Blazing into Rainy Season in Central America

by Sebastian Africano, Executive Director

Entering its fifth month without rain, Central America is at the tail end of its 2018 fire season. This year, our partners Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP) in El Salvador are on the frontlines, as they spent all last year training a corps of young park rangers to fight fire in the Protected Area of Apaneca-Illamantepec. This was their second year of funding from FIAES – a bilateral fund between the U.S. and El Salvador to create opportunities for communities living around protected areas.

Fires are almost a given this time of year – lightning strikes, farmers burning their fields, and hunters flushing out animals are some of the principal causes. The dry conditions create a precarious situation both for landscapes and ecosystems, as to humans, who often end up in the path of rapidly advancing burns, and then suffer the air pollution hazards created.

Preparing people to protect their communities, and providing them the resources to do so is one of the objectives of the FIAES funding, projects for which Trees, Water & People provides the supplemental cost-share required by the granting agency. We are now helping our partners, AAP, pursue a third year of funding from FIAES to keep them involved in conservation work throughout the western part of the country.

In Nicaragua, we’ve been watching a political crisis unfold that first piqued in April when the government allegedly dragged its feet in responding to a 5,000-acre fire in an 8,000-acre tropical forest reserve in the east of the country. Soon after, with the populace already frustrated with them, the administration announced policy changes to the national social security program, igniting protests and heavy-handed confrontations with police forces.

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Fighting a fire next to the Tierra Verde Climate Change Education Center near La Paz Centro, Nicaragua.

Right around that time, our partners, Proleña, were preparing for a high-school tree planting workshop when fire struck. Proleña provides in-field education to a group of 12 local high school seniors at the Tierra Verde Climate Change Education Center near La Paz Centro, northwest of Managua. A few weeks ago they were preparing to plant a drip irrigated living fence of 200 trees around the perimeter of the seven-acre property with the students.

“God knows why things happen a certain way,” said Proleña’s Executive Director, Marlyng Buitrago. “The day before the workshop I went out with our pickup truck, a team of six, and two barrels of water to prep for the tree planting workshop. We were having lunch at a local restaurant when someone called to say there was a fire on the property next to ours.”

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The one fire truck fought the fire near Tierra Verde Climate Change Education Center, preventing it from entering the property.

The team rushed back, and with the help of one fire truck, sent from 30km away, fought the fire all afternoon and into the evening, preventing it from entering the property. “The truck only had the water it came with, so when it was dry, we fought the fire by hand, with buckets of water. Once the sun went down, we put out the last seven hot spots, and the fire was extinguished.”

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Fighting the fire by hand along the fence line of the Tierra Verde Climate Change Education Center.

With any luck, the rainy season, which has been so unpredictable in past years, will start on time this month. But until then, we’ll continue to prepare for the inevitability of fire and to educate local communities and actors of other ways to manage the landscape.

While the dry season will soon end, we encourage our followers to keep an eye on Nicaragua, where we expect anti-government protests to persist over the next several months. Our team is safe, but the current political crisis has caused disruptions across the country and threatens to upend the stability of one of the more peaceful nations in the region. We stand for the safety and well-being of all those protesting for an equitable, prosperous, and politically transparent future in Nicaragua.

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Protected Area Management in El Salvador

by Sebastian Africano, Executive Director 

Before moving to Fort Collins, CO in 2009, my wife and I settled in western El Salvador, a natural wonderland dotted with volcanoes, teeming with biodiversity, and a 40-minute drive from cool misty peaks to sweltering coastlines. Trees, Water & People (TWP) had worked there since 2001, through a small partner called Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP) building cookstoves, composting latrines, and maintaining the most beautiful tree nursery among all their programs.

Unfortunately, the country went through a particularly rough spell between 2010 – 2016, where political turmoil left a vacuum filled by some unsavory elements in society and significantly affected our ability to operate. Nevertheless, AAP adjusted to the new reality and began looking for new ways to improve their country from within.

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Thanks to the FIAES fund from the U.S. and El Salvadorian governments, Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo was named co-manager of the Reserva de la Biosfera Apaneca-Ilamatepec. 

Leveraging a strong reputation, AAP was able to gain access to a bilateral reconciliation fund in 2013, which was put in place by El Salvador and the U.S. to strengthen public spaces, including National Parks. They were named co-managers of a small National Park in the west of the country and began working with communities along the outskirts of this park, developing Ecotourism capacity and providing environmental education through local school systems.

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Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo provides environmental education opportunities for local schools around the National Park, including tree planting!

Four years later, the small, dedicated team at AAP is now the head of a consortium of non-governmental organizations tasked with co-managing a network of parks throughout the west of the country. Their work focuses on improving everything from trails to interpretive signage, to biodiversity conservation, and alternative economic opportunities for youth. The road is long, but as El Salvador emerges from another dark patch of history, there is optimism on the horizon again, and TWP is proud to have continued supporting a positive future for the country.

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Connecting TWP’s Work through Migratory Birds

By Gemara Gifford, Conservation Scientist & TWP’s Development Director

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Mist-nets help researchers study migratory warblers in Central America, photo by Ruth Bennett

Have you ever wondered where birds go when they fly south? October is that time of year when migratory birds to gear up to fly from TWP’s projects in the Northern Great Plains all the way down to those in Latin America. Golden-winged Warblers (pictured above), Black-and-white Warblers, Wood Thrushes, and Baltimore Orioles are just a few species that will winter in remote places like Guatemalan villages, Salvadoran cloud forests, Honduran coffee agroecosystems, and Nicaraguan dry forests.

Unfortunately, migratory bird populations are declining faster than most other avian species worldwide (State of North America’s Birds 2016) due to habitat loss on their wintering grounds and also because we know less about their conservation requirements in Central America compared to their breeding grounds in the U.S. and Canada. What we do know is migrants tend to live in the same places as the rural communities whom TWP works with, and can directly benefit from community-based development projects (Agroecosystems for communities and conservation).

Did you know that TWP’s clean cookstove, reforestation, and farmer-to-farmer training programs in Central America are especially helping to conserve migratory birds?

  • TWP’s clean cookstoves greatly reduce the amount of fuelwood families use to cook (an average of 50%) and as a result protect nearby forests and reduce deforestation.
  • Our reforestation programs in the U.S. and Central America improve degraded bird habitat, with over 7 million trees planted so far, and also protect the soils and watersheds upon which families depend.
  • By training hundreds of smallholder farmers in agroecology, agriculture can be diversified with multiple tree species and crop types which creates excellent migratory bird habitat while producing important foods and fibers for people.
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A male Golden-winged Warbler winters in fragmented habitats in Guatemala, photo by Ruth Bennett

For 18 years, our generous supporters have been helping us make the world a better place for people and the planet. Did you realize your dedication has also been helping to conserve threatened migratory birds?

On behalf of TWP, I am excited to invite you to join us on our newest endeavor with migratory birds – to follow them as they head south! This January, we’ll take 15 TWP donors and supporters to tour our new projects in Central Honduras. There we will conduct baseline bird surveys in cloud forest agroecosystems, and participate in on-the-ground bird conservation efforts through clean cookstove construction, tree planting, and ten days of cross-cultural exchange with our local partners at the Center for Education in Sustainable Agriculture in Socorro, Honduras.

With your continued support we can make the world a better place for people and wildlife. For more information about how to attend the 2017 Honduras Work Tour, or to learn about how TWP’s projects benefit birds, give me a call at 877-606-4TWP.

A special thanks to Ruth Bennett, Ph.D. student at Cornell University, for providing photos of her ongoing research in Central America to uncover the best strategies for conserving the Golden-winged Warblers in working landscapes.

Guest Blog: 500 Clean Cookstoves Installed in Guatemala

By Jeff Abbott, Independent Journalist

Jeff Abbott is an independent journalist based in Guatemala. He covers human rights, social movements, and natural resource rights in Central America and Mexico. Recently Jeff visited some of TWP’s projects in Guatemala and spoke with recipients of our clean cookstoves while photographing the delivery and installation process.

During my visit to the communities of Jocote, Jicar, and Barrio Belice, in the municipality of Quesada, Guatemala, I was able to speak to several community leaders, who shared that the origins of Utz Che’ and Trees, Water & People’s clean cookstove project came after seeing similar programs in other places. At its core, the drive for the endeavor comes from a place of deep concern over the deforestation in the mountains above their community.

Besides the health benefits of these stoves, which channel smoke out of the kitchen via a chimney, they also require far less firewood than the traditional open fire. As many beneficiaries of this project live in the peri-urban outskirts of Quesada, where fuel is purchased more than collected, this translates to a considerable reduction in household fuel expenditures.

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Vera Alica’s new clean cookstove will use up to 70% less fuel than the open fire she was using to cook before her stove was installed.

Vera Alicia (pictured above) is one of the recipients of the stove in the Aldea of Jicar. The 47-year-old mother of nine stated that the stove has allowed her to save substantial money on firewood. Another beneficiary, Marina Germeño (pictured below), reported that she was saving $3.33 per week – a significant sum over the life of the stove. Vera Alicia also explained that it has not changed her cooking habits, but that she has seen a dramatic reduction in the amount of smoke in her kitchen.

This clean cookstove project in the communities of Quesada and two other departments in Guatemala’s arid corridor, provide an important opportunity for the residents who have benefitted. Short-term, tangible benefits of the project are the immediate economic savings that families experience via the significant reduction in firewood used for cooking. Most residents quickly acknowledged this benefit, expressing the savings they had noticed.

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Marina Germeño reported that she was saving $3.33 per week – a significant sum over the life of the stove.

Furthermore, residents are conscious of the environmental benefit that the decreased reliance on firewood brings to their communal lands, which TWP has helped to reforest in years past. Apart from protecting local forests, another beneficiary, Marthy Corina Soto, also expressed that a major benefit that she has noticed since receiving the stove is the fact that she does not burn herself as easily, as there is no open flame. “Everything has been magnificent,” echoes her husband, Angel.

Trees, Water & People is happy to report that, with our partner Utz Che’, we were able to build and install all 500 cookstoves in three departments of Guatemala. We truly have the best supporters in the world and are humbled by your contributions!

We are still working to raise funds for this program to follow up with each family to ensure that they have transitioned completely to their new stove and to assess any barriers to full adoption.  We have found that following up with families shortly after their new stoves have been installed is critical to the family using their clean cookstoves consistently and correctly. Monitoring after the installation is an important part of our work and it is only possible with your support! 

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Guest Blog: Estufa Doña Dora Teams up with Trees, Water & People

by David Evitt, co-founder and CEO of Estufa Doña 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 Doña 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’s, 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 Doña Dora stove.

The most important criteria for a Guatemalan cookstove are that 1) it has the necessary capacity for the family’s cooking needs, 2) it cooks quickly and well, 3) it’s affordable, 4) it gets the smoke out of the house, and 5) it saves wood. Estufa Doña 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.

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This community in southern Guatemala is learning about their new Doña Dora stoves.

We are proud to partner with TWP and Utz Ché to bring Doña Dora cookstoves to 414 families gathering wood in the Camotán, 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 Doña Dora in a way that meets the needs of the project and families. To lower costs and involve the family, Utz Ché 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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A Trees, Water & People Staff Reunion

by Gemara Gifford, Development Director

As a staff here at Trees, Water & People, we sometimes find ourselves asking, “why?” Why is the work we do at TWP needed in the world, despite how heart-wrenching it can be? Or, on a sunny Tuesday like today, we might stare out of our office windows and think, “how?” How do we tell meaningful stories about our work that will speak to our fantastic supporters, like you?

The good news is, we were able to come up with some exciting new ideas! On July 13, all eight of us reunited as a TWP staff – some new, some old, those of us in Fort Collins and even our Assistant International Director working in Nicaragua!

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The TWP staff outside the office in Fort Collins. From left to right: Sebastian Africano, Diane Vella, Richard Fox, Lucas Wolf, Kiva, Gemara Gifford, Molly Geppert, Amanda Haggerty, and Kirsten Brown.

Our full-day gathering allowed us to dig deep and reconnect with one another, and most of all – to our cause. We brainstormed, “why” and “how,” and we enjoyed a series of team-building activities, a story from our co-founder, engaging presentations, as well as plenty of laughs and coffee to go around.

Some non-profits might call this a “strategic meeting,” but in Spanish, “meeting,” translates to “reunión” which is why we felt it was better to call it a “TWP Staff reunion.”

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Development Director, Gemara Gifford, explains how TWP’s work can benefit migratory and resident bird conservation – stay tuned for more!

The truth is, we are all here for a reason. You, as a TWP fan, are here for a reason. We remembered that Trees, Water & People is an amazing place with an incredible story, and over the past 18 years we have made tangible differences in some of the most challenging places on earth and with some of the most alarming rates of poverty, inequality, and environmental degradation.

It was comforting to remember that our work is challenging for a reason, but poco a poco (little by little) we can all make a difference.

Without the dedication of our staff and supporters here at TWP, none of our work would be possible. Make your most generous gift today and help us make our end-of-summer fundraising goal of $10,000 by August 15th!

Tell us your TWP story! What made you donate, volunteer, or “like” us on Facebook?

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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 – trust, 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.

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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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