TWP Celebrates International Day of the World’s Indigenous People

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

Today marks an important date on the calendar for indigenous communities around the world as the United Nations declares the International Day of the World¬īs Indigenous Peoples. This year, the Indigenous Peoples Day highlights the importance of education for indigenous communities worldwide.

For the international and national partners of Trees, Water & People (TWP) as well as the home office employees, every day is indigenous people¬īs day. Our tribal program in the US continues to break new ground on housing opportunities on the Pine Ridge Reservation, expand access to sustainable agriculture and improve food security, and work to reforest hillsides that have been decimated by fires and erosion. Our partnership with Henry Red Cloud has led to many educational opportunities for Native Americans over the years, such as business development courses, green job training, and sustainable building.

Solar Women Warrior Scholarship winners
These two young Native American women were the recipients of our Solar Women Warrior Scholarship and learned how to install solar air heaters. Here they are working on fans for a heater.

Internationally, with our partner Utz Ché in Guatemala, we are also working to provide education opportunities, training, and capacity building for indigenous communities. In our primary community of La Bendición, where we led two work tours last year, we continue to support training in beekeeping (two youth leaders attended an apiculture and permaculture workshop at the Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute in San Lucas de Toliman).

La Bendición was founded in 2000 by two different indigenous communities that were displaced by the armed conflict in the 1990s in western Guatemala. They were relocated to an abandoned and defunct coffee plantation in the southeastern part of the country and were passed a bill for the value of the land, as assessed by the government. The discrepancy between the valuation of the land and what they received has characterized the next 16 years of their community’s existence. They have fought for dismissal of this over-inflated debt so they could get on with learning how to live separated from their ancestral land and people.

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Osvin Goméz of La Bendición fits a wax mold into a frame for the beehive to build a new honeycomb.

According to Oswaldo Mauricio, our primary coordinator with La Bendición and the director of Campesino exchanges for Utz Ché:

“The relationship between TWP, Utz Ch√©, and La Bendici√≥n contributes to an enhanced quality of life in many different ways. Together we improve the overall reforestation and conservation of the forests, protect the watersheds and the rivers, moderate the use of firewood and pressures on the forest, and help smallholder farmers diversify their parcels (productivity projects). All these activities are the primary focal point for the creation of better educational opportunities, both informal and formal. All of these developments help to ensure clean and healthy food production and consumption for the families of La Bendici√≥n.”

In addition to these efforts, our ongoing goal to build 500 clean cookstoves, in collaboration with Utz Ch√© and two Guatemalan improved cookstove producers, EcoComal and Do√Īa Dora, is helping to train and educate other Utz Ch√© communities on the use and maintenance of the clean cookstoves. Your donation will allow indigenous communities in southern Guatemala to have access to these clean cookstoves, as well as the training they need to use and maintain them.

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Guest Blog: Estufa Do√Īa Dora Teams up with Trees, Water & People

by David Evitt, co-founder and CEO of Estufa¬†Do√Īa Dora¬†

A staggering 57% of Guatemalan energy use comes from firewood. That single statistic puts the challenge of clean cooking in context. In rural areas, there is near total dependence on biomass energy. For those families, wood for cooking is their only significant use of energy.

70% of Guatemalan families cook with wood, mostly on improvised open fire stoves that leave the kitchen filled with smoke, leading to disastrous health outcomes. Household air pollution globally causes more deaths than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. The country-level outcomes for Guatemala are similar, with 5,000 deaths a year caused by indoor air pollution, and acute respiratory infections aggravated by kitchen smoke being the leading killer of children under five.

Yes, the challenge of clean cooking in Guatemala is monumental. However, we see this as an opportunity. Estufa Do√Īa Dora is a Guatemalan social enterprise founded on the idea that a clean cookstove should have more in common with consumer durables, like blenders and TV‚Äôs, even when used for humanitarian interventions. We recognize that a cookstove is mission-critical professional equipment for Guatemalan cooks.

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A woman in southern Guatemala tests our her brand new Do√Īa Dora stove.

The most important criteria for a Guatemalan cookstove are that 1) it has the necessary capacity for the family‚Äôs cooking needs, 2) it cooks quickly and well, 3) it‚Äôs affordable, 4) it gets the smoke out of the house, and 5) it saves wood. Estufa Do√Īa Dora has been working since 2011 to deliver products that meet all those criteria. We are the only company in Guatemala that sells a majority of efficient cookstoves directly to individual families.

We divide families into two broad groups: wood buyers and wood collectors. The wood buyers are able to pay for a cookstove over time by getting a loan through our microfinance partners, and redirecting their savings on firewood to pay for the stove. Wood collectors do not have a ready income stream to invest in a stove. That is where international development organizations like Trees, Water & People (TWP) can focus their efforts for maximum impact.

Learning about the new Do√Īa Dora stove
This community in southern Guatemala is learning about their new Do√Īa Dora stoves.

We are proud to partner with TWP and Utz Ch√© to bring Do√Īa Dora cookstoves to 414 families gathering wood in the Camot√°n, Chiquimula and Quesada, Jutiapa areas of southern Guatemala. These types of partnerships are critical to bringing the capacity, function, and ease-of-use of the Do√Īa Dora in a way that meets the needs of the project and families. To lower costs and involve the family, Utz Ch√© has been delivering the pre-built, internal components of the stove and they have then been training the families on how to build the supporting structure from concrete cinderblock or Adobe, according to their preference and budget.

In following up with the first community to receive the stoves, 98% of families reported loving the stove, having no problems, and saving 50% on firewood. We were able to give extra attention to the families that needed additional support adapting to the technology, and are confident that they will adapt quickly.

Please support TWP and Utz Ché in helping eliminate household air pollution and reduce firewood consumption in 500 Guatemalan homes. Your support will help change the way these families cook their food for generations to come.

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Guest Blog: StoveTeam International and Trees, Water & People Team Up!

Introduction by Sebastian Africano, International Director

At Trees, Water & People (TWP), we’re one organization in a global movement to improve living conditions for some of the world’s poorest families. Working together with other groups expands our reach and our impact, which is why we are thrilled to collaborate with our colleagues at StoveTeam International to improve cooking conditions for rural Guatemalan families. Please enjoy our guest blog post by Katie Laughlin of StoveTeam International, and support TWP’s goal of funding 500 stoves for Guatemala in June 2016!

by Katie Laughlin, Program Director at StoveTeam International

In Guatemala, 2.4 million families cook over traditional open fires. Without action, that number will likely increase to 2.8 million by 2030. That’s a scary vision for the future of Guatemala, a nation whose iconic landscapes of virgin lowland jungles and highland cloud forests are already disappearing alarmingly fast due to escalating rates of deforestation; and where burns and respiratory infections caused by harmful smoke are responsible for more than 5,000 deaths a year.

Natividad Ortiz, who is the third beneficiary of the stoves in the community of El Tarral
Natividad and her family are the third beneficiaries of a clean cookstove in the community of El Tarral in southern Guatemala.

StoveTeam International is motivated to change this grim prognosis by supporting efforts, large and small, to provide communities access to efficient and safe cooking alternatives. That’s why we are excited to support Trees Water & People’s effort to provide hundreds of clean cookstoves to families in Guatemala!

This summer, TWP and its partner, Utz Ché, will provide 500 stoves to three critically poor communities in Chiquimula, Jutiapa, and Escuintla. A StoveTeam International-sponsored cookstove factory, EcoComal, will provide many of these stoves. In StoveTeam’s experience, three elements are vital to success when working with local entrepreneurs to create independently owned and operated cookstove businesses Рtrust, local knowledge, and a passion for making a difference. TWP, Utz Ché, and EcoComal bring all three to their work with communities to create a culture of clean, smoke-free cooking that can be passed on to the next generation.

community receiving clean cookstoves
The community of El Tarral receiving clean cookstoves last month in southern Guatemala.

You too can be a part of the solution by donating a stove today. Together, we can impact Guatemala’s future and change the lives of families cooking over smoky and dangerous open fires. Make a tax-deductible donation to this project today.

 

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15th Anniversary of La Bendici√≥n

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

Today¬†marks the 15th anniversary of the founding of one of our keystone communities, La Bendici√≥n, in southeastern Guatemala. This community served as a gateway for us when we sought to deepen our presence in Guatemala through our local partner, The Association for Community Forestry, Utz Ch√© (translates as ‚ÄúGood Tree‚ÄĚ in the Kaqchiquel language). Utz Ch√© introduced Trees, Water & People (TWP) to La Bendici√≥n with hopes that we could develop a long-term relationship to address some of the long-term challenges the community faces, such as agrarian debt, isolation and lack of livelihood opportunities.

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Women of the La Bendición community cooking.

La Bendición was founded on June 7th, 2000 by two indigenous communities that were displaced by the armed conflict in the 1990s in western Guatemala. They were relocated to an abandoned and defunct coffee plantation in the southeastern part of the country and were passed a bill for the value of the land, as assessed by the government. The discrepancy between the valuation of the land and what they received would characterize the next 14 years of their community’s existence. They have fought for dismissal of this over-inflated debt so they could get on with learning how to live separated from their ancestral land and people.

Last year, which marked my first year with TWP, I was fortunate enough to visit the community on three different occasions. My first week with TWP, March 2015, I joined our International Director, Sebastian Africano on a work trip with 16 other participants from all over the U.S. It was a huge success and served as a great introduction to the critical partnership building and community development that are a hallmark of TWP¬īs development model. Then, in October, I made an individual visit to work with Oswaldo Mauricio Orozco, who is both one of the community¬īs main youth group leaders and the Coordinator for Campesino Exchanges at Utz Ch√©. During that visit, we analyzed lessons learned from the March work trip in preparation for the then-upcoming December-January work trip with the Geller Center and Unity of Fort Collins. These groups also had a tremendous experience during their time in the community.

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The work group from the Geller Center and Unity of Fort Collins learning about coffee farming.

Our efforts at La Bendición are ongoing, with continued support in many strategic areas, including:

Agroforestry and apiculture¬†– helping to strengthen and deepen the community¬īs commitment to strengthening the full life cycle of the forest and diversifying livelihoods with value-added products.

Sustainable agriculture Рwhile coffee remains the principal cash crop, pineapple plots have increased exponentially and they are now focused on commercialization and marketing of these high-quality fruits.

Capacity building and leadership Рsupporting the youth group in its efforts to lead on agriculture, livelihoods and forestry through important trainings and opportunities for education and professional growth.

Community forestry and ecotourism¬†– from its founding, La Bendici√≥n¬īs leaders realized how important the surrounding forest is and they have worked tirelessly to manage the buffer zone with an eye toward conserving forest health. Ecotourism proposals and concepts are currently underway and the renovation of the main community center was a focus of the last work trip¬īs efforts.

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Harvesting pineapple in La Bendición.

Help us celebrate the anniversary of this special community by donating to our efforts to install 500 stoves in three Utz Ché communities over the next two months. We are currently raising funds to complete the installation of these stoves with an eye toward expanding the project to Utz Ché’s network of 40+ indigenous partner communities across Guatemala. La Bendición is one of these communities, and we are excited to continue to support them as they continue on a path of sustainable development, autonomy, and prosperity.

Feliz Aniversario!

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Capacity Building to Combat Climate Change in Central America

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

At Trees, Water & People we operate under the belief that communities living closest to natural resources are the best situated to manage them in a sustainable manner. National or Departmental governments often have the mandate to designate protected areas, but are also often strapped for funds to properly monitor use and enforce protections. Communities living along the edges of these protected areas understand the value of these areas, but often their agricultural activities are at odds with ecosystem health. Pressures between the communities and the protected areas grow even more acute in periods of drought or crop disease, which has been the norm in Central America for the past four years.

There are many who believe there are better ways to work with these families rather than monitoring and enforcing against their incursions into the protected area. Instead of seeing communities as an implicit threat against these treasures, we at Trees, Water & People see a resource that merits development. That’s why we’ve started a new Capacity Building Fund – a donor supported fund that allows us to send our implementing partners to attend training opportunities in their region that help build climate resilience. For instance, we are currently sponsoring two indigenous youth group leaders in Guatemala. These leaders want to develop skills in sustainable agriculture at a 10-day course at the Insituto Mesoamericano de Permacultura (IMAP), which they will in-turn teach to their community. We are also raising funds for two longtime partners from El Salvador and Honduras to attend a 3 week workshop on protected area management. This course is taught by CATIE and Colorado State University’s Center for Protected Area Management.

One of the participants in this second training is Armando Hernandez, Director of Arboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP), our partner organization in El Salvador. His team recently finished the first phase of a project in the Biosphere Reserve Apaneca-Ilamatepec in Western El Salvador. There they worked with communities surrounding the biosphere to develop a management plan. This included training park rangers and local guides from the community, developing biodiversity curriculum for the local schools, mapping and adding signage to the trails, starting an agroforestry program with help from a local coffee farm, and implementing fuel-efficient clean cookstoves that use less woodfuel than the traditional alternative.

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Armando Hernandez, Director of Arboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP), with a Mejorada clean cookstove.

René Santos Mata of the Center for Education in Sustainable Agriculture (CEASO) is conducting a similar process with twelve communities in the Cordillera de Montecillos, a mountain range in Central Honduras that provides water to three major watersheds and acts as a stopover for migratory birds with threatened status in the U.S.

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René Santos Mata of CEASO working with his community members to develop a biosphere management plan.

Building the capacity of key actors with access to agricultural communities near protected areas creates a multiplier effect that results in a better relationship between community members and the natural resources on which their livelihoods depend.  Please visit the current home of our Capacity Building Fund to support the costs of this training for Armando and René. And be sure to check back with us quarterly to see new pairings of the people that help implement our programs and the educational opportunities they are pursuing. As always, thank you for supporting Trees, Water & People, and please pass this post to friends and loved ones that would be interested to hear about our work.

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Conserving Guatemala’s Forests with Clean Cookstoves

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Community members gather for a clean cookstove demo hosted by Utz Che’. Local women help to design the fuel-efficient stoves based on their cooking habits and preferences.

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

After six months of planning, we are proud to launch into an ambitious clean cookstove initiative with our partner Utz Che’ in Guatemala.¬† From now through August 2016, Trees, Water & People (TWP) and Utz Che’ will be building¬†500 new clean cookstoves in three indigenous communities in the departments of Chiquimula, Jutiapa, and Escuintla.

Clean cookstoves provide many benefits to rural, indigenous families who do not have access to the electrical grid. These stoves remove smokey, open fires from the kitchen, greatly reducing deadly household air pollution. In addition to the human health benefits, cookstoves also reduce deforestation. In Guatemala, over 71% of the nation’s 14 million people are dependent on wood to cook every meal. This demand for fuelwood has put a huge strain on one of the country’s most precious natural resources: the forests.¬†¬†Each stove uses about 50% less wood every time a meal is cooked, taking pressure off of the country’s forests and saving families money and time.

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Utz Che’ (“good tree” in the Maya K‚Äôiche‚Äô language) is a unique organization as it is an association that represents¬†36¬†autonomous indigenous groups from around Guatemala, all working toward economic and environmental sustainability.¬† Utz Che’ helps these groups navigate the complex Guatemalan laws that govern property and natural resource rights, and advocates in the legal realm for communities¬†to retain management and ownership of their land and resources.

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At a clean cookstove demonstration hosted by Utz Che’, local women test cookstove models that they will eventually use in their own homes.

TWP adds to the portfolio of Utz Che’ services by helping to build community tree nurseries, supporting training opportunities for Utz Che’ field staff and community members, and raising funds for clean cookstove initiatives, such as this one.¬† This is our community-based philosophy in action ‚Äď partnering with local organizations to access remote communities, in order to collaboratively achieve local conservation goals and improve quality of life.

TWP’s work does not happen without the support of our donors here in the US.  That said, I encourage you to help us deliver the best service possible by donating to this and other TWP programs using the button below.  Over the next six months we will be posting updates about our Guatemala clean cookstove initiative, so sign up for our eNewsletter to watch our progress!

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Trees, Water & People’s 2015 Impact Report

Thank you to our generous friends and donors who helped make 2015 a great year! Working closely with our local partners, community members, and volunteers, we were able to continue important conservation work throughout Central America, Haiti, and on tribal lands in the United States that benefit people and the planet.

2015 impact report

To learn more about Trees, Water & People’s community-based conservation projects please visit www.treeswaterpeople.org. Cheers to a productive and green 2016!

Infographic: Why Clean Cookstoves?

Since 1998, Trees, Water & People has been working with our partners and local community members to design clean cookstoves that greatly reduce deadly indoor air pollution, deforestation, and high fuel costs. These cookstoves are designed according to specific cooking needs and cultural context, which is why they can look very different from country to country. However, all of these stoves have one important thing in common: they make cooking much safer for women and their families.

Clean Cookstoves

To learn more about Trees, Water & People’s Clean Cookstove Program please click here.

Guest Blog: Studying the Health Impacts of Clean Cookstoves in Honduras

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The cute kids of El Cacao- a good reminder to why we do this work. Photo credits: Jon Stack and Bonnie Young

by Bonnie Young, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Colorado State University

As a crispness starts to sharpen the August nights in Fort Collins, it can only mean two things: 1) fall is nipping at the heels of summer, and 2) it’s time to head back to Honduras. Admittedly, the summer in Colorado has been luxurious with yoga classes, buttercream cupcakes, and Internet access everywhere- all things decidedly unavailable in the small town of La Esperanza, Honduras where we do our cookstove fieldwork.

traditional cookstove Honduras
A traditional stove uses a large amount of wood and produces toxic household air pollution.

The past three months in Colorado has also given my colleagues and me an opportunity to dig into the rich data we collected from 525 women across 14 farming villages from September 2014 through May 2015. Of this sample, we had 85 women who owned a Justa cookstove and answered questions about stove preferences and behaviors.

Initial Findings from Justa Cookstove Users

The Justa (pronounced ‘who-sta’)¬†clean cookstove, originally designed by Trees, Water & People and engineers from the Aprovecho Research Center, is a cleaner-burning cookstove with an insulated combustion chamber in a ‚Äúrocket elbow‚ÄĚ shape with a¬†built-in chimney to ventilate toxic smoke from the home. The majority of Justa stoves¬†in this region of Honduras are provided by¬†non-governmental organizations, and most women (92%) in our sample supplied¬†materials or paid some money to help with construction costs of their stove. Over 95% of Justa stove owners in our sample reported their Justa stove was better than their traditional stove to cook tortillas, keep smoke out of the house, and maintain cleanliness. Every single woman with a Justa in our sample said that it used¬†less wood than their traditional stove. These findings are especially important considering that on average, our sample of Justa owners use their stoves for 10 hours a day!

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Our sample of Justa clean cookstove owners use their stoves for 10 hours a day!

There are other models of improved stoves in this region, too. Our preliminary data suggest some differences between these models regarding their efficiency and condition. For example, 74% of Justa stoves were still in good condition based on researcher observation, while only 42% of the other improved stoves were in good condition. There are many possible reasons for these differences. One reason might be that the technicians that build the Justa stoves spend time teaching the owner how to clean and maintain their stove. This education is crucial to help owners understand how to properly use their new stove and keep it working well for the long-term.

We are learning that there is so much more to explore about stove use in this area. Our next round of the study aims to build Justa stoves for 300 women between the ages of 25-55 years. We plan to carefully measure their health and household air pollution over time to see if there are improvements as they transition away from their traditional stove.

As we pack our bags to head back to Honduras for four months of fieldwork during the rainy season (or should I call it the downpour season?), I find myself weighing the pros and cons of doing meaningful work in a developing country, versus the sinful delight of my favorite vanilla cupcake at Buttercream. Sigh. Cookstoves win, again.

To contact Bonnie Young about her clean cookstove research in Honduras please email Bonnie.Young@colostate.edu.

Notes from the Field: Guatemala’s Forest Guardians

Cultural exchange unites children from Guatemala with TWP supporters from the US.
Cultural exchange united children from Guatemala with Trees, Water & People supporters from the U.S. (Image by Jeff Lejann Abbott)

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

Earlier this month, Trees, Water & People (TWP)¬†staff led a Work Tour to several locations in Guatemala, primarily in the southern region of the country. The focal point of this trip was a 4-day working visit to the rural community of La Bendici√≥n, located in the department of Escuintla. A total of 18 participants embarked on the special journey to gain an in-depth view into one of the key areas of TWP¬īs international focus: the agroforestry communities of Guatemala.

The history of La Bendición is as complex and compelling as that of Guatemala as a whole. Currently, the community consists of three distinct ethnic groups from the western side of the country who fled their homes in search of a more stable and hospitable place to settle. They were promised a fertile area with well-equipped infrastructure, but instead found a challenging mountainside with high winds, limited water, and very poor road access.

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Rough roads and a harsh climate make La Bendición a tough place to live and work. (Image by Jeff Lejann Abbott)

La Bendici√≥n has been a key part of our overall presence in Guatemala since Sebastian Africano, TWP¬īs International Director, first began to cultivate the relationship with local partner Utz Che‚Äô over four years ago. La Bendici√≥n is one of over 40 communities represented by Utz Che¬ī, an umbrella organization that provides legal services and critical advocacy to underserved, mostly indigenous, communities. This was the first Work Tour experience to this community and, by all accounts, a very successful endeavor. In the future, TWP hopes to be able to bring groups here at least once a year.

The flourishing community nursery now has 35,000 plants growing.
The flourishing community nursery now has 35,000 plants growing. Work tour participants had the pleasure of working with local youth to do some weeding. (Image by Jeff Lejann Abbott)

It is important to include a note of gratitude here to the participants of the work trip for their exceptional energy, engagement, patience and dedication to learning as much as possible about La Bendici√≥n, TWP¬īs work in the region and the reality of Guatemala.

“Outstanding cultural experience and wonderful people. You should continue to offer it and other similar trips. Nice mix of work and “tourist” activities. Thanks!” – 2015 Work Tour Participant

In terms of learning and engagement, the primary focus of the trip included:

  • Overview of community history and economic development realities and challenges
  • Agroforestry crops and production
  • Apiculture (bee keeping) best practices
  • Cultural and social exchange with community members

Some notable highlights were the tours of the honey production and beekeeping project, which included a visit to the colonies and sampling of the honey straight off the honeycomb. ¬†We also enjoyed visiting the tree nursery and pineapple fields, which have expanded seven-fold in just the last couple of years, from an original total of 5,000 plants to over 35,000 total plants. The expansion of the pineapple project has grown to include the use of more organic methods with help from one of the community¬īs younger members, who studied organic agricultural practices at University before returning to share his expertise with fellow campesinos. This type of engagement from the youth is critical to insure the creation of economic opportunities that allow them to remain part of the community¬īs present and future development plans and resist the urges of immigration.

David (left) and myself on our cloud forest hike.
Community leader, David (left), and myself on our cloud forest hike. (Image by Jeff Lejann Abbott)

Perhaps the most striking observations about the history and struggle of La Bendición were broached on a group hike to the community’s water source, the imposing mountain that forms their scenic backdrop. David, one of the youth group leaders and a champion for agricultural and economic empowerment, highlighted the struggles to develop and work their land with less than ideal infrastructure and climate. Another challenge is the external interest groups, especially agribusiness and timber agents, who eye the exceptionally well preserved forest that forms the backbone of their watershed and agroforestry existence. The forest is made up of rare hard and softwoods and old growth trees that are critical to the ecosystem and habitat, but also a prized commodity for selective cutting by the timber industry.

The forest provides resources and bidoversity, such as honey bees, that are critical to survival.
The forest provides resources and bi0diversity, such as honey bee habitat, that are critical to survival. (Image by Jeff Lejann Abbott)

Through education and public awareness, David and his fellow community members remain committed and dedicated guardians of the forest. With hard work and perseverance, they have managed to improve their quality of life through the design and implementation of critical projects, like apiculture and pineapple production, as well as the installation of clean cookstoves, solar lighting systems, and improved water infrastructure.

Through these forest conservation and community development efforts, and continued support from TWP and Utz Che’ staff and donors, David and other local¬†leaders hope to continue educating their community on the importance of the land and forest while working to improve livelihoods. Their is much hope and opportunity for a brighter future in La Bendici√≥n, and we hope you will join us in supporting these efforts!