Project Update: Lighting homes in rural Honduras

solar light Honduras

Nearly 50% of the 600 solar household lighting systems we sent to Honduras have been installed. We’re providing 1,200 new LED light points, 600 USB charging ports for cell phones and other small devices, and a new level of dignity for rural families that have lived their entire nocturnal lives by the light of candles, low quality flashlights, and contaminating kerosene lamps. Donors to our Catapult project helped to fund 125 of the lights in this shipment, allowing us to reach many more families in need of clean energy solutions for their homes.

Get personal

solar light Honduras
Miriam Leonel Bonilla

“Many of our customers used to use ocote (a local pine that is used as a candle), and the smoke really bothered them. Or else they would buy candles and flashlights, and that was really expensive. They are very happy with their plantitas – solar lights!” -Miriam Leonel Bonilla, solar light user and distributor, Las Marías, Honduras

Risks and challenges

Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and our vendors and promoters live with risk every day. We are lucky to have a dedicated team of people across the country that see the opportunities that exist in solar energy. They believe that the benefits that solar energy brings to their families and communities who buy the systems outweigh the challenges in getting them into the field.

What we’ve learned

solar light HondurasThis order of Barefoot Power solar household systems were our first test of a new international supply chain that has us ordering product in bulk to a central warehouse in El Salvador, from which the products are distributed by land to four different countries. Every step of that process contained a lesson in how to be more efficient in getting these products to the families that need them most. On a macro level, we have learned that we have one of the most innovative approaches to getting products to several Central American countries at once. In Honduras, we have learned that whoever can provide households with the best customer experience will be the one to succeed in expanding the great opportunities in renewable energy for the developing world.

Next steps

Working with social impact technology company Dimagi, we will be piloting a new mobile data collection app called CommSell. This app will allow our field staff to complete surveys on an Android phone, in the field, and automatically populate a database that tells us where our products are, how long they’ve been there, and how much money they are saving users. We can also use this information to conduct follow-up visits and maintenance as needed.

Project Update: Solar Women Warriors Scholarship Fund

Gail and Jamie
Gail Hubbeling (left) and Jamie Folsom at the Compressed Earth Block training.

We are excited to report that the women who were awarded the Solar Women Warriors Scholarships have completed their training with us and have utilized these funds to learn important new skills in renewable energy and sustainable building.

We were delayed by weather in October of 2013, when the first Compressed Earth Block (CEB) Training was originally scheduled to take place. However, we were able to reschedule the training for May 18-24, 2014 and it ended up being a great success! Alison Goings, a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe, and Gail Hubbeling, a member of the Ihanktowan (Dakota) Tribe and also a veteran of the U.S. military, both attended the training on scholarships funded by The women learned how to build a home using a compressed earth block machine, which produces blocks that are affordable and very energy efficient.

In addition to these two scholarships, we awarded a third Solar Women Warrior Scholarship to Robin Davis, a member of the White Earth Tribe. Robin attended one of our Solar Air Heater workshops held on the White Earth Reservation. After learning how to install solar heaters onto a home, Robin and the other trainees were employed by the White Earth Tribe to install 10 heaters for families in need. These heaters save families up to 30% on their monthly utility bills for 25 years, greatly decreasing household expenses using clean energy from the sun.

Get personal

“I’ve been interested in energy efficiency and renewable energy for sometime now. I want to share this knowledge with our Native communities along with the Housing Authority. Housing is the one shortage we need to overcome.” – Gail Hubbeling, Scholarship Recipient

Risks and challenges

Our biggest challenge with this project was the weather! We had no problem finding Native American women eager to attend our workshops; our main challenge was dealing with freak storms that delayed holding the workshops. We had originally planned to have the Compressed Earth Block training in October of 2014 but Mother Nature was not having it. A huge snow storm hit the Pine Ridge Reservation, causing us to postpone the workshop.

What we’ve learned

GRID Alternatives solar energy trainingWe’ve learned that beyond green job training, we need to also focus on helping trainees find meaningful employment opportunities, where they can utilize the skills they have gained. This is why we started the Green Business Development Program in 2013. This program helps Native entrepreneurs develop and implement viable green business plans within the reservation context, which is a much more challenging economic situation. In addition, we are also continuing to work closely with tribes, such as White Earth, to create jobs for trainees after they complete our workshops. Many tribes have access to Federal funds for renewable energy and economic development that can be used to employ their members in the green economy.

Next steps

We are now working with the women to offer more access to our workshops as well as an opportunity to apply to our Green Business Development Program. Our ultimate goal with this program is to see Native American women find jobs within the renewable energy and sustainable building sector, using the skills and experience gained from our workshops.

Project Update: 100 Clean Cookstoves in Guatemala

clean cookstove guatemala

In partnership with Catapult, we have raised funds to support 100 clean cookstoves in Guatemala. Thanks to generous donors, the project was fully funded. Ut’z Che’, a local environmental conservation and community development organization on the ground in Guatemala, will install the cookstoves. These life-changing stoves will replace open fire stoves that consumes massive amounts of wood and pollute homes with indoor air pollution.


Local partner Ut’z Ché has had preliminary meetings with three communities, in which we will implement the next phase of the cookstove program.  Our approach always involves several initial meetings to ensure community buy-in and to establish the co-investment plan.  Usually home visits are conducted to ensure a match between cooking customs and the proposed cookstove design, the community is given a list of materials for each household to prepare prior to construction, and a timeline is set to 1) build a few demonstration stoves for feedback, and 2) begin full roll out of the program.

Construction in the three communities is scheduled to start this month, with two new clean cookstove models being tested for efficacy and acceptance by beneficiaries. Among those trained to install the cookstoves will be youth groups in the different communities, adding an important, specialized skill set to their portfolio, and some much needed income to their pockets.

Nuevo Modelo a Construir Propuesta
A new clean cookstove design to be tested by community members.

Risks and Challenges

With any clean cookstove project, you have to make sure that the technology you propose matches the needs and cooking habits in the community where it will be used. In Guatemala that challenge is especially pertinent, as there are over 20 ethnic groups in the country, many with their own specialized cooking preferences. For the 100 cookstoves funded by this Catapult project, we will be presenting three variations on our local cookstove design, the Emelda stove, to account for cultural and culinary differences. Additionally, due to our limited capacity, we will have to stagger the implementation of these projects to coincide with demand, availability of materials and road conditions during the rainy season.

Up Close

Rosa Jerónimo de Ortiz: “With the traditional stove I used before, my kitchen walls were always black from the amount of smoke that it produced.  My husband and children didn’t like to spend time in the kitchen with me because their eyes would tear up, especially during the rainy season when firewood comes damp. When this cookstove project started, the women of my community were overjoyed, as these projects benefit us principally.  Now I even have my kitchen table in the same room as the stove!”

Next Steps

Next steps include building demonstration stoves in the three communities where we plan to work.  We always learn from this experience, as we get direct feedback from the eventual users about what will work for them and what will not.  After the designs are agreed upon, we will initiate construction in groups of 20 – 25 in each community, aiming to entice even more participants to invest in an improved cookstove design as we install the 100 funded by this project.

new clean cookstove design Guatemala

To learn more about this project please visit

Update: Solar Women Warrior Scholarships Awarded

Solar Woman Warrior
Anna, a trainee from the Quileute Tribe, graduated from our Green Business Development Training this year.

Since the Solar Women Warriors Scholarship was fully funded on, we have awarded three Native American women with scholarships to attend our Compressed Earth Block Training at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC), located on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

In partnership with Lakota Solar Enterprises and EARTHinBLOCKS, this multi-day course will offer students hands-on instruction in this unique form of sustainable construction. The training includes instruction on how to operate a compressed earth block machine, mixing mud ratios and building with earth blocks. Trainees will also learn how to design and construct an earth block building.

In addition to awarding these scholarships, we also opened our new dormitory and training center at RCREC. The Sacred Earth Lodge is a one-of-a-kind facility that allows us to host many more trainees and provides much larger classroom space for our workshops.

Sacred Earth Lodge

Risks and challenges

Our biggest challenge with this project has been weather. The Compressed Earth Block Training was originally scheduled for October 18-26, 2013. However, a very large and destructive early winter storm pounded Pine Ridge with nearly two feet of snow, causing extensive damage to buildings, roads, and trees and killing thousands of cattle. Due to this rare October snow storm, we have had to reschedule the training for Spring 2014. All three women will attend the rescheduled training using their scholarship funds.

“My intent is in utilizing all opportunities available to become sustainable, reduce energy consumption, and do the best I can for our Mother Earth. I would like to build Earth Block homes on the Yankton Sioux Reservation to alleviate the lack of adequate housing in Indian Country.” – Florence Hare Yankton Sioux

“My interest is to learn any and all I can about energy efficiency and renewable energy to one day build my own home.” – Tina Marie Steele, Oglala Lakota Sioux

Next steps

The next step will be to train all three of the Native American women who were awarded scholarships. After the women receive their hands-on training, we will help them gain access to other green job training opportunities that compliment sustainable building. In addition, we offer Native American entrepreneurs access to business development through the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center.

More information

We have created a new website for our Native American trainees! It is still under construction but you can check it out here:

Notes from the Field: Illuminating Opportunities for Energy Poor Communities

solar light and clean cookstove Honduras
Cooking by the light of a new solar lamp (Photo by Darren Mahuron).

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

Over the past year, our Solar Energy Program has grown considerably, and we are now importing product for distribution in four countries: Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras.  Funding from has enabled us to make a bulk purchase of 1,000 household solar lighting systems, the Barefoot Power Connect 600, both for commercial resale and as samples to our growing network of distributors throughout Central America.  Of the 1,000 units, 600 were sent to Honduras where we have 125 individual vendors and 20 institutional distributors representing our product line in rural communities.  This product arrives perfectly timed for promotion during the holiday season, which also corresponds with the yearly agricultural harvest.

Meeting with community members is an important part of project implementation.
Meeting with community members helps us to implement successful projects.

I recently spent four weeks touring the regions of Honduras in which we have distributed product since January 2012, and had the opportunity to interview dozens of customers who are benefiting from the clean renewable energy that we’ve made available to them.  There are tailors that can work longer hours, rural shops that can stay open later, students that can study long after dark, kids who don’t have to be afraid of going to the outdoor latrine in the dark, and hundreds of women who don’t have to breathe the toxic smoke from kerosene or wood splinter ocote candles when they rise before dawn to begin their daily routine.  By all indications, we saw that this was a project that needed to be expanded aggressively.

Risks and Challenges

Every ambitious project has its unique set of challenges and lessons to be learned.  We have seen manufacturers increase their prices as they bring new products on line, we have expanded our geographic reach to serve four countries instead of just one, and we have re-routed our supply chain to import in bulk through a central location (in this case through a free-trade zone in El Salvador). We have learned lessons every step of the way.

Next Steps

Currently, we have formalized our approach even further by registering a wholly owned subsidiary of Trees, Water & People, called Luciérnaga (‘firefly’ in Spanish), that will manage all of the supply chain related parts of the business.  Our goal is to be able to purchase larger quantities of product and to make our supply chain more efficient, providing our customers with the best value possible.  We are generating employment, new income streams, and clean energy for Central American families, and we plan on continuing to grow our operation to the benefit of tens of thousands of families.

luciernaga logo black

To learn more please visit our website or email Sebastian Africano at

Photo of the Week: Improved Sanitation for Families in El Salvador

dry composting latrines El Salvador

About this photo

Poorly built pit latrines can harbor diseases such as Hepatitis A, Protozoal Amoebiasis, and Ecoli as well as contaminate the environment over time. Trees, Water & People began installing dry composting latrines in El Salvador to improve quality of life and the environment by providing more sanitary conditions and controlling human waste that otherwise leaches into the soils and surrounding water supplies. 

Working with our local partner, Arboles y Agua para El Pueblo, and thanks to donors on, we recently installed five composting latrines for families in El Porvenir, El Salvador. A total of 19 people, such as Vilma Antonia Rivera Montano (pictured above), are now benefiting from cleaner sanitation solutions and healthier watersheds.

Thank you to everyone who supported this important project on Catapult!

Learn more about how our latrines work >>