Guatemala Volcano Recovery

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Mural in Guatemala depicting the history of displacement

by Patricia Flores White, Development Director

On Sunday, June 3rd, 2018, Volcán de Fuego erupted in Southern Guatemala, unleashing a massive pyroclastic flow that tore down the mountain’s southern flank at 50 mph. 300 are dead or missing while thousands were evacuated to relief shelters. Currently, recovery efforts have ceased and transportation in the area have been paralyzed, leaving the displaced indefinitely separated from their homes and livelihoods.

Among those displaced are the families of La Trinidad – one of Trees, Water & People’s (TWPs) partner communities and a member community of the Utz Che’ network. This is the third major displacement of this vulnerable population in a generation. Guatemala’s genocidal civil war drove them out of their native Huehuetenango into Mexico in the 1980s, only to be later resettled onto the high-risk flanks of Volcán Fuego.

Last year, we were fortunate enough to install cookstoves for 115 families in La Trinidad and to develop a plan to work on several projects with their coffee cooperative, Unión Huista. With the help of our generous TWP family of supporters, we have committed the month of July to fundraise for the community of La Trinidad as it navigates emergency relief, relocation, and negotiation with the State to keep access to its farmlands.

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Map detailing area of pyroclastic flow and affected community

TWP is dedicated to improving people’s lives by helping people protect, conserve, and manage the natural resources upon which their well-being depends. While we are not a disaster relief agency we have the opportunity to work intimately with the affected communities in Guatemala during this time of chaos and devastation. We strive to live and breathe our community-based development philosophy in both words and action. As such, our Guatemalan partners, la Asociación de Forestería Comunitaria Utz Ché, have entrusted us to raise funds for the prolonged recovery process facing La Trinidad.

Everyone plays a role in making the world more sustainable and humane. Our donors provide the means, TWP provides networks and know-how, our local partners deliver solutions, and each beneficiary provides local materials and sweat equity. Together we drive change and create dignified, healthy futures for our global community. La Trinidad and their local coffee cooperative Unión Huista will need years to recover their agricultural productivity, and TWP and Utz Ché have committed to be there every step of the way.

We honor and appreciate everything that you do to help vulnerable communities like La Trinidad when they need it most. We could not do this work without your help. You will continue to see this crisis featured throughout the month of July as we garner aid and public support for the communities of Guatemala impacted by this natural disaster.

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Give today to help our partners in Guatemala begin their long and arduous journey towards recovery.

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Experiencing Community Development in Nicaragua

by Annalise Mecham, Development Director

As the incoming Development Director at Trees, Water & People, my job is to raise the funds that will keep the organization running. Even before taking this position, I knew that to do my job successfully I would need to visit the places where we work, shake hands with our partners, smell a kitchen with a clean cookstove, and touch the soil where we are growing our trees.

This opportunity came in the middle of January when I got to travel to Nicaragua for a week-long stay with Gemara Gifford, TWP’s International Director, and Paul Thayer, a TWP board member. Shortly after arriving at the Managua airport, Paul, Gemara and our fabulous tour guide (and partner of past International Director, Lucas Wolf), Valentina, drove directly to Gaia Estate. The Estate is a Certified Bird-friendly coffee farm outside the town of Diriamba and is owned by long-time TWP friend Jefferson Shriver. Jefferson greeted us with a glass of wine, dinner, and conversation about Nicaragua. He stressed the importance of promoting farming systems that integrate overstory trees (i.e. agroforestry), and high-value and environmentally-friendly products like vanilla and turmeric. After a good night’s sleep, we awoke to the smell of fresh coffee brewing, beans that had been picked and harvested from his farm just days before.

We spent the next day with Proleña visiting Tierra Verde, our newly opened climate change education center in La Paz Centro. Since TWP’s last visit, the first floor of the dormitory has been built and 600 trees have been planted on the property (25 different species in all) as well as infrastructure for the site including roadways and electricity. Having seen Tierra Verde in many photographs, it was essential to see the property and hear about the exciting events planned for 2018.

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Conducting a strategy session at Tierra Verde with Proleña’s Executive Director, Marlyng Buitrago (second from the right) and Technical Director, Leonardo Mayorga (far right). Photo by Annalise Mecham.

Although more construction will be taking place this year, the vision for the center is starting to take shape. We talked in detail about the workshops that we have planned, including bringing in local farmers to talk about agroforestry, university students to discuss climate change, and TWP Tour participants to visit the center. We discussed plans to complete the tree nursery with at least 50,000 trees in the first year, as well as demonstration sites for clean cookstoves, and adding a greenhouse for growing and genetically testing trees.

After our visit to Tierra Verde, we toured Proleña’s workshop in Managua and visited local urban cookstove beneficiaries. I have always been aware of the impact of clean cookstoves, but it was a completely different experience to see and smell the difference. The women we visited graciously welcomed us into their kitchen and explained the changes in their lives and their health after the clean cookstove had been installed. Although my Spanish is limited, it didn’t take me long to realize how these women felt about their clean cookstoves. They would pat gently on their chests and touch their eyes, implying that they could breathe easier and their eyes were less irritated.

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Doña Thelma (center) and her family in her home. She is one of the beneficiaries of a clean cookstove and sells 300 tortillas a day to customers.

The last day was one of the most profound for me as we visited the rural communities surrounding the northern town of Jinotega, in particular, the remote village of La Cal. To get there, we had a few hours’ drive on an impossibly steep and windy dirt road with a one hour walk up a steep rocky path. The village was tucked away in a mountain valley and one of the most remote communities I have ever visited.

Upon our arrival, we were introduced to the only teacher in the community, a young man who gave us a tour including the one-room schoolhouse and various family homes. The families we visited we welcoming, kind, and joyful. We interviewed many women about the impacts of their clean cookstoves, played with the kids, saw how much time it takes to gather wood, and the challenges of living in rural Nicaragua. As we drove back that evening to Managua, the feeling I had wasn’t sadness at the rural living conditions, but a sense of awe at their resilience.

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A house with corn hanging from the roof in the remote village of La Cal.

On the plane ride home, I was thinking about my biggest take away from the trip. What was I going to bring back to the TWP community of donors and supporters? Without a doubt, it was the unique community-based approach that Trees, Water & People uses when working in Central America and U.S. Tribal Lands.

TWP’s approach is based on the philosophy that communities have the best judgment of how their lives and livelihoods can be improved, and if given access to the right resources, they should make decisions that will be most impactful for them. I believe that this community-based development is the most effective way to create change. Change does not come easy for anyone. Changing the way someone cooks their food can seem impossibly difficult. But, TWP’s approach to involve the community and a local nonprofit (in the case of Proleña in Nicaragua) allows for the change to be approached on an intimate, community level.

This type of grassroots change is not the easiest route. It is complicated and complex and takes years to actualize. Luckily for TWP, we have been planting seeds this way for 20 years and will continue to for many, many more!

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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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Development from the Ground Up

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Our unique Community-Based Development Model is based on the philosophy that the best way to help those most in need is to involve them directly in the design and implementation of local environmental and economic development initiatives. This creates ownership, involvement, and financial sustainability well into the future. Our proven development model of training and execution, coupled with an enterprise approach, engages and inspires local residents to preserve their precious natural resources.

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For over a decade, we have been working in partnership with national and international non-governmental organizations, community organizations, businesses, government entities, private foundations, local leaders, and community members. Our projects have been well-received in communities throughout Latin America and on Native American Reservations in the United States because we engage with local people and respect local culture.

Learn more! Click here to see an example of our community-based model in action.