Notes from the Field: A Day in the Life of a Work Tour

By Jonathan Freedman, 2011 Honduras Work Tour Participant

Our Honduran tecnico Victor was keeping a fast pace as several of us assisted him in building our first eco-fogon (fuel-efficient cookstove).  He wanted to make a lot of progress by lunch time, but knew we were also there to learn.  It was mid-morning, but in the corner of this room with adobe walls, the light was dimming as the sky clouded over.  Later, it would rain.

Victor showed us how to mix concrete on the dirt floor by making a volcanic caldera–like cone in the middle of the mixture to pour the water into.  He used a sawed-off two-by-four to make sure the angles on the stove base or table were straight.  If a cinder block dipped slightly to the right, he taught us to press gently on the left side to compact the damp mortar slightly rather than using the level too much.   Meanwhile the señora of the house, a single mother with three boys, was outside collecting rocks and dirt to fill the spaces in the cinder blocks.

Eco-fogones are built mostly with materials available most anywhere in Honduras (cement, cinder blocks, bricks, dirt, rocks and a sheet metal chimney), using simple tools (trowels, shovel and level).  But it can improve a family’s life immediately.  Now, they can spend a lot less time in the forest gathering firewood, and they breathe cleaner air.  TWP’s tree planting is just as important.  Replanting forests restores watersheds, builds soil, stores clean water, making a sustainable future for people on the land.

Getting his hands dirty in Honduras

We learned on the Honduras work tour that it can be complex for TWP to negotiate and partner with in-country organizations.  But really, what the tour shows best is the simple power of the programs, when you roll up your sleeves with the tecnicos and the families, talk with them, build and plant with them.  You feel the work in your hands, arms and legs.  You take muscle memory back home with you, the kind of memory that really sticks.  The memory of having made a contribution, and with the stoves, really building with bricks and mortar.

It isn’t always comfortable or easy.  Part of what sticks with you is what life might be like for poor rural Hondurans.  They are very reserved people, probably a little nervous around these trained builders from the city, and the people they bring from far away for a day or two.  Their gratitude is quiet, but unmistakable.

Now it is early afternoon.  The light in the room has shifted.  Soon, thunder will sound.  The final touches are going on the plancha (cooking griddle) atop the stove.  Victor is pleased as he goes over stove care instructions with the Sen~ora.  Tomorrow, there are more stoves to build and more trees to plant, but today has been a success.

Group shot after a long day of building cookstoves!

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Trees, Water & People is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to developing sustainable community-based conservation solutions.

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