Volunteer Trip to Pine Ridge: Sept. 11-14


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!

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.

Notes from the Field: Measuring the Health Impacts of Clean Cookstoves in Honduras

Honduras clean cookstove study

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

I first met Maggie Clark, an environmental epidemiologist at Colorado State University (CSU) , back in 2005 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, when she came to test the health of women exposed to wood smoke from cooking over open fires. Since then, we have both worked continually on improving conditions in Central American kitchens via clean cookstoves designed and built by Trees, Water & People (TWP) and partners.

clean cookstove study

Meeting with community members is an important first step in initializing a new clean cookstove study.

Last week I had the great pleasure of joining forces with Dr. Maggie again in Honduras, as we launch an ambitious, comprehensive study to show the benefits of improved cookstoves on the health of rural women and their families in the mountainous western region of the country. While most studies of this kind are short term snapshots of the benefits that come from improving cookstove technology, this study proposes following over 400 women over three years as they transition from traditional open fire cooking to improved cookstoves.

Trees, Water & People began working with cookstoves in 1998 as an effort to reduce deforestation and carbon emissions, and together with Aprovecho Research Center designed a culturally appropriate cookstove that reduced firewood consumption in any given household by an average of 50%. What we later learned, is that the smoke that families (mostly women and children) are exposed to daily during cooking is responsible for up to 4 million deaths a year globally, and leads to chronic lifelong health complications for millions more.

We are certain that improved cookstoves improve conditions in households where firewood is used to cook daily. What CSU and TWP seek to show, however, is that many factors play into a family’s decision to adopt, fully utilize and benefit from a cookstove over time, and that the presence or absence of certain factors influence the degree to which health improves. By using data generated by this study to optimize what technologies we introduce and how we implement them, we seek to improve the impacts of our work and inform the work of the countless other organizations working to improve life in firewood-dependent communities.

It’s an honor to be working with my friend Dr. Maggie Clark and CSU on such a groundbreaking study, and its great to see the dedication and resilience of the cookstove community as we work to improve living conditions in some of the most challenging environments in the world.

Project Update: El Salvador Composting Latrine Project in Full Swing

composting latrine el salvador

A Salvadoran mother stands proudly next to her new composting latrine.

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

In use for roughly six months, the five composting latrines funded by Catapult supporters are now in full swing. Each latrine has two compartments, and soon, the first compartment will be filled, capped, and left to compost while the other is put into use. In the time it takes to fill the second compartment, the first will have composted into a “humanure” to be used by families as a soil amendment – great for fruit trees and certain cash crops. This is the closed loop that many of us in the world of ecological sanitation strive to be part of, and for those without basic sewage services, it’s a huge step up from an unsanitary pit latrine.

Get personal

“It is gratifying that our work in El Salvador through Trees, Water & People leaves a trail of impact in communities and even public and private institutions and service organizations who use our support to develop projects that benefit the target population of their programs.” – Armando Hernandez, Project Director (translated by Sebastian Africano)

Risks and challenges

For anyone, the prospect of storing and then handling your family’s sewage is conceptually daunting. This is likely the biggest hump to get over when implementing a composting latrine project – getting people comfortable with managing poop. This is where appropriate design comes in – if a composting latrine is well designed, you shouldn’t smell anything, you shouldn’t see flies, and you should find nothing resembling anything but soil when you crack it open one year after first use. Getting people to that first “aha” moment is crucial in getting them to cross that conceptual hump and use their latrine year after year.

What we’ve learned

Visiting and monitoring a composting latrine program, or any ecological sanitation program, requires you to enter and speak composed and comfortably to families about some of their most personal household activities. It’s always educational, and it’s a great exercise in humility and in finding commonality with people who live in a completely different reality than you do. The important message to convey is that you’re there to learn and help rather than judge, and more often than not, families are welcoming and interested in hearing and discussing your observations. Sincere communication and education across cultural and societal lines are so important in our work.


Next steps

There is a great need for sanitation services in rural El Salvador. Working with our partners on the ground, we will continue to look for the funds needed to build more composting pit latrines for communities in need. In addition to our fundraising efforts, we will continue to monitor and evaluate the latrines that have already been constructed.

If you would like to support this project please visit our website to make a donation today!

Community Voices: Jeff King, Northern Cheyenne Tribe

Jeff King works to install a large solar array in northern Colorado. He has turned his passions into a career in renewable energy.

Jeff King works to install a new 1 megawatt “solar garden” in Lafayette, Colorado.

Jeff King hails from the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in southeastern Montana. He is passionate about sustainability and renewable energy. He has attended many of our workshops at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC) and consistently stands out as a leader that is eager to learn and grow. After receiving several certifications from our Tribal renewable Energy Program, Jeff has started working for a solar company in Colorado install PV systems throughout the state.

“I have been interested in renewable energy for a long time, but my interest has been magnified in recent years due to more awareness of global climate change and also from working in an industry (coal) that frowns upon the mere mention of renewables. That attitude has made me even more eager to learn and push on behalf of the world.”

Read more about the people our work has impacted in our Community Voices section of our website.

Building With Compressed Earth Blocks: Part 1

compressed earth block with solar array

Compressed Earth Block buildings are energy efficient, sustainable and affordable.

by John Motley, Assistant National Director

It always amazes me the way something can come from nothing. This has never been more true than with my first experience constructing a Compressed Earth Block building. Two months ago there was a bare plot of land with a few stakes delineating the crude outline of what was to become a foundation, now there is a completed building with four walls, four windows, a door and a roof. But beyond the basic structure we have incorporated various renewable and sustainable technologies that will help the building maintain a regular temperature despite outside conditions.

making compressed earth blocks

Producing compressed earth blocks creates local jobs.

The compressed earth block home that we will complete this summer is made from compressed earth blocks using a machine generously donated by the company EARTHinBLOCKS. The blocks are made onsite from locally sourced materials. Approximately 90 percent of the mix for the blocks is from the refuse of the local gravel company on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. We re-purpose waste material by combining it with a small amount of Portland cement and water to create blocks that are then compressed to 2,000 psi. This pressure causes cement to bind with the earthen material and then cures for up to a week. The blocks are four inches high by eight inches thick and then the length of the block can vary based on the amount of material put in to the compressor. The blocks are very dense and as such have high thermal mass. This means that the blocks are slow to change temperature, so in the summer months they stay at the average daily temperature and do not fluctuate, this means a cool building during the heat of the day and a warm structure during the chilly nights.

We have also incorporated a radiant heat floor that is warmed by solar hot water panels requiring no electrical input. This will help the office stay warm during the cold Dakota winters. We have also built a double wall out of the earth blocks that will absorb heat from our wood burning stove and radiate that heat throughout the night.


Compressed Earth Block Training – June 2014

These blocks require no mortar due to their tongue and grove design. This allows for a group of six to put up four walls with windows and doors in four days. We purchased prefabricated roof trusses that also were able to be installed without any skilled labor in one single afternoon. The blocks are great insulators with a high r value due to their density. In seven days we went from a blank slate to a  beautiful building that will serve as a demonstration home for anyone interested in learning more about Compressed Earth Block.

Trees Water & People is working to promote this type of construction to Tribes across the Great Plains who are struggling to find ways to build affordable and sustainable homes for their members. This construction has an upfront cost of less than $20,000 but the energy savings alone will offset the cost of the building within 15 years. Stay tuned as we continue this important work: sustainable building + renewable energy for a greener future on tribal lands.

We owe a special thank you to EARTHinBLOCK’s founders Elsie Walker and Susan England for their support and their time in completing this project.


A Third Proposal to the Border Crisis

fuelwood central america

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

Sometime in 2006 I stopped for gas as night fell close to the Palmerola U.S. military base in Central Honduras, and a man approached me from the highway. The man explained that he had just arrived from being deported from the U.S., and asked if I could spare some funds for him to catch a bus home to Northern Honduras – I gave him the equivalent of $0.50, and he thanked me and moved on. This was my first direct exposure to the impending crisis that has now reached astoundingly unsustainable levels in Central America.

This was the same year that Mexico escalated its drug war against narcotraffickers in that country, squeezing many of the lucrative drug routes out of the country and into Central America, seeking to take advantage of notoriously weak institutions, chronic poverty and the second biggest contiguous jungle in the Americas after the Amazon. Since then, murder rates from narco and gang activity in Honduras have tripled, deforestation rates have quintupled, and roughly 90% of the cocaine flights headed to U.S. markets have made Honduras their first stop.

Last week the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador met with U.S. political leaders in Washington D.C. to discuss the massive growth in migration to the U.S. from these countries, which has almost tripled in the past 10 years based on deportation rates. Now on the table are two politically contentious proposals – one is to increase U.S. counter-narcotics activities in the country, akin to the incredibly costly military pushes in Colombia in the 1980s and 1990s, and the other is to extend refugee status to thousands of fleeing Hondurans, which some argue would increase the flow of migrants, not stem it.  Neither are ideal. Neither address the root of the problem.  Neither will come easily or without loss of additional life.

For 16 years, Trees, Water & People has been working in Central America to improve environmental stewardship, economic opportunities and quality of life in marginalized communities. The people fleeing the region are the relatives, neighbors and friends of the communities that we have worked with and supported through these years, and with them they take the potential to develop and heal their country from the inside. The programs that TWP implements are a third proposal to the current border crisis – creating the conditions under which people want to stay and seek a sustainable future in their country, rather than take the colossal risk and cost of traveling the long road north.

Your support makes these programs possible, and contributes to the potential for a sustainable future in Central America. To all those who have donated to Trees, Water & People’s programs in the past, know that you have an advocate in this current crisis, and know that we are working tirelessly to expand alternatives to migration for the tens of thousands of Central Americans we reach every year.  Thank you.

Trees, Water & People 2013 Annual Report

The year 2013 was a powerful time for making new commitments, but also for completing some of our most needed and ambitious projects. It was a time when our nation was struggling still, but slowly improving from a period of fiscal instability.

We send a special heartfelt thank you to all of our donors and supporters that have provided their generous financial support, but also for the wisdom and advice that makes all of our projects possible!

Please click here to see our 2013 audited financial statements and 990s. For questions regarding our financials please email Diane Vella, Finance Director, at diane@treeswaterpeople.org or call 970-484-3678 ext. 22.