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.

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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Doña Justa Núñez – A TWP Hero

by Gemara Gifford, International Director

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!

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.



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


Thriving Beyond Expectations

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.

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.


Alternative Giving

Alternative Giving is defined as a philanthropic gift in someone’s name to a charitable organization rather than gifting material goods.  It’s based on the idea of serial reciprocity, or ‘paying it forward’ to the benefit of a third party. This holiday season many folks, inspired by the spirit of humanitarian compassion, are choosing to give in the name of their friends and loved ones because it presents an answer to consumerism that mitigates the impact of gift-giving on the environment.

Advertising our solar suitcase program at “Alternative Gift Market” in Kansas through Alternative Gifts International

Trees, Water & People offers the ability to give in a way that changes the lives of indigenous communities while encouraging environmentally conscious choices. TWP’s online Alternative Giving Catalog offers a way to tangibly improve life for people and the planet through an eco-friendly gift this holiday season.

Alternative Gifts International (AGI), a non-profit organization which inspires support for humanitarian and environmental causes, has helped Trees, Water & People promote the philosophy of Alternative Giving for many years all over the U.S.

“Alternative Gifts International and Trees Water and People have had a fruitful partnership over the years. We see ourselves as a helping hand, an extension of their work. Their cause becomes our cause. And so, we work to draw attention to and support the needs of the people they serve. Since 2010 we have delivered over $63,000 to support TWP causes ranging from Building Eco-homes for Tribal families to Solar Energy training. We look forward to many more years of providing aid to marginalized communities.” 

– AGI Executive Director, Surinder Moore

“The event hosts asked us to make at least 30 ornaments to benefit TWP. We made 50, and they were almost all gone after the first hour or two!” – AGI Gift Market Volunteer

Whether you’ve already gotten gifts for your loved ones or not, we want to make sure that promoting sustainability and ecological alternatives isn’t limited to a certain time of year or through any singular project. For those looking to match their values with the practice of gift-giving, we are happy to offer a series of options for you to consider during this time of year and beyond!

Visit our gift catalog to learn more here.

Planting Trees, Deeping Friendships!

delta dental.jpgby Eriq Acosta, National Director

This work doesn’t happen without the support of the rest of the world. If one were to ask themselves the question, you might think most of TWP’s support comes from people and organizations that are already deeply invested in environmental causes. In my world, for example, there is no instant or obvious connection between Trees, Water & People and Delta Dental. Like any good friendship, however, this one comes with a story. 

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure to host a group from Michigan, Lansing Catholic High School, to Pine Ridge South Dakota to help plant trees across the reservation. I worked with this group like I do with any other that comes on these trips with us – we explored the culture together, planted some trees, and most importantly, talked about our privilege and how we take that into the spaces we go.

IMG_0794.JPGI love experiential education and I utilized a lot of these methods to emphasize the importance of recognizing how the social privileges we sometimes bring into spaces as volunteers interfaces with the historical context of areas like Pine Ridge. I talked about the importance of being allies for each other and the importance of being aware of what intentions we bring with us when we show up to do volunteer work like we were doing. The group responded really well the rest of the week, and the topic was brought up several times, most frequently by two dads who were the group’s chaperones.

We got really close sharing a lot of stories, as well as learning the invaluable skill of how to play Texas hold ’em! Towards the end of the week, I learned that the two chaperones worked for Delta Dental, though we never talked about teeth or dental insurance. I was especially inspired by the energy these two brought to the group not only as chaperone support but most importantly their enthusiasm to do hard physical and mental work while having fun. Having kept in contact with these two, I shared a picture with them of me playing Texas hold ’em with a group from the Hoopa Solar Training showing off my new learned skills. 4 days later I get a text back thanking us for the work that we do, and letting us know about Delta Dental’s generous donation to support our programs on Tribal Lands! I am personally grateful for the support of people like the folks from Delta Dental not only for investing in TWP’s mission and programs but also for taking the time to open their hearts and minds to what I have to say. 

To read more about the many ways to ally with and support TWP, please visit our Partners page on our website.



Environmental Disaster and the Nicaraguan Political Crisis

By Gem Gifford, International Director

“Patria libre para vivir!” Free homeland to live! people shouted in mass protests this April as the song “Que vivan los estudiantes,” Long live the students! is heard again and again, in honor of the university students who have been the protagonists of the uprising in Nicaragua. Many of them have lost their lives in the last six months. Peaceful protests were triggered due the approval of the reform of the social security system by the Executive of the Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security (INSS) on April 16, 2018, however, a general disapproval of the government has been simmering for years.

Photo taken by Jorge Mejía Peralta

Days before the INSS reform, young leaders called to the Nicaraguan government to demand their efficient response in the face of the environmental crisis that the country was suffering as a result of a large forest fire in the Indio Maíz Natural Reserve. On April 18, youth and elderly people gathered to protest in the cities of León and Managua, rejecting the INSS reform; that day they were also repressed and attacked by police special forces and shock forces. April 19 was inscribed in the country’s historical memory when the first killed students were reported.

From April 19th to the present day, the population has manifested itself in different ways claiming their right to protest peacefully and condemning the repression at the hands of police forces and irregular groups. Sadly, violence from the state has escalated, taking the lives of more than 300 people and leaving more than a thousand injured according to human rights organizations.

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Massive protest in honor to the mothers who have lost their sons during the protests. Photo by Jorge Mejía Peralta

As part of the protests, the locals and peasants built barricades and traffic blockades in almost every city of the country as a protection strategy for their neighborhoods, cities and communities, but also to exert pressure through a staggered national stoppage. Those blockades were forcibly removed in July, bringing the country to a somewhat more “stable” place, however, the crisis continues to generate substantial losses in the country’s economy, with over 200,000 Nicaraguans unemployed since April.

The most affected people by the current reality in Nicaragua are those who depend on commerce, tourism and services, including small and medium producers in the agricultural sector that leads the country’s economic activities.

The operations of many companies and NGOs in Nicaragua have been affected, and have had to resort to staff cuts in order to survive, causing unemployment and affecting primarily low and middle-income people. This scenario has political, social, environmental and economic threats, positioning Nicaragua into a period of complex vulnerability, yet also into a time of hope by a population that is fighting for a promising future.

Young woman protects her identity to join the massive march held the 30th of May (Mother´s day in Nicaragua) in honor to the mothers who have lost their sons during the protests. Photo taken by Jorge Mejía Peralta

As it happened in the 80’s during the revolution, Nicaragua has international attention from many human rights and media organizations. Nevertheless, it remains necessary to increase awareness and consciousness about the situation in Nicaragua to extend solidarity and humanitarian aid, as well as international cooperation with civil society.

TWP will keep our projects and partnerships strong in Nicaragua despite the new reality faced by our partners and beneficiaries, and we aim to continue the efforts that have enabled Nicaraguans to manage a better future for themselves. We thank our followers and supporters for staying up to date with us over the last six months.

Fortified Collaborations Throws Heart of Summer Dinner Party for Trees, Water & People

15 August 2018

About two months ago, almost two-hundred people gathered at the MotherLove 120 acre organic farm in Johnstown, CO to break bread, clink glasses, and celebrate summer at a Fortified Collaborations fundraiser for Trees, Water & People.

Local guests preparing for evening dinner on the farm!

Fortified Collaborations is one of the gems that makes Fort Collins unique. They convene the best local food producers, businesses, unique venues, and non-profit organizations in town at six professionally curated dinner experiences that nourish the body and soul.

This summer, they chose Trees, Water & People as the feature organization for their annual Heart of Summer Dinner. While the weather was doing as Colorado weather does (changing drastically hour to hour), we all had a blast setting up at this beautiful venue, and the end result was a fantastic sunset over a farm filled with music, friends and a beautiful spread.

Fortified Collaboration’s founder, Kristina Cash, said about the collaboration with TWP: 

“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.

Sebastian Africano, Executive Director of TWP (left) and Kristina Cash, Fortified Collaborations founder (right)

We greatly value the opportunity to share with new audiences, especially in our own community. Fortified Collaborations Heart of Summer Dinner gave us that opportunity, and put a fun exclamation point on TWP’s groundbreaking 20th year.

If you haven’t been to one of their amazing dinner experiences, visit https://www.fortifiedcollaborations.com/ to register for the next one!

Sun setting slowly over horizon on Motherlove’s farm

TWP Welcomes New Staff!

By Sebastian Africano

Last quarter we had the distinct privilege of adding two new talented members to the Trees, Water & People (TWP) team: Patricia Flores-White as Development Director, and José Chalit as Marketing and Communications Manager.  These two positions are critical to our operations, as they are the voice that connects us to you, our donors.


Patricia comes to us from two organizations that she founded in Canoa, Ecuador – The Betty Surf and Yoga School, founded in 2010, and the Vive Sin Miedo earthquake recovery nonprofit she founded on the heels of a 7.8 earthquake in April 2016. Her experience living in Latin America and dealing firsthand with the challenges communities face after a natural disaster helped her jump right into action when Volcán de Fuego erupted in Guatemala during her 3rd day on the job. Previous experience leading International Service Tours in Ecuador and working as an Aquatic GIS analyst for the CO Division of Wildlife make her a versatile and multi-faceted addition to our team.  

José is a Documentary Filmmaker from Denver, CO that came to us from Seattle University, where he produced several independent media projects addressing local issues of social justice, gender, and racial equality. Having spent the first years of his life in Mexico City, and visiting family there every year, he took a particular interest in the plight of Mexican and Central American farmworkers in the United States. José embedded himself as a videographer with a group called Familias Unidas para la Justicia helping migrant farmworker leaders document and disseminate moments from their historic tour of the west coast which helped them win a union contract at their workplace.

Both of these individuals struck us as important torch-bearers for TWP’s message, having an intimate connection to Latin America, being fluent in Spanish, and having both embarked on personal journeys to bridge the gap that often exists between North and South America. The perspective they bring to the team is new and diverse, and we look forward to getting them into the field as often as possible, to capture the essence of our work in fresh new ways.

Please join me in welcoming Patricia and José to the TWP staff!   

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Commitment to the Earth – Bringing It Home

by José Chalit, Communications Manager

Whether it’s helping you find the perfect energy efficient home, or committing to environmentally-responsible business practices, the duo at The Green Team Real Estate (GTR) are dedicated to helping the planet through every stage of buying, selling, creating or investing in a home.

Dave Sanders (co-owner, Left) and Lara Williams (founder, Right)

Lara Williams and Dave Sanders, Co-Owners of GTR, have supported Trees, Water & People since 2010, and we are elated to have them as part of our Partners for a Sustainable Planet program. Their passion and experience in the real estate market combined with their mission and values has helped to connect home owners with stewardship for the Earth and environmental sustainability for years.

In addition to helping home-buyers reduce their carbon footprint by finding and selling energy-efficient homes, The Green Team has partnered with TWP to help fund our various projects in Central America and U.S. Tribal Lands to make a difference in the lives of indigenous people experiencing economic or energy poverty.

By donating to TWP after every home sale or purchase, The Green Team enables us to ensure our reforestation, water cisterns, or clean energy programs are successful and far-reaching in their impact.  Both Lara and Dave even visited Nicaragua with TWP Tours in May of 2017 where they got to visit our projects with our partners, Proleña, and see our cook stove program for themselves. When they stopped by our office recently to chat for our 20 for 20 interviews, Lara said,

“Part of what inspired our commitment to TWP was seeing the cookstoves being built, seeing them in people’s homes, how they were being used, and how they were making a difference in other people’s lives. I just started to understand the environmental degradation that was happening in Central America, and how much impact TWP was having – that was very important.”

(see the full interview here)

Woman in Nicaragua with her cookstove at home

Furthermore, Dave expressed his admiration for our work on Tribal Lands, emphasizing the importance of education for indigenous youth as he grew up traveling to Pine Ridge with his mom who would volunteer to teach in local schools. We are lucky to receive support from people who recognize the importance improving the health of the Earth and those most impacted by the effects of climate change.

We are incredibly grateful for people like Lara and Dave who use their business model to help home owners (or soon to be ones!) offset their carbon footprint by reinvesting part of their sales in Trees, Water & People. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you both so much for your dedication to people and the planet!

To read more about the many ways to ally with and support TWP, please visit our partners page on our website.



World Centric & TWP: A Profound Partnership to Save the Planet!

By Patricia Flores White | Development Director

During a recent trip to visit our corporate grantors, World Centric®, we were able to sit with their staff over lunch to find out more about the work they do. It was so inspiring to speak to folks passionately working every day, to help people and the planet!

world centric eriq
TWP National Director, Eriq Acosta, and W.C. Development Manager, Janae Lloyd

World Centric® was founded in 2004 to raise awareness about large-scale humanitarian and environmental issues. Their disposable food service products are designed to reduce pollution and waste through composting, require less energy and water to produce, come from renewable resources, and are created from waste products that help save biodiversity and habitats. What is most incredible is that 25% of their annual profits are invested in nonprofits like Trees, Water & People to create social and environmental sustainability.

Together, we have invested in a profound partnership to help people and the planet! I truly believe that through collaboration, we allow each organization to specialize in their individual field in order to meet common goals. This holistic model of cooperation through social enterprise is a means to achieve greater societal aspirations addressing social justice and conservation through alliance and cooperation.

world centric design.jpg
Source: http://www.worldcentric.org/about-us/newsletter/2011/october

Finding solutions by coming together to solve problems that affect the entire planet sets the example of what is possible, of what can be accomplished through collaboration. We have empowered each other to create solutions by working in unison. This asset-based approach to helping people and the planet is a way to build enthusiasm, energy and strengthen relationships that propel people and cultures to the ‘next level’.

On behalf of TWP and the communities we serve, we would like to thank World Centric® for their continued support and innovative vision! To read more about the many ways to ally with and support TWP, please visit our partners page on our website.