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.

Notes from the Field: Putting Down Roots in El Salvador

Llenado de bolsa y ordenado en su respectiva era

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

January through April is typically the dry season in Central America, and the time that we ramp up our tree nursery activities to prepare seedlings for the arrival of the all-important May rains.  Our partners at Àrboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP) in El Salvador have stuck to this cycle for almost two decades, helping to grow and plant for than 664,000 trees.

This week, the AAP team is in the process of prepping 40,000 bags of soil and collecting seeds from over 20 tree species for our 2016 reforestation work. Some of the species we will plant in 2016 are Cedro salvadoreño, Memble, Jacaranda, Chaquirrio, Eucalipto, Cortéz negro, Marañón japones, Naranjo, Cacao, and Balsamo.

What’s different about this year’s operation is the nursery’s new location, a plot of land purchased and owned by AAP, located in El Porvenir, El Salvador. The land was bought at the end of 2015 after renting small plots of land since 2003. This is a game changer!

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Don Jorge has been an integral part of the AAP team since 2007.

The idea of owning a piece of land has been a dream for AAP’s Executive Director, Armando Hernandez Juarez, for as long as he has been working for the organization. With a permanent site to develop, we are now able to invest the time and energy necessary into outfitting the site with a more permanent and definitive presence and identity.  As the nursery infrastructure is time sensitive, we are focusing on that first – leveling the land, propping up locally harvested bamboo posts, and hanging the recycled shade cloth that our Nursery Manager, Don Jorge Ochoa, cares for so dutifully year after year.

Instalación de Zarán en el nuevo Vivero

Deforestation is one of the most serious environmental problems facing El Salvador, the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. Logging, agriculture, and the use of fuelwood for cooking has led to increased risk of erosion and mudslides, which have claimed thousands of lives in recent years. In addition, poor land management, soil erosion, and shifting weather patterns have left much of the countryside unsuitable for cultivating food.

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Community members are an important part of our reforestation efforts in El Salvador, helping to plant and care for trees.

Our reforestation work has never been more critical in El Salvador, and AAP is on the front lines, working tirelessly to restore the country’s watersheds, forests, and soil health, giving hope to rural farmers and their families. The next steps are where we could use your help, as we are looking to invest in irrigation equipment, new tools, and a proper storage shed. If you would like to support our reforestation efforts in El Salvador, please visit www.treeswaterpeople.org to make a donation or email Sebastian Africano, TWP’s International Director, at Sebastian@treeswaterpeople.org to learn more.

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Work Tour Creates Community Across Borders

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Cynthia Sargent and a child from La Bendición work on the community house together.

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

For my third visit of the year to the rural community of La Bendición, Guatemala, I traveled with a group from Unity and The Geller Center of Fort Collins, Colorado. On Sunday, the 27th of December, I scurried from Antigua to the Guatemala City airport twice to meet our work tour participants. They arrived tired, but in good spirits after some extensive layovers in the Miami airport. Despite the exhaustion of travel, it was apparent that by choosing to spend the days after the Christmas holiday and the dawn of the New Year in a rural, off-grid community, this group showed immense dedication and compassion.

The Antigua departure on Monday morning was slightly delayed due to logistical errands. Before too much time went by, we were on the road, driving our rented van towards the main highway. Following 30 minutes of volcano and countryside views, with Volcano Agua and Volcano Fuego imposing their silhouettes on the route, we soon spotted the turnoff for El Rodeo and Oswaldo, our main local point of contact and esteemed ambassador for La Bendición and Utz’ Che (he serves as their Coordinator of Campesino Exchanges). Oswaldo jumped in the van and we were off to visit the community of La Trinidad, also known as 15 de Octubre, but commonly referred to by their cooperative name among the Utz’ Che family, Union Huiste.

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The visit to the cooperative’s beneficio, or coffee processing area, was quite informative for our group. The cooperative leaders also led us on a tour of the main community and key sites in addition to the coffee production areas. This visit included a visual history, courtesy of a community mural, that depicted the group´s departure from western Guatemala, exile in Mexico, and eventual settling in the Escuintla area.

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A visual history of La Trinidad, Guatemala.

As the afternoon wore on, we made haste for La Bendición before nightfall. With the sun just going down, we arrived at the community house bathed in the soft light of dusk with the shadows of the forest and the mountains welcoming us from all sides. A stunning sight to witness and an embracing welcome for the group. The next several days involved significant improvements to the community house, including a fresh coat of paint for the first time in over 20 years, as well as repairs to the walls and the cement floors. All of this  was planned with the intention of creating a better community space, but also moving towards the community’s vision: creating a destination for possible ecotourism efforts in the future.

Beyond the repair efforts at the community house, our group was also able to see some of the clean cookstoves TWP has helped install throughout the village, the weaving and textile crafts, the beekeeping operations (including the all important honeycomb sampling), and hikes through the virgin forest that sustains the life and livelihoods of the community.

Often, we found ourselves stooped or squatting around a patch of ground while one of the local youth leaders drew diagrams on the ground depicting the importance of natural resource management and how to create livelihoods through the cycle of coffee, pineapple, and beekeeping production. They are wise beyond their years and fully aware of how important community forest management and conservation is for their future and the future of other generations, particularly as powerful hydroelectric and agribusiness interests continue to eye their land. These organic and impromptu sessions were a particular highlight for our group as we were able to facilitate casual question and answer sessions and expand the learning process.

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Osvin (The Bee Whisperer) and Oswaldo prepare to handle their beehives.

Another important theme of the visit to La Bendición concerned la lucha, or “the struggle,” that these particular types of indigenous communities face. We learned of their fight to gain proper valuation of their lands, the struggle to conserve and manage the forest, and the difficulties of creating employment for the residents.

Through it all, the push and pull factors of migration are apparent. We met community members with family in the US or Guate (short for Guatemala City) or folks who had recently been deported back to Guatemala on the infamous deportation flights. While there is a strong pull to leave and look for a better life, the residents of La Bendición know that a long, dangerous path is involved, and many of the youth are focused on channeling assistance from Trees, Water & People, Utz’ Che, and work groups like Unity and Geller into hope and opportunity for a better future on their own land. You can hear this optimism in the voices of the women´s committee and the youth group, as they search for ways to improve the conditions of their community.

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Lucas Wolf with community members from La Bendición, Guatemala.

It was truly humbling and inspiring to lead this group. In the process I learned so much from Oswaldo and the other youth group members as well as the community as a whole. Of course, I learned so much from the trip participants as well. They were truly a special group, making their mark on the community with stories, laughter, compassion, and wisdom.

“What made our activities such a success at La Bendición was the participation and enthusiasm of its residents,” said Cynthia Sargent, a Work Tour participant. “Oswaldo is an amazing ambassador for his community. He is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about his own culture. He is very curious and open about learning.”

When we left La Bendición, on Sunday, January 3rd, the air was full of emotion and the energy of new friendships and relationships facing a tough goodbye. Most of the community showed up to bid our group goodbye and it was a powerful moment to behold, full of hugs, high-fives, smiles, and tears.

From La Bendición, we drove across the sugarcane fields surrounding Escuintla and after one wrong turn we were on our way to the turnoff for the lake, in the town of Cocales, when we ran into some of the worst traffic I have seen in my life. A fairly straightforward minor accident caused about 8-10 kilometers of traffic to become backed up in a hilly section of pineapple and rubber plantations. Before we knew it, four hours of the day had gone by, battling buses and semi-trucks for position and I began to worry about getting out of the traffic before nightfall. Luckily, calm and patience prevailed and we were soon rising out of the lowlands and up into the Ruta del Café coffee highlands that line the areas surrounding Lake Atitlan.

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Before dark we arrived at the beautiful permaculture center on the edges of the lake that is the Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute, where the group would stay on for another four days of work and learning. Unfortunately, I had to leave and move on to the next adventure, but it was good to know that the time we had together was profound and enlightening. At our goodbye breakfast, the group was kind enough to express their words of thanks and each person said something kind and inspiring about Trees, Water & People and their experiences on the trip. I look forward to more trips in the future and more events with the Unity and Geller folks.

If you have a group interested in joining Trees, Water & People for a Work Tour to Central America please contact Sebastian Africano at sebastian@treeswaterpeople.org.

Notes from the Field: La Finca Humana

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by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

In rural Honduras, two consecutive years of agricultural hardship have driven vulnerable rural communities to the brink of insolvency. As crop yields and income drop due to volatile weather patterns and a coffee disease that wiped out half of Central America’s 2014 harvest, proponents of conventional agriculture prescribe more chemical inputs, genetically modified seeds, and machinery. None of the above are feasible or sustainable options for poor rural families who can scarcely feed their families.

This year, the rains that irrigate corn and beans have been delayed again, and news reports claim that millions are in danger of food shortages – the time is now to shift the agricultural paradigm.

Trees, Water & People and our partners propose a different path forward: agroforestry, crop diversification, soil remediation, and farmer-to-farmer education. Working with Centro Educativo de Agricultura Sostenible (CEASO), we will support the following work in 2016 and 2017:

  • Agroforestry training curriculum comprised of seven modules to 200 farmers in 10 communities in the Department of Comayagua, Honduras, over a two year period. Coursework will be offered at community centers and at participants’ farms.
  • Between modules, each group will visit local farms that have implemented the Finca Humana approach, including CEASO’s demonstration center and campus, to observe mature agroforestry systems and test several appropriate rural technologies.
  • Establish tree nurseries in each of the 10 communities, where tree species (avocado, mango, citrus, guanábana, bananas, papaya, fuel trees, and native hardwoods) will be raised for integration into the agricultural landscapes of the trainees.

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CEASO refers to their holistic development approach as La Finca Humana, roughly translated as “The Human Estate.” This approach puts family at the center of a successful farm and helps build resilience in every aspect of a rural family’s life, including food production, agroforestry (integrating trees into agricultural systems), waste management, pest management, water storage, soil quality, animal husbandry, energy use, agricultural economics, and gender equity.

In a region that is extremely vulnerable to climate change, La Finca Humana gives farmers and their families the tools and knowledge needed to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Families should not only survive, but thrive. We hope you will join us in supporting the important work of CEASO and the communities they support. To learn more please contact Sebastian Africano, TWP’s International Director, at sebastian@treeswaterpeople.org.