Notes from the Field: El Salvador Nursery in Full Bloom

El Salvador tree nursery

In El Porvenir, El Salvador, staff members are busy with a full nursery of 30,000 seedlings that are now ready to be planted. We grow a wide variety of trees in this nursery including avocado, orange, cacao, cashew, and mahogany. This nursery provides local communities with a source for high-quality fruit, nut, coffee, cacao and hardwood trees.

Farmers most often purchase our trees as an investment – to diversify the agricultural products going to market from their plots and increase their income. Additionally, they invest in trees to improve soils and increase biodiversity on their land.  Droughts this year across Central America have highlighted the importance of diversity and tree crops, as these are often more resilient in the face of water shortages.

To learn more about our Reforestation Program and how you can support our tree planting efforts please visit our website: www.treeswaterpeople.org

Project Update: Lighting homes in rural Honduras

solar light Honduras

Nearly 50% of the 600 solar household lighting systems we sent to Honduras have been installed. We’re providing 1,200 new LED light points, 600 USB charging ports for cell phones and other small devices, and a new level of dignity for rural families that have lived their entire nocturnal lives by the light of candles, low quality flashlights, and contaminating kerosene lamps. Donors to our Catapult project helped to fund 125 of the lights in this shipment, allowing us to reach many more families in need of clean energy solutions for their homes.

Get personal

solar light Honduras

Miriam Leonel Bonilla

“Many of our customers used to use ocote (a local pine that is used as a candle), and the smoke really bothered them. Or else they would buy candles and flashlights, and that was really expensive. They are very happy with their plantitas – solar lights!” -Miriam Leonel Bonilla, solar light user and distributor, Las Marías, Honduras

Risks and challenges

Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and our vendors and promoters live with risk every day. We are lucky to have a dedicated team of people across the country that see the opportunities that exist in solar energy. They believe that the benefits that solar energy brings to their families and communities who buy the systems outweigh the challenges in getting them into the field.

What we’ve learned

solar light HondurasThis order of Barefoot Power solar household systems were our first test of a new international supply chain that has us ordering product in bulk to a central warehouse in El Salvador, from which the products are distributed by land to four different countries. Every step of that process contained a lesson in how to be more efficient in getting these products to the families that need them most. On a macro level, we have learned that we have one of the most innovative approaches to getting products to several Central American countries at once. In Honduras, we have learned that whoever can provide households with the best customer experience will be the one to succeed in expanding the great opportunities in renewable energy for the developing world.

Next steps

Working with social impact technology company Dimagi, we will be piloting a new mobile data collection app called CommSell. This app will allow our field staff to complete surveys on an Android phone, in the field, and automatically populate a database that tells us where our products are, how long they’ve been there, and how much money they are saving users. We can also use this information to conduct follow-up visits and maintenance as needed.

Infographic: Clean Cookstoves Save Lives!

clean cookstoves infographic

Around the world, billions of people are still dependent on wood and other forms of biomass to cook every meal. Cooking with wood over an open fire causes a variety of environmental, economic, and human health problems.

Since 1998, we have been working with our partners and local community members to design clean cookstoves that greatly reduce deadly indoor air pollution, deforestation, and high fuel costs. These cookstoves are designed according to specific cooking needs and cultural context, which is why they can look very different from country to country. However, all of these stoves have one important thing in common: they make cooking much safer for women and their families.

To learn more and to support TWP’s Clean Cookstove Program  please visit our website!

Upcoming Event: Sustainable Living Fair, Sept. 20-21

Sustainable Living Fair 2014

Don’t miss out on one of the best sustainability fairs in the country! The 15th Annual Sustainability Fair will be September 20-21 at Legacy Park in Fort Collins, CO.

The Fair features 11,000 attendees, acclaimed Keynote Speakers, 200 exhibitors, 75 workshops, hands-on experiences, Family Planet with a Natural Parenting Nook, Natural Health and Yoga Tent, live music and entertainment, our Real Food Market and Local Libations – featuring world class beer, wine, cider and mead.  VOLUNTEERS get FREE Admission, sign up TODAY!

On Saturday, Sept. 20 from 3-4pm in the Renewable Energy Tent, TWP’s International Director Sebastian Africano will present “Addressing Energy Poverty with Innovative Efficiency and Renewable Energy Solutions.” For more information click here.

Trees, Water & People is a proud sponsor of this annual event and we look forward to seeing you there!

Community Voices: Don Marcos

Guatemala civil war

Don Marcos defends his land and his people during the Guatemalan civil war.

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

“The hardest parts were the hunger…and the sleeplessness.” recounted Don Marcos, a septuagenarian survivor of the brutal civil wars in Guatemala that left over 200,000 (mostly indigenous campesinos) dead. Two spoonfuls of oats and a spoonful of sugar was all the food available for weeks at a time while protecting Mayan heritage and homeland from military persecution. Hundreds of thousands died, but many survived, only to face continued struggle to live a dignified life after “peace” was officially declared in Guatemala in 1996. Don Marcos tells us his story while holding his head in his hands under a photo taken of him in 1982, where he can be seen stoically gripping an automatic rifle with three other indigenous soldiers behind him, tasked with ensuring the survival of an ancient culture.

Today, Don Marcos is a community leader in El Tarral, one of the dozens of highland Mayan communities from Huehuetenango who have been displaced to southern coastal climates. His organization – the San Ildefonson Ixtahuacán Development Association – is one of the 36 indigenous groups under the umbrella of the Asociación de Forestería Comunitaria de Guatemala Ut’z Ché, Trees, Water & People’s partner in the country. We had the unique opportunity to build Don Marcos’ family a new cookstove as a training exercise for some younger members of his community – teaching a proven technology that reduces fuelwood use, improves family health and saves families money through its daily use.

It was a community effort to build Marco and Nati's new clean cookstove.

It was a community effort to build Marco and Nati’s new clean cookstove.

Ut’z Ché provides a voice to indigenous communities who seek to protect land and resource rights where they live – be it on ancestral lands or lands adopted post-displacement. As agro-forestry and forest conservation are two pillars in this process, clean cookstoves and solar lighting are a perfect compliment, improving sustainability, autonomy and health for communities that have been marginalized for centuries. As someone who has spent a decade working in rural Central America, I couldn’t be more inspired and energized to contribute, as the resilience and identity exhibited by Ut’z Che’s partners is extraordinary, and their will to thrive is as salient as their preserved languages, customs and traditions.

Don Marcos’ struggle is now for his children and grandchildren. While it’s miraculous that he’s here at all, he knows that he has little time left to leave a better future for his descendants. He was happy and proud to offer his house as a training ground for the group of young men in his community, who look to him as an elder and a teacher. His is the first of 60 cookstoves we plan to build in the community of El Tarral – projects made possible only by your donations and support. We thank you for helping us make life a little more hospitable for the millions of humble people that only seek the sustainable and dignified future they deserve.

Project Update: Solar Women Warriors Scholarship Fund

Gail and Jamie

Gail Hubbeling (left) and Jamie Folsom at the Compressed Earth Block training.

We are excited to report that the women who were awarded the Solar Women Warriors Scholarships have completed their training with us and have utilized these funds to learn important new skills in renewable energy and sustainable building.

We were delayed by weather in October of 2013, when the first Compressed Earth Block (CEB) Training was originally scheduled to take place. However, we were able to reschedule the training for May 18-24, 2014 and it ended up being a great success! Alison Goings, a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe, and Gail Hubbeling, a member of the Ihanktowan (Dakota) Tribe and also a veteran of the U.S. military, both attended the training on scholarships funded by Catapult.org. The women learned how to build a home using a compressed earth block machine, which produces blocks that are affordable and very energy efficient.

In addition to these two scholarships, we awarded a third Solar Women Warrior Scholarship to Robin Davis, a member of the White Earth Tribe. Robin attended one of our Solar Air Heater workshops held on the White Earth Reservation. After learning how to install solar heaters onto a home, Robin and the other trainees were employed by the White Earth Tribe to install 10 heaters for families in need. These heaters save families up to 30% on their monthly utility bills for 25 years, greatly decreasing household expenses using clean energy from the sun.

Get personal

“I’ve been interested in energy efficiency and renewable energy for sometime now. I want to share this knowledge with our Native communities along with the Housing Authority. Housing is the one shortage we need to overcome.” – Gail Hubbeling, Scholarship Recipient

Risks and challenges

Our biggest challenge with this project was the weather! We had no problem finding Native American women eager to attend our workshops; our main challenge was dealing with freak storms that delayed holding the workshops. We had originally planned to have the Compressed Earth Block training in October of 2014 but Mother Nature was not having it. A huge snow storm hit the Pine Ridge Reservation, causing us to postpone the workshop.

What we’ve learned

GRID Alternatives solar energy trainingWe’ve learned that beyond green job training, we need to also focus on helping trainees find meaningful employment opportunities, where they can utilize the skills they have gained. This is why we started the Green Business Development Program in 2013. This program helps Native entrepreneurs develop and implement viable green business plans within the reservation context, which is a much more challenging economic situation. In addition, we are also continuing to work closely with tribes, such as White Earth, to create jobs for trainees after they complete our workshops. Many tribes have access to Federal funds for renewable energy and economic development that can be used to employ their members in the green economy.

Next steps

We are now working with the women to offer more access to our workshops as well as an opportunity to apply to our Green Business Development Program. Our ultimate goal with this program is to see Native American women find jobs within the renewable energy and sustainable building sector, using the skills and experience gained from our workshops.

Volunteer Trip to Pine Ridge: Sept. 11-14

image

Take this opportunity to travel to our Tribal Renewable Energy Program’s headquarters on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Although it is only a five hour drive from the Trees, Water & People office in Fort Collins, Colorado, a trip to Pine Ridge will offer volunteers an unforgettable cultural experience and an opportunity to help complete sustainable building projects at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC). Plus, we will be getting our hands dirty at Solar Warrior Farm! This is a wonderful way to give back, make new friends, and learn about the Lakota culture.

Volunteer Trip – Strawbales and Harvest Time

Where: Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center, Pine Ridge Reservation, SD
When: Thursday, Sept. 11 – Sunday, Sept. 14
Who: Flexible volunteers who like adventure, hard work, lots of fun, and all kinds of weather. Volunteers 14-18 are welcome with adult companions.
Why: To help complete two of our strawbale demonstration houses, put a finish coat on the LSE office building and help bring in the harvest from the Solar Warrior Farm
Volunteers are invited to arrive any time on Thursday, Sept. 11. We will host full work days on Friday and Saturday and a half day on Sunday. Projects will end by 1:00 pm on Sunday, and volunteers are welcome to head home any time on Sunday, Sept. 14 or stay longer and help us put a final coat on our strawbale houses and compressed earth block offices!

Food:
• TWP will provide volunteers with meals and snacks during the trip.
• Food purchased by TWP will be simple and tasty, but feel free to bring any food you desire. We will send out a meal plan as the date comes near.
• TWP cooking equipment and utensils will be available for use.
• Volunteers will help in preparing all meals and with cleaning up afterwards.

Transportation:
• All volunteers are responsible for their own transportation and related costs getting to Pine Ridge.
• We will be happy to coordinate carpools where possible.
• Our facility is located down a short dirt road. Many sedans have traveled it without any problems.

Lodging:
• Beds will be available for volunteers at the Sacred Earth Lodge. Camping is also a great option during this time of year1 Campers on the Red Cloud Renewable Energy campus must bring their own camping equipment (tent, sleeping bag and pad, etc.). Weather is unpredictable, so only those comfortable in the outdoors should camp.

Sacred Earth Lodge

Sacred Earth Lodge

To volunteer, please email the following information to Assistant National Director, John Motley, at john@treeswaterpeople.org:
1. Name of all people in your volunteer party
2. Email addresses for all people in your volunteer party
3. Your cell phone number
4. Which days you have available to travel to and work in Pine Ridge
5. Where you will be coming from and returning to (e.g. many people will be coming from Fort Collins, CO)
6. Whether you will be camping or require a bunk in our loft (first come, first served!)
7. Do you need a ride?
8. Can you offer a ride – if so, to how many people?
9. Any other questions you may have?
Once I have confirmed your spot, I will email you directions to the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center and provide you with additional details.

For more information and to register as a volunteer, please contact John Motley via email at john@treeswaterpeople.org or by phone at 970-484-3678.