Day breaks in Colorado and the Wanderlust Yoga Festival sets its last billowing aerial hammocks into place. It is a brisk and sunny Saturday morning and over 300 people begin to gather in the Great Lawn Park to practice as one to the groovy beats of DJ powered yoga flow. In these times when the very act of collaboration is a radical act, Yoga becomes the great unifying entity as we all move together in a slow and methodical rhythm, setting the pace of our hearts opening to what is possible.
Wanderlust Festival and Trees, Water & People have been working together since 2014 to reduce the festival’s carbon footprint while helping people and the planet. In that time, together, we’ve planted 55,791 trees in Central America with a specific intent of improving peoples’ livelihoods. To date Wanderlust Festival has banked a total of 13,948 metric tons of CO2e. Individual festival goers also have the option to offset their own carbon emissions footprint online.
Our unique alliance allows us to invest in community-based carbon sequestration projects that tangibly improve life for people and the planet. Together, we are changing the lives of indigenous communities in Central America. The ‘green value’ added through carbon sequestration supports the festival’s Wander without Waste Movement and Certified B Corp. status.
Wanderlust Festival and Trees, Water & People have channeled the goodwill of the yoga community into projects that are creating positive change while encouraging environmentally conscious choices at festivals. Our alliance is an inspiring example of how businesses and nonprofits can work together to positively affect change both in and beyond our community.
The story of Trees, Water & People begins with an extraordinary leader, from Suyapa, Honduras: Doña Justa. In the mid-’90s, Doña Justa was already thinking about how to improve her community and women’s everyday lives through improved cookstoves, even before TWP. She worked with friends and neighbors, trying out different cookstove designs made from local materials, and tried them out in her community, receiving honest feedback from stove users, and probably coffee and cookies too.
Doña Justa used her humility, compassion, and force to lift the voices of her community so that a cookstove could be designed to meet their unique needs.
When Hurricane Mitch hit in 1998, killing over 11,000 Central Americans – 7,000 of them Hondurans alone – development organizations fled in to assist, including Trees, Water & People. But our approach was different. We learned about Doña Justa’s efforts and leadership in her community, and we listened.
Doña Justa and the community of Suyapa were best positioned to craft solutions to the pressing problems in front of them, and TWP was there to fill in technical and financial gaps that would help make their vision a reality – that cooking shouldn’t kill!
With the help of scientists from Aprovecho Research Center and the founders of TWP, we began to create the first models of the Justa cookstove in Doña Justa’s very own kitchen. Because of her patience, and critical honesty of what was and wasn’t working with these pilot stoves, and the willingness of the technical team to listen and adjust, Trees, Water & People is proud that the Justa Cookstove is the most widely used and adopted cookstove in Honduras – and we are still improving the model and working with local communities today.
In January of this year, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Doña Justa in her unique community in Suyapa, over an incredible Sunday soup she cooked with the very cookstove named after her, followed by an evening gathering of music, and sharing old stories with those who had come to welcome “home” our Executive Director Sebastian to Suyapa, where his career sprouted in 2005.
To me, what makes TWP who we are is our long-term, personal connections with community champions like Doña Justa. Twenty years have gone by, and we still have the honor of being welcomed into her home and listening.
by José Chalit, Marketing & Communications Manager
It’s the feeling of being welcomed into a stranger’s house with a fresh, warm cup coffee while we ask about their newly installed ‘Justa’ Stove or their new organic garden. I’ve heard people talk about this experience since I joined TWP last summer – folks that have been on a trip with us via TWP Tours, our Board of Directors, my co-workers – they’ve all shared stories with me about the unique experience of visiting the communities that TWP works alongside in the field. After returning from 2 weeks visiting our projects in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, these stories I have been hearing materialized into real experiences that changed my opinion about how our work has potential to create real change, and why it works.
When I first began visiting our projects last summer, I felt lucky to be part of developing communications around our innovative and meaningful community development projects, but it was too early for me to truly understand the bigger picture of what it is that we do. After I visited Guatemala in August to meet with members of the community of La Trinidad who had been displaced (again) by the eruption of Volcán De Fuego, I began to understand the impact of TWP’s work on a slightly deeper level.
It became clear that TWP prioritizes the voices and experiences of smallholder farmers first, and that our ability to continue working internationally with success hinges upon how we develop these relationships. Nevertheless, I still felt like I was missing a broader perspective of our road map.
Over our recent two-week trip, I continuously reflected on whether or not the communities our work with local non-profit partners truly impacts their lives as compared to surrounding areas not yet reached. Needless to say, all throughout the Americas rural indigenous people are suffering from the environmental impacts of erratic changes in climate patterns. For example, the folks in the community of La Bendición in Guatemala have had to adapt away from centuries-old farming practices passed down from their ancestors because of a prolongated dry season that is limiting their typical harvest season. The Environmental and Natural Resource Ministry of El Salvador is in the process of implementing some of the first ever controlled burns in the country’s national conservation areas to prevent wildfires due to similar reasons. In both scenarios, our local non-profit partners have worked alongside these communities to implement programs and projects that address the immediate needs of local people while also creating long-term paths for people to have healthier livelihood opportunities.
Nevertheless, I came to understand that if any of these projects are to be successful, it is for two primary reasons:
The knowledge and capacity held by those most deeply affected by the problems we are tackling positions them the best to champion the solutions to the challenges they face on a daily basis.
We know that the most significant global polluters and extractors aren’t doing nearly enough to combat the fallout of their operations, so the folks (rural indigenous, more often than not) most impacted by the effects of environmental degradation are the ones worth investing our time, energy, and resources.
Whether it is through protected area land management in the highlands El Salvador or the clean cookstove implementation program led by indigenous women in La Bendición, the choice TWP makes to invest in the ideas of the most marginalized became even more evident to me.
It’s that feeling of being so readily and enthusiastically welcomed into a community by strangers who might not even speak your same language. It’s the palpable aura of hope, empowerment and self-esteem that prevails in a community that believes in itself and its ability to overcome challenges brought on by unexpected climate catastrophes. It’s beyond the results of what any study, number, or statistic can tell us, but something that is only felt by a close encounter with a community that is confident in their potential to thrive beyond even their own expectations. This is what it feels like to visit a community where TWP is working alongside, and we can’t emphasize enough how lucky we are to be doing this work that would be impossible without your support.
Alternative Giving is defined as a philanthropic gift in someone’s name to a charitable organization rather than gifting material goods. It’s based on the idea of serial reciprocity, or ‘paying it forward’ to the benefit of a third party. This holiday season many folks, inspired by the spirit of humanitarian compassion, are choosing to give in the name of their friends and loved ones because it presents an answer to consumerism that mitigates the impact of gift-giving on the environment.
Trees, Water & People offers the ability to give in a way that changes the lives of indigenous communities while encouraging environmentally conscious choices. TWP’s online Alternative Giving Catalog offers a way to tangibly improve life for people and the planet through an eco-friendly gift this holiday season.
Alternative Gifts International (AGI), a non-profit organization which inspires support for humanitarian and environmental causes, has helped Trees, Water & People promote the philosophy of Alternative Giving for many years all over the U.S.
“Alternative Gifts International and Trees Water and People have had a fruitful partnership over the years. We see ourselves as a helping hand, an extension of their work. Their cause becomes our cause. And so, we work to draw attention to and support the needs of the people they serve. Since 2010 we have delivered over $63,000 to support TWP causes ranging from Building Eco-homes for Tribal families to Solar Energy training. We look forward to many more years of providing aid to marginalized communities.”
– AGI Executive Director, Surinder Moore
Whether you’ve already gotten gifts for your loved ones or not, we want to make sure that promoting sustainability and ecological alternatives isn’t limited to a certain time of year or through any singular project. For those looking to match their values with the practice of gift-giving, we are happy to offer a series of options for you to consider during this time of year and beyond!
This work doesn’t happen without the support of the rest of the world. If one were to ask themselves the question, you might think most of TWP’s support comes from people and organizations that are already deeply invested in environmental causes. In my world, for example, there is no instant or obvious connection between Trees, Water & People and Delta Dental. Like any good friendship, however, this one comes with a story.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure to host a group from Michigan, Lansing Catholic High School, to Pine Ridge South Dakota to help plant trees across the reservation. I worked with this group like I do with any other that comes on these trips with us – we explored the culture together, planted some trees, and most importantly, talked about our privilege and how we take that into the spaces we go.
I love experiential education and I utilized a lot of these methods to emphasize the importance of recognizing how the social privileges we sometimes bring into spaces as volunteers interfaces with the historical context of areas like Pine Ridge. I talked about the importance of being allies for each other and the importance of being aware of what intentions we bring with us when we show up to do volunteer work like we were doing. The group responded really well the rest of the week, and the topic was brought up several times, most frequently by two dads who were the group’s chaperones.
We got really close sharing a lot of stories, as well as learning the invaluable skill of how to play Texas hold ’em! Towards the end of the week, I learned that the two chaperones worked for Delta Dental, though we never talked about teeth or dental insurance. I was especially inspired by the energy these two brought to the group not only as chaperone support but most importantly their enthusiasm to do hard physical and mental work while having fun. Having kept in contact with these two, I shared a picture with them of me playing Texas hold ’em with a group from the Hoopa Solar Training showing off my new learned skills. 4 days later I get a text back thanking us for the work that we do, and letting us know about Delta Dental’s generous donation to support our programs on Tribal Lands! I am personally grateful for the support of people like the folks from Delta Dental not only for investing in TWP’s mission and programs but also for taking the time to open their hearts and minds to what I have to say.
“Patria libre para vivir!” Free homeland to live! people shouted in mass protests this April as the song “Que vivan los estudiantes,” Long live the students! is heard again and again, in honor of the university students who have been the protagonists of the uprising in Nicaragua. Many of them have lost their lives in the last six months. Peaceful protests were triggered due the approval of the reform of the social security system by the Executive of the Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security (INSS) on April 16, 2018, however, a general disapproval of the government has been simmering for years.
Days before the INSS reform, young leaders called to the Nicaraguan government to demand their efficient response in the face of the environmental crisis that the country was suffering as a result of a large forest fire in theIndio Maíz Natural Reserve. On April 18, youth and elderly people gathered to protest in the cities of León and Managua, rejecting the INSS reform; that day they were also repressed and attacked by police special forces and shock forces. April 19 was inscribed in the country’s historical memory when the first killed students were reported.
From April 19th to the present day, the population has manifested itself in different ways claiming their right to protest peacefully and condemning the repression at the hands of police forces and irregular groups. Sadly, violence from the state has escalated, taking the lives of more than 300 people and leaving more than a thousand injured according to human rights organizations.
As part of the protests, the locals and peasants built barricades and traffic blockades in almost every city of the country as a protection strategy for their neighborhoods, cities and communities, but also to exert pressure through a staggered national stoppage. Those blockades were forcibly removed in July, bringing the country to a somewhat more “stable” place, however, the crisis continues to generate substantial losses in the country’s economy, with over 200,000 Nicaraguans unemployed since April.
The most affected people by the current reality in Nicaragua are those who depend on commerce, tourism and services, including small and medium producers in the agricultural sector that leads the country’s economic activities.
The operations of many companies and NGOs in Nicaragua have been affected, and have had to resort to staff cuts in order to survive, causing unemployment and affecting primarily low and middle-income people. This scenario has political, social, environmental and economic threats, positioning Nicaragua into a period of complex vulnerability, yet also into a time of hope by a population that is fighting for a promising future.
As it happened in the 80’s during the revolution, Nicaragua has international attention from many human rights and media organizations. Nevertheless, it remains necessary to increase awareness and consciousness about the situation in Nicaragua to extend solidarity and humanitarian aid, as well as international cooperation with civil society.
TWP will keep our projects and partnerships strong in Nicaragua despite the new reality faced by our partners and beneficiaries, and we aim to continue the efforts that have enabled Nicaraguans to manage a better future for themselves. We thank our followers and supporters for staying up to date with us over the last six months.
About two months ago, almost two-hundred people gathered at the MotherLove 120 acre organic farm in Johnstown, CO to break bread, clink glasses, and celebrate summer at a Fortified Collaborations fundraiser for Trees, Water & People.
Fortified Collaborations is one of the gems that makes Fort Collins unique. They convene the best local food producers, businesses, unique venues, and non-profit organizations in town at six professionally curated dinner experiences that nourish the body and soul.
This summer, they chose Trees, Water & People as the feature organization for their annual Heart of Summer Dinner. While the weather was doing as Colorado weather does (changing drastically hour to hour), we all had a blast setting up at this beautiful venue, and the end result was a fantastic sunset over a farm filled with music, friends and a beautiful spread.
Fortified Collaboration’s founder, Kristina Cash, said about the collaboration with TWP:
“The Heart of Summer dinner is such a great example of our local food ecosystems at work and Trees, Water, People really embody the importance of that through their work. They are the perfect beneficiary for this event that connects people to the land.”
We greatly value the opportunity to share with new audiences, especially in our own community. Fortified Collaborations Heart of Summer Dinner gave us that opportunity, and put a fun exclamation point on TWP’s groundbreaking 20th year.
Whether it’s helping you find the perfect energy efficient home, or committing to environmentally-responsible business practices, the duo at The Green Team Real Estate (GTR) are dedicated to helping the planet through every stage of buying, selling, creating or investing in a home.
Lara Williams and Dave Sanders, Co-Owners of GTR, have supported Trees, Water & People since 2010, and we are elated to have them as part of our Partners for a Sustainable Planet program. Their passion and experience in the real estate market combined with their mission and values has helped to connect home owners with stewardship for the Earth and environmental sustainability for years.
In addition to helping home-buyers reduce their carbon footprint by finding and selling energy-efficient homes, The Green Team has partnered with TWP to help fund our various projects in Central America and U.S. Tribal Lands to make a difference in the lives of indigenous people experiencing economic or energy poverty.
By donating to TWP after every home sale or purchase, The Green Team enables us to ensure our reforestation, water cisterns, or clean energy programs are successful and far-reaching in their impact. Both Lara and Dave even visited Nicaragua with TWP Tours in May of 2017 where they got to visit our projects with our partners, Proleña, and see our cook stove program for themselves. When they stopped by our office recently to chat for our 20 for 20 interviews, Lara said,
“Part of what inspired our commitment to TWP was seeing the cookstoves being built, seeing them in people’s homes, how they were being used, and how they were making a difference in other people’s lives. I just started to understand the environmental degradation that was happening in Central America, and how much impact TWP was having – that was very important.”
Furthermore, Dave expressed his admiration for our work on Tribal Lands, emphasizing the importance of education for indigenous youth as he grew up traveling to Pine Ridge with his mom who would volunteer to teach in local schools. We are lucky to receive support from people who recognize the importance improving the health of the Earth and those most impacted by the effects of climate change.
We are incredibly grateful for people like Lara and Dave who use their business model to help home owners (or soon to be ones!) offset their carbon footprint by reinvesting part of their sales in Trees, Water & People. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you both so much for your dedication to people and the planet!
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.
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.
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.
Learn more about our U.S. Tribal programs and how you can help here.