by Art Rave, Mobile Power Station Workshop participant
I recently attended a mobile solar workshop at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. The amount of information and the training I received at the center was wholeheartedly impressive. During the first few hours of the workshop, I started to learn the basics of solar energy and how solar energy systems work. Within the first few days of hands on training, I began to truly understand how the solar power energy systems operate. On last day of the workshop, I was ready to take all that I learned back to my community on the Cheyenne River Reservation and begin promoting the absolute necessity of solar energy.
As a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, I understand first hand exactly what energy independence can mean to a struggling community. The vast diversity of organizations that partner with RCREC is a testament to the hard work and indomitable spirit of those at the center and the allies supporting it. Everyone was absolutely dedicated to the environment and sustainable energy. I was fortunate enough to have time to meet some awe-inspiring and dedicated individuals from Trees, Water & People. Their dedication to the environment is reflected by the hard work, devotion, and enthusiasm apparent in each of their employees. The solar energy instructors are an amazing group of educators with years of experience in the field. The passion they showed in helping our Native American communities is inspiring to all!
The solar energy instructors are an amazing group of educators with years of experience in the field. The passion they showed in helping our Native American communities is inspiring to all! Overall, what a great place to learn and share! The food, lodging, and staff were terrific! I cannot wait to attend another workshop with Henry and his amazing group of partners in renewable and sustainable energy!
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We, the Shields/Peltier Family, would like to say a big thank you to all the helping hands who built such a wonderful, blessed house for our children. We are all so very thankful and blessed to call this a home of our own. Before moving into our CEB home, we didn’t have a working shower in the trailer we were renting. The children would sometimes go a few days without showering. Since there was no running water, we had to use a garden hose and fix it up to the kitchen sink and use it to flush the toilet bowl. I sometimes had to hand-wash our clothing because we didn’t have a washer or dryer.
In the trailer, the walls were full of holes and the floor was caving in. It had a lot of rodents, bedbugs, and mice throughout the house. All the windows were covered with plastic due to them being broken out. We had problems with the outlets, only a few of them were working. We would have to unplug some things to be able to plug in heaters to warm the trailer. We all slept in one room just to keep warm, which was the living room.
Now our children have a room of their own and can take showers when they want. The children now have clean clothes and can get a good night’s sleep; they don’t have to worry about bedbugs and getting bitten up throughout the night, or worry about mice getting into our food. We don’t have to put up with all that anymore! We are all very thankful to Trees, Water & People, Henry Red Cloud and all those who helped with this home we can call ours, here on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
As a staff here at Trees, Water & People, we sometimes find ourselves asking, “why?” Why is the work we do at TWP needed in the world, despite how heart-wrenching it can be? Or, on a sunny Tuesday like today, we might stare out of our office windows and think, “how?” How do we tell meaningful stories about our work that will speak to our fantastic supporters, like you?
The good news is, we were able to come up with some exciting new ideas! On July 13, all eight of us reunited as a TWP staff – some new, some old, those of us in Fort Collins and even our Assistant International Director working in Nicaragua!
Our full-day gathering allowed us to dig deep and reconnect with one another, and most of all – to our cause. We brainstormed, “why” and “how,” and we enjoyed a series of team-building activities, a story from our co-founder, engaging presentations, as well as plenty of laughs and coffee to go around.
Some non-profits might call this a “strategic meeting,” but in Spanish, “meeting,” translates to “reunión” which is why we felt it was better to call it a “TWP Staff reunion.”
The truth is, we are all here for a reason. You, as a TWP fan, are here for a reason. We remembered that Trees, Water & People is an amazing place with an incredible story, and over the past 18 years we have made tangible differences in some of the most challenging places on earth and with some of the most alarming rates of poverty, inequality, and environmental degradation.
It was comforting to remember that our work is challenging for a reason, but poco a poco (little by little) we can all make a difference.
Without the dedication of our staff and supporters here at TWP, none of our work would be possible. Make your most generous gift today and help us make our end-of-summer fundraising goal of $10,000 by August 15th!
Doña Teresa´s eyes lit up as she approached the Proleña booth during an alternative energy and technology fair in Jinotega, northern Nicaragua, this past Thursday. As she circled around the Megaecofogón cookstove there was a noticeable spring in her step. We soon realized that she was pegged as the main recipient of a stove and install during our Jinotega visit. Juan, the stove technician and I drove the truck over to her house, just a few quick blocks from the gas station where the fair continued in our absence.
There were some doubts about how to fit the stove down a narrow and dark hallway that led into the kitchen area, but after several attempts and adjustments, we popped the stove through. The megaecofogón is quite mega, weighing in at about 150 pounds when full of pumice, as this one was.
The rest of the install went on without issues and you could immediately grasp how urgent the need for the new cookstove is for Teresa. She is the primary breadwinner for her family of four adults and three grandchildren. She´s a single mother who has already put two kids through school using proceeds from her burgeoning tortilla business.
The kitchen area was black as can be, with stained walls and smoke filtering in and out of the kitchen area in a sweltering, choking swirl. Deep black stains lined the walls and soot fell by the inches as we cleaned off the ceiling area where we would eventually perforate the roof for the chimney ducts. Her previous stove was 40% the size of the megaecofogón. The pumice level had melted and the chimney had been rusted away for over a year.
As Doña Teresa elegantly stated, ¨This is dirty, difficult, and tough work. No one likes this job and no one wants to do it, but I´ve been able to make a living and create a better life for my children and their children through this labor and the growth of my small business. With the improved stove, I´ll be able to expand from about 600 tortillas per day up to 1,000 per day and maybe more. I also know how important this stove is for my health and the health of my family. We will be better off without all the smoke and soot in the kitchen area.”
She beamed with pride as she laid out some of her current clients and their requests about the possibility of increased production. Like any good businesswoman, Teresa has her current clients identified and happy, but she is looking to increase her supply now that demand has been established and growing.
The future is bright for Doña Teresa and her family thanks to the stove provided by Proleña, in collaboration with Casa Pellas foundation and INTUR, the Nicaraguan Tourism Institute. The next time I´m in Jinotega, I will be stopping by Doña Teresa´s house for some fresh tortillas, coffee and cuajada. I look forward to seeing her smiling face and bright eyes again.
In the north central region of Nicaragua, 80% of families are dependent on coffee for their livelihoods. In the rural areas where farmers are scratching out a living – growing coffee and living off the land to feed their families – 68% of the population does not have access to electricity, one of the lowest electrification rates in Central America (IDB, 2010). The closer you get to the “last mile”, as we have done on a recent trip to the remote farming village of Chachagua , the more families you will find struggling to survive on only a few dollars per day.
TWP Assistant International Director, Lucas Wolf, and I had the pleasure of staying with a local family during our four days in the community as part of a trip with our local partners, buildOn and GivePower. Jorge Perez Talavera, his wife Damaris Godoy Garcia, and their 17 year old daughter, Ara Yorleniz Perez Godoy, welcomed us into their small home, which has no running water or electricity. At night, situated around their rudimentary stove, Damaris and Ara Yorleniz cooked us hot meals: rice, beans, and tortillas overflowing with Nicaraguan flavor and love. We spent a lot of this time laughing together, finding that Nicaraguan humor is fueled by sarcasm. My kind of humor! We also had the opportunity to discuss the harsh reality of life in the campo, living off the land and relying on family and community to survive.
The closest town to Chachagua is Murra, a rough, 2-hour drive by truck or motorbike. No buses drive this far back into the mountains, making agriculture a necessity for income generation and for feeding your family. Rows of coffee plants dot the hills, along with other crops like maize, beans, banana trees, squash varieties, and root vegetables.
Down the hill from Jorge’s small adobe home sits his tree nursery, where he is currently growing 4,300 coffee seedlings and a variety of fruit trees. He uses organic methods to grow the coffee, such as mixing garlic and cayenne for use as a pesticide. During the coffee harvest, Damaris and Ara Yorleniz help Jorge pick the ripe, red coffee cherries by hand.
“All of us spend long days together to harvest the coffee. It’s very hard work and the whole family helps.”
For the subsistence farmers in this region, who depend on the land for their survival, climate change is not a far off threat that they casually discuss. Climate change is happening. Right now. There is no debate about how or if a changing climate will affect them, the question is how will they adapt and survive. I invite climate deniers to visit Chachagua and tell the families here that climate change is a hoax.
“We have noticed a big change in the weather and temperatures over the past six years. The rains come later now and it’s much warmer, which affects how our coffee grows.”
In Nicaragua, temperatures are rising, drought is the new norm (and flooding when it does eventually rain), and crop disease is devastating, especially to rural coffee farmers and landless farm workers. The nation consistently ranks in the top ten among the places most affected by climate change (Global Climate Risk Survey). Coffee is Nicaragua’s second largest agricultural export earner. In 2012-13 an outbreak of La Roya (coffee leaf rust), which spread to 37% of the crop, cost $60M in losses. Small farmers like Jorge, who have no extra money to purchase fertilizers, have been hit hard by La Roya. When their mature coffee plants die from the rust, new seedlings can be planted, but they take three years to produce coffee. And, when there is no coffee there is no money.
When we discuss ways that farmers like Jorge are adapting, everyone we talk to points to reforestation as a top priority for improving all aspects of the local environment. Even the highest levels of government in Nicaragua are supporting practices like crop diversification and shade grown coffee, which improves soil and watershed health while protecting farmers from crop failure. With more diversity, and less dependence on one crop, families can survive when diseases like La Roya hit.
On our last morning with the family, we all gather around the kitchen fire drinking coffee. It’s been pouring rain all night, a welcome return of moisture after days of no rain (and it’s supposed to be the “rainy season” in Nicaragua). Damaris has prepared a chicken for us, an incredibly generous gesture for a family living at this level of poverty. Lucas takes this time to express our gratitude for their hospitality:
“We know it is a hard life out here. We recognize that and we want to support you in any way possible. To see a family that is so happy together and so welcoming to strangers like us has really touched our hearts. Thank you for letting us into your home.”
Jorge responds, with a smile, “No matter what, the most important thing in life really is happiness.”
Over 500,000 homes in Guatemala are without electricity, leaving millions of people in the dark once the sun sets. Adults are unable to work at night and children struggle to study by dim candle lights, which also emit toxic fumes into the home. Candles are expensive too, costing families up to $20 per month, money that could be spent on food, medicine, or small business expenses.
Trees, Water & People’s social enterprise, Luciérnaga, is working throughout Central America to solve this energy poverty problem. Luciérnaga imports solar products, like lights, phone chargers, and solar household systems, into Central America, providing local entrepreneurs with access to products in bulk, at an affordable price. With knowledge of their community’s needs, these solar entrepreneurs can distribute solar lights to families at a price they can afford.
Don Roman Rios lives in the community of La Gloria in Guatemala’s La Zona Reyna, a very rural area in the department of El Quiche. His purchase of a solar home system has allowed he and his wife to expand their small bakery, which they run out of their home kitchen. “Now, we are able to bake bread starting at 6am until 10pm or 11pm.” said Don Roman. The purchase of solar lighting has allowed them to expand their business and production, and save on the purchase of candles.
“Before we had to use candles to light the room,” said Don Roman. “Which could get really expensive.” Prior they were paying one quetzal per candle, and having to purchase five or six to light the room. In order to charge their cell phones, which are ubiquitous throughout Central America, Don Roman and his wife had to pay a neighbor or use the cigarette lighter in the car. “Now that we have solar light, we just have to plug our phones in here [USB charger on the battery] and we can charge.”
Overall, Don Ramon and his family have greatly benefited from the purchase of a solar household system, though Don Roman wishes he could have the chance to purchase larger solar panels in order to collect more light. Don Ramon and his family are one of over 4,300 families who have purchased solar products from Luciérnaga’s vendors. These life-changing products offer an affordable way for rural Central Americans to gain access to clean energy that improves the environment and their livelihoods. To learn more please visit www.luciernagasolar.com.
Doña Dema and her family live in the community of La Gloria. The purchase of a solar home system from TWP’s social enterprise, Luciérnaga, has saved her family a great sum of money each month. Prior to owning the solar energy system, they used a gasoline generator for energy, which cost them 3,000 quetzales ($391USD) to purchase, plus the cost of fuel.
“Now it is better with the solar panel. We no longer have to purchase gasoline for the generator just to charge our cell phones.”
With a solar home system, Dema is able to work later into the night sewing and embroidering, activities that she loves to do and also make her extra income. Furthermore, her children are able to study later into the evening after the sun sets.
The system has four LED lights plus USB ports for charging cell phones and other electronics. A great example of how clean energy is changing lives for families living in rural, last-mile communities!
Dema Rios Dubon and her children outside their home in La Gloria, Guatemala.
Dema can now work after dark with her solar LED lights.