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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Celebrating World Water Day Every Day!

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director 

World Water Day is an important day in a long list of significant calendar dates, sharing the same week with International Day of Happiness, International Day of Forests, and The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. For those organizations that work with water, we know how critical it truly is as an element and necessity of all life on this planet. “Agua es vida, or water is life;” that simple yet profound phrase is uttered in communities across the Americas that have less water than most. It’s a statement and a refrain that captures the full awareness of the delicate nature of life and our total dependence on this one element.

At Trees, Water & People, we seek to expand on that awareness through programs that support enhanced water access in communities throughout Central America and the US. This year in Central America, our efforts with water will focus on rainwater catchment tanks in the Cordillera (mountain range) de Montecillos in the highlands of central Honduras. Our local counterparts, CEASO (Center for Teaching and Learning Sustainable Agriculture) were assisted by several TWP work trip participants this past January. CEASO’s philosophy towards water is holistic and profound; they see the importance of the forests, the soil, and the other elements existing in a balanced cycle that keeps our natural world healthy and able to support rural communities.

Rainwater tank
Work tour participants worked together with CEASO to complete a rainwater catchment tank!

In El Salvador, a country ravaged by deforestation, our counterparts at Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo diligently work to keep their nursery humming with new plants, which will go towards diversifying a smallholder plot or anchoring trees and their roots to a critical watershed. In Guatemala, our partners at Utz Che look to build rural resilience and increased access to water for marginalized indigenous and campesino communities in all of the geographic zones of the country.

La Bendición, our special exchange community that has hosted two recent TWP work trips, seeks to find solutions for their water woes by capitalizing on the old coffee plantation infrastructure that they hope can be transformed to provide the community with more robust water security during the dry season. Here in Managua, work continues at NICFEC, the Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy, and Climate, which will serve as a demonstration center for best practices and methods to maximize water conservation and soil management for sustainable agriculture in a changing environment that is projected to see fewer rains in the future.

La Bendición
Community members of La Bendición working to repair old coffee plantation infrastructure to increase their water security.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the region, there are additional stark reminders of the critical importance of water. México City continues to sink due to continued overdrawing of its aquifers, the number of planned resorts for Costa Rica´s booming Guanacaste region is in jeopardy due to a lack of available water, and here in Nicaragua, the land of the large freshwater lakes, many communities south of Managua face an acute shortage of water and virtual dependence on water distribution trucks.

In the United States, TWP stands with the Water Protectors of Standing Rock in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Over this past winter, we provided off-grid solar heaters and generators to provide warmth and energy to the protest camps. These camps are the frontline resistance in a struggle for critical water and natural resource sovereignty. All of our strategic partners are focused on water, and we at TWP are striving to find ways to boost our water-related projects as we continue to hear how critically important it is for the survival of our communities.

Examples abound across the globe, and these stories of water stress are reminders that we must continue to focus our efforts on conservation, education, and innovation to stem the looming water crisis. If you would like to support these Central American communities protect and improve their water resources, please donate today!

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Opening Eyes and Hearts in the Honduran Highlands: Part 2

by Courtney Peterson, Wildfire Mitigation Education Coordinator, Colorado State Forest Service

FACOheadshot     

Courtney Peterson is the Wildfire Mitigation Education Coordinator for the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS). In her position with the CSFS, Courtney provides resources and educational opportunities to landowners, homeowners, and communities so they have the knowledge to fully prepare for future wildfires and make their homes and forest ecosystems more resilient. Courtney joined TWP on our recent work tour to Honduras.

For me, the best part of volunteer trips are the people. They are the ones that leave the biggest impact on you, give you the memories you take home and that you can never forget once you have left. The Center for Education in Sustainable Agriculture (CEASO) family was beyond welcoming and made us a part of their family during our stay, sharing their knowledge and experiences of the ecological, cultural, and social challenges and triumphs of their community. The CEASO family exuded their passion for their community in everything they taught us and showed our group how we are not alone in the challenges we face every day.

Over the last few days, some of you may have heard the news story about how there are over 800 million standing dead trees from insects and disease outbreaks in Colorado. This is nearly 1 in every 14 standing trees. This has crucial implications for our forest health, not to mention for our water supplies, public safety, wildlife, recreation opportunities, and climate. Well, in Honduras, they are dealing with these same challenges with a southern pine beetle outbreak. While the beetles in both Colorado and Honduras are native to their regions, severe drought and other tree-stressing factors have made the outbreaks more widespread than they have been in the past.

Mountain Pine Beetle in Rocky Mountain National Park
The mountain pine beetle has killed many of the pine trees in Grand County, Colorado, which has significant implications for Colorado’s forest health. Photo Credit: Colorado State Forest Service

I would never have thought about other countries facing these same challenges, especially not a pine beetle epidemic if I had not participated in the Honduras work tour! This trip provided me with an opportunity to share insights and lessons learned about two very different places dealing with the exact same issues. These aren’t local challenges; these are global challenges, and we need to be facing them as a global community with local solutions.

Honduras Beetle-killed Trees
Many of the trees in Honduras have been impacted by the Southern Pine beetle. Photo Credit: Courtney Peterson

Trees, Water & People’s work is guided by two core beliefs: one is that natural resources are best protected when local people play an active role in their care and management. This is the same philosophy that I use to educate private landowners about forest management and creating fire-adapted communities, and this is the same philosophy that CEASO used to teach us about the finca humana, a concept of integrated human development and sustainable agriculture that is centered on the education of community members. The second core belief is that preserving local ecosystems is essential for the ongoing social, economic, and environmental health of communities everywhere. It is up to us as communities, locally and globally, to preserve our ecosystems for future generations. If we want to make a difference, we have to change people’s hearts, and we can’t do it alone. We have to work together.

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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TWP in Cuba – Life after Fidel

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

30 November 2016

On November 25th, 2016, I was sitting on a farm outside of Cienfuegos, Cuba, drinking strong coffee under a tree and talking about Latin America’s past, present, and future with the directors of a rural theater company. Like many conversations here go, we compared other countries in the region, their trajectories, their hallmarks, and their deficiencies. Among the stories told was that of a friend of one of those at the table who had returned to Cuba almost 37 years after leaving as a political dissident, after having vowed not to return until Fidel Castro died. He had given up and decided that his love for the country was greater than his fear of what its government might do to him. Waiting for Fidel to die, I thought… and I said to the table, “so many people have been waiting for that moment.”

Later that night, I woke randomly at 3:57am EST, restless, and listened to people boisterously rolling out of a nearby nightclub. I couldn’t sleep – likely due to the late afternoon coffee – and decided to flip on the television in my room to see what the State was broadcasting at that time of night. All channels were static, except for two identical ones on which credits were rolling from a program that was ending. As soon as these ended, a newsflash came on with a visibly uncomfortable female newscaster sitting next to a photo of Fidel Castro. The audio was jammed, but my heart jumped at what I thought she might be saying. I flipped to the other station, where I heard for the first time that Fidel Castro had died. Immediately I jumped out of bed to see Raul Castro come on screen and repeat the news: “…hoy, 25 de Noviembre del 2016, a las 10:29 horas de la noche, falleció el Comandante en Jefe de la Revolución Cubana, Fidel Castro Ruz.” I immediately ran out into the courtyard to wake my colleague Lucas Wolf to share what I had just heard.

At 5:00am on November 26th, I could still hear people on the street who had clearly heard the news, and my mind raced at the significance of being in Cuba at this moment in history. The sun was an hour from coming up, and my first thoughts are how to get to Havana to bear witness to what would likely be one of the biggest public manifestations in this country’s history. I can only smile at the irony that earlier that same evening I realized that November 25th was the biggest embodiment of consumer culture in the capitalist world – Black Friday. It was as if one final ideological barb had been thrown at Cuba in an almost century-long battle for the soul of the hemisphere. Just like that, the world turned, and one of the most colossal and polemic figures in history was gone.

Cuban Flags
The Cuban flag and the 26th of July Movement flag, which marks Fidel’s first rallying cry against the Batista government in 1953, fly high in Cienfuegos, Cuba.

Several days later, now back in the U.S., I ponder the subtlety with which the country took Fidel’s passing. Flags fly at half-mast still today, and houses throughout Cienfuegos, and surely the country had both the Cuban flag and the 26th of July Movement flag draped on their windows and doors. During nine days of mourning, all cultural events and live entertainment had ceased, music in taxis was silenced, and alcohol sales were prohibited (mostly), leaving the city in a pleasant, meditative calm. But apart from the odd conversation on the street, people were relatively mum about the event unless we brought it up first, which generally led to a rich, reflective exchange.

We bagged our plans of traveling to Havana from Cienfuegos to avoid the throngs of Cubans and dozens of dignitaries from around the world that flew into Havana on Monday and Tuesday for funeral services. Mourners queued for hours in central plazas across the country to pay homage to their fallen leader, and to show their commitment to the “revolutionary values” listed in Fidel’s May 1, 2000 speech to the country. We walked to Cienfuegos’ main square in awe of the thousands of people with flowers in hand, waiting for their turn to sign Fidel’s funeral registers. For every person cheering in Miami’s streets on Friday night, there were thousands in Cuba showing, at the very least, respect for what they considered Fidel represented.  Fall where you may on the political spectrum, the impacts of Fidel’s ideological intransigence will be debated for centuries, as will the steps taken in the months and years after his death.

Paying respects to Castro in Cienfuegos, Cuba
Masses of Cuban people line up to pay their respects to fallen leader Fidel Castro in downtown Cienfuegos, Cuba

The mark Fidel Castro left on history is an unhealable wound for some, and for others a badge of honor, a national identity, and a living example of an alternate path. The Cuba I know is a place where people are cultured, talented, peaceful, loving, forward-thinking, and tough as nails. They have been through and sacrificed much to build a society and country of which most are proud, while openly recognizing its shortcomings. As Cuba crosses the chasm into a post-Castro mixed economy and an age of unprecedented information access, we have the choice of either continuing to isolate Cubans behind an artificial wall of outdated political fervor, or to lend them every bit of support we can to help protect the gains they have made while contributing to a more positive, prosperous, and inclusive future.

This is a future that I believe in, and one I hope you’ll support as Trees, Water & People extends its hands to some of the most remarkable people in the hemisphere.

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Connecting TWP’s Work through Migratory Birds

By Gemara Gifford, Conservation Scientist & TWP’s Development Director

Mist-nets
Mist-nets help researchers study migratory warblers in Central America, photo by Ruth Bennett

Have you ever wondered where birds go when they fly south? October is that time of year when migratory birds to gear up to fly from TWP’s projects in the Northern Great Plains all the way down to those in Latin America. Golden-winged Warblers (pictured above), Black-and-white Warblers, Wood Thrushes, and Baltimore Orioles are just a few species that will winter in remote places like Guatemalan villages, Salvadoran cloud forests, Honduran coffee agroecosystems, and Nicaraguan dry forests.

Unfortunately, migratory bird populations are declining faster than most other avian species worldwide (State of North America’s Birds 2016) due to habitat loss on their wintering grounds and also because we know less about their conservation requirements in Central America compared to their breeding grounds in the U.S. and Canada. What we do know is migrants tend to live in the same places as the rural communities whom TWP works with, and can directly benefit from community-based development projects (Agroecosystems for communities and conservation).

Did you know that TWP’s clean cookstove, reforestation, and farmer-to-farmer training programs in Central America are especially helping to conserve migratory birds?

  • TWP’s clean cookstoves greatly reduce the amount of fuelwood families use to cook (an average of 50%) and as a result protect nearby forests and reduce deforestation.
  • Our reforestation programs in the U.S. and Central America improve degraded bird habitat, with over 7 million trees planted so far, and also protect the soils and watersheds upon which families depend.
  • By training hundreds of smallholder farmers in agroecology, agriculture can be diversified with multiple tree species and crop types which creates excellent migratory bird habitat while producing important foods and fibers for people.
Golden-winged Warbler
A male Golden-winged Warbler winters in fragmented habitats in Guatemala, photo by Ruth Bennett

For 18 years, our generous supporters have been helping us make the world a better place for people and the planet. Did you realize your dedication has also been helping to conserve threatened migratory birds?

On behalf of TWP, I am excited to invite you to join us on our newest endeavor with migratory birds – to follow them as they head south! This January, we’ll take 15 TWP donors and supporters to tour our new projects in Central Honduras. There we will conduct baseline bird surveys in cloud forest agroecosystems, and participate in on-the-ground bird conservation efforts through clean cookstove construction, tree planting, and ten days of cross-cultural exchange with our local partners at the Center for Education in Sustainable Agriculture in Socorro, Honduras.

With your continued support we can make the world a better place for people and wildlife. For more information about how to attend the 2017 Honduras Work Tour, or to learn about how TWP’s projects benefit birds, give me a call at 877-606-4TWP.

A special thanks to Ruth Bennett, Ph.D. student at Cornell University, for providing photos of her ongoing research in Central America to uncover the best strategies for conserving the Golden-winged Warblers in working landscapes.

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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