Notes from the Field: Tree Planting on the Pine Ridge Reservation

By Megan Maiolo, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

June 6th, 2011: Pine Ridge Reservation, SD

We spent the last 4 days on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home to the Oglala Lakota.  With the help of over 20 volunteers, we planted 94 trees around homes on the Reservation.  These trees will provide families with windbreak from the bitter winter winds, shade from the intense summer heat, and, most importantly, the beauty of nature around homes.

TWP Board President Jon Becker plants trees with Noah Red Cloud in the Fraggle Rock neighborhood on Pine Ridge.

The majority of the trees were planted in the Fraggle Rock neighborhood, where many of the homes have been built by Alliance Builders, a great nonprofit based in Pine Ridge.  After we were finished we enjoyed a community potluck, drum circle, and fire show.  Celebrating the work with the communities we serve was the most rewarding part of this experience.

Pine Ridge is a magical place; the energy you feel when you are among the Lakota, our Nation’s First People, is powerful and often hard to describe.  The Lakota have a strong connection to the land, physically and spiritually, a connection that American society could greatly benefit from if it was explored and respected more.  This is a group of people that thrived on the Great Plains for thousands of years, up until the late 1800’s, when they were systematically slaughtered and pushed off their land by the U.S. government.  This genocide culminated with the massacre at Wounded Knee in the winter of 1890.  Since this time, the Lakota have been struggling to survive and preserve their culture.

The Tree Huggers!

Although this is the poorest place in the U.S., the Lakota are hopeful that positive change will come to their people, bringing with it a sense of healing for one of the most oppressed groups of people in this Nation’s history.

Thank you to our partner and dear friend Henry Red Cloud for hosting us and opening up his property for us to camp on.  In addition, we would like to send warm thank yous to all of our Lakota friends who accepted us into their community with open arms.  We are looking forward to the next trip to Pine Ridge, where we can share in the activities that make this a better place to live!

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Notes from the Field: A Humbling Journey to Haiti

By Richard Fox, TWP National Director

May 2011: Port-au-Prince, Haiti

While in Port-au-Prince this April I witnessed a city that is still experiencing overwhelming need. Today much of the rubble from thousands of destroyed structures remains where it fell and many people still live in tent communities. Life, though, has been slowly improving and Trees, Water & People (TWP), in partnership with International Lifeline Fund (ILF), is continuing to build low cost, fuel efficient cookstoves that not only lessen the exorbitant price families pay for charcoal, but also help relieve pressure on the disappearing Haitian forest.

After collecting valuable feedback from our stove beneficiaries, TWP and ILF worked together to design the Zanmi Pye Bwa (“Friend of the Forest”) fuel-efficient cookstove. A group of tinsmiths was then brought together to cut and assemble 1,000 Zanmi Pye Bwacookstoves over a six week period. Centralizing production without a factory site is challenging, but allows us to improve standardization of our product while offering these skilled metal workers a positive change of environment – getting them away from rough neighborhoods characterized by burning trash, dilapidated buildings, crowds, and traffic.  All in all, these workers have embarked on what we hope will be an uplifting rise out of poverty, gaining access to steady and dignified employment in what TWP and ILF intend to develop into a significant local charcoal stove manufacturing operation over the next year.

The Zanmi Pye Bwa ("Friend of the Forest") clean cookstove. A joint effort of Trees, Water & People and International Lifeline Fund.

I was greatly humbled by my journey and it reminded me once again to be thankful for all I have.  It was heartening to see how effective TWP and ILF are at utilizing our donors’ contributions and to witness the positive and lasting impact our work is having for thousand of Haitian families.

Notes from the Field: Meet Don Jorge Ochoa

Notes from the Field by Claudia Menendez, International Program Coordinator

May 2011: El Porvenir, El Salvador

I have seen a number of nurseries in my travels to El Salvador, but on this
hot and muggy April afternoon, the seedlings at our partner Árboles y Agua para elPueblo’s (AAP) nursery seem especially content. When I asked the Executive Director, Armando Hernandez, what his secret might be, he looked up and answered simply, “Don Jorge Ochoa.”

Mr. Jorge Alberto Dorado Ochoa began working in 2007, when Trees, Water & People (TWP) and AAP set up their operations in El Porvenir, El Salvador. He immediately set to work establishing the planting rows, preparing the soil, planting the seeds, and caring for those 30,000 newly established plants. Although Jorge was never formally trained as a forester, he learned empirically what each species preferred by spending countless hours among them, watering, weeding, and preventing the scourge of all nurseries – pests and fungi.

On this day, the corn on the west side of the nursery softly filters the afternoon sun and protects the tiny trees from wilting. On the other side is an abundant vegetable garden complete with cabbage, tomatoes, spinach, peppers, cilantro,
basil, pineapples, papayas, and greens, effectively deterring pests from snacking on the seedlings. It was through his years of work on coffee plantations that Jorge grew to understand plant interactions and started practicing these creative and invaluable management tools.

Late last year, Jorge was diagnosed with prostate cancer and we were uncertain if he would continue working with Trees, Water & People.  As he stepped away from his position to care for his health, his absence in the nursery was felt by all. Throughout his illness, he would walk from his house to the nursery just to spend time with the plants he had worked so hard to nurture. With an amazing recovery, Jorge soon returned with renewed vigor and ambition.

“I feel strongly that my dedication to the nursery and the work of TWP gave me purpose and helped me recover my strength and health,” said Jorge about the TWP community.

After spending many an afternoon in this little nursery, I know that Jorge gives thanks each day for his job, his health, and every dollar that Trees, Water & People has contributed. Our supporters truly understand the value of his work and the jobs that our partners are bringing to these rural communities.

Notes from the Field: Reflections from Africa to Haiti

Notes from the Field by Sebastian Africano, TWP’s Deputy International Director:

April 21st, 2011: Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Sebastian Africano hanging out with a group of children in the Bugonia district of Uganda.

As we begin to wrap up our Spring 2011 site visits, we begin to reflect on all that has passed since we left Fort Collins several weeks ago.  My adventure began in Kenya in late February, where I spoke at the 2011 UNEP Sasakawa Prize Ceremony in celebration of this year’s laureates and the International Year of the Forest.  This was followed by a 2-week trip to Uganda, where along with Fort Collins based partners, Rodelle Vanilla, we launched what will become TWP’s first African stove program.  Soon after we found ourselves in Guatemala, traveling the country meeting with potential new partners in the country’s Altiplano, and then El Salvador, where we visited our partner Agua y Arboles para El Pueblo’s (AAP) new projects in communities surrounding an important protected area, Cerro El Aguila.  This trip was punctuated by visits to their spectacular tree nursery, which is teeming with 28 species that will be planted throughout the country this rainy season.  This journey will end 10 days from now in Haiti, where we are halfway into a visit with partners International Lifeline Fund (ILF) in Port-au-Prince, and working hard to get our urban stove commercialization project off the ground.

Sebastian Africano (R) and a local Haitian metal worker take a break from stove building.

Upon arrival to Haiti, and with the invaluable support of stove design consultant Brian Martin of Portland, Oregon, we headed into the field to check on stoves distributed 2 months ago, during Brian’s last visit.  We collected valuable feedback from about 20 families, which began a discussion around design modifications, improvements, and production strategies.  We then assembled a group of ten tin-smiths, some of which had worked with Brian and ILF in the past, who have now been contracted to cut and assemble 1,000 cookstoves in the next six weeks.  No small feat, by any measure, but cohesion amongst the team members has been quick to form, and all share ideas, help eachother with challenging pieces, and take time to laugh and joke with us as they work.

Haitian metal workers work on building the Zanmi Pye Bwa (“Friend of the Forest”) fuel-efficient cookstove.

This week has consisted of getting to know our resource and talent pool, bringing in tools, equipment and materials from all over Port-au-Prince to centralize production at ILF’s offices in the capital.  We introduced power tools to the stove production process, which is a break from the norm, but which has increased consistency and speed, allowing us to reach impressive volumes quickly.  The office is now filled with a cacophony of metal-on-metal pings, bangs and crashes, as hundreds of charcoal bowls and other parts roll off the production line.  Centralizing production without a factory site is challenging, but allows us to improve standardization of our product while offering these skilled metal workers a positive change of environment – getting them away from rough neighborhoods characterized by burning trash, dilapidated buildings, crowds and traffic.   All in all, these workers have embarked on what we hope will be an uplifting rise out of poverty, gaining access to steady and dignified employment in what we intend to develop into a significant charcoal stove manufacturing operation over the next year.

Keep your eyes and ears on the Zanmi Pye Bwa (Friend of the Forest) project as it develops, and support TWP by spreading the word as we raise funds to increase our production capacity and impact over the coming months!

*Many thanks to Brian Martin (Working Hands Productions) for the wonderful photos from Haiti.

Sunset over Port-au-Prince

Notes from the Field: Teaming with the Peace Corps to Build Clean Cookstoves

Notes from the Field from Claudia Menendez, TWP’s International Program Coordinator:


April 4th, 2011: La Cuchilla, Department of Chalatenango, El Salvador

Alicia (Peace Corps Volunteer) stands next to a stove beneficiary in La Cuchilla, El Salvador.

After a hot and bumpy 2.5 hour drive we reached the community of La Cuchilla (the blade), which refers to the steep mountain ridge it sits on. We’ve come to visit Alicia, a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) whose been living there for over a year and half.  Alicia is a prime example of what a PCV’s contribution to community can be as she tells us about the many environmental projects, women’s economic activities, and Justa cookstoves she’s built in La Cuchilla.

The El Salvador TWP team (Arboles y Agua para El Pueblo), Alicia and one other PCV from a nearby community, helped train a father and son team as the community stove builders.  Arboles supplied the griddles and combustion chambers and supervised the stove building, while Alicia raised additional money through the Partnership Fund, asking friends and families to donate to the project.   Alicia was able to raise $2,000 and coordinated with the Mayor of La Laguna to provide transport for the cookstove building materials.  The La Cuchilla community is made up of 80 families, 65 of them now cook daily on improved Justa cookstoves – an impressive accomplishment, especially after traveling the long and winding road up to this rural mountain community.

Making tortillas on a fuel-efficient cookstove. Helping people and the planet!

Alicia goes back to the US in August of this year.  She says that the other families don’t want to be left stoveless and are urging her to help them as they organize amongst themselves to collect materials little by little. Alicia says that building these 65 Justa cookstoves wasn’t an easy task, so building another 15 clean cookstoves should be a little easier although she awaits a challenge.

The Facts and Background:

Currently, El Salvador is the second most deforested country in Latin America (after Haiti).  Today, most deforestation in El Salvador results from the country’s high population that relies heavily on the collection of fuelwood for meeting cooking needs.  Aside from the horrible environmental degradation that occurs from cooking over open fires, there are also major health issues surrounding this practice.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 2 million people, mostly women and children, die each year from indoor air pollution. A simple, appropriate technology such as a fuel-efficient cookstove will reduce  each families fuelwood consumption by up to 70% while, at the same time, reducing indoor air pollution by up to 80%; a sustainable solution that is good for both people and the planet.

Click here to learn more about TWP’s Fuel-Efficient Cookstove Program.

Notes From the Field: Clean Cookstoves in Uganda


TWP's Sebastian Africano sits with UVAN founder Aga Sekalala during a site visit in Bugonia district, Uganda.

Notes From the Field by Sebastian Africano, TWP’s Deputy International Director:

BEEP!  While shocked that my Ugandan cell phone had been able to pick up a text message at 630am, GMT+3 in the outskirts of Gayaza, Uganda, the message that followed was even more unexpected:  “A long dry season has been predicted. Expect shortages of food, water & pasture. Store food and water to avoid hunger.  – The Office of the Prime Minister.”

I reflected back to the focus group we had held the day before with 30 women – wives of smallholders on the western banks of the Nile – where dust whipped through our conversation for the entire hour, as if to shush their aspirations and keep us from meaningful conversation.

TWP's Sebastian Africano leads a focus group discussion about cookstoves in Bugonia district, Uganda.

But I know that their opinion is secondary – everything here depends on the rains… and the rains have not come.

The vanilla crop this year is down.  Coffee, plantains and cassava aren’t doing much better.  Many are worried.  But these families have an advocate – in fact several – which through long-term planning, foresight, and decisive action are trying to ease their concerns.  UVAN, a top Ugandan exporter of vanilla, and the company that has brought me here, pays a premium for their beans (almost 3 times more than the international price), and provides farmers and their families with extension services in health, livelihoods and environment – a service few companies of this nature would be willing to invest in.

Vanilla blossoms are hand-pollinated, and only open for one day, making them one of the most labor-intensive crops to produce in the world.

UVAN is supported in their work by almost all of their buyers – it is part of the culture that the founder, Aga Sekalala, has instilled in his business, and he has remained true to it.  One of his partners is Fort Collins, CO based Rodelle Vanilla (, which happily pays the premium price for the beans Sekalala collects from his network of 9,000 farmers.  They also proudly support the extension services that UVAN provides, which teach farmers to thin their shade trees responsibly, to intercrop, to check-in regularly with UVAN’s mobile health services, and to seek support from UVAN’s savings and microloans programs, rather than harvesting prematurely to make a quick return in tough times.

So when Rodelle asked Trees, Water & People to advise them and UVAN as they launched a fuel-efficient cookstoves program for their farmers, we jumped at this unique opportunity.

Local leader of a Bugonia district community in a typical local kitchen.

One week into the project, we have traveled all over this amazing region meeting with women, with other NGOs acting locally, and with a range of stove manufacturers, slowly forming the foundation for what promises to be a far-reaching social and environmental contribution to this broad community of rural families, reducing the firewood they consume and cleaning the indoor air in their kitchens.

Rodelle Vanilla Partners Joe Basta and Dan Berlin, TWP Board Member Jeremy Foster, and two UVAN extensionists tour an intercropped vanilla plantation near Kayunga, Uganda.

Our goals are ambitious for the coming week, but we have had tremendous good fortune in building a strong network for the project, and UVAN’s extension team is one of the most impressive I’ve ever worked with.  So when I leave – one week from tomorrow – I know I will leave exhausted, but gratified to have had the opportunity to serve UVAN, Rodelle Vanilla and their network of farmers, and to have contributed to easing one concern that these families have as they wait for the rains to fall.

Read more about this new partnership in this recent article from the Coloradoan.

Join us for the “On the Road Series: Haiti One Year Later”

Please join us on January 20th at the Main Library in Fort Collins, CO for a presentation on our work in Haiti.  We would love to see you there!  FREE and open to the public.


Notes from the Field: On the Ground in Haiti

© Subuddhyananda 2010

Sebastian Africano, TWP’s Deputy International Director, writes about his most recent trip to Haiti:

I’d call on everybody to keep their eyes and thoughts on Haiti in the coming weeks, and to think of ways forward as the country prepares itself for the era that will see them either emerge as a functional democracy, or remain buried mentally and physically in the rubble of the past several decades.

This quote from a recent NY Times Editorial (Nov. 30, 2010) titled “Haiti After the Vote,” describes the recent presidential elections and speaks to many of the challenges facing the incoming government (whomever that may be):

“Eleven months after the devastating earthquake, more than a million people are still displaced. The country is also struggling to contain a cholera epidemic. The new government will have to clear the many roadblocks that have slowed the rebuilding effort. And it will have to tackle a host of other reforms: modernizing the electoral system and constitution; unclogging bureaucracies and legal requirements that stifle business and investment; overhauling cruel and ineffective courts and prisons.”

I would add one point to the above list of challenges that face the incoming Haitian government – and would, after 6 years of working in Central America and the Caribbean, extend this critique to all the countries in the region.  My thoughts stem from a trip I took a week before the elections, from the rural, arid northwest of Haiti back to the capital, during which we crossed paths with a convoy of at least 10 UN amphibious tanks & trucks, armed to the teeth, presumably heading to Cap Haitien.

UN troops make their way towards Cap Haitien.

We were in Cap Haitien until four days prior, and got out just before people started rioting against the UN based on the allegation that the current cholera strain was brought in by their troops, from abroad.

I knew that whatever was going on that week would pale to the chaos brought on by a general election between 18 candidates, and the after effects of this contest, that are sure to continue over several weeks.

So amidst the accusations of electoral fraud, stalling on durable solutions in the reconstruction, UN irresponsibility and an intensely dangerous cholera epidemic with dubious origins, lies an issue which receives relatively little attention, but which will be instrumental in creating a prosperous Haitian society, if there were ever to be one.  The origins of the cholera that has currently has Haiti over a barrel are secondary when you ignore the factors that have allowed it to proliferate – an abysmal disregard for sanitation and hygiene throughout the country, and no waste management systems that would provide an alternative to current practice.  In truth, nobody should be pointing fingers when there are crises like this afoot, but I look at the situation more objectively.

A river of trash on its way through Port-au-Prince and out to sea.

If the earthquake had never happened, Haitians would still be living among open sewers, defecating in waterways and throwing Styrofoam and plastic into clogged drainage channels, with no concern for the consequences… and the world would be perfectly content to ignore it.  The cholera may have been brought from abroad, but I’m sure the conditions for its proliferation have been ripe for decades, as they are in many developing-world cities.

I see epidemics like these as eventually inevitable, given the conditions, and this outbreak in Haiti should catalyze a serious global conversation on waste, the burden of responsibility that exists upon both the producers and consumers of things that become waste, and most importantly human waste.

A beach full of trash takes away from the stunning beauty of the Caribbean.

We “first-worlders” are subject to this scrutiny as well, as we find it more than acceptable to ignore the destination of our disposables, and are more than comfortable sullying perfectly potable water (an increasingly scarce commodity) on a daily basis.  But until we feel just as comfortable discussing the matter as we do flushing and throwing things “away”, we’ll keep running into epidemics such as this one, and perhaps even worse ones that come from the burning, burying and floating of non-biodegradable and chemical waste into the world’s sinks.

As cholera in Haiti, the recent petroleum disaster in the Gulf, the recent toxic spills in Hungary and so many other environmental disasters have shown us, we reap what we sow, folks.  It’s time we face the fact that we have to learn to manage what we consume, where it comes from, and most importantly recognize what that consumption leaves behind.  Let’s make the effort to reduce our share of non-biodegradable products in the waste-stream, and to make this a topic of conversation among families and friends as Haiti turns the page and begins this hopeful new era.