Work Tour Brings Women From U.S. and Guatemala Together

Guatemala Work Tour
Working together, we helped community members improve their small water system.

by Jen Houska, 2015 Work Tour Guest

In March of 2015 I had the pleasure of joining a work tour with Trees, Water, & People (TWP) to visit Guatemala and volunteer in the community of La Bendición.  Guatemala is a country full of pride, hard work, and friendly smiles.  When signing up for this tour, I knew that volunteering on a trip was one of the best ways to visit a country but had no idea what I would learn about communities supporting communities.

During the trip, we had the opportunity to tour several areas of the country with well-informed guides from Trees, Water, & People.  For five days in the middle of the trip, we visited one community and volunteered our skills and supported another community.  The people of La Bendición are true leaders in the growth of a self-sustainable structure that provides a healthy diet and thriving lifestyle for all families.  We assisted the community members with building clean cook stoves, repairing a water aqueduct that supplied power, and worked in their tree nursery.

Guatemala Women's Group
Exchanging ideas between women was an incredible experience for everyone.

One of my favorite experiences was the exchange of ideas between the groups.  The community has organized several divisions of leadership including a Men’s Group, a Youth Group, and a Women’s Group.  Each works diligently to better their community’s systems for sustainable living and development.  The women from our volunteer group in the United States met with the Women’s Group from the community.  The women of La Bendición wanted to know how they could gain input from other cultures to better their sustainability and contribution to their community.  Together, we formulated ideas on how the women of the community could make jellies and medicinal salves from their land to sell in local markets. This is only one of their efforts to better their community and become a contributing force in their development.

The only challenge of the trip was that we wanted to do so much more work for the families of La Bendición, but we ran out of time during this trip. TWP is doing such a great job supporting their efforts and will continue to need support from volunteers and donors to continue this work in Central America.

New Solar Furnace Design 100% Off Grid

off grid solar furnace

by John Motley, Assistant National Director

In 2003, Trees Water & People (TWP) partnered with Colorado State University to design a solar air heating system that could be manufactured entirely by our tribal partner Lakota Solar Enterprises (LSE), a 100% Native-owned and operated company located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  Over these 12 years, TWP and LSE have built and distributed over 900 solar air furnaces, saving Native American families over $6.4 million in heating bills. This year, we are looking to make this system even more affordable, while at the same time taking it completely off the grid.

Over the winter, we invested in research and development of this new system. There were a few hurdles to overcome before we could make this a reality. First, we needed the system to function entirely on direct current (DC), as this is the type of electricity that Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels produce.   Second, we needed to move a comparable amount of air through the system so that we could maintain the same thermal efficiency as our previous system. And finally, we had to achieve all of this while using far less energy, as we would be working with a 35W solar panel as opposed to drawing from the home’s electricity.

To meet these challenges, we worked from two angles. One was using a new direct current (DC) that would power not only the fan but also the thermostat and shutoff mechanisms. Second, we redesigned the duct work to streamline the air flow, lessening the drag and back pressure caused by the serpentine ducting necessary with the old fan’s system. Last, we changed the design of the stand for the panel, as it was no longer necessary to house the cumbersome old fan and its duct work.

Woman and Solar Heater (Dan Bihn)
TWP and LSE have built and installed over 900 solar furnaces for Native American families living on tribal lands.

With the help of a knowledgeable board member with a background in computer cooling systems, we found a DC fan that could move as much air through the Solar Air Furnace as the previous model. This allowed us to begin designing a off grid system that would provide its own energy to bring heat into the home.  By simplifying the ducting, we were able to bring down the overall cost of the system, while improving airflow. We can now insure that this new heating system will be far more efficient and will save the user even more money on their overall energy needs.

Trees Water & People, in collaboration with our partner Lakota Solar Enterprises, is looking forward to implementing this design in all new systems this summer. Our first off grid furnace will be installed in mid-April. Stay tuned for updates!

For questions or to learn more about TWP’s solar furnaces please contact John Motley at john@treeswaterpeople.org.

Tribal Renewable Energy Program

TWP Welcomes New Assistant International Director

Lucas Wolf Guatemala
Lucas (left) didn’t waste any time getting his hands dirty on his first trip to the field, where he visited with communities in rural Guatemala.

We are excited to welcome Lucas Wolf to the Trees, Water & People (TWP) family. As the new Assistant International Director, Lucas will help manage our Clean Cookstove, Reforestation, and Solar Energy Programs in Latin America. Lucas will be based out of Central America, where he has lived for nearly three years.

“I’m looking forward to getting into the field and experiencing both the challenges facing the communities we work with and the rewards that come from the fruits of our collaborations,” said Lucas. “I have a keen interest in all of the countries, languages, and cultures in this region. The potential for sustainable and meaningful development is immense.”

Lucas spent most of the last five years learning the ropes of the USAID contracting world, but previously spent significant chunks of time in Central and South America. First, as a Peace Corps volunteer with the youth development program in Honduras, and then as a Rotary World Peace Fellow at the Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Currently based in Magagua, Nicaragua, Lucas will help to coordinate our projects in Central America and Haiti. A Fort Collins guy through and through – despite lots of years in other locales – he’s excited to be working for an NGO based out of his hometown that is also active in Central America, Haiti, and Tribal Lands of the U.S.

Notes from the Field: Guatemala’s Forest Guardians

Cultural exchange unites children from Guatemala with TWP supporters from the US.
Cultural exchange united children from Guatemala with Trees, Water & People supporters from the U.S. (Image by Jeff Lejann Abbott)

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

Earlier this month, Trees, Water & People (TWP) staff led a Work Tour to several locations in Guatemala, primarily in the southern region of the country. The focal point of this trip was a 4-day working visit to the rural community of La Bendición, located in the department of Escuintla. A total of 18 participants embarked on the special journey to gain an in-depth view into one of the key areas of TWP´s international focus: the agroforestry communities of Guatemala.

The history of La Bendición is as complex and compelling as that of Guatemala as a whole. Currently, the community consists of three distinct ethnic groups from the western side of the country who fled their homes in search of a more stable and hospitable place to settle. They were promised a fertile area with well-equipped infrastructure, but instead found a challenging mountainside with high winds, limited water, and very poor road access.

Rough roads
Rough roads and a harsh climate make La Bendición a tough place to live and work. (Image by Jeff Lejann Abbott)

La Bendición has been a key part of our overall presence in Guatemala since Sebastian Africano, TWP´s International Director, first began to cultivate the relationship with local partner Utz Che’ over four years ago. La Bendición is one of over 40 communities represented by Utz Che´, an umbrella organization that provides legal services and critical advocacy to underserved, mostly indigenous, communities. This was the first Work Tour experience to this community and, by all accounts, a very successful endeavor. In the future, TWP hopes to be able to bring groups here at least once a year.

The flourishing community nursery now has 35,000 plants growing.
The flourishing community nursery now has 35,000 plants growing. Work tour participants had the pleasure of working with local youth to do some weeding. (Image by Jeff Lejann Abbott)

It is important to include a note of gratitude here to the participants of the work trip for their exceptional energy, engagement, patience and dedication to learning as much as possible about La Bendición, TWP´s work in the region and the reality of Guatemala.

“Outstanding cultural experience and wonderful people. You should continue to offer it and other similar trips. Nice mix of work and “tourist” activities. Thanks!” – 2015 Work Tour Participant

In terms of learning and engagement, the primary focus of the trip included:

  • Overview of community history and economic development realities and challenges
  • Agroforestry crops and production
  • Apiculture (bee keeping) best practices
  • Cultural and social exchange with community members

Some notable highlights were the tours of the honey production and beekeeping project, which included a visit to the colonies and sampling of the honey straight off the honeycomb.  We also enjoyed visiting the tree nursery and pineapple fields, which have expanded seven-fold in just the last couple of years, from an original total of 5,000 plants to over 35,000 total plants. The expansion of the pineapple project has grown to include the use of more organic methods with help from one of the community´s younger members, who studied organic agricultural practices at University before returning to share his expertise with fellow campesinos. This type of engagement from the youth is critical to insure the creation of economic opportunities that allow them to remain part of the community´s present and future development plans and resist the urges of immigration.

David (left) and myself on our cloud forest hike.
Community leader, David (left), and myself on our cloud forest hike. (Image by Jeff Lejann Abbott)

Perhaps the most striking observations about the history and struggle of La Bendición were broached on a group hike to the community’s water source, the imposing mountain that forms their scenic backdrop. David, one of the youth group leaders and a champion for agricultural and economic empowerment, highlighted the struggles to develop and work their land with less than ideal infrastructure and climate. Another challenge is the external interest groups, especially agribusiness and timber agents, who eye the exceptionally well preserved forest that forms the backbone of their watershed and agroforestry existence. The forest is made up of rare hard and softwoods and old growth trees that are critical to the ecosystem and habitat, but also a prized commodity for selective cutting by the timber industry.

The forest provides resources and bidoversity, such as honey bees, that are critical to survival.
The forest provides resources and bi0diversity, such as honey bee habitat, that are critical to survival. (Image by Jeff Lejann Abbott)

Through education and public awareness, David and his fellow community members remain committed and dedicated guardians of the forest. With hard work and perseverance, they have managed to improve their quality of life through the design and implementation of critical projects, like apiculture and pineapple production, as well as the installation of clean cookstoves, solar lighting systems, and improved water infrastructure.

Through these forest conservation and community development efforts, and continued support from TWP and Utz Che’ staff and donors, David and other local leaders hope to continue educating their community on the importance of the land and forest while working to improve livelihoods. Their is much hope and opportunity for a brighter future in La Bendición, and we hope you will join us in supporting these efforts!

Allegro Coffee Company Replants Over 285 Tons of Paper

Allegro's support keeps local, community-led tree nurseries thriving.
Allegro’s support keeps tree nurseries in Central America thriving.

For more than ten years now, we have been working with Allegro Coffee Company on various environmental sustainability initiatives that help reduce the company’s environmental footprint. The Colorado-based roaster takes every step to be an ecologically conscious and responsible company. Since 2004, Allegro has replanted 2,892 trees through our innovative 100% Replanted Program to offset over 285 tons of paper used in day to day operations.

“While great coffee is our passion, we feel it is equally important that our business practices embody our love, care, and commitment to the community and people that surround us,” said Leah Migacz, Allegro Coffee Company’s Marketing Specialist. “Trees, Water & People has been a great resource and local partner for Allegro Coffee Company since 2004, ensuring that we are offsetting our paper usage through their 100% Replanted Program and installing clean cookstoves in communities where we source our coffee.”

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Allegro has replanted 2,892 trees through our innovative 100% Replanted Program to offset over 289 tons of paper.

To learn more about TWP’s 100% Replanted program please contact Megan Maiolo-Heath at (970) 484-3678 or by email at megan@treeswaterpeople.org.

allegro100Replanted

Notes from the Field: Sweating for the Small Stuff

 

Aquinas College vols 2014

by Daniel Hartman-Strawn, Project Coordinator 

Globalization and the media decide for us that we will hear about every civil war, every health crisis, and every despotic leader. This heightened attention to the world’s troubles makes it easy to lose sight of the issues in our own communities. As a result of being accosted 24/7 with shocking headlines, many Americans have decided that they will simply put their heads down and live within the confines of their own day-to-day interactions. I am sympathetic to their antipathy, but I also plan to do everything in my power to end it.

When I first began spending a week each summer on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota volunteering with Re-Member, the pace of change I witnessed frustrated me. I was not content with seeing two children get their first beds. I felt depressed when we only installed skirting on one trailer, in one community, on one Reservation in all of America. It was not until I joined the Re-Member staff in the summer of 2013 that I had a moment of clarity. After putting a new roof on a family’s trailer, an elderly woman living there said to me, “You have no idea how much this means to us.” She was right. It was on the drive back from the work site that I realized how much it would mean to me if someone, out of the kindness of their heart, came into my life and offered me compassion and hope in a time when I received little of either. My motivation for the work I do is a conglomeration of many moments, but this one is seminal to my passion.

Horses Pine Ridge Reservation
Tribal lands provide volunteers with beauty and culture unlike any other places in the U.S.

Both of my parents have worked in public policy for many years, and because of this I have often been fixated with the type of broad, sweeping changes that only policy (and lots of resources) can bring about.  However, it was only once I began to understand the equal importance of small impacts in a specific place that I became an effective operative for change.  When I first began working with Trees, Water & People this past August it quickly became apparent that they have the same attitude in their approach to alleviating poverty. The Clean Cookstove and Solar Energy Programs in Central America and the Tribal Renewable Energy Program on the Pine Ridge Reservation both provide immediate relief to those living in poverty by improving health and saving resources, while simultaneously benefiting the environment though reduced emissions as well as less wood and fossil fuel use.

Volunteers get their hands dirty building a straw bale home.
Volunteers get their hands dirty building a straw bale home.

Now, I am coordinating the Oglala compressed earth bock (CEB) housing Project, a volunteer project building a sustainable (CEB) home for the Shields family this summer on the Pine Ridge Reservation. This project is just a stepping-stone on the path to wider spread implementation of CEB structures on the reservation. However it will also make a huge difference in the lives of several humans, humans who like you and me want the best in life for themselves and those they love. This project also offers an opportunity for you to come and witness for yourself the power of making a difference in someone else’s life, and learn lessons from those less fortunate than yourself that will inspire you to look at your own life differently.

Let this be your call to action! Take a hold of the reins and contact Daniel Hartman-Strawn at daniel@treeswaterpeople.org or (970) 999-4450 for information on the CEB project on the Pine Ridge Reservation, or visit the Trees, Water & People website.

Happy International Day of Forests!

International Forest Day

Today we join with citizens around the globe to celebrate the International Day of Forests!

According to the United Nations, “Forests cover one third of the Earth’s land mass, performing vital functions around the world. Around 1.6 billion people – including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures – depend on forests for their livelihood. Forests are the most biologically-diverse ecosystems on land, home to more than 80% of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. They also provide shelter, jobs and security for forest-dependent communities. They play a key role in our battle in adapting to and mitigating climate change. Forests contribute to the balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide and humidity in the air. They protect watersheds, which supply 75% of freshwater worldwide.”

Communities around the world are dependent on healthy forests for their livelihoods.
Communities around the world are dependent on healthy forests for their livelihoods.

Trees, Water & People’s Reforestation Program is working to conserve and protect the forests of Central America and Haiti by working with local communities to replant trees, helping to improve watershed health, increase biodiversity, and create better livelihoods for local families. With over 5.6 million trees planted to date, our Reforestation Program focuses on establishing and maintaining tree nurseries, educating communities about the positive environmental impacts of reforestation, and strengthening economic development, both through conservation and the responsible management of forest resources.

Last year, we started the construction of the Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate. This new facility will be a regional hub for Latin Americans to learn about forest management and climate adaption. You can support the development of this new center by making a contribution today!

donate button

“To build a sustainable, climate-resilient future for all, we must invest in our world’s forests. That will take political commitment at the highest levels, smart policies, effective law enforcement, innovative partnerships and funding.”

– Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon