Blazing into Rainy Season in Central America

by Sebastian Africano, Executive Director

Entering its fifth month without rain, Central America is at the tail end of its 2018 fire season. This year, our partners Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP) in El Salvador are on the frontlines, as they spent all last year training a corps of young park rangers to fight fire in the Protected Area of Apaneca-Illamantepec. This was their second year of funding from FIAES – a bilateral fund between the U.S. and El Salvador to create opportunities for communities living around protected areas.

Fires are almost a given this time of year – lightning strikes, farmers burning their fields, and hunters flushing out animals are some of the principal causes. The dry conditions create a precarious situation both for landscapes and ecosystems, as to humans, who often end up in the path of rapidly advancing burns, and then suffer the air pollution hazards created.

Preparing people to protect their communities, and providing them the resources to do so is one of the objectives of the FIAES funding, projects for which Trees, Water & People provides the supplemental cost-share required by the granting agency. We are now helping our partners, AAP, pursue a third year of funding from FIAES to keep them involved in conservation work throughout the western part of the country.

In Nicaragua, we’ve been watching a political crisis unfold that first piqued in April when the government allegedly dragged its feet in responding to a 5,000-acre fire in an 8,000-acre tropical forest reserve in the east of the country. Soon after, with the populace already frustrated with them, the administration announced policy changes to the national social security program, igniting protests and heavy-handed confrontations with police forces.

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Fighting a fire next to the Tierra Verde Climate Change Education Center near La Paz Centro, Nicaragua.

Right around that time, our partners, Proleña, were preparing for a high-school tree planting workshop when fire struck. Proleña provides in-field education to a group of 12 local high school seniors at the Tierra Verde Climate Change Education Center near La Paz Centro, northwest of Managua. A few weeks ago they were preparing to plant a drip irrigated living fence of 200 trees around the perimeter of the seven-acre property with the students.

“God knows why things happen a certain way,” said Proleña’s Executive Director, Marlyng Buitrago. “The day before the workshop I went out with our pickup truck, a team of six, and two barrels of water to prep for the tree planting workshop. We were having lunch at a local restaurant when someone called to say there was a fire on the property next to ours.”

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The one fire truck fought the fire near Tierra Verde Climate Change Education Center, preventing it from entering the property.

The team rushed back, and with the help of one fire truck, sent from 30km away, fought the fire all afternoon and into the evening, preventing it from entering the property. “The truck only had the water it came with, so when it was dry, we fought the fire by hand, with buckets of water. Once the sun went down, we put out the last seven hot spots, and the fire was extinguished.”

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Fighting the fire by hand along the fence line of the Tierra Verde Climate Change Education Center.

With any luck, the rainy season, which has been so unpredictable in past years, will start on time this month. But until then, we’ll continue to prepare for the inevitability of fire and to educate local communities and actors of other ways to manage the landscape.

While the dry season will soon end, we encourage our followers to keep an eye on Nicaragua, where we expect anti-government protests to persist over the next several months. Our team is safe, but the current political crisis has caused disruptions across the country and threatens to upend the stability of one of the more peaceful nations in the region. We stand for the safety and well-being of all those protesting for an equitable, prosperous, and politically transparent future in Nicaragua.

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Protected Area Management in El Salvador

by Sebastian Africano, Executive Director 

Before moving to Fort Collins, CO in 2009, my wife and I settled in western El Salvador, a natural wonderland dotted with volcanoes, teeming with biodiversity, and a 40-minute drive from cool misty peaks to sweltering coastlines. Trees, Water & People (TWP) had worked there since 2001, through a small partner called Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP) building cookstoves, composting latrines, and maintaining the most beautiful tree nursery among all their programs.

Unfortunately, the country went through a particularly rough spell between 2010 – 2016, where political turmoil left a vacuum filled by some unsavory elements in society and significantly affected our ability to operate. Nevertheless, AAP adjusted to the new reality and began looking for new ways to improve their country from within.

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Thanks to the FIAES fund from the U.S. and El Salvadorian governments, Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo was named co-manager of the Reserva de la Biosfera Apaneca-Ilamatepec. 

Leveraging a strong reputation, AAP was able to gain access to a bilateral reconciliation fund in 2013, which was put in place by El Salvador and the U.S. to strengthen public spaces, including National Parks. They were named co-managers of a small National Park in the west of the country and began working with communities along the outskirts of this park, developing Ecotourism capacity and providing environmental education through local school systems.

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Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo provides environmental education opportunities for local schools around the National Park, including tree planting!

Four years later, the small, dedicated team at AAP is now the head of a consortium of non-governmental organizations tasked with co-managing a network of parks throughout the west of the country. Their work focuses on improving everything from trails to interpretive signage, to biodiversity conservation, and alternative economic opportunities for youth. The road is long, but as El Salvador emerges from another dark patch of history, there is optimism on the horizon again, and TWP is proud to have continued supporting a positive future for the country.

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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.

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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…

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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! 

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Project Update: El Salvador Tree Nursery Finds New Home

Ampliación de ingreso al terreno

In 2001, we formed a partnership with environmental conservation leaders in El Salvador, who created Arboles y Agua para El Pueblo (AAP) to address natural resource issues within the country. The organization is led by Armando Hernandez and his dedicated staff who work tirelessly to protect the precious natural resources of El Salvador.

Over the past year, the AAP team has been working to construct a new tree nursery in El Porvenir, with a capacity of 40,000-50,000 trees. The new nursery will go online in January of 2016.

Armando writes (as translated by Sebastian Africano):

“Since the beginning of December we have proceeded with site preparations to install the nursery, including the leveling of the surface via the provision of additional soil and compaction. Some of the soil purchased will be used for filling bags, for which we’ve hired auxiliary personnel. Additionally, we have gone out to cut and haul bamboo for posts and pillars to support the shade cloth over the nursery. Finally, we repaired and fortified the entry to the site, and are soliciting our connection to the municipal water system for irrigation.

Siembra de Huertas y árboles aledaño al cerco del terreno

During this period we will be dedicated to transferring and installing our new nursery, which requires that we contemplate the area that will be dedicated to the trees themselves, as well as the area we will use to grow squash, chayote and other foods and flowers that attract beneficial insects, like bees, and keep pests away from the seedlings.

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In terms of the infrastructure that we intend to install, we will include a shed space to deposit equipment, tools, materials and agricultural inputs (fertilizers, fungicides) needed in the nursery. We want to be sure to reserve a space for a staff person that will eventually stay at the site and care for the nursery and the assets onsite. We are in the process of designing the layout of the terrain with its associated budget, and making sure that the nursery will not be disturbed during the construction of the other components.”

Working with such a dedicated team of environmentalists in El Salvador has been an honor for our staff. To date, the AAP team has planted nearly 700,000 trees throughout the country. With this new nursery, we look forward to what the future holds for AAP and TWP.

To support TWP’s Reforestation efforts in El Salvador and throughout Central America and Haiti please click here.

The Big Move: Relocating 25,000 seedlings in El Salvador

el salvador tree nursery

The small town of El Porvenir has been home to our Salvadoran tree nursery for many years, producing nearly 600,000 trees for reforestation efforts in El Salvador. Our dedicated local team, Arboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP), takes great pride in growing every tree from seed, caring for each seedling until it is ready to be planted on a local farm, protected area, or within local communities. These trees are, of course, important for environmental protection efforts. But beyond that, they also represent improved livelihoods, jobs, and nutrition for rural communities.

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25,000 seeds planted and ready to be moved

For the past several years, we have been grateful to a local coffee producer for allowing us to use his land for our nursery operations. Unfortunately, we were recently notified that we could no longer use the land, as the coffee company had gone out of business. So, after spending many long days planting 25,000 tree seedlings and setting up the infrastructure for the season, the staff at AAP had to move the entire nursery to a new location in El Porvenir. Frustrating? Yes! But, tree planting must go on and nothing is going to get in the way of those efforts.

The tree nursery has been successfully relocated, but this is only a temporary solution. In the coming months, we will be working with AAP to search for land that we can buy, securing a location for our tree nursery for many years to come. Stay tuned for updates on our land search in El Salvador!

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Working the land at the new nursery location

Warm Wishes from El Salvador

We recently received this letter from Armando Hernandez Juarez, our long-time partner in El Salvador and Director of Arboles y Agua para el Pueblo. Armando is a leader in environmental conservation in Central America and we are honored to work with him.  His words meant so much to all of us here at Trees, Water & People that we thought we would them with you too!

(Letter translated by Sebastian Africano)

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TWP’s International Director, Sebastian Africano (left) and Armando Hernandez Juarez (right) stand with a clean cookstove beneficiary in El Salvador.

Dear Richard Fox and our family at Trees, Water & People,

My sincere congratulations on celebrating 15 years of achievements, contribution to the environment and thus to this land that gives us life, food and clothing.

What better way to celebrate 15 years of TWP than with the satisfaction we get from raising the dignity of the people whom we support with your projects, and with the tireless effort and human sensitivity with which the TWP family does its work.  

On this occasion I also take other opportunity to warmly greet another of the pioneers of this work, I refer to Mr. Stuart Conway; a great benefactor and visionary, as his efforts have led to concrete works in our country El Salvador, benefiting a large number of families and communities through the establishment and production of countless trees that have protected groundwater resources, climate and forest recovery in general, as well as the provision of stoves that have actually contributed to improving the socioeconomic conditions of families have benefited from this project.

I do not want it to go unnoticed that the unconditional efforts of the TWP family have also helped reduce pollution levels and therefore prevent infectious diseases in families and communities who have been favored with latrines projects.

It is gratifying that our work in El Salvador through TWP leaves a trail of impact in communities and even public and private institutions and service organizations such as the Peace Corps Office who use our support to develop projects that benefit the target population of their programs.

Trees, Water & People Family, may the fifteen years that we celebrate on this occasion be multiplied continually.

Respectfully, if you will allow me, receive my thanks for being part of TWP.

Attentively,

 Armando Hernandez Juarez

Partner Spotlight: A Voice for Conservation in El Salvador

by Elliot Cooper, International Program Coordinator

Armando Hernandez, Director of Arboles y Agua para El Pueblo

Armando Hernandez has been Trees, Water & People’s link to sustainable reforestation and clean cookstove implementation in El Salvador since 2000. Currently the Director of Arboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP), this outgoing, gregarious, and considerate Salvadoreño has been the mastermind of these projects since the very beginning and, to this day, he continues to work as hard as he did more than a decade ago.

Don Armando, as he is known throughout the TWP office, is a courteous and respectful individual, always taking into account the well-being of his staff while balancing the needs and wants of the many communities he serves.

“This is a difficult country to work in because environmental awareness is only a secondary concern to the general population,” notes Don Armando. “In the communities we work in, there is a significant lack of jobs and opportunities for advancement, so people only worry about themselves and don’t think about the natural world that surrounds them.”

Even with the challenges that present themselves on a daily basis in El Salvador, Don Armando has overseen the planting of more than 555,000 trees and the successful construction of nearly 4,200 clean cookstoves.

“The best part of my job is contributing to the improvement of lives of not only individuals, but also families and communities through our projects. Whether it is stoves, reforestation, latrines, or soil conversation courses, we bring our environmental message to everyone in order to shift values and drastically improve lives of our fellow Salvadoreños.”

Armando Hernandez (center) with staff of Arboles y Agua para el Pueblo