By James Zafarana, CSU Alternative Break Participant
I feel blessed to have gone to the Pine Ridge Reservation with Trees, Water & People and Colorado State University. Over the past few months, our group of eight students have been learning about the reality of life on Pine Ridge. It was honestly scary. The statistics speak for themselves. Indigenous communities in our country face some daunting institutional barriers. It made me wonder where we can target interventions to chip away at these obstacles. Trees, Water & People, along with the community partners we worked with on the reservation, taught me how we can work collaboratively to dissect these issues.
During our trip, we spent a day at the Allen Youth Center, where we saw how the Center is providing a safe space for youth on Pine Ridge. During the day, we played with kids and learned about how the Center is mentoring the kids and helping to preserve Lakota culture. The mentors told us how they are attempting to combat the high dropout rate, mental health, and substance abuse issues through mentoring.
We spent two days at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center. During this time we helped maintain their sustainable garden and install a new roof on their greenhouse. Henry Red Cloud, the proprietor of Lakota Solar Enterprises (LSE), showed us how his community is using renewable energy to provide power and heat homes on the reservation, reducing the economic burden of energy use. He explained how his partnership with TWP has enabled LSE to scale up their operation and provide a teaching space for sustainable energy and gardening practices.
Our last day was spent at the Pine Ridge Girls’ School. This school is working hard to revive their culture by incorporating traditional knowledge systems with Western education models. While this school acknowledges the value of teaching Western methods of scientific discovery, they also feel strongly that their mission is to foster an appreciation for their students’ traditional Lakota culture.
Each of these places are tackling these formidable barriers in ways that felt more attainable. This trip was one of those unique experiences that helps refine your values and inspires your future. It demonstrated to me how even some of the most daunting, wicked problems can be tackled when members of the community fight.
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by Bonnie Young, Ph.D., MPH Postdoctoral Research Fellow Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO
Remember that parable about the boy and the starfish? It went something like this — a boy walked along the beach, picking up starfish and throwing them back into the ocean. A recent storm had passed, and the shore was covered with thousands of them. A man stopped and asked the boy what he was doing, pointing out that he couldn’t possibly help all the starfish. The boy bent down, picked up another one, threw it into the ocean, turned to the man and replied with a smile, “It made a difference to that one.”
Our research in environmental health can feel daunting. Around 2.8 billion people, almost a third of the world’s population, use solid fuel to meet their household energy needs, like cooking and heating (Bonjour et al., 2013). Using inefficient stoves to burn solid fuel — like wood, animal dung, and coal — creates toxic pollution. Imagine hovering over the thick plume of smoke from a campfire for hours a day. Now imagine doing that indoors for the majority of your life. The health impacts from breathing solid fuel smoke are many, such as lung cancer, pneumonia, poor pregnancy outcomes, and cardiovascular effects (Quansah et al., 2017). It is estimated that in 2015, 2.9 million people died prematurely due to their exposure to solid fuel smoke, mostly from cooking (Forouzanfar et al. 2016). In addition to the negative impacts on human health, these inefficient stoves create hazardous pollution for the environment and use resources, such as trees, for fuel.
With a problem this vast, it can be hard to imagine that one project among 230 women in rural Honduras would make a difference.
But we are making good on a promise that was made in 2014 to these women and their community leaders — to select a group of families to receive an improved Justa (pronounced ‘who-sta’) stove and visit them every six months for a few years to see how their pollution levels and health change after receiving a Justa clean cookstove. The Justa is a well-accepted, culturally appropriate stove, which was originally designed by Trees, Water & People, and is now made locally in Honduras. If you ask the women in our study, who had cooked their entire lives on traditional stoves and then received their Justa stove in 2016 or 2017, you’ll hear heartfelt stories of less smoke, less coughing, and cleaner air for the entire family.
Of course, it will be ideal at the end of the study if we see improvements in women’s health, like lower blood pressure, plus reductions in household air pollution and use of less wood-fuel.
Changes like these can have larger public health impacts and potentially lead to stove interventions among entire communities. However, regardless of the bigger picture from this study, I know that the 230 houses that were involved with this intervention are now cooking on cleaner and more efficient stoves, with less smoke inhaled by the entire family, and I feel confident that we have made a difference for those “ones.”
Trees, Water & People and our partner organization, Utz Che’, are working to build 500 clean cookstoves this year in Guatemala. If you would like to help fund a stove for a family or would like to learn more about the importance of this project, click the button below.
Bonjour S., Adair-Rohani H., et al., 2013. Solid fuel use for household cooking: country and regional estimates for 1980-2010. Environm. Health Perspec. 121, 784-790.
Forouzanfar M., Afshin A., et al., 2016. Global, regional, and national comparative risk assessment of 79 behavioural, environmental and occupational, and metabolic risks or clusters of risks, 1990-2015: a systematic analysis for the global burden of disease study 2015. Lancet 388, 1659-1724.
Quansah R., Semple S., et al., 2017. Effectiveness of interventions to reduce household air pollution and/or improve health in homes using solid fuel in low-and-middle income countries: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Environment International 103, 73-90.
The Principal Investigator of this project is Maggie L. Clark, Ph.D., along with Co-Investigator Jennifer L. Peel, Ph.D., MPH. This research is funded by an NIH K99/R00 grant (PI M.Clark).
Bonnie joined the CSU Honduras cookstove team in September 2014 after finishing a 2-year epidemiology fellowship in Hawaii. She earned her Ph.D. in evolutionary anthropology and M.P.H. from the University of New Mexico. As an Anthropologist interested in global health, Bonnie has worked with urban and rural communities around the world, including Mexico, Costa Rica, Paraguay, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia. Her research interests span environmental health, tuberculosis, and perinatal health. Now as a Postdoc with the cookstove team, Bonnie enjoys the fieldwork in Honduras, working with community leaders, eating corn tortillas, tutoring neighbor kids in English, and doing yoga in her free time.
Those of us who work in sustainable development and conservation know all too well the roller coaster of “inspiration highs” and “heartbreak lows” that go along with this line of work. Working from an office is one thing, but working directly with the communities we are supporting is another. I am so grateful to have had the chance to visit Pine Ridge Reservation as a part of my internship with Trees, Water & People. As hard as it was to see the striking overlap between rural farmers in Guatemala, and Lakota families in South Dakota, it is incredibly important to recognize how these stories weave together.
“For me, it was difficult to see and hear about the state of people’s living conditions on the reservation, and their own personal struggles. Though, I also saw hope in the people we met who take pride in their culture and are excited to share it with others.” – Julia Matteucci, CSU Freshman
Building a house for a Lakota family using sustainable Compressed Earth Blocks (CEB) from local materials on Pine Ridge. Photo by Vanesa Blanco Lopez
I wasn’t alone on this roller coaster ride, however – nine enthusiastic Colorado State University (CSU) students participated in a week-long service learning trip as a part of their Alternative Spring Break. In fact, the TWP-Pine Ridge-CSU partnership has been in existence for over 10 years! During our week, we worked alongside Henry and Gloria Red Cloud and Lakota community members on a variety of service projects. On our first day, we prepared the Solar Warrior Farm for planting, an initiative that feeds hundreds of people each season who usually only have access to over-priced-and-processed foods found at the only grocery store in town. When I learned that over 60% of people in Pine Ridge suffer from diabetes and other diet-related illnesses, I realized first-hand how important food sovereignty initiatives are and have been within the Lakota Nation.
“By working on the farm, we were setting a foundation for Henry to feed people on the reservation and help educate people on how to grow healthy food and find a sustainable way to feed themselves.” – Amy Borngrebe, CSU Junior
Among the cross-cultural experiences we had, such as meeting a storyteller, visiting Wounded Knee Massacre, and participating in a Sweat Lodge Ceremony, we engaged in meaningful reflections each night at the Sacred Earth Lodge, and embraced the ups and downs of visiting Pine Ridge. After a week of bonding with new friends, and experiencing a forgotten culture so close to home, we promised to return one day.
If you would like to donate your time and volunteer with Trees, Water & People, please email Molly Geppert at firstname.lastname@example.org to see what opportunities we have available. If you’re short on time and can’t make a trip to Pine Ridge, please consider making a donation.
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.
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 “rocket elbow” 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!
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.
When you think of torrential downpours, mud-slick roads, and backcountry hiking, you might imagine an exciting episode of “The Amazing Race.” Our fieldwork in rural western Honduras was similar, although we lacked a camera crew and the promise of a grand prize.
As a postdoctoral researcher with Colorado State University (CSU), I worked side-by-side for two months with Sarah Rajkumar, another CSU postdoc, Jon Stack, a CSU volunteer, and Gloribel Bautista, a local coordinator. Our goal was to work with communities to enroll 500 women in villages in Yamaranguila and Intibucá. This was our first step in a three-year project to investigate the health impacts of cookstove-based pollution, and to learn about women’s perceptions and behaviors with different stove types.
Most people in this agricultural region use wood-burning stoves to cook, heat their home, dry clothes, and generate light. Poor-functioning and inefficient stoves create household air pollution and demand excessive amounts of wood, meaning harmful effects on people’s health and the environment. Women and children often have greater exposure to indoor smoke since they tend to spend more time in the kitchen.
Knowing the importance of this research and its potential impacts fueled our daily slogs from house-to-house during the rainy season, where every hot cup of coffee and fresh corn tortilla felt like a grand prize.
Note: The principal investigators of this study are Jennifer Peel, Ph.D., and Maggie Clark, Ph.D. Our work is in collaboration with Trees, Water & People, and a local Honduran development organization, AHDESA. Stay tuned for updates on this project during our next field session, February – May, 2015.
Community meeting in Zacate Blanco to introduce ourselves and explain the project.
Speaking on the local radio show with Don Jose “Chepe” in Yamaranguila to broadcast our research in the region.
From left to right: Local coordinator, Gloribel Bautista, and CSU postdoctoral researchers, Bonnie Young and Sarah Rajkumar.
The muddy road prevails over the 4-wheel drive truck.
I first met Maggie Clark, an environmental epidemiologist at Colorado State University (CSU) , back in 2005 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, when she came to test the health of women exposed to wood smoke from cooking over open fires. Since then, we have both worked continually on improving conditions in Central American kitchens via clean cookstoves designed and built by Trees, Water & People (TWP) and partners.
Last week I had the great pleasure of joining forces with Dr. Maggie again in Honduras, as we launch an ambitious, comprehensive study to show the benefits of improved cookstoves on the health of rural women and their families in the mountainous western region of the country. While most studies of this kind are short term snapshots of the benefits that come from improving cookstove technology, this study proposes following over 400 women over three years as they transition from traditional open fire cooking to improved cookstoves.
Trees, Water & People began working with cookstoves in 1998 as an effort to reduce deforestation and carbon emissions, and together with Aprovecho Research Center designed a culturally appropriate cookstove that reduced firewood consumption in any given household by an average of 50%. What we later learned, is that the smoke that families (mostly women and children) are exposed to daily during cooking is responsible for up to 4 million deaths a year globally, and leads to chronic lifelong health complications for millions more.
We are certain that improved cookstoves improve conditions in households where firewood is used to cook daily. What CSU and TWP seek to show, however, is that many factors play into a family’s decision to adopt, fully utilize and benefit from a cookstove over time, and that the presence or absence of certain factors influence the degree to which health improves. By using data generated by this study to optimize what technologies we introduce and how we implement them, we seek to improve the impacts of our work and inform the work of the countless other organizations working to improve life in firewood-dependent communities.
It’s an honor to be working with my friend Dr. Maggie Clark and CSU on such a groundbreaking study, and its great to see the dedication and resilience of the cookstove community as we work to improve living conditions in some of the most challenging environments in the world.
Passion for a business venture that meets the triple bottom-line – people, planet, and profit – is what really drives a team of students at the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA Program at Colorado State University. Working with Trees, Water & People, the group of four students are helping to develop Luciérnaga,a social enterprise that commercially distributes solar lighting products through networks of community-based organizations (CBOs) and agricultural cooperatives in Honduras.
Luciérnaga (“firefly” in Spanish) has a strong sustainable mission: “use an extensive network of agricultural cooperatives to provide 2.2 million Honduran families without electricity access to affordable, efficient and environmentally friendly solar lights that can be used for educational, household, and economic gains.”
This summer, the GSSE team will be traveling to Honduras to conduct in-depth research on Luciérnaga’s business operations such as the supply chain distribution, cooperative functionality, and customer service. They will use the information learned in the field to close Luciérnaga’s business gaps and increase scalability in Honduras and throughout other countries in Central America.
The diverse GSSE team, composed of Alicia Prusinksi, Magaly Mori, Kevin Rodriguez, and Trang Tran (pictured below from left to right), is currently fundraising for their trip by participating in a business competition, pitching to social and sustainable businesses, and crowdfunding.
Check out their website, meet their team, and consider funding their project. Remember that with one good deed YOU can make a change in the world!