Community Voices: Don Marcos

Guatemala civil war
Don Marcos defends his land and his people during the Guatemalan civil war.

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

“The hardest parts were the hunger…and the sleeplessness.” recounted Don Marcos, a septuagenarian survivor of the brutal civil wars in Guatemala that left over 200,000 (mostly indigenous campesinos) dead. Two spoonfuls of oats and a spoonful of sugar was all the food available for weeks at a time while protecting Mayan heritage and homeland from military persecution. Hundreds of thousands died, but many survived, only to face continued struggle to live a dignified life after “peace” was officially declared in Guatemala in 1996. Don Marcos tells us his story while holding his head in his hands under a photo taken of him in 1982, where he can be seen stoically gripping an automatic rifle with three other indigenous soldiers behind him, tasked with ensuring the survival of an ancient culture.

Today, Don Marcos is a community leader in El Tarral, one of the dozens of highland Mayan communities from Huehuetenango who have been displaced to southern coastal climates. His organization – the San Ildefonson Ixtahuacán Development Association – is one of the 36 indigenous groups under the umbrella of the Asociación de Forestería Comunitaria de Guatemala Ut’z Ché, Trees, Water & People’s partner in the country. We had the unique opportunity to build Don Marcos’ family a new cookstove as a training exercise for some younger members of his community – teaching a proven technology that reduces fuelwood use, improves family health and saves families money through its daily use.

It was a community effort to build Marco and Nati's new clean cookstove.
It was a community effort to build Marco and Nati’s new clean cookstove.

Ut’z Ché provides a voice to indigenous communities who seek to protect land and resource rights where they live – be it on ancestral lands or lands adopted post-displacement. As agro-forestry and forest conservation are two pillars in this process, clean cookstoves and solar lighting are a perfect compliment, improving sustainability, autonomy and health for communities that have been marginalized for centuries. As someone who has spent a decade working in rural Central America, I couldn’t be more inspired and energized to contribute, as the resilience and identity exhibited by Ut’z Che’s partners is extraordinary, and their will to thrive is as salient as their preserved languages, customs and traditions.

Don Marcos’ struggle is now for his children and grandchildren. While it’s miraculous that he’s here at all, he knows that he has little time left to leave a better future for his descendants. He was happy and proud to offer his house as a training ground for the group of young men in his community, who look to him as an elder and a teacher. His is the first of 60 cookstoves we plan to build in the community of El Tarral – projects made possible only by your donations and support. We thank you for helping us make life a little more hospitable for the millions of humble people that only seek the sustainable and dignified future they deserve.

Community Voices: Jeff King, Northern Cheyenne Tribe

Jeff King works to install a large solar array in northern Colorado. He has turned his passions into a career in renewable energy.
Jeff King works to install a new 1 megawatt “solar garden” in Lafayette, Colorado.

Jeff King hails from the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in southeastern Montana. He is passionate about sustainability and renewable energy. He has attended many of our workshops at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC) and consistently stands out as a leader that is eager to learn and grow. After receiving several certifications from our Tribal renewable Energy Program, Jeff has started working for a solar company in Colorado install PV systems throughout the state.

“I have been interested in renewable energy for a long time, but my interest has been magnified in recent years due to more awareness of global climate change and also from working in an industry (coal) that frowns upon the mere mention of renewables. That attitude has made me even more eager to learn and push on behalf of the world.”

Read more about the people our work has impacted in our Community Voices section of our website.

Community Voices: Guadalupe Padilla

Sra Guadalupe Padilla Auxiliar de Viverista

In every country where we plant trees, we employ local citizens to manage our tree nurseries and planting efforts. These dedicated individuals plant each seed by hand, care for the seedlings for months while they are maturing in our nurseries, and then help to oversee the planting of those trees.

Recently, our long-time partner Armando Hernandez, Director of Arboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP) in El Salvador, shared a story with us about his newest employee, a single mother raising two sons and a daughter.

Guadalupe Padilla was hired to help relocate the AAP nursery and care for the tens of thousands of trees grown at this site. She finds much pride in her work and the new job allows her to support her children while contributing to environmental conservation efforts in El Salvador.

Guadalupe believes that “We must conserve the environment for our children!” And why shouldn’t environmental protection also create jobs for people like Guadalupe, who live in rural areas where is employment is needed most?

Support one of our community-based conservation projects today!

Community Voices: Hilda Garcia

For over 10 years, Doña Hilda Garcia has been an integral part of our conservation efforts in El Salvador. Here, she shares her story about how she became involved with our work. Thank you, Hilda, for your dedication to the environment and people of El Salvador!

Doña Hilda in our tree nursery in El Porvenir, El Salvador.
Doña Hilda in one of our tree nurseries in El Porvenir, El Salvador.

I used to suffer from the smoke of an open cooking fire. A friend told me about TWP’s clean cookstove program, and I jumped at the chance to participate, even though my husband was out of town so I didn’t know if he would approve. I built my stove with Larry Winiarski [inventor of the Rocket stove] and we made tortillas on it the same day! When my husband returned from his trip and saw the Justa stove, I told him all about it and was relieved that he supported my decision.

Without all the smoke, my eyes don’t water and my family can eat comfortably indoors. My older children always used to suffer from respiratory infections, but my youngest girl grew up very healthy, breathing clean air.

In 2003, TWP asked for my help creating a play about the Justa stoves. The play was so successful that they proposed that I work as a stove promoter. I am happy being a stove promoter. I leave the house more, I have new friends, and I’ve seen new places, even Nicaragua for an international stove conference. My husband now works as a stove builder, so helping people with Justa stoves is a family affair for us.

Hilda visits with a clean coostove user in El Salvador.
Hilda (left) visits with a clean coostove user in El Salvador.

When I visit people to follow up after they have built their cookstoves, they say it’s like a gift from God. The Justa stove has improved my life and the lives of many others.

Community Voices: Juana Mancia Alvarado

clean cookstove El Salvador

Juana Mancia Alvarado lives in the town of Rio Abajo, El Salvador and makes her living by selling homemade tortillas. Over the years, her health has been negatively impacted from breathing the toxic smoke and fumes emitted from her traditional cookstove. And, Juana is not alone. More than 2 million people in El Salvador, and 3 billion people worldwide, are impacted by indoor air pollution, the majority of which are women and children.

When families do not have access to electricity, they are forced to cook their meals with wood. This causes many human health problems, as well as deforestation throughout the country.

Trees, Water & People (TWP) and our partners address this problem by building clean cookstoves for families and small business owners like Juana. Each of our cookstoves decrease a families’ need for firewood by 50-70%, as compared to standard open fire cooking. When vented to the outside of the home, these improved cookstoves also decrease indoor air pollution, which is responsible for the death of 4.3 million people globally every year (World Health Organization, 2014).

Our partners at Arboles y Agua para el Pueblo built a Justa clean cookstove inside Juana’s kitchen, which now removes nearly all that toxic smoke from the home. She says “now, I never get sick!” In addition, she has greatly reduced her fuelwood expenses, allowing her to save more of her hard earned money.

To learn more about our Clean Cookstove Program and to make a contribution please visit our website.

Community Voices: Catalina Somoza Calderon

Catalina cooking on el rapidito cookstove
Catalina cooks on a rapidito clean cookstove in Nicaragua.

“I love that we are protecting the environment and saving trees. I also love seeing happy customers and knowing that we are helping them to have better health.” – Catalina Somoza Calderon

In Nicaragua, there are over 4,000 small tortilla-making businesses that provide much needed income to poor households. Nearly all tortilla-makers are women who make the tortillas on a simple hotplate over an open wood fire. Cooking over these open fires exposes women and their children to high levels of toxic smoke, plus fuel wood is very expensive.

Our partners at Proleña have been working to improve the design of these wood burning stoves since it began in Honduras in 1993. It started working in Nicaragua in 1996.

The Ecostove is the product of several years of development by Proleña and their partners, including Trees, Water & People (TWP). Traditionally, tortillas have been baked on a plancha (griddle) over fires. These open fires are very inefficient and use a lot of wood and fill kitchens with deadly smoke, leading to disease and premature deaths.

rapidito clean cookstoveThe key advantages of the Ecostove is its enclosed firebox with insulated walls that increase its efficiency, a chimney that removes smoke from the home, and its portability. Many stove models are constructed within the user’s home, utilizing earth and bricks, but the Ecostove designs can be manufactured at a central location and then delivered to users in different parts of the country, creating local jobs and increased scale of clean cookstove projects.

Catalina Somoza Calderon is one person who has benefited from Proleña’s cookstove program. She has worked for Proleña for nine years and is very passionate about her job and the mission of the organization. Not only does she have employment promoting clean cookstoves to women, she also uses the Ecostoves in her own home.

Catalina uses one of the small, portable stoves known as the rapidito, or “the quick one.” She says, “I like the stove because it has saved me a lot of money on fuel and doesn’t turn my pots and pans black.”

This is a great example of how we strive to not only protect the environment, but also improve people’s livelihoods. Our local partners always manage conservation projects with community and family well-being in mind!

Community Voices: Noemi and Fani

by Lindsay Saperstone, International Communications Coordinator

clean cookstove users Nicaragua

Earlier this month, we traveled to Nicaragua to visit with Proleña, our long-time partners who have been developing clean cookstove technology for years. We were lucky enough to be served a tasty Central American meal cooked on one of these cookstoves: the Mega Ecofogón. Our generous cooks were two sisters – Noemi and Fani – who, for the past five years, have used one of Proleña’s clean cookstoves in their small restaurant that they operate out of their home. They served us pupusas (a traditional Salvadorian food), fresh tortillas, and beans. It was delicious!

Noemi cooks tortillas, a staple of the Nicaraguan diet, on a clean cookstove
Noemi cooks tortillas, a staple of the Nicaraguan diet, on a clean cookstove

Fani, the younger of the two sisters, says that she has loved using the stove in her house/business because it saves them a lot of money on firewood and also makes their kitchen beautiful.

In Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, approximately 80% of the population still cooks each meal with fuelwood. In addition, 90% of the deforestation in the country is attributed to fuelwood consumption. Clean cookstoves like the Mega Ecofogón are helping to improve the environment by using far less wood while, at the same time, improving human health and saving small business owners like Noemi and Fani money.

According to Noemi, “We can put the stove anywhere we want in the house, the ceiling is no longer dark from the smoke and we don’t have conflicts with our neighbors about the smoke. In fact, now most of our neighbors have stoves too!” They also explained that the stove makes their restaurant more efficient because they can prepare a meal in about an hour and twenty minutes as opposed to the 2 hours it took before.

Working with women entrepreneurs to improve their environment, health, and livelihoods is one of the best parts of my job. I was truly inspired by Noemi and Fani and thankful that they shared their story with us.

Visit our website to learn more about our clean cookstove designs and consider supporting our clean cookstove program in Central America.

Noemi demonstrates how the Mega Ecofogón works
Noemi demonstrates how the Mega Ecofogón works during our visit to Nicaragua

Community Voices: Elmer Melton

by John Motley, National Program Assistant

John Motley and Elmer
Elmer Melton (left) and John Motley

Lately, we have had many firsts at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. In early February, we conducted our first ever Solar Hot Water Heater Training along with having our first trainee from an Alaskan tribe visit RCREC. With the frigid weather on the Great Plains making life hard for many Lakotas, there could be no better time to install a solar hot water heater, and we were happy to have a new friend from Alaska join us for the installation!

Elmer Melton is from the Noorvik Native Community in Noorvik, Alaska. We have worked with students from more than 20 different tribes but this is the first student we have hosted from Alaska. Elmer describes himself as “a miser in energy use” and has had experience with energy conservation programs in his community. He said he “would like to learn how to make hot water with renewable energy sources” so he can share this knowledge with his native community. With fuel costs being so high in his community, Elmer is eager to learn about clean, renewable energy alternatives.

solar hot water system
The control center of the solar hot water system inside the Sacred Earth Lodge.

The goal of the Solar Hot Water Heater Training was to install a solar hot water array that could be integrated into the radiant heating floor of the Sacred Earth Lodge. We used reclaimed panels from two homes in Boulder, Colorado. This new system will also serve as a hands-on demonstration site for future workshops. In addition to it’s educational value, the new system will provide the Sacred Earth Lodge with renewable heat from the sun, keeping our environmental impact and heating costs low.

Elmer
Elmer Melton installing the new solar hot water system

The benefit of radiant heat is that even when the sun goes down the heat trapped throughout the day is released into the thermal mass of the concrete floor which then slowly releases heat well into the night. This new addition will drastically reduce the lodge’s consumption of traditional energy sources like wood and electric. With our students and some local Pine Ridge residents, we completed the five panel solar hot water array with no problems. Completion couldn’t have come at a better time as Pine Ridge is now seeing some of its coldest temperatures of the year. But as long as the sun keeps shining, the lodge will stay warm and comfy even on the coldest of days!

Community Voices: Blanca Lilian Ebarrá

Blanca Lilian Ebarrá

“I don’t breathe in smoke anymore and I can cook rice, stew and make tortillas all at once. The griddle heats up really well, cooks fast, and my pots stay clean.”

After a hot and bumpy two hour drive up a steep, winding road we reached the community of La Cuchilla (“The Blade”), El Salvador, a reference to the mountain ridge that it sits atop. We’ve come to visit Alicia Cock, a Peace Corps Volunteer who’s been living here since August of 2009. Around the table, Alicia shares with us a list of this year’s projects, including promoting economic opportunities for women and the introduction of Justa cookstoves to La Cuchilla. While only 80 families live in this tiny community, 65 of them now cook their meals on clean-burning Justa cookstoves, an accomplishment that Alicia speaks of with great joy.

The remoteness of villages like La Cuchilla can be a challenge for coordinating a clean cookstove project. Some supplies like wood ash and clay can be contributed by the locals, but the griddles, combustion chambers, and chimneys must be supplied by Trees, Water & People’s Salvadoran partner, Árboles y Agua para El Pueblo. When extra funding was needed, Alicia raised an additional $2,000 through the Peace Corps Partnership Fund by asking her friends and family to donate. Once the supplies arrived, she provided training to a father and son team who became the resident cookstove builders (tecnicos).

Alicia Cock and Blanca
Alicia and Blanca cooking tortillas on a new cookstove

Blanca Lilian Ebarrá is one of those cookstove beneficiaries. She’s a bubbly young woman who was happily making tortillas when we arrived to say hello. When asked how she liked her new Justa cookstove, she cheerfully shared with us all the benefits and ways her life has improved. “I don’t breathe in smoke anymore and I can cook rice, stew and make tortillas all at once. The griddle heats up really well, cooks fast, and my pots stay clean.” When asked about firewood consumption, Blanca said she noticed right away that she was cooking with about half of what she habitually used. She said that she doesn’t have to buy firewood because her husband goes up the hill and prunes the trees instead. “But now with this stove he goes less often and he’s very grateful for that!”

When Alicia returned to the U.S., she happily reported the 15 families, who originally were not interested in improved cookstoves, are now asking to be included in the project. The families we visited said that they’ll be sad to see Alicia go, but will remember her fondly as they cook on their much appreciated, clean and economical Justa cookstoves.

Community Voices: Carlos Humberto Gonzalez

by Megan Maiolo-Heath, Marketing Manager

Carlos Humberto Gonzalez

Working with local farmers throughout Central America is an important part of grassroots natural resource conservation programs. These dedicated and hardworking individuals know the local land, watersheds, biodiversity, and soils better than anyone and they are dependent on a healthy environment for their livelihoods.

Carlos Humberto Gonzalez is one of these farmers that left a lasting impression on me and my colleagues. Carlos was born and raised on his family’s small farm, located on a hill overlooking the rural town of El Porvenir, El Salvador. Now that his mother and father have passed on, the responsibilities of running the farm are all his. He grows a variety of crops, including tomatoes, eggplant, citrus trees, corn, and coffee and depends on the land for his survival.

drip irrigationAs we toured his property, he showed us how he had created an innovative drip irrigation system for his crops using plastic soda bottles and gravity. This system saves precious water, which at the time was hard to come by due to severe drought conditions.

Through our partnership with Arboles y Agua para El Pueblo, we were able to add a touch of chocolate or cacao (Theobroma cacao) to his plot of coffee, helping to improve the soil quality and increase the biodiversity of his land. These 50 trees will also produce a high-quality product that he can sell at the local market, helping to support his family and business.

“My father would be proud of what I have accomplished with our farm and my family will be happy that I can sell more products at market. I am very happy to have these new trees.”

As we looked out over the beautiful countryside, and Carlos pointed out various landmarks in the distance, I could sense how dedicated he was to his land and his country. To support reforestation efforts in El Salvador is an honor and we look forward to supporting many more farmers in the future.

To learn more about our work in El Salvador please visit our wesbite.