500 More Clean Cookstoves in Guatemala

By Sebastian Africano, Executive Director

Since 2006, Utz Che’ has been a tireless advocate for over 40 indigenous Guatemalan communities committed to protecting and sustainably managing their forest resources. Utz Che’ acts as a loudspeaker for indigenous causes and concerns, which are otherwise easily dismissed from the public discourse and policy-making dialogues.

Trees, Water & People (TWP) was introduced to Utz Che’s leadership in 2010 and has worked with them to add fuel-efficient cookstove technology to their services to reduce pressure on the local forests from which fuelwood is harvested, as well as reduce indoor air pollution. After several years of prototyping designs with Utz Che’ communities and Guatemalan manufacturers, last year we embarked on the full-scale implementation of 500 clean cookstoves manufactured by two local enterprises — ECOCOMAL and Estufa Doña Dora. The project was so successful that this year we are raising funds to install 500 more in high-need communities.

Learning about the new Doña Dora stove
In 2016, this community in southern Guatemala received Doña Dora stoves and were all trained by Doña Dora employees on how to install, use, and maintain their new clean cookstoves.

The cookstove models selected for this project are partially pre-manufactured for consistency but are installed in a brick and mortar body constructed by trained community members. In 2016, this included 159 men and 371 women. Hands-on training in installation, use, and maintenance of the stoves increases local investment in the program through sweat equity and allows community members to become more intimate with the technology. Community engagement improves the local support network around the cookstoves.

New clean cookstove in Guatemala
This woman in southern Guatemala uses her clean cookstove that was built last year to make tortillas for her family.

Cooking is a very personal tradition in Central America, so new technologies must be able to cook the same foods, with the same fuels, in the same amount of time as the traditional designs if they are to be accepted by all members of society. Trees, Water & People’s years of expertise, coupled with a locally fine-tuned design, and the trust and rapport that Utz Che’ has with its member communities make for an extraordinarily effective, participatory, and meaningful partnership.

If you would like to help us build clean cookstoves in Guatemala, or would like to learn more about the importance of this project, click the button below.

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Opening Eyes and Hearts in the Honduran Highlands: Part 3

by Marilyn Thayer, TWP Board Member

This past January, I had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural Trees, Water, and People (TWP) service trip to Honduras, which integrated learning about both the principles of community development and bird conservation. I am pleased and honored as a board member and as a member of the Thayer family to reflect on and share what this experience has meant to me. Coming from Hawai’i, I was reminded several times during the trip the words that were so much a part of my life, the motto of the state — Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono, meaning, “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.” Pono, in particular, can be translated to further refer to goodness, care, value, purpose, and hope.

Protecting the land and perpetuating hope were clearly promoted and implemented by Centro de Enseñanza y Aprendizaje de Agricultura (CEASO), a TWP partner in El Socorro (Siguatepeque, Honduras). I first became familiar with the term, Finca Humana, when Rene, the founder of CEASO shared the historical perspective of his organization with us. Roughly translated to the “Human Estate,” Finca Humana emphasizes that developing a successful farm requires starting with engaging the entire family and making a life-long commitment together to developing the knowledge and practicing the diversification of the land. Rene also pointed out that Finca Humana involves the integration of the Head, Hands, and Heart.

Thayer Family Honduras trip 2017
The Thayer family making tortillas at CEASO.

Beginning with the Head, and through the lens of a TWP board member, I was open to learning as much as I could about the collaborative partnership that TWP has developed with CEASO. From the hikes to the watershed areas, the tours of family coffee farms, and the drives through the mountains of San José de Pane, I became aware that the challenges of climate change and deforestation are similar concerns in our state and country as well. This implies that it is critical that we continue to work together and learn from one another.

Next follows the Hands, for doing the work. Although I realize that I may never be fully proficient in building pilas (water cisterns) and Justa stoves, it is more important to support the process of training and engaging the leaders of the communities in working with other community members to learn how to build these projects.

Pilas in San José de Pane, Honduras
The San José de Pane community building pilas (water cisterns) with TWP tour participants.

But all of this must come from the Heart, which was best exemplified by the story of Doña Norma and her husband, Don Oscar.  After spending the day building the first Justa stove, we sat in the living room of the family in their modest home, not having realized that this was in actuality the home of Doña Norma’s brother, which was serving as their temporary residence. Through tears, she shared the lengths to which they had gone —hard work and numerous sacrifices — to build a home, of which they were so proud but tragically lost to a fire. But Doña Norma asserted that despite the loss, they all survived, remain strong, and still have one another.

Well, what impact did the pila and stove projects have on the families and communities? These projects instilled a sense of hope that families and communities have for their future. I returned from this trip inspired, with a deeper sense of humility, and new friends who now are part of our family. I am most proud of the Heart Work that TWP truly does — working with the passion for building relationships and connections that foster a sense of hope with people on a respectful, authentic level.

If you are interested in going on a work trip with TWP, or learning more about what we do and the people we work with, sign up for our monthly eNewsletter! 

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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.

Armando w ECPA Tile on Justa clean stove
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.

Rene with members of his sommunity
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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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!

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 Bendición, 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´s 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.

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

La Bendición has been a key part of our overall presence in Guatemala since Sebastian Africano, TWP´s International Director, first began to cultivate the relationship with local partner Utz Che’ over four years ago. La Bendición is one of over 40 communities represented by Utz Che´, 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 Bendición, TWP´s 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´s 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´s 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 Bendición, and we hope you will join us in supporting these efforts!

Community-Based Development in Action: Reforestation in El Salvador

tree nursery El Salvador
Don Jorge Ochoa has worked at the El Porvenir nursery since 2007, helping to grow nearly 630,000 trees.

community_based_developmentTrees, Water & People’s 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.

Our Reforestation Program in El Salvador is a great example of this Community-Based Development Model in action:

identify_community_needsEl Salvador is the second most deforested country in Latin America after Haiti. Nearly 85 percent of its forest cover has disappeared since the 1960s. Less than 6,000 hectares are classified as primary forest. Deforestation in El Salvador has had serious environmental, social, and economic impacts. Today over 50 percent of El Salvador is not even suitable for food cultivation, and much of the country is plagued with severe soil erosion (Mongabay, 2015).

partner_with_local_organizations 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.

El Salvador tree nursery
Members of the AAP staff at our 30,000-tree nursery in El Porvenir.

design_and_implement_projects (1)The AAP staff addresses El Salvador’s natural resource issues through reforestation, producing over 28 hardwood and fruit tree species in their nurseries. Local community members, governments, and farmers use these trees for food, firewood, and shade. In addition, AAP and TWP work together to build clean cookstoves that reduce deforestation and deadly household air pollution. Community-led conservation projects create jobs for local people as well purpose and meaning in life. Don Jorge Alberto Dorado Ochoa, an AAP staff member since 2007, found his work at the tree nursery to be healing during his battle with cancer. “I feel strongly that my dedication to the nursery and the work of TWP gave me strength and health.”

evaluate_and_monitor_projectsAAP reports to TWP on a monthly basis to ensure projects are running smoothly and efficiently. Our International Program staff visit the projects several times a year to monitor progress. At the end of each year, we work together to evaluate successes, challenges, and plan for future needs.

To learn more about Trees, Water & People please visit www.treeswaterpeople.org. Our grassroots conservation efforts depend on friends and donors investing in our work. We hope you will join our community today!

Notes from the Field: Guatemalan Youth Discover a Love for Community-Based Conservation

youth farmers Guatemala

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

Migration from Central America to the United States has been in the news more than usual these days. It is accelerating due to the difficulties that come with rapid population growth, rising energy demand, massive crop losses from the effects of climate change, and organized crime and violence reaching alarming levels along this tiny string of countries.

Even if migration is just to the nearest city, the actual movement of family members is really a means to an end. These families only seek to provide a better future for their children: keeping them fed, educated, safe, and healthy. At Trees, Water & People (TWP), we have learned that there are many opportunities to create sustainable livelihoods in rural areas, and that often these opportunities can be paired with better natural resource management.

To modify an old adage – this is akin to getting two plants from one seed. Recently, I had this conversation with a group of young men from a rural village near Escuintla, Guatemala. They have formed a youth group in their community that is taking on migration by seeking new, local income generating opportunities. David Bautista, 26 and Osvin Gomez, 25, are the de facto leaders of the group, and together have been pitching their projects to TWP since we first began working in their community, La Bendición, in 2011.

“At first, there were many in the community who didn’t believe in us – they’d say that it was a passing fad,” says David, referring to their plans several years ago of starting an entrepreneurial youth movement in the community.

Guatemala tree nursery

Today, the ambitious young group has a plantation of 5,000 organic pineapples that produce a continuous, mouth-watering harvest, a few dozen bee hives from which they are bottling and selling honey, and plots of shade-grown coffee. In addition, the group also runs a 15,000 tree nursery, which they use almost exclusively for fruit trees. These high-value crops, including coconuts, cashews, citrus, coffee, and cacao, are providing an important source of income to young farmers while promoting natural resource conservation.

The youth group’s mission, which TWP continues to support, is simple: find approaches that allow them to develop their community from within, so they never have to migrate to the city, or to the U.S., to work for someone else. “An old tree can’t be straightened out,” says the sitting President of the town council Oscar, who still bears the memories of his time laboring in the U.S., “It has to be trained while it’s young.”