Rio Beni
Courtesy Photo

Nearly eight years ago, I joined a group of young students from Santa Barbara Middle School, their teachers, and their parents on a thoroughly epic, nearly 300-mile mountain biking adventure through Bolivia that took us from the peaks of the Andes to the depths of the Amazon. (You can read about that 2003 adventure in full here.)

Our final biking destination was the outpost town of Rurrenabaque, where about 10,000 people lived along the banks of the Rio Beni, surrounded by deep, seemingly impenetrable Amazonian jungle. Our trip delivered much needed money to fund a unique health care project called the Rio Beni Health Foundation that aided the entire region, and the townspeople showed their appreciation in the most memorable of ways, from the massive parade and celebration that ensued to the young girls who I found picking bits of mud from the back of my shirt as I watched the affair unfold.

Today, I learned that Rurre, as it’s known, was just hard hit by Bolivia’s most disastrous floods of the past two decades, and now the organization who I helped in 2003 is seeking immediate emergency donations to help quell the spread of disease before it starts.

“I was planning to send out a spring appeal, sort of the ‘springing to support’ theme, but this emergency has surpassed any play on words and now I am writing to ask you to please support the work this team has been carrying out for 12 years, on a regular basis, and in times of flooding disasters as this,” wrote the foundation’s Christopher Brady. “We need your support now and for the year ahead.”

In an email, he explained, “The Beni River, a main tributary into the Amazon River, has broken its banks and has left thousands of people homeless and an unconfirmed number of deaths. This condition is expected to worsen, and for months afterwards there will be a major outbreak of dengue fever, respiratory and gastro-intestinal diseases. The president has declared a State of Emergency.”

A joint statement from the foundation’s board member Dr. Pedro Chavez and Rurre’s Mayor Yerko Nuñez read, “We haven’t had a disaster like this in a long time. We need food, medicine, we need mosquito nets. We are treating patients on soccer fields now, but after this (stage) the epidemics of acute respiratory infections and acute diarrheal diseases, and mycosis will come. Dengue fever will come after (the rains) due to the stagnant water where mosquitoes lay their eggs. The foundation is vital to this work, and has been during other flooding periods. The medications that we have will be insufficient to treat the amount of people that will become sick.”

To help the Rio Beni Health Foundation help the people of Rurre and beyond, you can either send a check to Direct Relief International, 27 S. La Patera Ln, Santa Barbara, CA, 93117, and indicate Rio Beni in the memo section, or go straight to and click on the “Donate Now” link. Any amount is appreciated.


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