. So I got to show off a little of my crypt walking skills that had the people cheering!

The end of the course all the children put on a dance and song for us. It was one of the most beautiful things I have seen in Bolivia, and Ruth cried tears of joy. Some of the lyrics to the song were, "We don't have wood to cook with", "we cook with much smoke that hurts our eyes", and "We are soo thankful to CEDESOL and Sobre la Roca for coming and bringing us this solar cooking technology!" No joke they had the whole thing written and practiced and we joined them in their dance! See Collin's write up at - I love his writing I think you will enjoy it too.

After the four day trip Kara informed us of how much she would love to go to the jungle! So thank God we are here in Bolivia where we can go from snow capped Andes to the wild Amazonian jungles in a short 5 hour bus ride. We took off that next day for the jungles of Chapare, in hopes to get in to visit the Los Bia tribe and donate some nutritious food that otherwise that cannot find to eat. However for unforeseen reasons we could not get to visit the tribe, so instead we headed to the national park and hung out with the monkeys! Literally, Parque Machia is one of the only places I know where the monkeys run free to pick your pocket and pull on your hair. Collin hiked for about an hour with a monkey on his head, and I swung on a wild vine that sent me plummeting into a huge tree. Thank God my hip broke my fall, the bruise is almost healed by now.

On a positive note we have inspired Kara to write an article about the effects of Indoor Air Pollution. Lets not forget here people, it is the Number 1 cause of death for children under the age of five . I hope that she succeeds in getting the article published, and that our efforts to raise awareness about this problem can be read worldwide! Good luck with that Kara!

Our official solar cooker brought to people who need them count: is up to 185 solar cookers and 10 wood cookers!!!! We are extremely exited about our progress and the appreciation that the families show to us every course. We have a little under two months left of volunteering, and plenty of work to do. Thanks again for reading this email, and to the people that donated, none of this would be possible without your generosity! Hasta el proximo vez, saludos a todos y que les vaya bien!

Paz y Amor,

Michael Vehar


Hola del Proyecto de Bolivia,

We are now two and a half months into the project and things are continuing to progress. Last weekend we spent with the tribe "Los Bia", that I talked about in my last update. It was Clayton's last chance to get to the jungle before he left, and even better, the everlasting flashlights finally arrived! We quickly packed up and prepared five more rocket stoves (wood burning) from the CEDESOL foundation, and Ruth managed to get clothes donations for the people as well.

This trip had to be cut short because of Clayton's flight home, so we only were able to spend a day with Los Bia. I'll just quickly explain how exactly we arrive at the location of the community. First we have to take a bus from Cochabamba 4 hours northwest into the Chapare region, the Amazon. Once we arrive in a small town called Chimore, we have to get taxis that take us to the river, which is about an hour. Then at Port San Marcos, which is nothing more than 5 conoes and two thatch houses, we wait for a conoe with an outboard motor to take us about 2 hours downstream. By the time we arrive we hike a path through the jungle for about 15 minutes that leads to the community. Los Bia live amongst scorpians, tarantulas, pumas, tigers, and anacondas, but unfortunately we are yet to even see an alagator.

The donating of clothes and flashlights was a memorable experience for us. We gave one garment of clothing to every woman and child, and some lucky children finally received their first pair of shoes. We didn't have many men's clothes so we promised to return with more donations. We are extremely happy to see how the flashlights help the people. In my opinion Los Bia was perfect location for the new flashlight technology. These people live a day's worth of traveling from anyplace they could buy batteries, and have no electricty. It also is a huge benefit for them because they hunt wild pig at night.

After we passed them out, we all got together and learned how to use them. I think they were a little uncertain that these flashlights without batteries would last a lifetime when I explained it to them. However, we all shook them up and we had light! The relationships and experiences we have had with Los Bia are some of our most memorable, and we hope to continue visiting them until the end of the project.

Back in Cochabamba things are moving a little slow. Sobre la Roca had to move out of the old workshop for a smaller one, our new home just south of downtown. We are planning on distributing 200 cookers in the next two months, so things are definitely going to pick up. Also, we have a woman from National Geographic coming in late August to see what the project is all about. We are extremely excited to have her because she will be working on the book that is publishing our project among others across the world! If you would like to read about the book go to

Thanks for reading I hope all is well with you and you are enjoying your summer. Attached are some pictures and even one with Anet with her new wheelchair, and the blog will have more as well so please check it……

Paz y amor,

Michael Vehar

***I'd like to say a special thanks to John Merritt at Excalabur Products for the flashlight donations, we hope to keep bringing them to the people who need it most.


Hola Todos,

Can you believe it? We have made it to the last month of our project, and we are getting closer to hitting our goal of helping 360 Bolivian families. By now Collin, Chris, and I are extremely experienced building solar cookers, and contribute more than ever to the Sobre la Roca team and courses. Our efforts, with the support of our generous donors, have now officially brought 250 solar ovens to families in rural areas of Bolivia, as well as educating them on indoor air pollution. There are also about 100 more cookers constructed, waiting to be bought and delivered that The Bolivia Project has financed with our funds.

You all remember that Kara's(National Geographic) visit with us inspired her to try and get an article published about indoor air pollution?! Well I received an email from her last week that the magazine gave her the go ahead to have a page article published about this "silent killer" that so few people seem to know about. So if you read National Geographic, look out for it in the health section! We are really excited that we helped inspire something that will make indoor air pollution more known worldwide!

In the next three weeks Ruth hopes to have two courses in areas about three hours from Cochabamba. Hopefully we can get about 40 participants for each course, which makes the transportation costs worthwhile. Aside from that Collin and I have been updating the web blog a lot and need to start wrapping things up to have them ready for presentation to ETHOS. You can read my write up and see pictures from the last five courses at

Last weekend we went back into the rainforrest to visit the Los Bia tribe for the third time. We donated more clothes as well as a variety of foods for the people. We ended up staying overnight and had such a wonderful time. Most of the afternoon was spent playing soccer with all the men and boys of the tribe. Its amazing because we have really developed relationships there mostly with the children, they even called us all by name when we walked into the community. These people have really made us feel welcome, and have provided us with some of our fondest memories from this project.

I will probably send out one more email with our final results, but until then I would like to thank all of you for keeping up with our progress. I really can't believe its coming to an end, it seems like last week that Collin and I started fundraising. However, looking back I can see the difference we made, and how we turned these Bolivian people into believers of solar energy. Honestly we couldn't have come at a better time. Sobre la Roca was facing bankruptcy, and with our donations we have kept the company alive and running through 6 months. Not only have I seen our affects on the families helped, but we kept 5 of our friends and co-workers with jobs able to support their families, not to mention all the prisoners who prep our materials can help support their families as well.

Before I leave you all I want to say one final thing that is very important to me. I have not given enough credit to the passionate, driven woman who has made this all possible. Ruth Whitfield, my mother in Bolivia and head of Sobre la Roca, is the hardest worker I think I have ever seen. From a first hand experience I have seen her do the impossible everyday. She does the job of about four people, and never takes a break. We even got her a massage for her birthday just to get her to relax. But her drive is truly amazing, and is simply generated from love for her fellow Bolivian people. She puts her heart and soul into every course, and in ten years in the business has helped probably more than 5,000 families with solar cookers. You want to know the amazing part?... This whole time I don't think Ruth has made any money, in fact she even sold all her personal belongings to keep her company going years back. She lives and works to make the lives of her people better, and that's it...

I think she would feel so much more appreciated if even a couple of you could send her a quick email, and just say thanks. Her address is, and if you have a second, it would mean a lot to Collin and I.

Paz y amor,



Thanks for caring enough to read all these!!! - Michael Vehar