Trees, Water & People Welcomes New Executive Director

by Sebastian Africano, Executive Director

I have long believed that people have the power to craft their own future. While each journey is unique, we all have the capacity to identify what we value, versus what we don’t, and to forge a path that produces more of the former and less of the latter. If we’re lucky, we have a moment where self-awareness, opportunity, and circumstance intersect, and we take that first step toward the future we want to live.

In 2005, I launched into a career in International Development by accepting an internship with Trees, Water & People (TWP) in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. There were more “unknowns” than “knowns” in the offer, and the pay would have barely covered my utility bills in San Francisco at the time, but as I stood at that intersection of introspection and opportunity, I knew this was a path I needed to follow.

Sebastian Africano with clean cookstove
Sebastian Africano got his start with Trees, Water & People as an intern helping with clean cookstoves in Central America in 2005.

Now, 13 years after my first conversations with co-founder Stuart Conway, and almost 20 years since the organization was founded, I am happy to take the next step on this path by accepting the role of Executive Director of Trees, Water & People – effective May 15, 2017. This shift comes after years of thoughtful succession planning and several deep conversations and interviews with TWP staff and board.

TWP set me on a path to discover the world through the smoky lens of traditional cooking practices, giving me an intimate, ground-level introduction to what life is like on the margins of global society. Through this experience, I’ve acquired a broad perspective of the uniqueness of life on our planet, and have made hundreds of allies who value our planet and global community enough that they have dedicated their lives’ work to protecting them.

Sebastian Africano working in the field
After many years of working in the field in Central America, Sebastian Africano will be spending more time in Fort Collins as Trees, Water & People’s new Executive Director.

Despite the hard truths inherent to our work, I find tremendous inspiration in the grit, hustle, hope, and smiles exhibited by the people we serve, both in Central America and on Tribal Lands in the Great Plains. Only by working together can we achieve a more sustainable future for our planet, and I’m privileged to support their struggles and aspirations daily through my work at TWP.

In this new role, my goal is to engage more meaningfully with you – our community of generous supporters. None of the impact TWP delivers would be possible without your support, and I know that together we can redouble our efforts to improve the lives of people and the planet.

I’m ready to craft our future together. Will you join me?

Richard Fox, Trees, Water & People’s co-founder and former Executive Director will be stepping down after 19 years but will remain on staff as the National Director through the end of the year. When asked about the transition, Richard had this to say, “I am honored to step down and for Sebastian to become the next Executive Director of this great organization. He has been trained for this position for many years, and we could not ask for a more compassionate, capable, and competent person to provide the next generation of leadership for Trees, Water & People.” Following his retirement, Richard will remain involved with TWP as a board member.

Trees, Water & People is excited to welcome our new Executive Director, Sebastian Africano! 

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! 

sign-up-here

When They Win, We All Win!

by Sebastian Africano, International Director 

One great thing about working at Trees, Water & People (TWP), is that victories can come from any of several directions, at any time. We keep multiple irons in the fire at TWP, as we deliver impact in many forms, and our partners are versatile, talented, and irrevocably dedicated to improving life for the most vulnerable people in their respective countries.

In 2017 no victory thus far has been as satisfying as the news we received last week from our long-time partners, Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP) of El Salvador. For seven years, with TWP support, they’ve been working with a ring of communities surrounding a lush and threatened National Park, San Rafael Los Naranjos, in the west of the country. They’ve implemented clean cookstoves, environmental education programs, interpretive park management training, small-scale solar lighting systems, and sustainable agriculture training in communities surrounding the park, and have gained a tremendous amount of trust and credibility for creating impact in a notoriously challenging environment.

Tree nursery
Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo’s (AAP) tree nursery has produced hundreds of thousands of trees for western El Salvador and provides agroforestry training to small farmers.

That credibility became all the more tangible this week, as AAP was officially named co-managers of the park by El Salvador’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. As part of this role, they will help train and support the park’s rangers in working with the communities that live in, and around, this protected area. This is a prestigious honor for this small and dedicated group of conservationists.
But that’s not all…

Armando accepting a grant
Armando Hernandez Juárez accepting a grant on behalf of Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo from the Initiative Fund for the Americas (FIAES).

Almost concurrently, AAP received notice in a public ceremony that they were one of four NGOs in the country approved for a 12-month grant from the Initiative Fund for the Americas (FIAES) to help them expand their programs in San Rafael Los Naranjos. This grant will permit them to continue the important work of making this park a destination for Salvadorans and international travelers alike while ensuring that livelihoods in the communities surrounding the park improve in parallel with the health of the park’s ecosystems and biodiversity.

We are a capacity building organization. When our partners win in this way, our donors can be certain that their investments in TWP are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do. Your support, be it small or large, infrequent or monthly through our Evergreen Circle, helps make these victories happen, and we are grateful for it. These victories remind us that working together, we can still do much good in the world. And when TWP’s partners win, WE ALL WIN.

FELICIDADES AND CONGRATULATIONS, AAP!

You can be a capacity builder, too! Please donate to Trees, Water & People today to ensure great partnerships like this one continue! 

Give here

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!

Give here

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! 

sign-up-here

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! 

sign-up-here

Promoting Rural Resilience: Lessons from Cuba

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

For many folks, Thanksgiving conjures up images of abundance and family, a smorgasbord of food laid out on the dinner table with smiling faces and conversations ranging from the day’s football matches to work or politics.

For Sebastian Africano and myself, the week of Thanksgiving involved a different perspective: learning about the challenges of food production and security in Cuba. Since the embargo was put into place in 1962, Cuban agricultural authorities have developed multiple strategies to sustain its population. Urban horticulture and permaculture have been built within the larger infrastructure of the socialist food production system. However, Cuba still faces serious food security issues.

The World Food Programme estimates that the island currently imports up to 70-80% of its food, meaning that only 20-30% of Cuba’s food is produced in-country. The pressure to grow more food locally will only continue to increase as the lucrative and fast-growing tourism market explodes in Cuba (eloquently discussed in a recent NYT article). The question remains: How will Cuba meet the increasing food demands from the tourist market?

Cuban plant nursery
In just over two years, this start-up nursery is now producing over 200,000 plants per year.

The primary purpose of our trip was to try to learn more about the opportunities for “agritourism” in Cuba. Agritourism is a type of tourism that brings visitors to a farm or ranch, to enjoy the rural setting, and to be educated on the food system and/or culture. In particular, we noticed that the Cienfuegos and Cumanayagua regions of Cuba, were excellent sites for agritourism due to the intriguing mix of cultural and musical efforts that are combining to preserve rural, Campesino culture, all while maintaining the foundations of sustainable agriculture in the region.

Some of the places we visited included the Universidad de Cumanayagua, Teatro Los Elementos, and the music group Kfé Mezclado, which is located at the base of a large mountain range in prime coffee country. Music and art are the lifeblood of Cuba in many ways, and these groups promote a uniquely authentic experience that is a gateway to the essence and soul of the country. At TWP, we strive to create authentic travel opportunities for intercambios, or exchanges, between our U.S. supporters, and our Latin American partners in Central America and the Caribbean, all working in the same vein for a healthy environment and human well-being. As we begin to build partnerships and travel opportunities within Cuba, we hope to convey the importance of sustainable travel, so that many people can enjoy Cuba’s unique offerings and livelihoods for years to come.

Lucas in Cuba
Lucas Wolf, TWP assistant international director, surveying yuca plants on a demonstration farm outside of Cienfuegos, Cuba.

The Cubans are eager to show the world their beautiful country and their ingenuity and thirst for innovation and knowledge. There is a warmth and genuine human spirit that seeps through in any conversation on the street or at the farm with the Cubans. Despite the transitional moment and the challenges inherent, particularly after the death of Fidel Castro and before the start of renewed uncertainty with a new Administration in Washington, we seek to create a broader horizontal dialogue between the U.S. and Cuba focused on education and innovation for all involved. Through it all, we at TWP strive to promote and advance the skill sets and toolboxes that build broader rural resilience, an ability to adapt to and mitigate climate change, and continue to further education processes, for local beneficiaries, for tour participants and for ourselves as an organization. Cuba, and its land and people have a great deal to offer when it comes to teaching in these areas, and we at TWP are hungry to learn.

If you would like to support TWP’s work to promote and advance the skill sets and toolboxes that build broader rural resilience, please donate today!

donate button