Experiencing Community Development in Nicaragua

by Annalise Mecham, Development Director

As the incoming Development Director at Trees, Water & People, my job is to raise the funds that will keep the organization running. Even before taking this position, I knew that to do my job successfully I would need to visit the places where we work, shake hands with our partners, smell a kitchen with a clean cookstove, and touch the soil where we are growing our trees.

This opportunity came in the middle of January when I got to travel to Nicaragua for a week-long stay with Gemara Gifford, TWP’s International Director, and Paul Thayer, a TWP board member. Shortly after arriving at the Managua airport, Paul, Gemara and our fabulous tour guide (and partner of past International Director, Lucas Wolf), Valentina, drove directly to Gaia Estate. The Estate is a Certified Bird-friendly coffee farm outside the town of Diriamba and is owned by long-time TWP friend Jefferson Shriver. Jefferson greeted us with a glass of wine, dinner, and conversation about Nicaragua. He stressed the importance of promoting farming systems that integrate overstory trees (i.e. agroforestry), and high-value and environmentally-friendly products like vanilla and turmeric. After a good night’s sleep, we awoke to the smell of fresh coffee brewing, beans that had been picked and harvested from his farm just days before.

We spent the next day with Proleña visiting Tierra Verde, our newly opened climate change education center in La Paz Centro. Since TWP’s last visit, the first floor of the dormitory has been built and 600 trees have been planted on the property (25 different species in all) as well as infrastructure for the site including roadways and electricity. Having seen Tierra Verde in many photographs, it was essential to see the property and hear about the exciting events planned for 2018.

Tierra Verde
Conducting a strategy session at Tierra Verde with Proleña’s Executive Director, Marlyng Buitrago (second from the right) and Technical Director, Leonardo Mayorga (far right). Photo by Annalise Mecham.

Although more construction will be taking place this year, the vision for the center is starting to take shape. We talked in detail about the workshops that we have planned, including bringing in local farmers to talk about agroforestry, university students to discuss climate change, and TWP Tour participants to visit the center. We discussed plans to complete the tree nursery with at least 50,000 trees in the first year, as well as demonstration sites for clean cookstoves, and adding a greenhouse for growing and genetically testing trees.

After our visit to Tierra Verde, we toured Proleña’s workshop in Managua and visited local urban cookstove beneficiaries. I have always been aware of the impact of clean cookstoves, but it was a completely different experience to see and smell the difference. The women we visited graciously welcomed us into their kitchen and explained the changes in their lives and their health after the clean cookstove had been installed. Although my Spanish is limited, it didn’t take me long to realize how these women felt about their clean cookstoves. They would pat gently on their chests and touch their eyes, implying that they could breathe easier and their eyes were less irritated.

Doña Thelma
Doña Thelma (center) and her family in her home. She is one of the beneficiaries of a clean cookstove and sells 300 tortillas a day to customers.

The last day was one of the most profound for me as we visited the rural communities surrounding the northern town of Jinotega, in particular, the remote village of La Cal. To get there, we had a few hours’ drive on an impossibly steep and windy dirt road with a one hour walk up a steep rocky path. The village was tucked away in a mountain valley and one of the most remote communities I have ever visited.

Upon our arrival, we were introduced to the only teacher in the community, a young man who gave us a tour including the one-room schoolhouse and various family homes. The families we visited we welcoming, kind, and joyful. We interviewed many women about the impacts of their clean cookstoves, played with the kids, saw how much time it takes to gather wood, and the challenges of living in rural Nicaragua. As we drove back that evening to Managua, the feeling I had wasn’t sadness at the rural living conditions, but a sense of awe at their resilience.

long cornhouse
A house with corn hanging from the roof in the remote village of La Cal.

On the plane ride home, I was thinking about my biggest take away from the trip. What was I going to bring back to the TWP community of donors and supporters? Without a doubt, it was the unique community-based approach that Trees, Water & People uses when working in Central America and U.S. Tribal Lands.

TWP’s approach is based on the philosophy that communities have the best judgment of how their lives and livelihoods can be improved, and if given access to the right resources, they should make decisions that will be most impactful for them. I believe that this community-based development is the most effective way to create change. Change does not come easy for anyone. Changing the way someone cooks their food can seem impossibly difficult. But, TWP’s approach to involve the community and a local nonprofit (in the case of Proleña in Nicaragua) allows for the change to be approached on an intimate, community level.

This type of grassroots change is not the easiest route. It is complicated and complex and takes years to actualize. Luckily for TWP, we have been planting seeds this way for 20 years and will continue to for many, many more!

If you would like to learn more about Trees, Water & People’s work, please sign up for our email list.


Celebrating 20 Years in 2018!

by Sebastian Africano, Executive Director

Happy 2018 from all of us at Trees, Water & People!

2018 is a significant year for many reasons, but the main one is that it’s Trees, Water & People’s (TWP’s) 20th Anniversary! As the staff and I reflected on the significance of this achievement, we tried to think back to the challenges that our founders, Richard Fox and Stuart Conway, likely faced when they started this organization in 1998, in Fort Collins, Colorado…

Email and the internet were barely commonplace in 1998. They photographed their work in the field with film cameras and recorded activities with camcorders. Field reports were received by fax and cell phones were just beginning to show up on the scene. Building a following back then depended on the depth of your Rolodex, your versatility with direct mail, and your candor on a landline.

Richard Fox and Stuart Conway 1998
Trees, Water & People was founded in 1998 by Richard Fox (left) and Stuart Conway (right), two foresters who saw a huge need to address the pervasive deforestation in Latin America.

Our founders worked hard to build successful relationships in the field, as well as systems and processes at home that would lay the foundation for a lasting organization. When I began working for the organization in 2005, little did I know the impact that TWP would have on the world.

Apart from the tens of thousands of beneficiaries we’ve been fortunate to serve through our projects, we’ve also created a home for dozens of staff, hundreds of volunteers and interns, and thousands of donors that have made our work possible. A significant number of those donors have supported us since the very beginning, and have literally given us the means to reach this significant milestone.

Rafael Ramirez
Rafael Ramirez is transplanting tree seedlings in a small nursery in Guatemala. Photo by Jeff Caesar, 1998.

We have planted close to 7 million trees, installed over 75,000 cookstoves, and trained hundreds of rural people in everything from fruit tree-grafting, to soil conservation, to solar power and clean cookstove design. Any way you look at this story, it’s an understatement to say that it’s been an inspirational journey.

However, the world has changed drastically in very visible ways over the past 20 years, and there are forces at work today that threaten the work of nonprofits like ours.

Nine of every ten deportees from the U.S. today are going back to Central America and Mexico. Climate change is threatening small-holder agriculture in the region, and the cities are busting at the seams with migrants from rural areas, and now from abroad. U.S. investment in International Development and diplomacy has slowed to a trickle, while changes to the tax law are threatening donations from our individual supporters.

Doña Justa with her stove
Doña Justa making breakfast with her new fuel-efficient stove in Honduras. Photo by Jeff Caesar, 1998.

The challenges we face today are going to be very different from those faced by our founders in 1998, and are going to require that we be flexible and adaptable in how we approach our work. Your support is instrumental in our success and will be the cornerstone of what we build over the next 20 years.

For this reason, this year we’d like to celebrate YOU – our donors – who have been the lifeblood of this organization since we were founded. Over the next several months we’re going to feature 20 of our most ardent supporters, in hopes that they inspire you to share TWP’s work with your friends, family, and peers, and show them why you donate to this work.

The gains we’ve made for people and planet will only remain as such if we are vigilant and persistent in defending them – and we can’t do this alone. So THANK YOU – here’s to 20 more years of TWP, and to all the worth-while things we’re going to accomplish together!

If you would like to celebrate our 20th anniversary with us and be in the loop about Trees, Water & People’s work, please sign up for our email list.


TWP Tours: Travel With Purpose

by Sebastian Africano, Executive Director

Since Trees, Water & People’s early days, we’ve found that the best way for our community to engage with our work is to experience it first-hand. Visiting our projects leads our supporters to embrace new relationships, explore new perspectives on culture, history, and humanity, and reflect on the “why” behind Trees, Water & People’s work. Over the past two years, we’ve made an effort to expand our itineraries and offer new tours to destinations in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Cuba. As we gained momentum, we realized that these new tours were incredibly rich experiences for participants, partners, and communities alike and that the demand was too high for us to manage ourselves.

With this in mind, we are proud to present TWP Tours — Trees, Water & People’s new travel arm, which will manage all aspects of our tourism offerings moving forward. TWP Tours provides us the flexibility to hire additional staff whose primary focus will be to create unforgettable travel experiences throughout Central America, the Caribbean, and on U.S. Tribal lands.

Unity Church in La Bendícion
Unity Church in Fort Collins, CO traveled with us to the community of La Bendícion, Guatemala. These hands-on tours give you an opportunity to give back while experiencing local culture.

TWP Tours believes in low-impact and sustainable travel. We work with a network of experts on the ground to offer unique, off-the-beaten-path experiences to immerse travelers in the local culture. We are a team of experienced guides, cultural interpreters, and language translators — opening up a world that the average adventurer would only see at its surface.

William Smith High School students with trees
The students of William Smith High School traveled with us to the Pine Ridge Reservation to plant trees. Using tree planting as an environmental education tool gives TWP Tours the opportunity to work closely with all ages of students.

Another unique aspect of our work is giving back. Through our association with local NGOs, we offer travelers the opportunity to participate in planting trees, harvesting coffee, building clean cookstoves, fixing water systems, increasing food security, and monitoring wildlife. We seek to make each trip carbon neutral via the work we do on the ground and strive hard to live up to our name: Travel With Purpose.

So, what are you waiting for?! Visit our new website at twp.tours and join our email list to stay informed about future travel opportunities. Our next adventure to the Honduran highlands is January 4 -13, 2018, where we’ll be monitoring migratory bird populations, installing rainwater cisterns, and building clean cookstoves with our local partner, CEASO. We hope to see you there!

Protected Area Management in El Salvador

by Sebastian Africano, Executive Director 

Before moving to Fort Collins, CO in 2009, my wife and I settled in western El Salvador, a natural wonderland dotted with volcanoes, teeming with biodiversity, and a 40-minute drive from cool misty peaks to sweltering coastlines. Trees, Water & People (TWP) had worked there since 2001, through a small partner called Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP) building cookstoves, composting latrines, and maintaining the most beautiful tree nursery among all their programs.

Unfortunately, the country went through a particularly rough spell between 2010 – 2016, where political turmoil left a vacuum filled by some unsavory elements in society and significantly affected our ability to operate. Nevertheless, AAP adjusted to the new reality and began looking for new ways to improve their country from within.

Thanks to the FIAES fund from the U.S. and El Salvadorian governments, Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo was named co-manager of the Reserva de la Biosfera Apaneca-Ilamatepec. 

Leveraging a strong reputation, AAP was able to gain access to a bilateral reconciliation fund in 2013, which was put in place by El Salvador and the U.S. to strengthen public spaces, including National Parks. They were named co-managers of a small National Park in the west of the country and began working with communities along the outskirts of this park, developing Ecotourism capacity and providing environmental education through local school systems.

Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo provides environmental education opportunities for local schools around the National Park, including tree planting!

Four years later, the small, dedicated team at AAP is now the head of a consortium of non-governmental organizations tasked with co-managing a network of parks throughout the west of the country. Their work focuses on improving everything from trails to interpretive signage, to biodiversity conservation, and alternative economic opportunities for youth. The road is long, but as El Salvador emerges from another dark patch of history, there is optimism on the horizon again, and TWP is proud to have continued supporting a positive future for the country.

If you would like to stay in the loop about Trees, Water & People’s work or how to get involved, please sign up for our email list.


Project Update: NICFEC Now the Tierra Verde Climate Change Adaptation Center!

by Gemara Gifford, International Director

Since our last update in June, we have been very busy working on the Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate (NICFEC) with our partners at PROLEÑA. Not only have we been working on the buildings, but a new name as well! The Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate will now be the Tierra Verde Climate Change Adaptation Center. Set in one of the driest and most threatened ecosystems on earth, the Pacific Dry Corridor, the Tierra Verde Center is a new regional climate change training facility where diverse stakeholders share knowledge, skills, and strategies in sustainable agriculture, forestry, fuel-efficient technologies, watershed management, soil remediation, and more. Over the last four months, we have nearly completed the dormitory where people from all across the world will be able to be housed to share knowledge on climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The dormitory for the Tierra Verde Center is nearly complete. It will house visitors while they learn about climate adaptation in Central America.

We have also recently established two tree nurseries at the back of the site, which will soon house 50,000-100,000 native trees for use in reforestation, agroforestry, and fuel-lot projects. Like everything on site, the nurseries will serve as a demonstration. Farmers will be able to see, feel, and touch a tree nursery planted with species that can survive well in the arid climate, as well as learn how to market the products grown from the trees, i.e., fuelwood, poles for construction, fruits and nuts.

NICFEC Tree Nursery
These seedlings growing in the Tierra Verde Center tree nursery will be used for demonstrations.

Perhaps the most exciting achievement was that we hosted our first event at the Tierra Verde Center site since we began construction! While we wish it were under different circumstances, we were able to hold a tree planting ceremony in honor of our dear friend, Lucas Wolf, with a majestic Ceiba tree in his honor. Over 30 people were in attendance from all across the country, many locals and colleagues whom Lucas built relationships with over the past three years in Nicaragua. Lucas was TWP’s International Director, and a dear friend, who passed away suddenly this July while traveling in Cuba.

Lucas' Tree Planting at NICFEC
In honor of Lucas’ birthday, we held a tree planting ceremony at the new the Tierra Verde Center site.

Upon completion in 2018, the Tierra Verde Center will feature live classrooms, workspaces, demonstration gardens, and private cabanas where local and international visitors — from smallholder farmer to high-level decision-maker — can both learn about and participate in climate change adaptation education in the Pacific Dry Corridor. On display will be a variety of demonstrative solutions including clean cookstove designs, fuel-efficient kilns and ovens, solar energy systems, green charcoal technologies, and agroforestry plots that reveal relevant strategies for climate change resilience, especially for local smallholder farmers. We expect to launch programming and tours in 2018!

If you are interested in traveling to Nicaragua with us, or any of our program countries, please sign up for our email list for upcoming trips.


An International Tree-bute to Lucas Wolf

by Sebastian Africano, Executive Director

August 28, 2017
Managua, Nicaragua

If you haven’t experienced Trees, Water & People’s (TWP) work first-hand, it’s difficult to explain the importance of having someone like Lucas Wolf leading your efforts in the field. TWP’s success depends less on what we bring to the communities in which we work, and more on how relationships are created and cultivated, and how promises are made and kept. Lucas was incredibly talented at building trust and empathy with people across borders, cultures, and walks of life — a trait that made him excellent and irreplaceable in his work.

Over the past week, I’ve had the honor of taking Lucas back to some of the people and places he loved most in Central America. Lucas is missed not only because he helped bring clean cookstoves, solar lighting, rainwater catchment systems, and tree nurseries to the region, but for the genuine connections he made with people during the years he spent here.

La Tigra
Lucas’ friends Norma and Pedro dedicate a tree nursery to Lucas and TWP in La Tigra, Honduras.

In Honduras, we commemorated our love for Lucas by planting walnut and citrus seedlings with his ashes and scattering some into an ancient volcanic crater that fascinated him. In the community of La Tigra, his friends Norma and Pedro surprised us with a sign dedicating a tree nursery to Lucas and TWP, complete with a hand-painted wolf by his name. At the Center for Education in Sustainable Agriculture (CEASO), where he was like an adopted son, we held a prayer service and planted a walnut tree with his ashes in the center of their campus.

The Center for Education in Sustainable Agriculture (CEASO) plants a walnut tree with Lucas’ ashes in the center of their campus.

I then traveled to Nicaragua to celebrate his birthday with his loved ones in Managua and sent portions of his ashes home with friends from various corners of the country. Friends in Cuba honored him by planting a seedling for him near Cienfuegos, and by burying some of his ashes under a Cuban Palm in the National Botanical Garden in Havana. His friends in the U.S. spread his ashes along the High Line in New York City, a place he loved to jog while living on the East Coast.

Lázaro planting a tree for Lucas in southern Cuba
Friends in southern Cuba plant a tree for Lucas.

Today, we continue to celebrate Lucas by planting a Ceiba tree (his favorite) in his name at the Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate, and a Crabapple tree outside of the Trees, Water & People office in Fort Collins, CO. Next month, we’ll continue the tributes in Guatemala and El Salvador, ensuring that his remains regenerate life in as many places as possible.

What more can I say — Lucas touched people’s hearts across the planet in a way only he could. It’s an honor to take him back to the people and places he held dear. Lucas always insisted on smiling through life’s challenges and spreading as much sunshine as possible in our short time here on earth. We can only hope that spreading his ashes under trees throughout the hemisphere will serve as a daily reminder to us all to Live Life Like Lucas.

If you would like to stay up to date with our efforts to honor Lucas’ memory, please sign up for our email list. 


From Community to Cup: Café Imports Becomes a TWP Corporate Partner

by Katie Murphy, Strategic Partnerships Manager 


Café Imports brings some of the highest quality green coffee to the global market. What makes them truly shine is not only their excellent product but the way they engage in business. To minimize their environmental impact, they have partnered with us to continue their carbon neutrality for the next two years. With the environment at the forefront of all their decisions, Café Imports believes it is just simply part of doing ethical business in the ever-changing coffee market. They believe that quality, education, and progress are the driving principles that make their services exemplary, and here at Trees, Water & People, we couldn’t agree more.

“This new effort in 2017, a charitable effort by the ownership of Café Imports, guarantees again that all of our coffee is carbon neutral by the time it arrives at our warehouse.“

    —Andrew Miller, Café Imports Founder

By becoming part of TWP’s Partners for a Sustainable Planet Program (PSP), Café Imports is doing more than just offsetting 3,378 tons of CO2. Through reforestation and clean cookstove efforts in Honduras, Café Imports can ensure their carbon neutrality and further their existing philosophy which highlights the “tree to the cup” traceability of their coffee.

You can see for yourself how Café Imports examines their carbon footprint in their 2017 Environmental Progress Report. By computing not only their shipping and business travel, but including the day-to-day office and warehouse output, and even employee commuting, Café Imports can feel confident in their carbon footprint metrics and make changes to their business practices accordingly. In 2016, they were able to reduce their annual carbon output by 11% from the previous year.

Café Imports is taking carbon offsets further!

This unique partnership in the Honduran Highlands lends support to 220 local families in the twelve coffee producing communities we work with and also trains locals in agroforestry practices. By diversifying coffee farms with shade trees and integrated food crops, we can strengthen coffee crops and improve economic opportunities in these communities. Additionally, Café Imports has sponsored the construction and installation of 20 clean cookstoves and the training of two local Hondurans in stove design and construction. Implementing clean cookstoves helps families breathe cleaner air, reduce their reliance on and consumption of fuelwood, and improves their quality of life for years to come.

Our partnership connects Café Imports to the families that grow coffee, taking their existing philosophy of “tree to cup” to “community to cup.” TWP is proud to partner with a business who doesn’t just talk the talk about environmental responsibility; they walk the walk.

If you would like to learn more about our Corporate Partnership Program, click here! 

Check it out