As the storms and flood events in the Midwest this past winter and spring demonstrate, extreme weather events spurred by climate change are becoming the new normal. Often, those hardest hit are the most vulnerable, and their communities often lack comprehensive adaptation strategies to prepare for these shifts.
For that reason, we’re proud to welcome two talented Colorado State University (CSU) alumni to Trees, Water & People (TWP) who bring deep, personal experience in helping Native American communities thrive culturally, economically, and ecologically.
Dr. Valerie Small joins us as TWP’s new National Program Director, bringing several years of experience working with Tribal colleges and communities on climate adaptation strategies. She comes to us from the Crow Tribe in southern Montana and is excited to help us think bigger about climate readiness for indigenous communities across the Americas.
James Calabaza came to us from the family farm where he grew up in Kewa (Santo Domingo) Pueblo, New Mexico and a position with the USDA in Albuquerque, where he worked in farm loan management. His vast background in counseling Native youth in both academic and community settings will help him lead TWP’s in-field operations and educational programs as our National Program Coordinator.
Our schedule for the National Program over the next six months is packed with new projects, new partnerships, and long-term visioning for TWP’s next 20 years. We know that to achieve great things, we have to make great investments in our organization, and we’re betting that these talented individuals will help us all do our best work yet for people and planet.
Please help us welcome Valerie and James to the TWP family!
In the community development sector, it often takes years to know how well an idea delivers on its potential. In 1998, Stuart Conway was on a mission to decrease firewood consumed for household cooking in Central America, to slow rates of deforestation. “Clean” cookstoves were a relatively blunt tool at the time – there were few, simple designs, minimal geographic coverage, and a nascent understanding of what made an “improved” cookstove better than tried and true traditional options.
Stuart made a bet via his new organization, Trees, Water & People (TWP), that local women, working with engineers that understood participatory design, could come up with something better than what was available. After Hurricane Mitch in late 1998, the work began, and within the year, TWP, Aprovecho Research Center, and the community Aldea de Suyapa had debuted the Justa Stove, named after Justa Nuñez – the woman who most contributed to its design.
Twenty years later, the Justa Stove remains the flagship improved cookstove in Central America, and dozens of additional designs have sprung from its original iteration. In March, I gave a talk on the history of the Justa Stove to 100 members of the Clean Stove Network of Latin America and the Caribbean, during their 3rd International Forum. The positive response from organizations who had adopted the stove, others that had studied the stove, and yet others who had modified it to serve different markets, was validating, and humbling.
The Justa Stove is designed by and for the user, which is one secret to its success. Another is that it’s built by local masons using locally manufactured materials, and generates income for anyone willing to learn how to build it. Most importantly, it’s easy to use; it’s aesthetically familiar and cooks the food people want to cook with the same speed, firewood, and pots that cooks are used to. The fact that it uses 50% less wood and reduces smoke exposure in the household by 80% is just icing on the cake.
Central America is in crisis. It sorely needs employment, innovation, investment, and participatory development. The only way we can proactively reduce migration out of Central America is to invest in building resilient economies there – especially in rural areas. TWP can help in real and tangible ways, but given the urgency, we need to redouble our efforts, and our reach.
There is currently a push to create hundreds of jobs in the cookstove sector through in-depth training of masons in theory, design, installation, maintenance, and refurbishment of the Justa Stove. This is a dream situation for TWP, and with your generous support, we can put Central Americans back to work making local products that improve the environment and quality of life for tens of thousands of people per year. One stove costs between $75 – $100 to install, and it costs roughly $300 to fully train, equip, and certify new builders.
With over 250,000 Justa-type stoves installed to-date, and numerous studies proving its acceptance and efficacy, it’s now more than clear that Stuart Conway’s early bet on cookstoves has borne fruit. The opportunity to build on this success is huge, and the time is now. If you’d like to support this effort, please reach out directly to TWP, or donate using the link below.
Thank you for reading – please spread the word about TWP across your networks!
Last quarter we had the distinct privilege of adding two new talented members to the Trees, Water & People (TWP) team: Patricia Flores-White as Development Director, and José Chalit as Marketing and Communications Manager. These two positions are critical to our operations, as they are the voice that connects us to you, our donors.
Patricia Flores-White, Development Director
José Chalit, Marketing and Communications Manager
Patricia comes to us from two organizations that she founded in Canoa, Ecuador – The Betty Surf and Yoga School, founded in 2010, and the Vive Sin Miedo earthquake recovery nonprofit she founded on the heels of a 7.8 earthquake in April 2016. Her experience living in Latin America and dealing firsthand with the challenges communities face after a natural disaster helped her jump right into action when Volcán de Fuego erupted in Guatemala during her 3rd day on the job. Previous experience leading International Service Tours in Ecuador and working as an Aquatic GIS analyst for the CO Division of Wildlife make her a versatile and multi-faceted addition to our team.
José is a Documentary Filmmaker from Denver, CO that came to us from Seattle University, where he produced several independent media projects addressing local issues of social justice, gender, and racial equality. Having spent the first years of his life in Mexico City, and visiting family there every year, he took a particular interest in the plight of Mexican and Central American farmworkers in the United States. José embedded himself as a videographer with a group called Familias Unidas para la Justicia helping migrant farmworker leaders document and disseminate moments from their historic tour of the west coast which helped them win a union contract at their workplace.
Both of these individuals struck us as important torch-bearers for TWP’s message, having an intimate connection to Latin America, being fluent in Spanish, and having both embarked on personal journeys to bridge the gap that often exists between North and South America. The perspective they bring to the team is new and diverse, and we look forward to getting them into the field as often as possible, to capture the essence of our work in fresh new ways.
Please join me in welcoming Patricia and José to the TWP staff!
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During a recent trip to visit our corporate grantors, World Centric®, we were able to sit with their staff over lunch to find out more about the work they do. It was so inspiring to speak to folks passionately working every day, to help people and the planet!
World Centric® was founded in 2004 to raise awareness about large-scale humanitarian and environmental issues. Their disposable food service products are designed to reduce pollution and waste through composting, require less energy and water to produce, come from renewable resources, and are created from waste products that help save biodiversity and habitats. What is most incredible is that 25% of their annual profits are invested in nonprofits like Trees, Water & People to create social and environmental sustainability.
Together, we have invested in a profound partnership to help people and the planet! I truly believe that through collaboration, we allow each organization to specialize in their individual field in order to meet common goals. This holistic model of cooperation through social enterprise is a means to achieve greater societal aspirations addressing social justice and conservation through alliance and cooperation.
Finding solutions by coming together to solve problems that affect the entire planet sets the example of what is possible, of what can be accomplished through collaboration. We have empowered each other to create solutions by working in unison. This asset-based approach to helping people and the planet is a way to build enthusiasm, energy and strengthen relationships that propel people and cultures to the ‘next level’.
On behalf of TWP and the communities we serve, we would like to thank World Centric® for their continued support and innovative vision! To read more about the many ways to ally with and support TWP, please visit our partners page on our website.
Among many other things, Lucas Wolf’s final week was spent expanding his personal and professional circles in Latin America, speaking up for the environment on the radio in Havana, Cuba, and exploring this amazing country with his Mom and #1 travel companion, Mary Ellen Keen. He didn’t know it was his last, but he spent every moment of that week working to create a better tomorrow. As Mary Ellen wrote to me recently, quoting a Mark Strand poem: Nothing could stop you. Not the best day. Not the quiet. Not the ocean rocking. You went on with your dying. Here at Trees, Water & People, we feel his presence daily. We made a conscious decision when he transitioned that we would not lose pace, as he would resent nothing more than his death causing a diversion from the causes he embraced so fully. Rather than retreat, we advanced – shifting, recruiting, and hiring people that could carry on what he and our teams had in motion. Lucas left more than just nodes and connections in his life. He left living networks of motivated people, all working in some way to improve their communities and the planet. That’s the only reason we’ve been able to plant 243,111 trees in Lucas’s name in the last 365 days – those who loved him have committed fervently to keeping his work alive. We miss you, Lucas. You really have no equal on this planet. Working with you was a privilege, and carrying on TWP’s work in your name is among my most cherished responsibilities. You continue to inspire us, and we continue to grow and do you proud. Thank you for spending some time with us, and please continue to smile down on the good works your people carry on for you, and on all the complex forces that make good things happen in the world. We love you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last week on Colorado Public Radio, I heard about a Pew Research Center study on U.S. immigration from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras — an area known as the Northern Triangle. The study shows that while annual immigration to the U.S. from Mexico fell by 5% after the Great Recession, migration from the Northern Triangle rose by almost 30% during that same period.
Most of this migration is attributed to a lack of economic opportunity, political instability, or the threat of violence that chronically affects the region. But peeling the layers back from these conclusions reveals other culprits, with severe implications for the future.
Roughly 60% Central Americans now live in cities, and this number is expected to grow to over 70% during the next few decades. Overcrowded cities force newcomers to live in marginal neighborhoods that lack basic services and business opportunities, and which are all but governed by organized gangs. The inherent challenges encountered in these harsh urban environments lead to the more visible outbound migration — to Mexico, the U.S., or beyond.
The second concern raised by this trend is that as more people arrive in cities, food-producing regions of the country become depopulated. Traditional agriculture is not supporting rural populations while shifting weather patterns, crop diseases, depleted soils, and poor market access are driving the next generation of farmers to throw in the towel and leave the countryside.
Rural farm communities, most of them indigenous, are the de facto stewards of their watersheds, the producers of food for urban centers, and the last line of defense against industries (mining, timber, hydropower, etc.) that seek access to land and natural resources. Making life in rural areas more livable by diversifying agricultural production, rebuilding soils with agroforestry, and helping create new, sustainable sources of income is a practical and cost-effective way to slow outbound migration. These strategies can breathe life back into ailing Central American rural communities and the ecosystems they depend on.
While the current debate on immigration here in the U.S. focuses on migrants once they make to our border, there are far too few questions being asked about why people leave in the first place. It may be more difficult to change the political environment or the macro economies of these countries, but keeping rural communities thriving is one way that TWP can contribute to future stability and sustainability in the region and another way that your support can create real and lasting impact.
By donating to Trees, Water & People, you can help rural communities in Central America build more resilient futures.