Grounding Our Work Across Cultures: Indigenous Perspectives

by Eriq Acosta
Personally, I feel really sensitive and protective of our tribal communities. Although I am not a direct descendant of the Lakota I still feel responsible for keeping our communities safe.
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Solar Training in 2017
One can attempt to understand my hesitancy of bringing strangers to the reservations who want to “come see the native folks and their culture”; the thought of doing this didn’t sit well with me at first. The world, obviously not all, has historically held very skewed perspectives of Indigenous people. On one side of the spectrum, we are described as these glorious people who ate all of the buffalo and roam the plains, moving our teepees from here to there, and living off of the land. On the opposite side of this are descriptors like drunkards, poor, sickly and “without”.
The truth is not all of us live in teepees and eat buffalo. When traveling throughout the United States, one will find many differences and similarities between life on or off the reservation: poverty, disease, or corruption as some examples. These are not exclusive to the reservations, it is everywhere. Being an urban Mexican-Indian myself and having lived with people from urban settings and on reservations, I have seen so much beauty. Beauty in the people, the culture, and the land – it’s all around.
It’s not that I choose to turn my head to the struggles, rather I choose to fuel myself with all of that beauty so that I can continue to do the hard work that needs to be done. In Leonard Peltier’s words, “What you believe and what you do are the same thing. In Indian way, if you see your people suffering, helping them becomes absolutely necessary. It’s not a social act of charity or welfare assistance, it’s a spiritual act, a holy deed.” 
With that said, I was hesitant to host TWP tour groups to Pine Ridge Reservation. However, this is the second year I have hosted the folks from Lansing Michigan Catholic High School and the second year that I have been overly impressed. Volunteers were asked to provide an evaluation of the most recent trip and one person wrote:
“It definitely made a mark on me. Being able to help people who are definitely in need and not only being welcomed like we were but also being able to partake in their amazing culture was an experience of great significance”.
They came to Pine Ridge to learn, to be of service, to enjoy the plains, and most importantly learn the story of Indigenous people from Indigenous people! I am honored to call them friends and family of the human race!
Thank you to all who came and offered their time and energy. Your efforts are much appreciated and we look forward to more opportunities like this in the future.
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Setting sun over rolling hills of Pine Ridge

 

Learn more about our U.S. Tribal programs and how you can help here.

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

Unsung Hero of Mesoamerican Cookstoves

By Sebastian Africano

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Marvin Cordóva and his wife, Ana, visiting TWP

This week we received some honored guests at Trees, Water & People (TWP) headquarters – Marvin Córdova and his family from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I met Marvin in early 2005 when I arrived in Honduras as an intern for TWP – he was the lead welder at our stove manufacturing facility, AHDESA. I still remember loading his stoves onto pick-up trucks in those early days to promote his business, and helping him install them in customers’ homes. He and I were co-workers at the time, but became close friends the more we worked together.

TWP got involved in cookstoves when we helped design the Estufa Justa in 1999 after Hurricane Mitch ravaged Honduras, cutting off crucial supply lines for fuel into the capital city, Tegucigalpa. The Estufa Justa was designed with technicians from Aprovecho Research Center, and local community members in the Aldea of Suyapa, who would critique the early prototypes based on local cooking preferences. One of the more vociferous of those community members was a woman named Justa Nuñez, for whom the stove was eventually named.

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Ecofogones loaded in my truck for delivery and installation.

The Estufa Justa went on to become the flagship clean cookstove for Central America, with hundreds of thousands of units built since those first workshops. Several variations on the stove were designed and manufactured by Marvin Córdova and his team, and were an urban-appropriate, pre-manufactured, all metal version of the stove, named the Ecofogón. What began as a TWP project funded by the USEPA later became its own company, selling thousands of units across the country.

Marvin is one of many unsung heroes of the Mesoamerican stove movement that we are proud to welcome as he visits the U.S. with his family. He now owns his own custom welding shop in Tegucigalpa with seven employees, and while he still occasionally builds stoves by request, his principal business has grown to serve larger clients including industrial food processors, restaurant chains, and medical facilities. He is a true entrepreneur who weathered economic and political turmoil to build a persistent and successful company in Honduras. He is above all a great husband and father, and a loyal, long-time friend to me and TWP.

Gracias por la visita, Marvin!  We wish you continued success, and appreciate all  your contributions to our work!

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15,000 Trees Have a New Home

This year’s planting season has been a great success so far! With the 15,000 ponderosa pines in the ground, thanks to the hard work of 39 Native Americans, Trees, Water & People (TWP) has beaten our previous year’s planting by 5,000 trees – and that’s just the start! For 2016, our goal is to plant 17,000, however, we wiped out the Colorado State Forest Service Nursery’s supply of ponderosas with our 15,000 order! So, we will be patiently waiting for the remaining 2,000 trees to sprout. This is all part of TWP’s goal to plant 1 million trees on tribal lands over the next several years.

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The planting crew gearing up to plant 15,000 ponderosa seedlings.

TWP’s Tribal Reforestation project came about a few years ago in response to several wildfires that severely impacted Tribal lands in southern South Dakota. It is estimated that 20,000 acres of ponderosa forests were lost, with very few seed trees surviving to naturally replant the forest. That’s why we’re working to help put the “pine” back in Pine Ridge! Planting the ponderosas will improve air and water quality, reduce soil erosion, re-establish wildlife habitat, enhance ecosystem resiliency, and sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gases all while engaging Native Americans in the protection of their lands.

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Putting the “pine” back in Pine Ridge!

There to capture all the action on film was a videographer from Vision Makers Media. This Native-operated filmmaking organization empowers and engages Native Peoples to tell stories. They envision a world changed and healed by understanding Native stories and the public conversations they generate. We’re excited to be teaming up with Vision Makers Media to show you the progress of our reforestation efforts. With their 40 years of experience, we know you will enjoy the captivating footage of the scenic plains. Stay tuned for the video in the coming months!

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The tree planting dream team!

If you would like to help us plant trees on the Pine Ridge and Rose Bud Reservations, please make a donation to our Tribal Reforestation program.

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Notes from the Field: Overcoming Challenges of Nicaragua’s Drought

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

Drought, searing temperatures and significant reductions in water levels are on the top of the news cycle here in Nicaragua. April marks the peak of the summer season and the first week of the month still exhibits the full wrath of a still strong El Niño. Major issues have included news and events such as the following:

  • Lower lake levels have complicated ferry crossings and transport on Lake Nicaragua, particularly to and from the ever popular island of Ometepe.
  • A rash of howler monkey deaths in and around the Rivas area has been attributed to the ongoing drought, decreasing their food and water sources.
  • A famous tourist site and strategic water source, the Estanzuela waterfall outside of Estelí has completely dried up.
  • The Tisma lagoon, an internationally important migratory waterfowl and RAMSAR wetland, that links the two great lakes of Nicaragua has completely dried up for the first time in recent memory.
  • The Río Coco, which forms a significant portion of the border between Honduras and Nicaragua and supplies critical watersheds on both sides, is also completely for stretches in some places.

Despite the intense heat and the severe problems exacerbated by the extended drought, the work goes on. In February, board member Jeff Hargis came to Nicaragua and spent a few days with us in Managua. He was here as part of a personal trip for Spanish study in nearby Granada, but took advantage to see our programs, projects and places first hand. The obligatory visit to Proleña´s stove workshop was first on tap; at the moment they were bursting at the seams with a huge order of five different types of stoves for a key government entity and an important local foundation: The Ministry of Tourism and the Pellas Foundation. Following that visit, we headed out to La Paz Centro to tour the grounds of our flagship project: the Center for Forests, Energy and Climate (NICFEC).

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Board member Jeff Hargis holds a jicaro fruit during his visit to arid Nicaragua

A system of tube containers, designed to create sturdier roots and easier mobility for the plants, was used in a previous Proleña project and those containers have been relocated to the NICFEC site. Within the next month they will be part of an effort to plant 5,000 – 10,000 trees as our on-site nursery will expand and provide access to woodfuel, fruit and ornamental trees for the wider region.

In March, Sebastian Africano, TWP´s International Director, arrived in Managua for a week of meetings with Proleña and to provide strategic guidance on NICFEC´s construction and business development. In addition to time spent perusing and reviewing the final NICFEC plans, we found time to visit our friends at the BioNica demonstration center just outside of Tipitapa. They have improved their drip irrigation systems considerably and also expanded the number of biointensive beds and continue to improve their seed and agroforestry programs. I look forward to attending a two-day workshop on good agroforestry practices for arid zones at their demonstration site next week.

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TWP’s International Director, Sebastian Africano (right), examines Biotica’s thriving garden with the garden manager, Alexi (left), during Nicaragua’s three-year drought.

During Sebastian´s visit we also met with Henrik Haller, a Swedish eco-technology professional and permaculture expert, who we are looking to partner with on several initiatives at NICFEC. Henrik is a professor with Mid Sweden University in Sundsvall, and is also the founder and director of the Centro Integral para la Progación de la Permacultura (the Integral Center for the Propagation of Permaculture) and a bioremediation expert. Towards the end of March, Henrik and I were able to tour the NICFEC area. We also met up with one of Bionica´s graduates, who is now heading up a project for Vassar College, and Noel Sampson, a young architect who is from the area and has lots of information and contacts. As we continue to develop our strategies and approaches for NICFEC, these types of relationships and collaborations will become more critical.

As extreme weather conditions become the norm, climate adaptation will become more and more important for Central American farmers. TWP’s NICFEC will be a resource for these farmers and their communities, providing them with a suite of technologies, proven methods, tree seedlings, and curriculum that will support them in this transition.

Thank you for supporting these farmers as NICFEC gets closer to opening its doors!

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Happy International Women’s Day

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At Trees, Water & People, we are truly indebted to the local women who make our projects in Central America and Haiti successful. Women in each community our work touches provide our staff and local partners with the guidance necessary for implementing successful, long-term solutions to the problems facing their communities. The feedback we receive informs our clean cookstove designs, mobilizes community members, and inspires change for a better future.

We hope you will take this time to think about how the women in your life are making this world a better place for all – and thank them!

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Committed to Transparency

 

3rd party reviewers 2016

We strive to be responsible with every gift that we receive and encourage you to check out our profiles on these independent, third-party review sites.

Trees, Water & People (TWP) is proud to have earned the “Best in America” seal from Independent Charities of America and five stars from GreatNonprofits, making us a “2015 Top-Rated Nonprofit.” We are also a “Gold Participant” of GuideStar and an Accredited Charity of BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance.

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Trees, Water & People – Helping people and the planet since 1998.

Our recent two star rating on Charity Navigator is derived from two measures: four stars for Accountability and Transparency, and two stars for Financial. Regarding our Financial score, TWP received a low rating in the following two categories: Primary Revenue Growth and Program Expenses Growth. Essentially, we are being penalized for not growing our annual budget compared to the previous year. This is due to two key factors: 1) the end of a significant multi-year government grant; and 2) the long recovery from the recent economic recession that affected vital funding sources including foundations and individuals. TWP made the necessary reductions to our budget in order to account for both fiscal challenges, while still continuing to provide our beneficial programs to the communities we serve here in the U.S. and in Latin America.

We hope this information provides a better understanding of Trees, Water & People’s charity ratings. Of course, if you have any questions, feel free to contact Heather Herrell, Development Director at heather@treeswaterpeople.org or (970) 484-3678, ext. 15.

Click here to learn more about TWP’s third-party reviews.