A Big Thank You to Lansing Catholic High School

by Eriq Acosta, National Director 

I recently had the pleasure to work with a group of Catholic high school students out of Michigan, Lansing while they were staying at the Sacred Earth Lodge. First and foremost this group of students and chaperones were truly amazing. The group was so eager to learn and put effort into the physical work as well; I was just blown away by their generous spirits.

While I was on the Pine Ridge Reservation, I was lucky enough to spend a few days with this group and was humbled by their work ethic and joyful willingness to provide service in the form of maintenance and cleaning at the Red Cloud Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC) and tree planting at the new Veterans Memorial. They completed these tasks with ease and smiles on their faces.

tree planting at Veterans Memorial
Students from Lansing Catholic High School planting trees at the new Veterans Memorial.

Several times the students and chaperones asked me what more can they could do to help, how they could improve projects they already completed. From my point of view, they went above and beyond their call of duty. At RCREC we have several buildings on the campus, and they cleaned and did general maintenance on at least 90% of the facilities.

Cleaning RCREC
Working hard to tidy up RCREC

The respect that they gave to the residents, especially the children, on the RCREC campus was a beautiful sight to see. They had the opportunity to listen to a tribal member speak about Lakota history and culture, as well as participate in a round dance and play musical chairs in conjunction with the drum playing. I have found that at this age one or two students just aren’t “feeling it” and don’t participate, but what I noticed most about this group is that they acted as one cohesive unit. I found this to be very impressive, and I feel like speaks volumes about their leadership. This was the group’s second time being on Pine Ridge, and by the end of the trip, they were already discussing a third! As a representative of Trees Water, & People I would love to call Lansing Catholic High School a partner and would love to have them on any project we do!

You can learn more about volunteer opportunities like this by joining our email list! 

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A Trip to Pine Ridge for William Smith High School Students

by Chelsea Audin, Math Teacher at William Smith High School

Chelsea Audin and Matt DiOrio are two teachers from William Smith High School in Aurora, Colorado. They teach math and English (respectively) and recently worked with students on a service based class to Pine Ridge Reservation. William Smith is a High School that values service, community and student exposure to new experiences and culture. 

As two teachers from Aurora, Colorado, we were looking for ways for our students to gain cultural perspective while feeling the ability to engage in lasting work that authentically impacts a specific community. We have partnered with Trees, Water & People in the past to work with Henry Red Cloud and Lakota Solar Enterprises. This year, we were able to expand this learning opportunity and create a short class in which 18 high school students began by learning about the history of the Lakota Sioux Tribe and ended with a week of service and collaboration on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Prepped with historical background of the culture, struggles, and traditions of the Lakota people, students understood the importance of land, nature, and preservation and thus understood the partnership between Lakota Solar Enterprises and Trees, Water & People.

Our first day with Henry, Trees, Water & People delivered 33,000 seedlings that would help reforest lands in Pine Ridge that had been devastated by two wildfires within the last decade. In preparation for the delivery, it took all 22 of us all morning to re-roof the greenhouse. Imagine flying a 75ft by 50ft kite, because that is what it felt like to hold down the roof until it was connected properly — needless to say, this would have been far more difficult without our small army of students.

Students fix green house
The students of William Smith High School work together with Henry Red Cloud to repair the greenhouse, despite windy conditions.

Aside from the physical accomplishment of seeing the new roof secure on the greenhouse just as it started to rain, our experience was enhanced as we worked alongside Henry and others from Lakota Solar Enterprises to accomplish this task. Our students quickly gained the confidence to ask questions and engage in conversation with these individuals in order to enhance their understanding of the culture and traditions of the Lakota, as well as the vast number of people this work would impact.

At home, students are able to travel down the block in order to have access to fresh food; Henry is working tirelessly to provide as much access as possible for others on Pine Ridge through sharing the food produced in this greenhouse and on his farm. Through education and stewardship, he also encourages others to replicate his work in order to provide fresh food for themselves.

William Smith High School students with trees
The students of William Smith High School, along with Henry Red Cloud and Trees, Water & People unloaded over 30,000 seedlings into the newly repaired greenhouse.

The culminating work on our trip was the planting of nearly 600 seedlings.  Henry explained to our students that the trees they were planting would have a 200-year legacy.  Each tree will provide both the habitat and oxygen necessary for the reservation to be sustainable.  Our students left with the knowledge that while they are helping by providing service to a community in need, their work will mean more as it will continue to help a culture in need.

If you are interested in learning more about group trips to the Sacred Earth Lodge on the Pine Ridge Reservation, sign up for our monthly eNewsletter for upcoming opportunities.

 

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International Day for Biological Diversity

By Gemara Gifford, Director of Development and Biodiversity

Happy International Day for Biological Diversity from everyone here at Trees, Water & People! “Biodiversity,” is a term that describes the variety of life on earth, from microorganisms to the largest trees. It can also refer to the number of different types of species living in a particular area. When there are high numbers of multiple species in a region, we call this a “biodiversity hotspot.”

Did you know that Trees, Water & People’s work occurs in many biodiversity hotspots? Central America, in particular, is one of the most biodiverse places on earth, with eight ecoregions and dozens of microhabitat types, it can support an incredible array of human, agricultural, and animal life. The small country of Guatemala, for example, boasts over 350 species of birds — that’s more species than the entire country of Canada! On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, grasslands are known as the most threatened and biodiverse terrestrial ecosystem in North America – a forgotten ecosystem to say the least.

A Black-throated Green Warbler in coffee plants in Honduras
A Black-throated Green Warbler in coffee plants in Honduras taken by TWP’s EcoTour participant, Jim Welch.

So, how does biodiversity loss affect humans?

At TWP, we know that biodiversity supports the overall health of the planet and has a direct impact on everyone. The next time you sit down to eat, think about this: every third bite of food you take is made possible by a pollinator, like a bee, bat, or hummingbird. Without a healthy biodiversity of pollinators, our current food system as we know it would collapse.

From an aesthetic point of view, many of us travel thousands of miles to see the rarest forms of life, like the odd cloud forests and creatures in Honduras. This brings us wonder, appreciation, and perspective. At the same time, it is important to be conscious about the carbon footprint that tourism has on the environment so that future generations may enjoy the diversity of life on our planet.

Honduran EcoTour
This cheery group joined Trees, Water & People on our first EcoTour to the Highlands of Honduras in January 2017.

This year’s International Day for Biological Diversity is focused on sustainable travel, and TWP is doing our part to take our place in this movement. Do you want to get involved with TWP to support the biodiversity of Honduras? Sign up for our eNewsletter to learn more about our second EcoTour to the Highlands of Honduras occurring in January 2018. Spots are limited! Together, we can support the earth’s biodiversity.

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Opening Eyes and Hearts in the Honduran Highlands: Part 3

by Marilyn Thayer, TWP Board Member

This past January, I had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural Trees, Water, and People (TWP) service trip to Honduras, which integrated learning about both the principles of community development and bird conservation. I am pleased and honored as a board member and as a member of the Thayer family to reflect on and share what this experience has meant to me. Coming from Hawai’i, I was reminded several times during the trip the words that were so much a part of my life, the motto of the state — Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono, meaning, “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.” Pono, in particular, can be translated to further refer to goodness, care, value, purpose, and hope.

Protecting the land and perpetuating hope were clearly promoted and implemented by Centro de Enseñanza y Aprendizaje de Agricultura (CEASO), a TWP partner in El Socorro (Siguatepeque, Honduras). I first became familiar with the term, Finca Humana, when Rene, the founder of CEASO shared the historical perspective of his organization with us. Roughly translated to the “Human Estate,” Finca Humana emphasizes that developing a successful farm requires starting with engaging the entire family and making a life-long commitment together to developing the knowledge and practicing the diversification of the land. Rene also pointed out that Finca Humana involves the integration of the Head, Hands, and Heart.

Thayer Family Honduras trip 2017
The Thayer family making tortillas at CEASO.

Beginning with the Head, and through the lens of a TWP board member, I was open to learning as much as I could about the collaborative partnership that TWP has developed with CEASO. From the hikes to the watershed areas, the tours of family coffee farms, and the drives through the mountains of San José de Pane, I became aware that the challenges of climate change and deforestation are similar concerns in our state and country as well. This implies that it is critical that we continue to work together and learn from one another.

Next follows the Hands, for doing the work. Although I realize that I may never be fully proficient in building pilas (water cisterns) and Justa stoves, it is more important to support the process of training and engaging the leaders of the communities in working with other community members to learn how to build these projects.

Pilas in San José de Pane, Honduras
The San José de Pane community building pilas (water cisterns) with TWP tour participants.

But all of this must come from the Heart, which was best exemplified by the story of Doña Norma and her husband, Don Oscar.  After spending the day building the first Justa stove, we sat in the living room of the family in their modest home, not having realized that this was in actuality the home of Doña Norma’s brother, which was serving as their temporary residence. Through tears, she shared the lengths to which they had gone —hard work and numerous sacrifices — to build a home, of which they were so proud but tragically lost to a fire. But Doña Norma asserted that despite the loss, they all survived, remain strong, and still have one another.

Well, what impact did the pila and stove projects have on the families and communities? These projects instilled a sense of hope that families and communities have for their future. I returned from this trip inspired, with a deeper sense of humility, and new friends who now are part of our family. I am most proud of the Heart Work that TWP truly does — working with the passion for building relationships and connections that foster a sense of hope with people on a respectful, authentic level.

If you are interested in going on a work trip with TWP, or learning more about what we do and the people we work with, sign up for our monthly eNewsletter! 

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Opening Eyes and Hearts in the Honduran Highlands: Part 1

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director of TWP

Over the past several years, TWP has organized work trips to Guatemala as the primary destination to feature our community development partners and their impacts. However, our newest partner, CEASO, in El Socorro (Siguatepeque), Honduras, was the focus of our past work trip in early January 2017. On January 5th, three key members of CEASO and I arrived at the San Pedro Sula airport to await the arrival of nine work trip participants, also accompanied by Gemara Gifford, TWP’s Director of Development and Biodiversity. The group of nine consisted of a mix of board members and their families, TWP donors, and some with no previous knowledge of our work.

From the airport we meandered through the hot sugar cane and plantain plains up past Lago Yojoa and eventually into the Highlands of the Montecillos Range where CEASO is based. The first feature of the trip was an introduction to CEASO’s approach to community development and sustainable agriculture. This method is defined by a powerful methodology called Finca Humana (a holistic, integrated approach to the farm, family, and individual) that is inserted into all of their daily activities and their overall development approach. Finca Humana stipulates that one must focus on the individual and the family before focusing on the farm and it preaches diversification and continued knowledge acquisition with a strong emphasis on farmer-to-farmer sharing of information.

Rainwater tank
The result of two days´ worth of sweat equity in San Jose de Pane by our Eco-Tour group. A completed rainwater catchment tank!

This profound life and development approach has resonated with the communities of the Montecillos foothills, where we are engaged in a significant development initiative that seeks to bolster and expand on CEASO’s experience and knowledge, as well as enhancing access and trust. Our trip featured hiking through the environs of El Socorro to understand some of the watershed challenges, particularly with regards to the combined effects of continued agricultural expansion, deforestation, and the pine beetle outbreak. Currently, CEASO and the surrounding communities are only receiving water in their taps every 12 or 13 days and water harvesting and storage, a key component of this trip and CEASO’s expanding projects, is proving more and more critical for household survival.

This trip marked our first attempt to combine community development and engagement with the observation and study of bird species and habitat in the Montecillos area. Led by Gemara, who has been instrumental in leveraging her extensive biology and biodiversity experience into our proposals and programming, this tour highlighted the importance of migratory bird habitat and ecosystems and the relationship they share with smallholder farmers and sustainable, diversified agriculture and agroforestry.

Future Birders
Two campesino youth are showing off their budding bird interests.

 

These Eco-Trips are designed to maximize community engagement in the areas where our local partners are helping to drive significant positive impacts and quality of life improvements. One of the highlights of our engagement stops was a frank living room discussion with Doña Norma and her husband, Don Oscar. Following the successful installation of the first TWP-CEASO clean cookstove in the Montecillos region (with generous support provided by World Centric for what will eventually be over 220 stoves), they shared with us their experience as immigrants living and working in the United States. In total, they spent over seven years working in the Northeastern US, scraping pennies and toiling away for enough money to provide for their children, some of whom were back in Honduras, while also saving for a future home back in their Honduran community. Upon their return, they constructed their dream home with much labor and love, only to see it go up in flames this past July. Despite the devastation and destruction, they labor on with Norma playing an increasingly important role as the community leader for the TWP-CEASO nursery project. Of the 12 nurseries, Gerardo is quick to point out that Norma’s trees were the biggest and healthiest and she’s an effective and skilled leader. We hope to continue to empower her leadership and increase the community development profile with her and Gerardo.

If you are interested in going on a work trip with us, or learning more about what we do and the people we work with, sign up for our monthly newsletter! 

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Volunteer Voices: A Bittersweet Trip to Pine Ridge

by Gemara Gifford, TWP Intern and CSU Alum

Those of us who work in sustainable development and conservation know all too well the roller coaster of “inspiration highs” and “heartbreak lows” that go along with this line of work. Working from an office is one thing, but working directly with the communities we are supporting is another. I am so grateful to have had the chance to visit Pine Ridge Reservation as a part of my internship with Trees, Water & People. As hard as it was to see the striking overlap between rural farmers in Guatemala, and Lakota families in South Dakota, it is incredibly important to recognize how these stories weave together.

“For me, it was difficult to see and hear about the state of people’s living conditions on the reservation, and their own personal struggles. Though, I also saw hope in the people we met who take pride in their culture and are excited to share it with others.” – Julia Matteucci, CSU Freshman

CSU Alt. Break trip 2016
Building a house for a Lakota family using sustainable Compressed Earth Blocks (CEB) from local materials on Pine Ridge. Photo by Vanesa Blanco Lopez

I wasn’t alone on this roller coaster ride, however – nine enthusiastic Colorado State University (CSU) students participated in a week-long service learning trip as a part of their Alternative Spring Break. In fact, the TWP-Pine Ridge-CSU partnership has been in existence for over 10 years! During our week, we worked alongside Henry and Gloria Red Cloud and Lakota community members on a variety of service projects. On our first day, we prepared the Solar Warrior Farm for planting, an initiative that feeds hundreds of people each season who usually only have access to over-priced-and-processed foods found at the only grocery store in town. When I learned that over 60% of people in Pine Ridge suffer from diabetes and other diet-related illnesses, I realized first-hand how important food sovereignty initiatives are and have been within the Lakota Nation.

“By working on the farm, we were setting a foundation for Henry to feed people on the reservation and help educate people on how to grow healthy food and find a sustainable way to feed themselves.” – Amy Borngrebe, CSU Junior

Gem pic from CSU Pine Ridge2016
CSU Alternative Break students and TWP intern, Gem (far left) at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC). Photo by Gemara Gifford

Among the cross-cultural experiences we had, such as meeting a storyteller, visiting Wounded Knee Massacre, and participating in a Sweat Lodge Ceremony, we engaged in meaningful reflections each night at the Sacred Earth Lodge, and embraced the ups and downs of visiting Pine Ridge. After a week of bonding with new friends, and experiencing a forgotten culture so close to home, we promised to return one day.

If you would like to donate your time and volunteer with Trees, Water & People, please email Molly Geppert at molly@treeswaterpeople.org to see what opportunities we have available. If you’re short on time and can’t make a trip to Pine Ridge, please consider making a donation.

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Join us! Volunteer Trip to Pine Ridge – Sept. 24-27

volunteers at Pine Ridge
Volunteers work with Henry Red Cloud to build solar panels at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center.

Come join us for a weekend of volunteering at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC), headquarters of TWP’s Tribal Renewable Energy Program. On this trip, we will be getting RCREC ready for Winter, including putting on limestone coatings on our three straw bale and compressed earth block (CEB) buildings, and helping to close up the Solar Warrior Farm. We will also visit and help with construction of the CEB house we are building for Paul Shields and his family (Paul is the son of Leonard Peltier). This will be a great opportunity for learning and making new friends. We hope you can join us!

Sacred Earth Lodge
Stay with us at the Sacred Earth Lodge!

Where: Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota (Five hours from Fort Collins)
When: Thursday, September 24th – Sunday, September 27th
Who: Flexible volunteers who like adventure, hard work, and lots of fun. Volunteers 14-18 are welcome with adult supervision.
Why: To continue our efforts to develop a unique regional renewable energy and alternative building training and demonstration Center for Native Americans.

Volunteers are invited to arrive any time on Thursday, September 24th. We will host full work days on Friday and Saturday and a half day on Sunday. Projects will end by 1:00 pm on Sunday, and volunteers are welcome to head home any time on Sunday, September 27th.

Food:

  • TWP will provide volunteers with meals and snacks during the trip.
  • Food purchased by TWP will be simple and tasty, but feel free to bring any other food/snacks you desire. TWP’s kitchen, cooking equipment and utensils will be available for use.
  • Volunteers will help in preparing all meals and with clean up.

Transportation:

  • All volunteers are responsible for their own transportation and related costs getting to Pine Ridge.
  • We will be happy to coordinate carpools where possible.
  • Our facility is located down a short dirt road. Many sedans have traveled it without any problems.

Lodging: We have 23 beds available in the Sacred Earth Lodge in three dormitory rooms.  More beds are available in the loft of the Shop and Manufacturing facility.  You should bring your own sleeping gear if at all possible, though some of ours will also be available.

Camping:

  • While it could be getting chilly by then, volunteers who would like to camp on the RCREC property can do so, but they must bring their own camping equipment (tent, sleeping bag and pad, etc.).

To volunteer, please email the following information ASAP to John Motley at john@treeswaterpeople.org:

  1. Name of all people in your volunteer party
  2. Email addresses for all people in your volunteer party
  3. Your cell phone number
  4. Which days you have available to travel to and work in Pine Ridge
  5. Where you will be coming from and returning to (e.g. many people will be coming from Fort Collins, CO)
  6. Whether you will be camping or require a bunk in the Lodge or Loft (first come, first served!)
  7. Do you need a ride?
  8. Can you offer a ride – if so, to how many people?
  9. Any other questions you may have.

Once we have confirmed your spot, we will email you directions to the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center and provide you with additional details. We look forward to having you join us!