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.

Photo of the Week: Illuminating homes and opportunity in Honduras

boy studys by solar light Honduras

About this photo

Throughout Honduras, 2.5 million people lack access to reliable sources of electricity. Families are dependent on expensive and unhealthy kerosene lamps and candles to light their homes at night.

We are working to change this reality with solar lights that provide clean, renewable energy from the sun. These innovative products reduce daily fuel expenses and indoor air pollution associated with the continuous use of kerosene for home lighting.  By working with small businesses, women’s co-operatives, and local entrepreneurs, our solar products are reaching hundreds of isolated agricultural communities and therefore provide lighting for many off-grid families at a low-cost.

To learn more about our solar lighting program please visit our website.

(photo by Darren Mahuron 2013)

Photo of the Week: (Solar) Power to the People!

solar light_honduras

About this photo

A woman from the Lenca Women’s Ceramics Cooperative in rural La Paz, Honduras shows off her solar powered LED light from our Cleantech Program.

This group of talented women artisans is responsible for some of the most remarkable ceramic work in Honduras, and have replaced candlelight and smoky ‘Ocote’ with solar lights, helping them work during the dark evening hours so they can get products to craft markets throughout Honduras. The co-op is also an authorized distributor of our lights, helping other community members illuminate their homes with solar.

Learn more about our efforts to bring solar lighting to Central America at our website!

TWP’s Cleantech Project Wins National Energy Globe Award

energy globe award

We are excited to announce that we have been selected for the Energy Globe National Award for our clean energy project in Honduras. One of today’s most prestigious environmental awards, it is presented annually to projects focusing on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and resource conservation.

Our project, Clean Energy for Central America: Providing Solar Technology to Last Mile Communities”, is a partnership with Honduran non-governmental organization Asociación Hondureña para el Desarrollo (AHDESA), to create a market in Honduras for life-changing cleantech products that provide solar lighting to rural families without access to electricity. These products save families money by reducing fossil fuel consumption, while decreasing deadly indoor air pollution and lowering hazardous greenhouse gas emissions.

solar lighting Honduras
In Honduras alone, 2.3 million people still live off-grid, with no access to electricity. Families rely on kerosene lamps and candles that are expensive and produce high levels of indoor air pollution. Our cleantech products deliver immediate, triple bottom line returns to the poorest communities in the Western Hemisphere. Reducing dependency on kerosene and switching over to solar lighting systems brings staggering social, environmental, and economic returns.

“We envision a world where every person, down to the last mile or ‘base of the pyramid,’ has access to clean energy in an affordable manner.” said Sebastian Africano, TWP’s International Director.

This project will now move on to a second round of judging. It is eligible for the International Energy Globe Award, to be announced later this month.

To learn more please visit the Energy Globe Award’s website!

The AHDESA team in Honduras with the National Energy Globe Award for solar lighting project.
The AHDESA team stands proud with Sebastian Africano (bottom right) after winning the National Energy Globe Award for their work bringing solar lighting to rural families.

Luciérnaga Brings Clean Energy to Thousands

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

women's co-op Honduras
International Director Sebastian Africano discusses the benefits of solar
lighting with a member of the Lenca Women’s Ceramics Cooperative in rural
La Paz, Honduras.

Eighteen months ago, Trees, Water & People (TWP) launched a program to sell solar photovoltaic lighting systems in Honduras under a grant provided by the U.S. Department of State’s Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas. This program has been so successful that we will be expanding to other Central American countries under the name Luciérnaga (“firefly” in Spanish). By utilizing our 15 year old partnerships in the region, we can reach people that have no access to electricity, helping them modernize, bring jobs to the country’s rural areas, and also importantly, care for their natural world.

Our focus is on two types of solar lighting and cell phone charging systems – a strong, waterproof, portable LED lantern, and a wall-mounted, lighting system with four LED bulbs that can be placed throughout the house. Both products are inexpensive, but still provide high-quality lighting that can replace the dirty kerosene lamps and candles that light every room in the home.

barefoot power solar lights_HondurasRural families in the region often group together into small agricultural cooperatives – organizations made up of dozens to thousands of small farmers that combine their coffee, cacao, grain, timber, sugarcane, and other crops before they take it to the market. Cooperative members also use the organization as a bank – they take credit from the co-op before planting season, and pay it back when they sell their produce.

In places without banking services, cooperatives are a lifeline for rural families,
and a natural fit as a retailer for our solar lighting products. Since Trees, Water & People sells the lights and chargers to the cooperatives on consignment, there is little risk for the members and products can be purchased at a low-cost, on a payment plan. This distribution model allows us to offer quality lighting and cell phone charging products to unlit homes at affordable prices, improving the health and environment of these communities for many years to come.

The Luciérnaga project is another great example of how TWP is illuminating
opportunity and homes in Central America. However, we couldn’t do this without our donors, as their support has truly brought positive change to the lives of the people in these communities.

To learn more please visit our website or support this project by making a donation to help bring solar lights to families in Honduras.