Graduating TWP’s Solar Suitcase Training

By José Chalit, Marketing Manager

Earlier this summer, Trees, Water & People facilitated a 3-day long Suitcase workshop at the Pine Point School in Minnesota on the White Earth Reservation in partnership with Winona LaDuke’s non-profit Honor The Earth. In addition to educating 8 students, 2 science teachers and the school principal on the basis of solar energy, our National team also implemented activities from the National Indian Youth Leadership Project (NIYLP), aimed at boosting self-esteem and social-emotional development through hands-on learning.

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Student from Pine Point School holding a HELIO light

Upon completion of the solar suitcase workshop, students and teachers also received HELIO “lights”, a portable, solar-powered charger and flashlight created by Makers4Good, as a token of graduation and achievement of the solar curriculum.

Rebecca Geraldi, Giving Coordinator of Makers4Good recently told us:

When Makers4Good first learned about Trees, Water, & People, and for all they strive, we made a concerted effort to find a way to help support those efforts.

Our solar-powered light and power bank, HELIO, is a wonderful companion to the solar suitcases distributed by Trees, Water & People to U.S. Tribal Lands. HELIO provides personal and portable light and power that can be used by the same community members, on an individual basis. HELIO can charge phones and light the night, helping to keep people connected, productive, and safe.

This meaningful outcome strongly supports Makers4Good’s overriding social good mission, and we are delighted to partner with Trees, Water, & People. Together, we are brightening the lives of others — all with the power of the sun and the shared common aim of making a difference.” – Rebecca Geraldi, Giving Coordinator, Makers4Good

And, for a limited time, Rebecca’s team is offering you 20% off their HELIO light by entering the discount code “TWP19” at checkout here: https://helio.energy/buy-now

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The lights are on!

As we expand our solar suitcase trainings to other tribal communities aiming to reclaim control of their natural resources and improve their communities, we hope that graduates of the program can utilize HELIO in practical and educational scenarios.

Thank you, Makers4Good, for your commitment to social good and environmental sustainability – collaboration from organizations like yours is indispensable in the process of creating positive change!

 

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Graduates of 2019 Solar Suitcase Program at Pine Point School!

 

Summer Farm Dinner Round 2!

by Patricia Flores White, Development Director

‘The Heart of Summer’ dinner brings together 160 people to celebrate community while cultivating a unique intersect between business and purpose, all set on the backdrop of the MotherLove 120 acre organic farm in Johnstown, CO. Fortified Collaborations works with the highest quality local food producers and businesses to create one of a kind pop-up dinners. These beautifully orchestrated events benefit non-profit organizations in town that have the power to affect change both in and beyond our community. They also serve as ‘community raisers’, bringing people together to experience thoughtful food, well considered concoctions, and purpose.

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Tickets can be purchased at https://fortifiedcollaborations.ticketleap.com/heart-of-summer-dinner-2019/

 

This year, Verboten Brewery and Chef Rhys Edmunds have infused the menu, not only with our local foods provided by Colorado Stock and Grain and Motherlove, but with the addition of uniquely flavored honey and coffee from TWP’s programs in Guatemala.

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Sampling TWP Approved Honey to infuse in flavors featured this Sunday!

 

“The Heart of Summer dinner is such a great example of our local food ecosystems at work and Trees, Water, People really embody the importance of that through their work. They are the perfect beneficiary for this event that connects people to the land.” – Kristina Cash, Fortified Collaborations founder.

“By introducing our Guatemalan communities to the climate-resilient practice of beekeeping, and training them to process and market honey, we will help them improve their livelihoods, reduce migration pressure, protect a threatened species of pollinator, and improve forest health.”
— Gemara Gifford, TWP International Director

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Beekeepers from our partner community of La Bendición in Guatemala

If you haven’t been a part of their culinary adventures, visit https://www.fortifiedcollaborations.com/ to register while tickets are still available.

Vanilla and Turmeric – Job Creation in Nicaragua

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First turmeric harvest of 2019!

Smallholder livelihoods across Central America are threatened by extreme weather, warmer average temperatures, and a longer dry season related to climate change.

Many of the smallholder farmers we work with in Central America depend on coffee for a major share of their income, but with prices at 15-year lows, coffee is currently being harvested at a loss and rural incomes have plummeted. That is why Trees, Water & People is happy to introduce our partnership with “Doselva”, a Nicaraguan social enterprise that grows, processes, and markets spices organically grown in diverse agroforestry systems.

 

Our collaboration with Doselva primarily focuses on helping farmers transition away from low-paying cash crops by diversifying into turmeric, ginger, and vanilla. These spices are currently in high demand and serve as “a useful diversification strategy that can both improve incomes and also maintain or enhance a biodiverse and forested farming landscape” (Doselva). Vanilla’s origins are in Mesoamerica, and it grows in similar conditions to shade-grown coffee, but currently, less than 2% of the world’s supply comes from the region. As it takes 3-4 years to produce in earnest, turmeric, ginger, and other ground-cover crops help farmers buffer their income as they diversify their farms.

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Laying out the harvest before packaging it

So far, Doselva has collected 5,186 hundredweight sacks of turmeric from 49 farmers from various regions in Nicaragua, and thousands of vanilla flowers have already bloomed with hopes of a full harvest being available in 2020-2021. In a year when Nicaragua saw the loss of over 200,000 jobs and the closure of hundreds of businesses and nonprofit organizations due to civil conflict, we are proud to say that we are helping farmers thrive with innovative partnerships that build sustainable rural economies.

If you’re interested in learning more about social enterprise projects like Doselva, please visit our website or contact our Executive Director at sebastian@treeswaterpeople.org

Welcoming New Leadership to the Tribal Program

As the storms and flood events in the Midwest this past winter and spring demonstrate, extreme weather events spurred by climate change are becoming the new normal. Often, those hardest hit are the most vulnerable, and their communities often lack comprehensive adaptation strategies to prepare for these shifts.

For that reason, we’re proud to welcome two talented Colorado State University (CSU) alumni to Trees, Water & People (TWP) who bring deep, personal experience in helping Native American communities thrive culturally, economically, and ecologically.

Dr. Valerie Small joins us as TWP’s new National Program Director, bringing several years of experience working with Tribal colleges and communities on climate adaptation strategies. She comes to us from the Crow Tribe in southern Montana and is excited to help us think bigger about climate readiness for indigenous communities across the Americas.

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Dr. Valerie Small Ph.D. and James Calabaza at our office

 

James Calabaza came to us from the family farm where he grew up in Kewa (Santo Domingo) Pueblo, New Mexico and a position with the USDA in Albuquerque, where he worked in farm loan management. His vast background in counseling Native youth in both academic and community settings will help him lead TWP’s in-field operations and educational programs as our National Program Coordinator.

 

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James and local Lakota tree planter during Pine Ridge reforestation

 

Our schedule for the National Program over the next six months is packed with new projects, new partnerships, and long-term visioning for TWP’s next 20 years. We know that to achieve great things, we have to make great investments in our organization, and we’re betting that these talented individuals will help us all do our best work yet for people and planet.

Please help us welcome Valerie and James to the TWP family!

Early Bet, Ongoing Impact

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Family members of the Justa stoves original co-designer, Justa Nuñez

By Sebastian Africano, Executive Director

In the community development sector, it often takes years to know how well an idea delivers on its potential.  In 1998, Stuart Conway was on a mission to decrease firewood consumed for household cooking in Central America, to slow rates of deforestation. “Clean” cookstoves were a relatively blunt tool at the time – there were few, simple designs, minimal geographic coverage, and a nascent understanding of what made an “improved” cookstove better than tried and true traditional options.

Stuart made a bet via his new organization, Trees, Water & People (TWP), that local women, working with engineers that understood participatory design, could come up with something better than what was available.  After Hurricane Mitch in late 1998, the work began, and within the year, TWP, Aprovecho Research Center, and the community Aldea de Suyapa had debuted the Justa Stove, named after Justa Nuñez – the woman who most contributed to its design.

Twenty years later, the Justa Stove remains the flagship improved cookstove in Central America, and dozens of additional designs have sprung from its original iteration.  In March, I gave a talk on the history of the Justa Stove to 100 members of the Clean Stove Network of Latin America and the Caribbean, during their 3rd International Forum.  The positive response from organizations who had adopted the stove, others that had studied the stove, and yet others who had modified it to serve different markets, was validating, and humbling.

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Presenting at the 3rd International Forum for Clean Stove Network of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Justa Stove is designed by and for the user, which is one secret to its success.  Another is that it’s built by local masons using locally manufactured materials, and generates income for anyone willing to learn how to build it.  Most importantly, it’s easy to use; it’s aesthetically familiar and cooks the food people want to cook with the same speed, firewood, and pots that cooks are used to.  The fact that it uses 50% less wood and reduces smoke exposure in the household by 80% is just icing on the cake.

Central America is in crisis.  It sorely needs employment, innovation, investment, and participatory development.  The only way we can proactively reduce migration out of Central America is to invest in building resilient economies there – especially in rural areas.  TWP can help in real and tangible ways, but given the urgency, we need to redouble our efforts, and our reach.

There is currently a push to create hundreds of jobs in the cookstove sector through in-depth training of masons in theory, design, installation, maintenance, and refurbishment of the Justa Stove.  This is a dream situation for TWP, and with your generous support, we can put Central Americans back to work making local products that improve the environment and quality of life for tens of thousands of people per year. One stove costs between $75 – $100 to install, and it costs roughly $300 to fully train, equip, and certify new builders.

With over 250,000 Justa-type stoves installed to-date, and numerous studies proving its acceptance and efficacy, it’s now more than clear that Stuart Conway’s early bet on cookstoves has borne fruit.  The opportunity to build on this success is huge, and the time is now. If you’d like to support this effort, please reach out directly to TWP, or donate using the link below.

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Thank you for reading – please spread the word about TWP across your networks!

Doña Justa Núñez – A TWP Hero

by Gemara Gifford, International Director

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Doña Justa wipes down her original cookstove as she prepares “La Sopa Dominguera”

The story of Trees, Water & People begins with an extraordinary leader, from Suyapa, Honduras: Doña Justa. In the mid-’90s, Doña Justa was already thinking about how to improve her community and women’s everyday lives through improved cookstoves, even before TWP. She worked with friends and neighbors, trying out different cookstove designs made from local materials, and tried them out in her community, receiving honest feedback from stove users, and probably coffee and cookies too.

Doña Justa used her humility, compassion, and force to lift the voices of her community so that a cookstove could be designed to meet their unique needs.

When Hurricane Mitch hit in 1998, killing over 11,000 Central Americans – 7,000 of them Hondurans alone – development organizations fled in to assist, including Trees, Water & People. But our approach was different. We learned about Doña Justa’s efforts and leadership in her community, and we listened.

Doña Justa and the community of Suyapa were best positioned to craft solutions to the pressing problems in front of them, and TWP was there to fill in technical and financial gaps that would help make their vision a reality – that cooking shouldn’t kill!

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Our Executive Director, Sebastian Africano, reconnecting with his Suyapa family, Doña Justa, in January 2019.

With the help of scientists from Aprovecho Research Center and the founders of TWP, we began to create the first models of the Justa cookstove in Doña Justa’s very own kitchen. Because of her patience, and critical honesty of what was and wasn’t working with these pilot stoves, and the willingness of the technical team to listen and adjust, Trees, Water & People is proud that the Justa Cookstove is the most widely used and adopted cookstove in Honduras – and we are still improving the model and working with local communities today.

In January of this year, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Doña Justa in her unique community in Suyapa, over an incredible Sunday soup she cooked with the very cookstove named after her, followed by an evening gathering of music, and sharing old stories with those who had come to welcome “home” our Executive Director Sebastian  to Suyapa, where his career sprouted in 2005.

To me, what makes TWP who we are is our long-term, personal connections with community champions like Doña Justa. Twenty years have gone by, and we still have the honor of being welcomed into her home and listening.

 

 

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The Justa Cookstove in 1998 (left) in Suyapa and 2018 (right) in San Jose de Comayagua Honduras

 

Thriving Beyond Expectations

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A beneficiary of TWP’s clean cookstove program in Guatemala welcoming us before entering her home

by José Chalit, Marketing & Communications Manager

It’s the feeling of being welcomed into a stranger’s house with a fresh, warm cup coffee while we ask about their newly installed ‘Justa’ Stove or their new organic garden. I’ve heard people talk about this experience since I joined TWP last summer – folks that have been on a trip with us via TWP Tours, our Board of Directors, my co-workers – they’ve all shared stories with me about the unique experience of visiting the communities that TWP works alongside in the field. After returning from 2 weeks visiting our projects in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, these stories I have been hearing materialized into real experiences that changed my opinion about how our work has potential to create real change, and why it works.

When I first began visiting our projects last summer, I felt lucky to be part of developing communications around our innovative and meaningful community development projects, but it was too early for me to truly understand the bigger picture of what it is that we do. After I visited Guatemala in August to meet with members of the community of La Trinidad who had been displaced (again) by the eruption of Volcán De Fuego, I began to understand the impact of TWP’s work on a slightly deeper level.

It became clear that TWP prioritizes the voices and experiences of smallholder farmers first, and that our ability to continue working internationally with success hinges upon how we develop these relationships. Nevertheless, I still felt like I was missing a broader perspective of our road map.

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Volunteer with the Environmental & Natural Resource Ministry monitoring El Salvador’s second planned fire break in its modern history

Over our recent two-week trip, I continuously reflected on whether or not the communities our work with local non-profit partners truly impacts their lives as compared to surrounding areas not yet reached. Needless to say, all throughout the Americas rural indigenous people are suffering from the environmental impacts of erratic changes in climate patterns. For example, the folks in the community of La Bendición in Guatemala have had to adapt away from centuries-old farming practices passed down from their ancestors because of a prolongated dry season that is limiting their typical harvest season. The Environmental and Natural Resource Ministry of El Salvador is in the process of implementing some of the first ever controlled burns in the country’s national conservation areas to prevent wildfires due to similar reasons. In both scenarios, our local non-profit partners have worked alongside these communities to implement programs and projects that address the immediate needs of local people while also creating long-term paths for people to have healthier livelihood opportunities.

Nevertheless, I came to understand that if any of these projects are to be successful, it is for two primary reasons:

  • The knowledge and capacity held by those most deeply affected by the problems we are tackling positions them the best to champion the solutions to the challenges they face on a daily basis.
  • We know that the most significant global polluters and extractors aren’t doing nearly enough to combat the fallout of their operations, so the folks (rural indigenous, more often than not) most impacted by the effects of environmental degradation are the ones worth investing our time, energy, and resources.

Whether it is through protected area land management in the highlands El Salvador or the clean cookstove implementation program led by indigenous women in La Bendición, the choice TWP makes to invest in the ideas of the most marginalized became even more evident to me.

It’s that feeling of being so readily and enthusiastically welcomed into a community by strangers who might not even speak your same language. It’s the palpable aura of hope, empowerment and self-esteem that prevails in a community that believes in itself and its ability to overcome challenges brought on by unexpected climate catastrophes. It’s beyond the results of what any study, number, or statistic can tell us, but something that is only felt by a close encounter with a community that is confident in their potential to thrive beyond even their own expectations. This is what it feels like to visit a community where TWP is working alongside, and we can’t emphasize enough how lucky we are to be doing this work that would be impossible without your support.