Funded! This project was successfully funded on November 13, 2012.

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What if rainforest residents could charge cell phones in the Amazon? TAKING CHARGE, a pocket guide to mobile solar power—offers ideas.

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Taking Charge Blog

This winter I’ll develop and design TAKING CHARGE, a participatory publishing project. TAKING CHARGE will be a pocket guide to the emerging synergies of portable solar energy, cell phone technology and natural resource management in ten remote river communities on the Arapiuns River in Brazil’s Amazon region

In August 2012, I traveled with a team of experienced Brazilian partners as part of the Luz Portátil Brasil initiative to provide portable solar energy kits to people in isolated communities in the Tapajós-Arapiuns Extractive Reserve, an ecologically sensitive region of the Amazon. These portable solar kits, with a flexible solar panel, rechargeable battery case, LED light, and USB port introduce for the first time a mobile and renewable “soft” energy infrastructure to a region which has inherited the “hard” centralized infrastructures of kerosene lamps and fixed diesel generators that are damaging to human health and the river environment.

In the Amazon, I realized that something as seemingly simple as a cell phone -- and the ability to charge it with solar energy anywhere on the river -- could create a versatile and important resource for the local land planning of river communities and the development of their sustainable forest enterprises. What was missing was an accessible “starter toolkit” of useful mobile phone applications, an effective and participatory means to demonstrate to the community what a smartphone could do and a practical, accessible “user’s guide” with how-to instructional diagrams, local tips and photos.  River citizens could contribute knowledge to the “user’s guide” for their peers in other communities, sharing insights on how they have used the USB-based solar energy kit and smartphone in their sustainable forest enterprises and communities.

A cell phone takes charge with a Luz Portátil solar textile kit, providing renewable energy anywhere on the river or in the forest.
A cell phone takes charge with a Luz Portátil solar textile kit, providing renewable energy anywhere on the river or in the forest.

Enter TAKING CHARGE. This compact, participatory “pocket guide,” in downloadable and print formats, will be a visual instructional guide to solar-powered USB charging of cellphones in the Amazon.  TAKING CHARGE will be abundantly illustrated with engaging "how-to" diagrams, a list of available useful apps, and information on how to customize a cellphone as a multi-tool for the sustainable management of natural resources in the river communities. TAKING CHARGE will also include a set of highly detailed community maps with data generated by and for river citizens, a section featuring photographs, DIY tips and stories shared by local sustainable forest entrepreneurs, and a photographic geo-tagged biodiversity catalogue of selected local flora and fauna that are important to the Amazon River communities.

This August, I conducted pilot workshops on participatory mapping with River community leaders to prepare for the TAKING CHARGE Pocket Guide project.
This August, I conducted pilot workshops on participatory mapping with River community leaders to prepare for the TAKING CHARGE Pocket Guide project.

With your generous support, I’ll create a USB-based toolkit containing Android cell phones, a suite of useful cell phone applications and I’ll design the visual-based TAKING CHARGE pocket guide. Your support will enable me to travel to ten river communities on the Arapiuns and Tapajós Rivers. There, I’ll lead a series of participatory community workshops with low cost, hands-on projects that will demonstrate what a cell phone can do -- anywhere on the river -- when combined with a mobile source of solar energy. A participatory process that is fun -- one that engages kids, school teachers and other community members is central to TAKING CHARGE. I’ve already developed and field tested a method to facilitate small participatory community workshops with the support of my TAKING CHARGE project partner, Projeto Saúde e Alegria, who has extensive experience in the communities of the Arapiuns and Tapajós Rivers.  During my first trip, I learned firsthand the incredible wealth of knowledge that river community residents had about their ecosystem and the sustainable management of natural resources. The organization and graphic design ofthe TAKING CHARGE pocket guide will demonstrate how river citizens can build on this knowledge with the strategic pairing of cell phone and mobile solar power. Illustrated sections of the TAKING CHARGE pocket guide will feature:

  • KITE MAPPING:  Using stunning aerial imagery created with Androids during participatory community kite-mapping workshops to visualize and map river community lands. 
  • SUSTAINABLE FOREST ENTREPRENEUR PROFILES:  Local tips, stories and profiles on how local sustainable forest entrepreneurs are using cellphones and solar power to enhance the sustainable land management of natural resources. 
  • BIODIVERSITY CATALOGUE:  A collection of community-generated geo-tagged photographs compiled in a unique, regional biodiversity catalogue that represents and monitors a selection of the most important flora and fauna for the Arapiuns and Tapajós river communities. 

The TAKING CHARGE pocket guide will be a community-based publication -- where much of the visual representation, local information, and photographic content that I’ll be laying out and working with will be generated by members of the community for the community using cell phones charged with mobile solar energy. As a participatory publication, the TAKING CHARGE pocket guide will facilitate the exchange of local information among the ten river communities to create a community based knowledge network at the larger regional scale of the Arapiuns River and the Extractive Reserve. 

In the river communities, I’ll lead instructional participatory workshops featuring “kite-mapping” projects -- hoisting a continuous-shot cell phone camera on a kite to create stunning and beautiful aerial photographs that can be stitched together with open-source software. The kite-mapping techniques I’ve field-tested on the Arapiuns River are very low-cost, since kite-mapping uses the wind on the river!   

Kite-mapping field test:  aerial photographs taken from a cell phone camera can provide a new perspective of Amazon River community lands.
Kite-mapping field test: aerial photographs taken from a cell phone camera can provide a new perspective of Amazon River community lands.

In collaboration with TAKING CHARGE project partner Projeto Saúde e Alegria, I’ll use the high-resolution kite-generated images in a participatory mapping process with the community, to note ecological and infrastructural features, natural resources, and existing patterns of community land use and ownership. With this community input, I’ll create the graphic design for a series of high-resolution maps -- by and for the people who live in the river communities -- that visually identify and represent pathways and water routes, roads, agricultural lands, natural resources, community nodes, patterns of solar charging and cell phone use, and emergent soft infrastructures (GMS, EDGE, 3G coverage zones).   

River community residents -- the caboclo people, of Amerindian descent -- manage sustainable forest enterprises that depend upon the ecosystem, such as weaving, beekeeping, organic farming, fishing, ecotourism, or grain processing. The TAKING CHARGE pocket guide will feature case-study profiles of these sustainable entrepreneurs that explore how river citizens are using portable solar power and cell phones in their enterprises and communities. Each forest entrepreneur profile will contain a visual photographic portrait and a brief interview with the entrepreneur (recorded via the cell phone camera), with a description of his or her enterprise and its community context. These profile sections will include information on how the entrepreneur got started, what he/she would like other river citizens to know about running a sustainable enterprise, cell phone photographs of daily tasks, tips on best ways to harvest solar energy and cell phone charging patterns.

Sustainable Forest Entrepreneur mock-up page for the TAKING CHARGE Pocket Guide.  A beekeeper offers tips to local entrepreneurs on how his enterprise uses portable solar energy and a cell phone.
Sustainable Forest Entrepreneur mock-up page for the TAKING CHARGE Pocket Guide. A beekeeper offers tips to local entrepreneurs on how his enterprise uses portable solar energy and a cell phone.

AN AMAZON INSIDERS’ VIEW OF IMPORTANT FLORA & FAUNA

Androids as well as simple cell phones are customizable digital multi-tools with many different functional uses. In a participatory geo-tagging workshop, I’ll present hands-on demonstrations of cellphone apps that engage the phone’s camera and its GPS capabilities. These workshops will consider both emergent 3G wireless networks in the region and the existing satellite based internet access points provided by the local Rede Mocoronga telecenters. The Amazon is one of the richest zones of biodiversity in the world. The TAKING CHARGE pocket guide will feature a biodiversity catalogue of community generated geo-tagged photographs, taken locally with a cell phone. The TAKING CHARGE biodiversity catalogue will represent a selection of the flora and fauna of the Tapajós-Arapiuns Extractive Reserve that are most important to people in each community. More than a field guide, this photographic catalogue will reflect Amazon residents’ perspectives from each river community. Photographs will be keyed to the community maps along with people’s impressions, photo dates and locations. 

Biodiversity Catalogue:  The TAKING CHARGE pocket guide will feature community members' knowledge of the rainforest in a collection of geo-tagged cellphone images of the flora and fauna of the Tapajós-Arapiuns extractive Reserve.
Biodiversity Catalogue: The TAKING CHARGE pocket guide will feature community members' knowledge of the rainforest in a collection of geo-tagged cellphone images of the flora and fauna of the Tapajós-Arapiuns extractive Reserve.

Your support will make the TAKING CHARGE Pocket guide a reality! With your support, I’ll be able to assemble DIY cell phone demonstration toolkits that make this participatory process possible. During this winter’s trip to the Amazon, I’ll draw from community generated content, user input and local know-how and utilize my experience with mobile communications, diagramming, graphic design and architectural map-making to design the TAKING CHARGE pocket guide. Translations in Portuguese (and English) for the TAKING CHARGE content will be generously provided by my Brazilian project partners. TAKING CHARGE will be printed on weatherproof Rite-in-the-Rain® paper, and will be spiral bound for ease of use and durability in the Amazon. Each community will receive a hard copy of the TAKING CHARGE pocket guide in Portuguese, and all members of the communities will also receive a PDF copy of the pocket guide online through the local Rede Mocoronga network, which River citizens can access on their smartphones or in existing community telecenters. 

Mockup of the resilient, waterproof TAKING CHARGE pocket guide
Mockup of the resilient, waterproof TAKING CHARGE pocket guide

I have a great team of partners supporting TAKING CHARGE.  The Luz Portátil Brasil team, with whom I travelled in August, includes the internationally recognized Portable Light Project with Brazilian partners Instituto EDP and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB). TAKING CHARGE is joined by the renowned Brazilian health organization Projeto Saúde e Alegria (PSA) that has more than 25 years of experience working with Amazon River communities. Over many years, PSA has collected information on the region and the TAKING CHARGE pocket guide will contribute to a comprehensive mapping initiative that PSA has begun at the community scale. The support and on-the-ground knowledge of my Brazilian project partners will help to ensure the successful implementation, participatory process and distribution of the TAKING CHARGE pocket guide in the Arapiuns and Tapajós River communities. Please join us in supporting TAKING CHARGE!

The TAKING CHARGE Pocket Guide will be a first-of-its-kind community learning resource that fills a missing gap between a mobile clean energy infrastructure and a community’s own capacity to take charge and benefit from it!  Without your support for TAKING CHARGE, river citizens on the Arapiuns and Tapajós Rivers would not be able to share the ideas, knowledge, and success stories of their peers.  River communities would not be able to build on their experiences with portable solar power and cell phones to grow knowledge from one community to another, reducing regional community learning and capacity-building around renewable energy and its sustainable uses.  

The TAKING CHARGE Pocket Guide, as a participatory publication by and for Amazon River citizens, demonstrates a pragmatic and visually engaging new model for Amazon River communities –- one based on new ways of using mobile, renewable solar energy and wireless cell phone technologies as a toolkit to map, sustainably manage and represent the rich bio-diversity of Amazon river community rainforest lands.

I’ve field tested DIY cell phone apps, tools and community workshop methods for TAKING CHARGE in the Amazon, found a great set of project partners and I’ve secured grants to cover my lodging, board and boat travel logistics in the Amazon River communities.  Now I need your help!

Your generous support is necessary to make TAKING CHARGE a reality!  Your support will cover my travel expenses, including international and domestic airfare and required medications for the region. Your donations to the TAKING CHARGE Kick Starter campaign will enable me to assemble and prepare river community cell phone toolkits, useful app suites and visual instructions, and conduct participatory workshops in ten river communities on the Arapiuns and Tapajós Rivers.  Your support will enable me to collect and compile community generated content and photographs for the TAKING CHARGE pocket guide.  In addition, your support will cover all the necessary design and production costs to publish and distribute the TAKING CHARGE pocket guide -- in ten spiral-bound, waterproof publications for each community and a downloadable online version for each river community citizen.

Thank you -- your support is so important to the TAKING CHARGE pocket guide and it’s greatly appreciated!

Practicing kite-mapping with River community members on the Arapiuns River
Practicing kite-mapping with River community members on the Arapiuns River

FAQ

  • For the duration of the project, selected content, including TAKING CHARGE project progress reports, selected community generated cell phone photographs and videos, commentary, and interview discussions with key project and community members, will be posted on the TAKING CHARGE blog (http://www.takingcharge-amazon.tumblr.com) and on the twitterverse @TAKINGCHARGE_PL (http://www.twitter.com/takingcharge_pl). Please join me and follow TAKING CHARGE!

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  • Brazil has one of the highest densities of cell phone use. Large parts of river have 3G and GSM coverage. Additionally, the arrival of 3G in these communities is anticipated within 1-2 years. Around a year ago our project partner, PSA, in conjunction with Brazilian wireless provider Vivo, supplied 200 Samsung smartphones to community members throughout the Amazon, Tapajos, and Arapiuns rivers, allowing them to upload their photos and videos on Facebook and YouTube. In areas where there is no wireless service, PSA has also established solar powered telecenters with Internet access in communities on the Arapiuns River.

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  • At present, the Luz Portátil Brasilsolar kits will remain in the Amazon region to provide portable light and power to people who would not otherwise have access to electricity. Please recommend any experienced organizations or manufacturers that you think would be interested in expanding the Luz Portátil Brasil project and TAKING CHARGE in the Amazon -- or in other global regions without electricity -- and I’ll be sure to contact them.

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  • I’ll gladly accept your donations of used, unlocked Android phones in good working condition for the toolkit.Please place these in a pre-paid package box and contact me for a mailing address! You can also spread the word about this project on your social media networks and to your family, friends, and colleagues! Use the hashtag #TAKINGCHARGE

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  • Any funds that exceed the TAKING CHARGE Kick Starter campaign target will be used to support the assembly and preparation of additional cell phone toolkits in the river communities and to expand the number of bound publications of the TAKING CHARGE Pocket Guide, so that every school teacher in the Arapiuns-Tapajós river communities has additional bound copies for their school curricula. Please contact me if you are interested in helping to expand the publication and distribution of the TAKING CHARGE Pocket Guide.

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    ICED WATER! A personal thank-you email and acknowledgement of your gift, plus a subscription to all TAKING CHARGE project updates sent to you via email.

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    AFTERNOON RAIN! All benefits above, plus receive a digital image of a sand drawing. This ephemeral medium of the dry season shows a local view of an animal familiar to the River Communities.

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    THUNDER SHOWER! All benefits above, plus receive a TAKING CHARGE digital postcard presenting an insider view of life in the Amazon. Your postcard includes a GPS ‘watermark’ showing where the postcard image was taken and a personal description in Portuguese and English.

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    HEALTHY DOWNPOUR! All benefits above, plus you will have the choice to have your name listed as a project donor on the TAKING CHARGE blog. You’ll also receive a soft, embroidered Luz Portátil badge designed by Trollbäck + Company New York, an award winning creative studio focused on engaging ideas and people across multiple platforms. Sew it on your favorite shirt, bag or hat! Your badge, with a personal thank you note, will be mailed to you anywhere in the US or Internationally.

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    RAINFOREST RAINSTORM! All benefits above, plus you will receive a downloadable PDF of the TAKING CHARGE Pocket Guide e-mailed directly to you. Learn how portable solar power and cell phones are being used locally in the Amazon! But that's not all! You'll also receive a traditional woven bowl or tray created in the Amazon River Communities by women artisans who are working with portable solar power and the cell phone toolkits that you helped to provide. Your woven gift, made of renewable forest fibers, supports sustainable forest enterprises and is fair-trade certified by Projeto Saúde e Alegria (PSA). Enjoy your Amazon forest gift, mailed to you anywhere in the US or Internationally.

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    ARAPIUNS RIVER! All benefits above, including the embroidered Luz Portátil badge, the fair trade certified gift of woven forest materials made in the river communities, and the downloadable PDF of the TAKING CHARGE Pocket Guide. As a special bonus, you'll also receive a set of stunning photographs from the TAKING CHARGE Biodiversity Catalogue. These high quality 8x10 prints, taken by an Amazon River citizen with the cell phone toolkit your generous support helped to provide, include the identification of flora or fauna and a personal description in Portuguese and English of why it is important to people in the Arapiuns and Tapajós River Communities. Enjoy the ‘window’ on the diversity of Amazon rainforest life that these photos will provide in your home or office!

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    TAPAJÓS RIVER! You’ll receive all benefits listed above, and your generous project support will be recognized with the choice to have your name included as an Amazon Tapajós River Supporter on the inside cover of the TAKING CHARGE Pocket Guide. You’ll receive a large-format print poster of a Sustainable Forest Entrepreneur profile from the TAKING CHARGE Pocket Guide. In addition, you will receive a very special personal video tour of this local forest enterprise in Portuguese with English subtitles. Your video will introduce you to the people, local sites and sustainable processes of this forest enterprise, providing you with a rare glimpse into what’s involved in running a small, sustainable business on the Amazon. Your forest enterprise video, powered by a Luz Portátil solar kit and filmed with one of the cell phone video cameras your generous support provided, will be mailed to you on DVD anywhere in the US or Internationally.

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    AMAZON VAREZA! Your leadership support will be recognized with the choice to have your name included as an Amazon Varezá Supporter on the inside cover of the TAKING CHARGE Pocket Guide, and you’ll receive all the benefits listed above. You'll receive a special leadership edition of the TAKING CHARGE Pocket Guide with behind-the-scenes video footage, taken with the solar powered community cell phone toolkit made possible through your leadership support. Your TAKING CHARGE Pocket Guide leaderships edition includes video footage of kite-mapping on the Amazon, river community participatory workshops, interviews with sustainable forest entrepreneurs and river community leaders, and discussions with Luz Portátil Brasil team leaders Caetano Scannavino/PSA, Sheila Kennedy/PORTABLE LIGHT PROJECT and Fabio Rosa/IDEAAS. To top it all off, you'll also receive a beautiful large-format print poster of stunning kite-mapped aerial imagery of Arapiuns/Tapajós River Community lands with an attached personal description of the area in Portuguese and English!

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