Remembering Our Brother Lucas – One Year On

By Sebastian Africano
Today is a heavy day for all of us at Trees, Water & People, and will continue to be for time eternal. One year ago today, on July 12, 2017, we lost our beloved Lucas Wolf on an otherwise perfect day on Cuba’s south coast.

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Lucas in Honduras

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.

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Planting for Lucas

Read More – https://treeswaterpeople.org/lucas.html

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.

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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.

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How Can We Reduce Migration Out of Central America?

by Sebastian Africano, Executive Director

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.

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Improving the lives of people living in rural areas of Central America can reduce the pressures caused by migration to cities.

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.

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International Director, Gemara Gifford (right), works closely with our partners in rural communities in Central America, like local leader Doña Norma (left), to improve life through sustainable alternatives.

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. 

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Welcome to Our New Development Director, Annalise Mecham!

by Annalise Mecham, Development Director

IMG_7505I come to Trees, Water & People as an East coast transplant, having spent a majority of my life living in Virginia and all over New England. After living on Cape Cod for the past 12 years, my husband and I were ready for a bigger town, more opportunities, and better winters! After extensive research, we decided to relocate to Fort Collins and a few weeks ago packed up our two young boys, put our house on the market, and drove cross country (U-Haul and all!). So far, it has been one of the best decisions of my life.

One of the most exciting parts of this move has been my new job as Development Director at Trees, Water & People. I discovered TWP a year ago when I was researching nonprofits in the Fort Collins area. I was immediately intrigued by its mission of improving communities through the care and management of their natural resources. My grandparents were supporters and actively involved with the American Indian College Fund, so I was happy to see TWP’s work with Tribal communities. I was beyond excited to see their job posting this fall for a Development Director. I think I was the first to apply!

I have been working in nonprofit development for the past eight years, receiving my M.S. from Boston University in nonprofit management in 2011. I received my undergraduate degree in Environmental Education and had the honor of taking a year to explore the United States with the Expedition Education Institute, a traveling college that teaches ecological leadership through experiential experiences. It was a year that changed my life and the way I approach people, communities and the environment. I have a strong belief that the health of a community is directly affected by how they protect and preserve their local ecosystem.

While in New England, I worked at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA where I became hooked on the idea that a well-organized nonprofit can have a direct influence on improving individual lives. From there, I moved into the Development Director role at Calmer Choice, a nonprofit that taught social-emotional learning to students in the Cape Cod public schools, many of whom were underserved. It was here that I discovered my passion for serving marginalized communities and seeing first-hand the change that happens when committed people work together.

TWP’s mission is a perfect combination of my passions for environmental education, community empowerment, and nonprofit management. I am excited to start my journey as the Development Director at TWP. I look forward to creating and developing relationships with TWP’s partners, supporters, donors, volunteers, board members, and staff. Please feel free to reach out and introduce yourself! I would love to hear from you.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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Welcome Eriq Acosta, our new National Director!

by Eriq Acosta, National Director

Eriq Acosta

We are excited to introduce our supporters to our new National Director, Eriq Acosta! He will be working closely with our partner, Henry Red Cloud, on the Pine Ridge Reservation to keep our Tribal Renewable Energy Program running strong. Here’s a little bit about him:

I am a Mexican American Indian man whose education and life have spanned throughout the United States. My passion for working with young people and families has earned me many honors and speaking engagements promoting unconditional positive regard and strength-based programs for youth and families throughout the U.S.  When doing this work of my heart,  I am transparent, authentic, honest, and passionate about modeling principled behavior. With the support from many mentors, I realized the impact that this work provides Native American communities as an inspiration and guide to re-learning and recovering “multi-generational greatness.”

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Looking beyond myself to the future!

I earned my bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University and a master’s at Regis University where I excelled academically and socially. I have spent the majority of my career in the nonprofit sector: United American Indian Involvement, National Indian Youth Leadership Project, and Red Horse Nation, in urban areas and on reservations throughout the U.S. as a teacher, mentor, trainer, guide, and community member.

Currently, I hope to expand the healing work of Trees, Water & People based in Fort Collins, Colorado, by combining my gained experience throughout the years, and most importantly the wisdom of our elders. I will work to assist and learn from the many communities TWP serves, as well as to embrace the multi-generational greatness of Native American communities!

Welcome, Eriq! We know you will be a great addition to the TWP Family!

Richard Fox, Trees, Water & People’s co-founder and former Executive Director/National Director will be retiring after 19 years but will remain on staff to help Eriq transition to National Director through the end of the summer. Following his retirement, Richard will remain involved with TWP as a board member.

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Trees, Water & People Welcomes New Executive Director

by Sebastian Africano, Executive Director

I have long believed that people have the power to craft their own future. While each journey is unique, we all have the capacity to identify what we value, versus what we don’t, and to forge a path that produces more of the former and less of the latter. If we’re lucky, we have a moment where self-awareness, opportunity, and circumstance intersect, and we take that first step toward the future we want to live.

In 2005, I launched into a career in International Development by accepting an internship with Trees, Water & People (TWP) in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. There were more “unknowns” than “knowns” in the offer, and the pay would have barely covered my utility bills in San Francisco at the time, but as I stood at that intersection of introspection and opportunity, I knew this was a path I needed to follow.

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Sebastian Africano got his start with Trees, Water & People as an intern helping with clean cookstoves in Central America in 2005.

Now, 13 years after my first conversations with co-founder Stuart Conway, and almost 20 years since the organization was founded, I am happy to take the next step on this path by accepting the role of Executive Director of Trees, Water & People – effective May 15, 2017. This shift comes after years of thoughtful succession planning and several deep conversations and interviews with TWP staff and board.

TWP set me on a path to discover the world through the smoky lens of traditional cooking practices, giving me an intimate, ground-level introduction to what life is like on the margins of global society. Through this experience, I’ve acquired a broad perspective of the uniqueness of life on our planet, and have made hundreds of allies who value our planet and global community enough that they have dedicated their lives’ work to protecting them.

Sebastian Africano working in the field
After many years of working in the field in Central America, Sebastian Africano will be spending more time in Fort Collins as Trees, Water & People’s new Executive Director.

Despite the hard truths inherent to our work, I find tremendous inspiration in the grit, hustle, hope, and smiles exhibited by the people we serve, both in Central America and on Tribal Lands in the Great Plains. Only by working together can we achieve a more sustainable future for our planet, and I’m privileged to support their struggles and aspirations daily through my work at TWP.

In this new role, my goal is to engage more meaningfully with you – our community of generous supporters. None of the impact TWP delivers would be possible without your support, and I know that together we can redouble our efforts to improve the lives of people and the planet.

I’m ready to craft our future together. Will you join me?

Richard Fox, Trees, Water & People’s co-founder and former Executive Director will be stepping down after 19 years but will remain on staff as the National Director through the end of the year. When asked about the transition, Richard had this to say, “I am honored to step down and for Sebastian to become the next Executive Director of this great organization. He has been trained for this position for many years, and we could not ask for a more compassionate, capable, and competent person to provide the next generation of leadership for Trees, Water & People.” Following his retirement, Richard will remain involved with TWP as a board member.

Trees, Water & People is excited to welcome our new Executive Director, Sebastian Africano!