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.

Donate your used Android smart phones!

Photo by Dimagi

Photo by Dimagi

Trees, Water & People (TWP) is collecting functional Android phones in good condition for our programs in Central America. We are training field staff working in rural areas to collect important data on our Solar Energy Program using customized, multiple choice surveys. Data is collected on a specially designed app for Android phones.

Last October, TWP created Luciérnaga – a social enterprise that creates markets for small-scale solar energy products in off-grid areas of Central America.  Since we launched operations, we have sold more than 4,000 solar lighting products that both illuminate homes and charge cell-phones in communities that do not have access to electricity. We are now distributing product in three countries, and are working to improve our training and customer service via mobile data collection.

Android_robot.svgWe have recently earned the opportunity to pilot a new service called CommSell, designed by social impact technology company Dimagi. By using an Android specific mobile app, our field staff will be able to collect important data into an online database that keeps track of warranty information, tracks inventory and payments, and supports customer relationship management. This is critical for us to be able to provide appropriate and timely support, and also gives us a powerful way to communicate the impact of our work to the outside world.

If you have a surplus of working Android phones, or know people and businesses that do, please consider donating them to Trees, Water & People before Friday August 8, 2014.  We are happy to pick them up, or they can be dropped off or sent to 633 Remington Street, Fort Collins, CO 80524.  Trees, Water & People is a 501(c)(3) and all phone donations are 100% tax-deductible. Thank you for your support!

Reflections on Helping to Start Native-Owned Green Businesses

Richard Fox with students

Richard Fox (right) works with some of TWP’s Native American Green Business Development students and trainers at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

by Richard Fox, Executive Director

As I sit here listening to our students at our Green Business Development Training, I am sure we have made the right decision.

For years, through our Tribal Renewable Energy Program, we have been providing Native Americans with a wide spectrum of small-scale/big-impact renewable energy and sustainable home building training.  We realized though that while technical skills training is important, it is not enough to get new Native owned businesses started.  That is why we created this Green Business Development Training, using the Indianpreneurship curriculum developed by ONABEN, as part of our new multi-tiered approach of providing Native American students with the practical knowledge, resources, and confidence needed to create their own businesses.

business trainee grads

Graduates from our most recent Green Business development Training

Beyond this training, we have also instituted a national Business Plan Competition that will provide the winner with up to $40,000 in start-up capital, as well as hands-on business training and assistance in things like using Quick Books, developing and implementing marketing materials and campaigns, and overall business fiscal management.  As part of this effort, we have initiated our Business Start-up Mentor Program, where business professionals provide assistance to Native Americans who are in the competition.  The winner of the business plan competition will have a mentor assigned to them who will work with them over the next year to get their business started and rolling along.

This way we know that at least one new Native American green business will start up every year and hopefully others will form as we continue to have more students go through our training program.

tribal programYes, this path is definitely the right decision.  It has not always been an easy one to implement, and we will surely be improving each component as we move forward and learn from our experiences.  But we are committed to bringing renewable energy and alternative building options to Native communities and helping them move towards energy independence as well as economic stability.

We think long-term at TWP and know our efforts will take time.  But we have been working with tribal communities for more than 12 years and have established a network of Native Green Teams across the Great Plains.  They will surely be our strength and core as we expand these efforts to the hundreds of other tribes looking for green jobs and a new approach to using energy and building sustainability on tribal lands.

To learn more please visit our website: www.treeswaterpeople.org

Bonus Day – Donations matched 50% today!

Today is a Bonus Day at GlobalGiving.org! When you donate to one of our projects on GlobalGiving today, your donation will be matched 50%. Plus, the organization with the most individual donors will receive a $1,000 bonus!

DONATE to one of the following projects that support renewable energy and economic development on tribal lands:
entrepreneurs fund_enews
help build SEL
support organic farming2
There is only $130,000 in matching funds available, so please don’t delay in making your gift!

Upcoming Event: Earth Day in July!

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Partner Spotlight: Ut’z Che’

Ut’z Che ‘(good tree in Mayan language K’iche’) is a Guatemalan NGO that represents 36 community organizations dedicated to sustainable management of their forests, forest plantations, water sources, biodiversity and other natural resources.

utzche logoThe Association Ut’z Che’ was formed with the main objective to legitimately represent the demands and interest of their grassroots organizations in different sectors, effect change in public policy areas related to the management of forests, and assist with rural development in general. Another key part is to strengthen the capacities of its member organizations, to achieve conservation and sustainable productive use of natural resources.

In Guatemala – where the state does not respond to the needs and demands for comprehensive development - Utz Che has organized to defend and claim their rights.

“Communities have been protecting natural reserves for centuries but living in poverty. We want people to improve their livelihoods while protecting forests.”

We are honored to work with Ut’Z Che’ and the communities they represent. Together, we build clean cookstoves, plant trees, and distribute solar lighting to their members in Guatemala, all in an effort to empower local people and conserve the natural environment that is so important to their livelihoods.

To learn more please visit www.utzchecomunitaria.org