Opening Eyes and Hearts in the Honduran Highlands: Part 1

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director of TWP

Over the past several years, TWP has organized work trips to Guatemala as the primary destination to feature our community development partners and their impacts. However, our newest partner, CEASO, in El Socorro (Siguatepeque), Honduras, was the focus of our past work trip in early January 2017. On January 5th, three key members of CEASO and I arrived at the San Pedro Sula airport to await the arrival of nine work trip participants, also accompanied by Gemara Gifford, TWP’s Director of Development and Biodiversity. The group of nine consisted of a mix of board members and their families, TWP donors, and some with no previous knowledge of our work.

From the airport we meandered through the hot sugar cane and plantain plains up past Lago Yojoa and eventually into the Highlands of the Montecillos Range where CEASO is based. The first feature of the trip was an introduction to CEASO’s approach to community development and sustainable agriculture. This method is defined by a powerful methodology called Finca Humana (a holistic, integrated approach to the farm, family, and individual) that is inserted into all of their daily activities and their overall development approach. Finca Humana stipulates that one must focus on the individual and the family before focusing on the farm and it preaches diversification and continued knowledge acquisition with a strong emphasis on farmer-to-farmer sharing of information.

Rainwater tank
The result of two days´ worth of sweat equity in San Jose de Pane by our Eco-Tour group. A completed rainwater catchment tank!

This profound life and development approach has resonated with the communities of the Montecillos foothills, where we are engaged in a significant development initiative that seeks to bolster and expand on CEASO’s experience and knowledge, as well as enhancing access and trust. Our trip featured hiking through the environs of El Socorro to understand some of the watershed challenges, particularly with regards to the combined effects of continued agricultural expansion, deforestation, and the pine beetle outbreak. Currently, CEASO and the surrounding communities are only receiving water in their taps every 12 or 13 days and water harvesting and storage, a key component of this trip and CEASO’s expanding projects, is proving more and more critical for household survival.

This trip marked our first attempt to combine community development and engagement with the observation and study of bird species and habitat in the Montecillos area. Led by Gemara, who has been instrumental in leveraging her extensive biology and biodiversity experience into our proposals and programming, this tour highlighted the importance of migratory bird habitat and ecosystems and the relationship they share with smallholder farmers and sustainable, diversified agriculture and agroforestry.

Future Birders
Two campesino youth are showing off their budding bird interests.

 

These Eco-Trips are designed to maximize community engagement in the areas where our local partners are helping to drive significant positive impacts and quality of life improvements. One of the highlights of our engagement stops was a frank living room discussion with Doña Norma and her husband, Don Oscar. Following the successful installation of the first TWP-CEASO clean cookstove in the Montecillos region (with generous support provided by World Centric for what will eventually be over 220 stoves), they shared with us their experience as immigrants living and working in the United States. In total, they spent over seven years working in the Northeastern US, scraping pennies and toiling away for enough money to provide for their children, some of whom were back in Honduras, while also saving for a future home back in their Honduran community. Upon their return, they constructed their dream home with much labor and love, only to see it go up in flames this past July. Despite the devastation and destruction, they labor on with Norma playing an increasingly important role as the community leader for the TWP-CEASO nursery project. Of the 12 nurseries, Gerardo is quick to point out that Norma’s trees were the biggest and healthiest and she’s an effective and skilled leader. We hope to continue to empower her leadership and increase the community development profile with her and Gerardo.

If you are interested in going on a work trip with us, or learning more about what we do and the people we work with, sign up for our monthly newsletter! 

sign-up-here

Promoting Rural Resilience: Lessons from Cuba

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

For many folks, Thanksgiving conjures up images of abundance and family, a smorgasbord of food laid out on the dinner table with smiling faces and conversations ranging from the day’s football matches to work or politics.

For Sebastian Africano and myself, the week of Thanksgiving involved a different perspective: learning about the challenges of food production and security in Cuba. Since the embargo was put into place in 1962, Cuban agricultural authorities have developed multiple strategies to sustain its population. Urban horticulture and permaculture have been built within the larger infrastructure of the socialist food production system. However, Cuba still faces serious food security issues.

The World Food Programme estimates that the island currently imports up to 70-80% of its food, meaning that only 20-30% of Cuba’s food is produced in-country. The pressure to grow more food locally will only continue to increase as the lucrative and fast-growing tourism market explodes in Cuba (eloquently discussed in a recent NYT article). The question remains: How will Cuba meet the increasing food demands from the tourist market?

Cuban plant nursery
In just over two years, this start-up nursery is now producing over 200,000 plants per year.

The primary purpose of our trip was to try to learn more about the opportunities for “agritourism” in Cuba. Agritourism is a type of tourism that brings visitors to a farm or ranch, to enjoy the rural setting, and to be educated on the food system and/or culture. In particular, we noticed that the Cienfuegos and Cumanayagua regions of Cuba, were excellent sites for agritourism due to the intriguing mix of cultural and musical efforts that are combining to preserve rural, Campesino culture, all while maintaining the foundations of sustainable agriculture in the region.

Some of the places we visited included the Universidad de Cumanayagua, Teatro Los Elementos, and the music group Kfé Mezclado, which is located at the base of a large mountain range in prime coffee country. Music and art are the lifeblood of Cuba in many ways, and these groups promote a uniquely authentic experience that is a gateway to the essence and soul of the country. At TWP, we strive to create authentic travel opportunities for intercambios, or exchanges, between our U.S. supporters, and our Latin American partners in Central America and the Caribbean, all working in the same vein for a healthy environment and human well-being. As we begin to build partnerships and travel opportunities within Cuba, we hope to convey the importance of sustainable travel, so that many people can enjoy Cuba’s unique offerings and livelihoods for years to come.

Lucas in Cuba
Lucas Wolf, TWP assistant international director, surveying yuca plants on a demonstration farm outside of Cienfuegos, Cuba.

The Cubans are eager to show the world their beautiful country and their ingenuity and thirst for innovation and knowledge. There is a warmth and genuine human spirit that seeps through in any conversation on the street or at the farm with the Cubans. Despite the transitional moment and the challenges inherent, particularly after the death of Fidel Castro and before the start of renewed uncertainty with a new Administration in Washington, we seek to create a broader horizontal dialogue between the U.S. and Cuba focused on education and innovation for all involved. Through it all, we at TWP strive to promote and advance the skill sets and toolboxes that build broader rural resilience, an ability to adapt to and mitigate climate change, and continue to further education processes, for local beneficiaries, for tour participants and for ourselves as an organization. Cuba, and its land and people have a great deal to offer when it comes to teaching in these areas, and we at TWP are hungry to learn.

If you would like to support TWP’s work to promote and advance the skill sets and toolboxes that build broader rural resilience, please donate today!

donate button

Northwest Haiti Still in Dire Need After Hurricane Matthew

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

Friends, Family, Colleagues,

I ask for your attention again as we get critical news from Hurricane Matthew’s wake in northwestern Haiti. In total, 55,000 people have been directly impacted by the storm in the two municipalities where TWP has worked since 2007. Our colleagues at AMURT have just returned from a trip to the area to assess needs, and are seeing immense challenges ahead. Roads have been washed out, irrigation systems have been destroyed, and almost all livelihood activities have ground to a halt. 70% of crops for this fall’s harvest are gone. 90% of the salt basins used to harvest sea salt have been flooded with mud. The limited sources for potable water in the area have been washed out.

family in northwest Haiti
A family in northwest Haiti stands by their crumbling home after Hurricane Matthew. Photo by Sara Wolf.

Here is a first-hand account from our partners at AMURT.

“Just returned from the Northwest after a very hard trip – productive but very heartbreaking at the same time. The damage after the last inundations and heavy rains has been much more extensive than I thought. In fact when I went to the area after Matthew and compare what I saw then and what I witness now – it’s several degrees more severe and critical. I visited villages that have such substantial malnutrition, whose residents have lost all of their livelihoods and have nothing left to them. Several villages had cases of infant death due to malnutrition (only 3 weeks after the hurricane!), cholera returning, no drinking water, mud covering everything, productive soil covering salt basins, eroded roads…

This is a very extensive humanitarian crisis that is not talked about anywhere in the news. It’s as if this region is forgotten by all and is slipping into a spiral of vulnerability that will surely deepen week by week. I wanted to send you a quick email while I’m fresh back with very strong impressions and renewed urgency to respond.”

Destroyed village
Entire villages turned into rubble after Hurricane Matthew blew threw northwest Haiti last month. Photo by Sara Wolf.

Due to their economic fragility and geographic isolation, families in this region have nowhere to turn to feed their families. They can migrate to one of Haiti’s overcrowded cities to live in the squalor of an informal urban slum, or they can rebuild their lives where they are. At TWP, we’re supporting the latter alternative – providing emergency relief via our partners, and helping the region rebuild and reinvest their way to a livable state.

Our resources for this effort are extremely limited, so we turn to you, our donors to help us with a special contribution to the effort. Again – 100% of the funds raised for this relief and reconstruction campaign will go to the communities in the Northwest Artibonite. No amount is too small. We will keep you posted as updates arise.

Thank you!

donate button

Hurricane Matthew’s Destructive Path in Northwest Haiti

by Sebastian Africano, International Director of Trees, Water & People

For the last week I’ve been pondering the severity of Hurricane Matthew’s destruction in the Caribbean, a region in which I’ve spent a lot of time, and where I’ve worked with dozens of chronically vulnerable communities. While Matthew made landfall on the south coast of Haiti, which is what most are seeing in the news, I had not seen one mention of the conditions on Haiti’s northern peninsula, the region in which TWP has worked since 2007 with partners at AMURT and LOCAL.

Today I received the first news from the communities with which we’ve worked, and it’s not good (see below). As such, Trees, Water & People will be raising funds for the relief effort in the Northwest, and for continued stabilization of the hillsides with trees, shrubs, and grasses. 100% of funds raised will go to the recovery and reconstruction effort. Here is an email from our colleagues at AMURT, who just conducted a 3-day visit to the region:
Even before Hurricane Matthew, the northwest of Haiti was designated as an extreme vulnerability zone as a result of the 3-year drought – the farming and environment of the entire area has been devastated and has led to an increase of migration, the spread of cholera, and shrinking of livelihoods. The passing of Matthew along the NW of Haiti has devastated all coastal communities which rely on fishing, salt production, and subsistence farming. The photos show the extensive damage done to houses, but the damage extends inland – most of the irrigation canals have been destroyed, farms wiped out, livestock lost, salt basins submerged in mud, trees uprooted. Polluted water sources and very poor sanitation raise the danger of the expansion of the cholera epidemic which still plagues the region.

hurricane-matthew-destruction-2
This couple stands in front of a line of destroyed houses after Hurricane Matthew in northwest Haiti. Photo by Sara Wolf.

Hurricane Matthew has increased the vulnerability of this already impoverished and isolated corner of Haiti to a new level, which is exacerbated by the complete lack of basic services. The real crisis will deepen week by week as the sparse stocks of seeds and supplies begin running out. With the primary sources of livelihoods (in particular salt production and farming) severely impacted, those most vulnerable have lost the only source of meager income that has helped them meet their basic food needs. The situation is critical and requires an immediate response which is integrated, durable and targeting the most vulnerable populations.
Assessment

  • 280 houses completely destroyed, 640 houses inundated and damaged, 720 houses severely damaged, five schools severely damaged.
  • 90% of salt basins severely impacted/destroyed.
  • Majority of farming land and irrigation severely impacted from the mountains to the coast.
  • Majority of road severely impacted, access to most inland areas very difficult.
hurricane-matthew-destruction-3
This family stands beside their demolished home after Hurricane Matthew raged through northwest Haiti. Photo by Sara Wolf

Greatest Needs

First phase – emergency food, water, sanitation, medical and emergency kits, temporary shelter, child-friendly spaces, cash for work to clear debris and repair roads and salt basins.

Second phase – Livelihood creation, cash for work to protect watersheds and coastal areas, construction of permanent shelter, school reconstruction.

Program Focus of AMURT during the first 3-month period

  • Emergency food distribution (dry rations) and hot meal canteens for vulnerable groups (children under 5, elderly, pregnant women and handicapped) – a total of 2,500 beneficiaries in 5 coastal communities
  • Distribution of Non-Food Items (NFI) and emergency shelter kits until more extensive reconstruction can be planned
  • Water and sanitation – treated drinking water stations, latrines, sanitation education
  • Emergency Child-Friendly Spaces – daily hot meals and psycho-social and arts programs for children
  • Cash for Work program to repair roads, damaged areas, salt basins
  • Assistance to re-build the damaged fishing, salt production, and farming (tools, seeds, accompaniment)

Trees, Water & People has planted almost 500,000 trees in northern Haiti with our partners, and with any luck, they lessened the damage downhill of where they were planted. All funds raised by TWP will be used for the priorities listed above, and any remaining after the initial response will go toward rebuilding tree nurseries and replanting the contour channels and check dams that reduce erosion and mudslide risk. This is a desperately isolated region, which is why we worked here in the first place – let’s not let it be forgotten as the country recovers from yet another devastating natural disaster.

donate button

Connecting TWP’s Work through Migratory Birds

By Gemara Gifford, Conservation Scientist & TWP’s Development Director

Mist-nets
Mist-nets help researchers study migratory warblers in Central America, photo by Ruth Bennett

Have you ever wondered where birds go when they fly south? October is that time of year when migratory birds to gear up to fly from TWP’s projects in the Northern Great Plains all the way down to those in Latin America. Golden-winged Warblers (pictured above), Black-and-white Warblers, Wood Thrushes, and Baltimore Orioles are just a few species that will winter in remote places like Guatemalan villages, Salvadoran cloud forests, Honduran coffee agroecosystems, and Nicaraguan dry forests.

Unfortunately, migratory bird populations are declining faster than most other avian species worldwide (State of North America’s Birds 2016) due to habitat loss on their wintering grounds and also because we know less about their conservation requirements in Central America compared to their breeding grounds in the U.S. and Canada. What we do know is migrants tend to live in the same places as the rural communities whom TWP works with, and can directly benefit from community-based development projects (Agroecosystems for communities and conservation).

Did you know that TWP’s clean cookstove, reforestation, and farmer-to-farmer training programs in Central America are especially helping to conserve migratory birds?

  • TWP’s clean cookstoves greatly reduce the amount of fuelwood families use to cook (an average of 50%) and as a result protect nearby forests and reduce deforestation.
  • Our reforestation programs in the U.S. and Central America improve degraded bird habitat, with over 7 million trees planted so far, and also protect the soils and watersheds upon which families depend.
  • By training hundreds of smallholder farmers in agroecology, agriculture can be diversified with multiple tree species and crop types which creates excellent migratory bird habitat while producing important foods and fibers for people.
Golden-winged Warbler
A male Golden-winged Warbler winters in fragmented habitats in Guatemala, photo by Ruth Bennett

For 18 years, our generous supporters have been helping us make the world a better place for people and the planet. Did you realize your dedication has also been helping to conserve threatened migratory birds?

On behalf of TWP, I am excited to invite you to join us on our newest endeavor with migratory birds – to follow them as they head south! This January, we’ll take 15 TWP donors and supporters to tour our new projects in Central Honduras. There we will conduct baseline bird surveys in cloud forest agroecosystems, and participate in on-the-ground bird conservation efforts through clean cookstove construction, tree planting, and ten days of cross-cultural exchange with our local partners at the Center for Education in Sustainable Agriculture in Socorro, Honduras.

With your continued support we can make the world a better place for people and wildlife. For more information about how to attend the 2017 Honduras Work Tour, or to learn about how TWP’s projects benefit birds, give me a call at 877-606-4TWP.

A special thanks to Ruth Bennett, Ph.D. student at Cornell University, for providing photos of her ongoing research in Central America to uncover the best strategies for conserving the Golden-winged Warblers in working landscapes.

El Salvador Partners Win the J. Kirby Simon Forest Service Trust

Seven months ago, I met Trees, Water & People thanks to this very blog. I was looking for an organization in El Salvador working in one of the areas that I consider most essential to life: planting trees. Meeting them was loving them: after a few google searches and a few e-mails, I knew I had found my counterparts.

I wanted to partner with TWP to support reforestation activities in El Salvador. I work in the US Embassy in San Salvador and, as an employee, I can apply to grants from the J. Kirby Simon Foreign Service Trust, an organization that has supported volunteer efforts of employees working at U.S. diplomatic missions worldwide for 21 years. Fast forward to September 2016: Armando Hernández, the director of Arboles, Agua, y el Pueblo in El Salvador, and I designed a project that just won $3,000 from the J. Kirby Simon Trust to support tree planting efforts in my country.

 

Verónica Vásquez Cuerno
Verónica Vásquez Cuerno planting trees in El Salvador (photo by Inés Pacas).

 

Thanks to this small project, Arboles, Agua, y el Pueblo El Salvador will improve the facilities of its newly acquired tree nursery and will have part of the funds necessary to grow the 40,000 saplings in 2017. It’s not difficult to see that TWP and their partners in El Salvador have invested their hearts and souls into the organization’s mission. I feel proud to be able to support their efforts, and I hope volunteers from the U.S. Embassy and other organizations will join us in giving El Salvador the green environment that we all deserve.

But 2017 seems so far away, and I am impatient, so a couple of weeks ago I made the first trial of mobilization of volunteers. I did so by promoting the planting of 600 trees in the Ecoparque El Espino, a forest/coffee plantation in the San Salvador Volcano, managed by a campesino cooperative. I thought of this when I heard that Armando still had trees to plant from those grown in 2016. We had to take advantage of the rainy season’s last weeks, to allow the saplings to survive in their new home.

Volunteers in El Salvador
Volunteers in El Salvador working together to plant trees (photo by Giselle Méndez).

Along with my closest friends, we collected additional funds (so we could leave the J. Kirby Simon’s funds intact), and we put together a group of 30 people, including Scouts and members of the Cooperative El Espino. In six hours, we planted saplings of the species we Salvadorans know as San Andrés, Madrecacao, Black Cedar, Cocoa and Maquilishuat, which is a symbol of my country. We ended up exhausted and happy! Although we slipped in the mud, went up and down a steep hillside a thousand times, got soaked in the rain, and ate a snack spiced up with dirt (yum!), we all shared this feeling of achievement; that together we added a little heritage to El Salvador.

I am aware that this little project will not stop global warming or even deforestation in my beloved Ecoparque. I also know that if even only 60 of the 600 saplings survive, it will be a gain. Still, I want to allow myself a moment of optimism and I want to believe that at this critical moment, it’s the collective strength of people that will save our world and our humanity. We must continue to try and keep our forests growing —forests are our source of life, green, and peace and they are worth the effort.

To learn more about Trees, Water & People, please visit www.treeswaterpeople.org. Our grassroots conservation efforts depend on friends and donors investing in our work. We hope you will join our community today!

donate button

Guest Blog: 500 Clean Cookstoves Installed in Guatemala

By Jeff Abbott, Independent Journalist

Jeff Abbott is an independent journalist based in Guatemala. He covers human rights, social movements, and natural resource rights in Central America and Mexico. Recently Jeff visited some of TWP’s projects in Guatemala and spoke with recipients of our clean cookstoves while photographing the delivery and installation process.

During my visit to the communities of Jocote, Jicar, and Barrio Belice, in the municipality of Quesada, Guatemala, I was able to speak to several community leaders, who shared that the origins of Utz Che’ and Trees, Water & People’s clean cookstove project came after seeing similar programs in other places. At its core, the drive for the endeavor comes from a place of deep concern over the deforestation in the mountains above their community.

Besides the health benefits of these stoves, which channel smoke out of the kitchen via a chimney, they also require far less firewood than the traditional open fire. As many beneficiaries of this project live in the peri-urban outskirts of Quesada, where fuel is purchased more than collected, this translates to a considerable reduction in household fuel expenditures.

Vera Alica with her new clean cookstove
Vera Alica’s new clean cookstove will use up to 70% less fuel than the open fire she was using to cook before her stove was installed.

Vera Alicia (pictured above) is one of the recipients of the stove in the Aldea of Jicar. The 47-year-old mother of nine stated that the stove has allowed her to save substantial money on firewood. Another beneficiary, Marina Germeño (pictured below), reported that she was saving $3.33 per week – a significant sum over the life of the stove. Vera Alicia also explained that it has not changed her cooking habits, but that she has seen a dramatic reduction in the amount of smoke in her kitchen.

This clean cookstove project in the communities of Quesada and two other departments in Guatemala’s arid corridor, provide an important opportunity for the residents who have benefitted. Short-term, tangible benefits of the project are the immediate economic savings that families experience via the significant reduction in firewood used for cooking. Most residents quickly acknowledged this benefit, expressing the savings they had noticed.

Marina Germeño
Marina Germeño reported that she was saving $3.33 per week – a significant sum over the life of the stove.

Furthermore, residents are conscious of the environmental benefit that the decreased reliance on firewood brings to their communal lands, which TWP has helped to reforest in years past. Apart from protecting local forests, another beneficiary, Marthy Corina Soto, also expressed that a major benefit that she has noticed since receiving the stove is the fact that she does not burn herself as easily, as there is no open flame. “Everything has been magnificent,” echoes her husband, Angel.

Trees, Water & People is happy to report that, with our partner Utz Che’, we were able to build and install all 500 cookstoves in three departments of Guatemala. We truly have the best supporters in the world and are humbled by your contributions!

We are still working to raise funds for this program to follow up with each family to ensure that they have transitioned completely to their new stove and to assess any barriers to full adoption.  We have found that following up with families shortly after their new stoves have been installed is critical to the family using their clean cookstoves consistently and correctly. Monitoring after the installation is an important part of our work and it is only possible with your support! 

donate button