Category Archives: Notes from the Field

Notes from the Field: Transforming Rural Environments in Haiti

 by Sharifa Bagalaaliwo, Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team

Haitian farmers

Located in the quiet and scenic Northwest region of Haiti – a small team is doing big things using holistic and sustainable methods to transform the rural landscape of the communes of Anse Rouge and Terre Neuve.

Since 2008 Transformation de l’Environment Rural (TER)/ Transformation of Rural Environment has been the brainchild of the Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team in Haiti (AMURT- Haiti). With the support of Trees Water & People (TWP), the TER project has been helping communities preserve the fragile ecological balance through grassroots initiatives focused on watershed protection, soil conservation, sustainable agro-forestry as well as integrated water management.

Exchange of tree nursery techniques, Hatte-Dimanche

Exchange of tree nursery
techniques, Hatte-Dimanche

But what are we talking about when we say environmental transformation?  For starters, our integrated approach relies on organizing Haitian farmers into Self-Help Group (SHG) structures, providing technical agro-forestry training and accompaniment, creating model demonstration parcels, and helping farmers save their own money, manage the self-generated funds and create micro-lending programs that allow them to rely less and less on external inputs. The SHG’s have registered savings of more than $1,500 USD per group!

As part of this integrated approach, AMURT-Haiti has also used support from TWP to transform plots of land into community demonstration garden parcels that are models of sustainable farming and watershed protection. The demonstration gardens are accompanying farmers to develop more sustainable methods they can practice in the model gardens and then take back to apply in their private yards and farms. Hand-in-hand with this, the TER program emphasizes collaborative leadership and autonomous initiatives through the Self-Help Group approach. This collaborative strategy includes the creation of tool and seed bank cooperatives (Boutique Agricoles). The Boutique Agricoles have made it easier for farmers to access essential materials and products locally saving them time and money, increasing self-sufficiency and keeping the focus on the environment and agriculture.

Rivier Forad tree nursery

Rivier Forad tree nursery

As partners of TWP, AMURT – Haiti is also proud to admit that something else that’s been hugely successful is our focus on tree planting. Over the last year, this partnership has led to the planting of approximately 100,000 trees in three villages with a special emphasis on Moringa. Tree nurseries set up in selected villages (Hatte -Dimanche, Ti Plas, Rivier Forad, and Gros Roch) have been the base of ongoing training and exchange opportunities between our tree nursery technicians, farmers, and the community. Growing community participation during annual tree planting days have shown us that there is a greater appreciation for trees, increased awareness of the need for tree planting and improved knowledge of planting techniques.

A SHG member plants Moringa trees

An SHG member plants Moringa trees in Northwest Haiti.

All in all it has been busy for AMURT – Haiti’s TER team and a fruitful and valued partnership with Trees Water & People. In the following months and year we are excited to continue working alongside TWP in Haiti to help strengthen local capacities and keep helping people and the planet.

Notes from the Field: El Rapidito Clean Cookstove

by Lindsay Saperstone, International Communications Coordinator

Rapidito clean cookstove Nicaragua

We are always amazed by our local partner’s innovations in conservation, especially when it comes to clean cookstove design and construction. In Nicaragua, we partner with Proleña, an organization dedicated to protecting the local forests. One way they accomplish this is with fuel-efficient stoves, which greatly reduce fuelwood and charcoal consumption and indoor air pollution.

Rapidito clean cookstove

Leonardo shows the inside of the Rapidito cookstove

One of Proleña’s cheapest and most efficient cookstove models is a small charcoal stove known as the Rapidito. The stove sells for C$ 550.00- C$665.00 (approx. $25 USD). When the stove first came out, Proleña decided to have a naming contest and asked dozens of women to try the stove and then write down their name suggestions. Ironically, more than half of the attendees chose the same name!

“El Rapidito”, meaning “the quick one” in Spanish, reduces cook time and charcoal use by up to 50 percent. Proleña’s Technical Director, Leonardo Mayorga explains  that “while most people think of carbon stoves (charcoal) as only being good for beans and asado (a type of roast meat), the Rapidito’s built in temperature control means the stove can cook a large variety of foods that other charcoal stoves can’t accommodate.”

To learn more about TWP’s clean cookstove designs please visit our wesbite!

Notes from the Field: A New Approach to Reforestation in Haiti

by Lindsay Saperstone, International Communications Coordinator

Self Help Savings Group Haiti

Self-Help Groups are empowering women and men in Haiti.

Over the past two years, TWP has been working with our partners at Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team (AMURT) to design a new approach to reforestation in Northwest Haiti. Our goal is to reduce dependency on seasonal agriculture and the risk of catastrophic crop failures by giving farmers an opportunity to grow valuable trees. One of the keys to this program is the use of Self-Help Groups (SGHs), which have been a powerful force for economic development and women’s empowerment around the world.

In Haiti, AMURT uses the SHG approach in their development work because of the belief that poverty is a denial of basic human rights and women in developing countries are disproportionately impacted by poverty. Most SHGs are comprised of 15-20 women, who bring a certain amount of money to the table each week. This money is kept with the elected Secretary of the group, and is available to be ‘withdrawn’ when a woman member is ready to use it. Along with the amount saved by each member, there is also an amount each person gives to the general account that can be used if the group has an emergency and needs a loan. All decisions are made collectively and all members have an equal opportunity to borrow money.

However, the true impact of SHGs goes beyond increasing an individual’s access to savings and capital. These groups serve as a community gathering place, an educational platform, and a forum for members to express themselves. The true benefit lies in the economic, political, and social empowerment instilled in each and every member.

Based on its success with women’s SHGs, AMURT decided to try the same approach with groups of farmers to help invest in agricultural inputs and learn about best practices for conservation and agroforestry. Since 2012, 14 SHGs were created and active, organizing 280 farmers in four villages which collectively saved a total of $2,315. These groups have also participated in workshops on composting, seed selection, disaster risk reduction, and more.

International Director, Sebastian Africano, trains Haitian farmers on using technology for crop management.

International Director, Sebastian Africano, trains Haitian farmers on using technology for crop management.

While most farmers in Haiti are men, AMURT has not limited their outreach efforts to men, and have added women farmers with a focus on single mothers. According to AMURT, the SHG approach initially created and designed for women has proven to work very well with these male farmers. They have had 100% attendance rates for SHG members for the monthly agricultural training. In many cases, men have the capacity to earn more money than women as they are often the chief bread winners of the family, having completed higher levels of education and participating in local leadership or development initiatives. According to one member, “I used to spend 50 Gourdes per day on drinking, but now I know I have to have this money available for the group savings so I stopped drinking.” Another member reported, “I feel strong and part of a group that protects me and represents me.”

In addition to the self-help groups, we have started offering high quality farming tools to the groups as well as seeds for farmers to buy with funds from the group savings. AMURT and Trees, Water & People also produced over 90,000 tree seedlings in 2013, with an additional 120,000 planned for 2014.

Please contact me at lindsay@treeswaterpeople.org to learn more about how you can support a farmer savings and loan group with matching loans or donations!

Notes from the Field: A Month of Extremes

By Teague Walsh-Felz, Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center Intern

Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center

Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center

October was a month of extremes. The Sacred Earth Lodge got propane, electricity, water, and it’s finishing touches. The whole compound was mowed, the garden was closed up, it froze and it melted. I woke up one morning to a record breaking blizzard. It hit the Black Hills in early October and did plenty of damage to the area around the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC). The CruiseMaster that I have been sleeping in for the past four months was covered with broken tree limbs and heavy snow. As I opened the door and stepped outside I was confronted by the reality of over two feet of heavy snow.

As soon as the storm cleared out we went right to work. We had a backhoe that had been left at Henry’s in order to finish putting in the septic system but it handily doubled as an effective snow plow. The main road was plowed and so was the front of Sacred Earth Lodge. The weight of the snow had crippled one of the greenhouse and it had collapsed on top of the compressed earth block machine. Henry and I spent the next week frantically moving downed trees and snow in order to get the RCREC ready for the grand opening of the Sacred Earth Lodge. We had the help of a volunteer group sent up from Colorado and a man from Iowa who had visited before. The weather stayed surprisingly nice after the storm and so work was actually pretty comfortable.

Wind turbineThe Grand Opening on October 11 went off amazingly, and I got the treat of seeing my two sisters who took off work to come see what I had been up to. I was able to let out a loud sigh of relief after the grand opening- the project that we had all worked so hard on to get finished by October 11th was wonderful. All the leaks were fixed, all the showers ran, the last of the toilets was installed just 2 days before the grand opening, but it was all wonderful.

One week after the Grand Opening, Henry rented out the Lodge for the first time to a group of college students from Michigan. They loved it. They helped us move the earth compressor and all the bricks it has made into the standing greenhouse for the winter. They also went and helped clean up brush from a community elders home.

I left Pine Ridge the same day that group left. My departure was simple. I know I will be back soon and so I left with high spirits,looking forward to hearing about Henry’s next endeavor and his continued work with Trees, Water & People.

Notes from the Field: The Lakota Adventure Continues

by Teague Walsh-Felz

Teague

It’s September which means two things: First, I’ve now been living in Pine Ridge for two months and am reaching the halfway point of my Lakota Adventure. Second, it means that we are now less than two months away from the opening of the Sacred Earth Lodge (SEL). I’ve been splitting my time between working on the construction and finishing of the Sacred Earth Lodge and working at Solar Warrior Farm. We have been having back to back volunteer weekends, which pretty much eliminates my own weekends while I help manage crews of volunteers. The internet at the compound has been down for almost a month now so my communication has been limited to a weekly trip to the coffee shop.

Life on the Rez picked right back up after returning from a relaxing weekend spent in Sturgis for the bike festival. Immediately, I was thrust back into the swing of things and was working both the garden and working on the Sacred Earth Lodge. Rez life is not for everyone. If you aren’t okay with scabbed and bitten ankles, regular brushes with poison ivy, stinging nettle, spiders, ticks, and plenty of paint fumes then it’s gonna be a rough time here.

septicTwo weeks ago we had our first ever Native American Green Business Development training here at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. It coincided perfectly with a septic problem that required the entire sewage line to be dug up. I spent the first two days of that week digging and searching for breaks in the line with Paul, one of Henry’s regular workers.  We ended up finding two separate breaks in the sewage line, repairing them and then burying them back up. As soon as we finished up that job I got hit by an unfriendly stomach bug that made it impossible to hold down anything I ate. I wont go into much detail about that but while that was going on I facilitated a canning class – another first for us. As part of our Food Security Program, we hosted this course, offered by the amazing Teresa Holbrook. Earlier in the week I met with two women from Colorado Aquaponics and visited a woman’s home garden to give advice. The two women from Colorado Aquaponics gave me advice on getting the greenhouse running. I think I’ll wait to tackle that after the 11th of October.

Keeping the volunteers busy!

Keeping the volunteers busy!

After the business class finished and I got my health back I was at it again. This time networking with a woman in Porcupine who has been running a small greenhouse and garden as a side project from the college to show the financial gains/losses of growing food. I helped her lay 14 foot fence poles in order to create an outdoor chicken coop and gave some advice on planning for next year. When I got back to the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center I found one of my bosses, Richard, showing a group of volunteers around. A few more volunteers trickled throughout the weekend (including an old CSU classmate of mine) and we got a lot done at the Sacred Earth Lodge. We are finishing up the electric and getting ready to hook up the toilets, sinks, washer, dryer, and water heaters. We have a little bit of drywall to finish up and a wall to extend before this weekend when another volunteer group shows up.

Solar Warrior FarmTonight I’ll be passing out close to 100 lbs of fresh veggies with Henry. Most of the recipients are local Lakota artists who gather every Wednesday to sell their wares. Last week I did the same with close to 60 lbs of cucumbers and squash. It’s great to sit and talk with different community members about their stories and about their life. The garden has been exploding with cucumbers and squash. The tomatoes are just starting to give red fruits, and the corn is tall and strong. Some stalks are over 10 feet tall. The lettuce is about to be harvested and the onions will be ready soon. The drip irrigation is working wonderfully and there has been plenty of rain for extra growth, which is both a blessing and a curse for me as more rain = more weeds, and there are already plenty of weeds.

All in all there is only more work to be done now, with the deadline approaching for the Sacred Earth Lodge, and bigger harvests just around the corner, I’m surprised I have time to sleep. Officially, I am not expected to work more than 40 hours a week, but how can I expect myself to stick to a standard work week when I can see how much needs to be done and how much I can help?

Notes from the Field: Native American Entrepreneurs Aspire to a Greener Future

native american business development training

by Lacey Gaechter, National Director

Today was the first day of our Native American Green Business Development Training – something that Trees, Water & People and I have been working toward for the last year. While the training is the continuation of a process we started in 2008 – giving Native American students the technical skills they need to enter the green job market – it is only the first step in our new Green Business Development Program. The next will be awarding one “Start-Up Assistance Scholarship” to the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC) student with the best application, which means we think he or she will have the best chance of succeeding in his or her environmental social enterprise. The fact that this training is only the start of us helping more Native Americans create livelihoods that benefit Mother Earth makes this week extremely special for me.

Yesterday we dove right into the training, going over the basics of a business plan, a mission statement, products and services, and the purpose of market research. It was so inspiring to hear of the students’ different aspirations for renewable energy, green building, and sustainable timber harvest businesses. Every single one of them focuses on the importance helping their people – creating jobs and improving lives through their businesses.

Henry Red Cloud

Henry Red Cloud shows students the solar PV system at RCREC.

We ended the day with a special guest lecture from one Mr. Henry Red Cloud, proprietor of Lakota Solar Enterprises. Henry talked to the students about what being a sole proprietor means to him and gave everyone an in-depth tour of the Red Cloud Renewable Energy, where there is plenty of fodder for the imagination, from solar panels to straw-bale houses and organic agriculture. After the tour, our long-time friend and frequent student Leo White Bear, had decided that he was going to build his own Compressed Earth Block machine, water his lawn with a passive-solar water pump, and sell solar water distillers as part of his business, Off the Grid. This is, of course in addition, to the 10 or so other products that Leo was already planning to offer.

One of my favorite moments of the day came when I asked Henry what the hardest part of being a business owner is, and he responded “bookkeeping!”  His favorite part about running Lakota Solar Enterprises: “Everything else!” I think he speaks for most of us!

Notes from the Field: Not Your Typical Summer Internship

by Kelly Cannon, International Program Intern

Gathering feedback from the community helps us implement successful programs.

Gathering feedback from the community helps us implement successful programs.

So I thought I would attempt to share a little glimpse into my life-changing summer experience. I’ll start with a bit of background. My name is Kelly Cannon. I’m a Global Studies and Spanish major with a Business minor currently studying at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. I landed a position as the International Programs Intern with the non-profit organization Trees, Water & People (TWP) this summer. I was enthused. The internship seemed to combine all of my passions – community development, travel, Latin America, Spanish, people, and adventure. I could not wait for the incredible learning opportunity ahead.

So just like that I found myself spending six weeks exploring every corner of Honduras and Guatemala generating market data for a clean energy distribution enterprise. I conducted household interviews, held focus groups, taught communities about solar energy, while also exploring the competitive landscape, supply chain opportunities and developing a marketing plan for solar energy distribution in energy-poor regions of Guatemala.

maizI visited dozens of communities throughout these regions, but I want to share about my experience in one place in particular. La Bendición, Guatemala is surrounded by breathtaking views of lush, green landscape and three volcanoes. The best part about staying in La Bendición was just living life with the people there. I stayed with a host family for four days. I spent a large amount of time with my host mom and her daughter, Silsy. We woke up at 6:00am and brought a bucket of corn to the molino. We waited in line with all the other women, poured the corn through some complicated machinery, and watched it transform into flour used to make tortillas. I’m pretty sure I became a professional tortilla-maker by the time I left the community.

Gautemala

Another morning my mom and Silsy took me on a long walk to a cornfield where their cows graze. We visited the animals and then picked a big bundle of leaves off the corn. When we returned home, they taught me how to fold the leaves around flour to make tamales. Later that afternoon, they called me out to the backyard for another lesson. They snatched up one of the chickens running around the yard and held it over the pila (the outdoor sink). My mom and Silsy broke its’ neck right in front of me, poured out the guts and blood, and plucked the feathers off the body before putting it in a bucket of hot water. One hour later we were all sitting around the table eating the tamales and the chicken. I treasure my time in La Bendición experiencing a new way of life with my host mom and Silsy. I learned so much about their daily tasks while sharing in wonderful conversation. I fell in love with moments during my time there that I will always cherish.

community outreach

The children look on curiously as we conduct interviews with their parents.

In addition to living life with the people in La Bendición, I was of course also working on the solar energy project for TWP. I held a meeting with the women in La Bendición the day I arrived to teach them about the solar energy products that TWP distributes and let them know I would be visiting households and conducting interviews. I wanted to ask families about how they illuminated their houses at night with no access to electricity, calculate their current energy expenditures, demonstrate the products, and gauge their interest in this alternate form of clean energy. The women expressed gratitude and excitement at the meeting and many volunteered to be interviewed first. Over the next few days Silsy and I talked to seventeen different families in La Bendición. The community, as a whole, showed great interest in the solar energy products. The people told me about the extreme need for this project in their community and the obstacles they face on a daily basis due to the absence of light. Many families wanted to purchase the lights from me on the spot. Sadly, I had to explain I was not selling the products just doing a preliminary investigation in order to bring the products to the community in the future.

The experience in La Bendición was eye-opening and encouraging. I felt at home there. The interviews allowed me to learn a lot about the current energy situation in this community and in Guatemala as a whole. The people were supportive and welcoming, especially once they learned my purpose for visiting. When I left on a chicken bus that Friday morning to head to a new community, some of the women came out, kissed me on the cheek, and wished me luck on the rest of my trip. I was sad to leave but also even more excited and passionate about bringing solar energy to families in hard-to-reach communities.

Notes from the Field: Foundations for a Sustainable Future in Honduras

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

clear cutting Honduras

It’s a strange and heavy burden you feel when you’re travelling through what is meant to be the second largest contiguous rainforest in the Americas, and you see more cattle than wildlife, more slash and burn desolation than old growth, and few signs of land-use planning or enforcement of regulations meant for protected areas.  The Reserve of Man and Biosphere of the Río Plátano in Eastern Honduras is part ecological gem, part three alarm fire, with pristine jungle being continually converted to ranch land, to provide income to a continuously growing population of colonists from around the country.

Rio Platano Biosphere map

Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve

Trees, Water & People (TWP) is fortunate to have both access to the communities of the Biosphere, and the support of a team of dedicated individuals determined to implement a combination of programs that would create alternatives to the current norm in this remote, off-grid region of the country.  The common ingredient in all of our proposals is sustainable livelihoods – identifying appropriate, income generating activities that are as or more lucrative than cattle ranching, and which are restorative rather than destructive.

Appropriate technologies like clean cookstoves and solar lights make life for rural families of Honduras better.

Appropriate technologies like clean cookstoves and solar lights make life easier for rural Hondureños.

Through simultaneous investments in promoting shade-grown cacao, coffee and maya nuts with partner GIZ PRORENA and training entrepreneurs to sell affordable solar lighting technologies and clean cookstoves with partners AHDESA and USAID ProParque, we are stimulating activities that result in forest conservation, environmental education and income diversification – three foundations on which we can begin to build a more sustainable future for the Biosphere.

This challenge, however difficult, is always made easier with the support of TWP’s indefatigable donors and followers.  This is our North American Amazon, the lungs of our planet, and a treasure worth protecting for our collective benefit.

Please visit www.treeswaterpeople.org to learn more about this and other projects, and to donate in support of creating alternative livelihoods for the inhabitants of this fragile ecosystem.

Visiting with families who are utilizing solar to light their homes.

Visiting with families who are utilizing solar to light their homes in rural Honduras.

Notes from the Field: Lighting Homes in “Last Mile” Communities

by Richard Fox, Executive Director

peru

I recently returned from visiting our friends at PowerMundo in Peru. What a great trip!  PowerMundo and TWP are currently partnering on a project with the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA).  Together, we are distributing Cleantech solar products, primarily to “last mile” communities in rural areas of Central America and Peru, as part of our State Department funded project Improving Access to Clean Energy in Latin America.

Cleantech solar products are a high quality, low-cost solution to energy poverty – illuminating homes and providing mobile phone charging at the household level. These innovative products reduce daily energy expenses and indoor air pollution associated with current alternatives for home lighting (such as kerosene), and they pay for themselves within 6 – 18 months.

I am constantly inspired by the collaborations we have formed to help increase the deployment of these renewable, energy efficient technologies. This work is helping to reduce emissions in Latin America while increasing low carbon economic growth. A win-win-win for people, the environment, and local economies.

TWP’s International Director, Sebastian Africano, joined me with our Honduras partners, Ben Osorto and Ivan Caballero, to facilitate South-South collaboration between Central America and Peru while providing some project review and fiscal oversight duties.  On top of meeting our business obligations, we were particularly glad to get up in the high mountainous Quechua towns in the Cusco area.

Richard Fox and Lisa Kubiske (center) visit with clean cookstove beneficiaries in Honduras.

Richard Fox and Lisa Kubiske (center) visit with clean cookstove beneficiaries in Honduras.

On this same trip, I also made my way to Central America, where I spent the afternoon with Lisa Kubiske, the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras.  After a delightful lunch, we visited with Tim Longworth at Zamarano University,  located in the valley of the Yeguare River in Honduras. Here, we saw the Stove Testing Facility at the university and demonstrated some of our Cleantech products to the Ambassador. While in the area, we also had the opportunity to visit some of our clean cookstove recipients and received valuable feedback about how the stoves performed in the most important facility – people’s homes!

Today, billions of people around the world are still without access to electricity in their homes, and billions more are still cooking over an open fire to cook every single meal. Regional cooperation and collaborations like this are helping to light homes around the world and bring safe cooking solutions to families. Stay tuned for more updates!

To learn more please visit our website.

Notes from the Field: Solar Trainees Power the SunMobile

by Claire Burnett, National Program Assistant

native american solar trainess

As part of the Tribal Renewable Energy Program’s green job training series, nine Solar Warriors were trained last week at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. Our trainees traveled from the Rosebud, Pine Ridge, Crow Creek, and Northern Cheyenne Reservations to attend the multi-day workshop.

During the training, students learned about battery-tied photovoltaic systems, successfully wired the SunMobile to be a mobile power station for PA systems at Pow Wows, and visited our most recent solar panel install at the KILI Radio Station to see a grid-tied PV system. The training was a great success and we thank all of our hardworking students – you guys rock!

We would also like to thank the Scoob Trust Foundation for sponsoring five scholarships for this training. In addition, we had guest instructors Stephen Kane (Kane Solar) and Steve Carroll (Namaste Solar) – we couldn’t have done it without their donated time and equipment – thank you both!

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