Community Voices: Dema Rios Dubon

solar home system Guatemala

Do√Īa Dema and her family live in the community of La Gloria. The purchase of a¬†solar home system from TWP’s social enterprise, Luci√©rnaga, has saved her family a great sum of money each month. Prior to owning the solar energy system, they used a gasoline generator for energy, which cost them 3,000 quetzales ($391USD) to purchase, plus the cost of fuel.

‚ÄúNow it is better with the solar panel. We no longer have to purchase gasoline for the generator just to charge our cell phones.‚ÄĚ

With a solar home system, Dema is able to work later into the night sewing and embroidering, activities that she loves to do and also make her extra income. Furthermore, her children are able to study later into the evening after the sun sets.

The system has four LED lights plus USB ports for charging cell phones and other electronics. A great example of how clean energy is changing lives for families living in rural, last-mile communities!

Access to Clean Energy: From Pilot Project to Sustainable Enterprise

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In 2011, armed with a grant awarded under the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA), nonprofit organization Trees, Water & People launched an initiative to increase the use of clean technologies in several Latin American countries. That pilot project has since spawned a social enterprise that is making solar lighting products accessible to customers in rural areas of Central America.

It all began with a three-year, $1.2 million ECPA grant awarded by the U.S. State Department to Colorado-based¬†Trees, Water & People¬†(TWP) for an initiative called ‚ÄúImproving Access to Clean Energy in Latin America.‚ÄĚ The goal was to develop effective ways to reach off-grid markets with climate-friendly products such as clean cookstoves, solar lanterns, and small solar home systems.

While such products provide tangible benefits‚ÄĒcleaner indoor air, reduced expenditures on conventional energy, and higher-quality lighting and cooking‚ÄĒa major challenge is how to create a sustainable supply chain to reach markets with the greatest need. Last-mile distribution is complex, unpredictable, and expensive.¬†Roads are sometimes impassable, mobile communications are often unreliable, and many rural households have no access to financing.

TWP worked hand in hand with a social enterprise called PowerMundo‚ÄĒwhich had tackled some of these problems in Peru‚ÄĒand with partners in Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador to develop a sustainable commercial model for hard-to-reach areas in Central America.

After trying several different approaches, TWP found that existing rural institutions such as agricultural cooperatives, nongovernmental organizations, and rural savings and loans groups could be effective distributors and retailers of the clean-technology products. Since such groups often already have a credit relationship with small-scale farmers for agricultural investments, they can provide these same farmers with the payment terms they need to invest in products that have a true impact on their lives.

solar light Honduras

Last year, TWP took a step toward making the initiative sustainable by establishing a social enterprise called¬†Luci√©rnaga¬†LLC (the name means ‚Äúfirefly‚ÄĚ) to serve Central America with solar lighting products. ‚ÄúWe wanted to create a vehicle through which the project could continue to grow,‚ÄĚ explained TWP International Director Sebasti√°n Africano.

Luciérnaga fills a business niche by providing a link between manufacturers and small local distributors. It imports solar lighting products in bulk to a central location in El Salvador, handling logistical details and ordering in large enough quantities to keep the price per unit low. The items can then be distributed over land to partners and clients throughout the region, in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala. Any profits would be reinvested in the company.

The growth of this business model and the birth of Luciérnaga as an independent company with an international presence show how short-term grant funding can be leveraged toward longer-term sustainable development objectives, according to Africano.

Today, TWP is working to standardize its methods in each country and implement a mobile phone-based monitoring system where distributors can keep track of their sales, collections, and warranty processes through a common online database. The goal is to keep costs low and provide a new source of income for rural individuals and institutions while potentially reaching millions of households in Central America that don’t have access to electricity.

Since launching this program, Luciérnaga and PowerMundo have sold close to 10,000 solar lighting products through their networks, providing illumination, device-charging capabilities, healthier households, and over $200 in cash savings per year, per product, to more than 50,000 people in Latin America.

This post was originally published by the Energy and Climate Partnership of Americas. To view the original blog post click here.

Project Update: Lighting homes in rural Honduras

solar light Honduras

Nearly 50% of the 600 solar household lighting systems we sent to Honduras have been installed. We’re providing 1,200 new LED light points, 600 USB charging ports for cell phones and other small devices, and a new level of dignity for rural families that have lived their entire nocturnal lives by the light of candles, low quality flashlights, and contaminating kerosene lamps. Donors to our Catapult project helped to fund 125 of the lights in this shipment, allowing us to reach many more families in need of clean energy solutions for their homes.

Get personal

solar light Honduras
Miriam Leonel Bonilla

“Many of our customers used to use ocote (a local pine that is used as a candle), and the smoke really bothered them. Or else they would buy candles and flashlights, and that was really expensive. They are very happy with their plantitas – solar lights!‚ÄĚ -Miriam Leonel Bonilla, solar light user and distributor, Las Mar√≠as, Honduras

Risks and challenges

Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and our vendors and promoters live with risk every day. We are lucky to have a dedicated team of people across the country that see the opportunities that exist in solar energy. They believe that the benefits that solar energy brings to their families and communities who buy the systems outweigh the challenges in getting them into the field.

What we’ve learned

solar light HondurasThis order of Barefoot Power solar household systems were our first test of a new international supply chain that has us ordering product in bulk to a central warehouse in El Salvador, from which the products are distributed by land to four different countries. Every step of that process contained a lesson in how to be more efficient in getting these products to the families that need them most. On a macro level, we have learned that we have one of the most innovative approaches to getting products to several Central American countries at once. In Honduras, we have learned that whoever can provide households with the best customer experience will be the one to succeed in expanding the great opportunities in renewable energy for the developing world.

Next steps

Working with social impact technology company Dimagi, we will be piloting a new mobile data collection app called CommSell. This app will allow our field staff to complete surveys on an Android phone, in the field, and automatically populate a database that tells us where our products are, how long they’ve been there, and how much money they are saving users. We can also use this information to conduct follow-up visits and maintenance as needed.

Infographic: Clean Cookstoves Save Lives!

clean cookstoves infographic

Around the world, billions of people are still dependent on wood and other forms of biomass to cook every meal. Cooking with wood over an open fire causes a variety of environmental, economic, and human health problems.

Since 1998, we have 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.

To learn more and to support TWP’s Clean Cookstove Program ¬†please visit our website!

Notes from the Field: Measuring the Health Impacts of Clean Cookstoves in Honduras

Honduras clean cookstove study

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

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.

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Meeting with community members is an important first step in initializing a new clean cookstove study.

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.

Project Update: 100 Clean Cookstoves in Guatemala

clean cookstove guatemala

In partnership with Catapult, we have raised funds to support 100 clean cookstoves in Guatemala. Thanks to generous donors, the project was fully funded. Ut’z Che’, a local environmental conservation and community development organization on the ground in Guatemala, will install the cookstoves. These life-changing stoves will replace open fire stoves¬†that consumes massive amounts of wood and pollute homes with indoor air pollution.

Progress

Local partner Ut’z Ch√© has had preliminary meetings with three communities, in which we will implement the next phase of the cookstove program. ¬†Our¬†approach always involves several initial meetings to ensure community buy-in and to establish the co-investment plan. ¬†Usually home visits are conducted to ensure a match between cooking customs and the proposed cookstove design, the community is given a list of materials for each household to prepare prior to construction, and a timeline is set to 1) build a few demonstration stoves for feedback, and 2) begin full roll out of the program.

Construction in the three communities is scheduled to start this month, with two new clean cookstove models being tested for efficacy and acceptance by beneficiaries. Among those trained to install the cookstoves will be youth groups in the different communities, adding an important, specialized skill set to their portfolio, and some much needed income to their pockets.

Nuevo Modelo a Construir Propuesta
A new clean cookstove design to be tested by community members.

Risks and Challenges

With any clean cookstove project, you have to make sure that the technology you propose matches the needs and cooking habits in the community where it will be used. In Guatemala that challenge is especially pertinent, as there are over 20 ethnic groups in the country, many with their own specialized cooking preferences. For the 100 cookstoves funded by this Catapult project, we will be presenting three variations on our local cookstove design, the Emelda stove, to account for cultural and culinary differences. Additionally, due to our limited capacity, we will have to stagger the implementation of these projects to coincide with demand, availability of materials and road conditions during the rainy season.

Up Close

Rosa Jer√≥nimo de Ortiz: “With the traditional stove I used before, my kitchen walls were always black from the amount of smoke that it produced. ¬†My husband and children didn’t like to spend time in the kitchen with me because their eyes would tear up, especially during the rainy season when firewood comes damp. When this cookstove project started, the women of my community were overjoyed, as these projects benefit us principally. ¬†Now I even have my kitchen table in the same room as the stove!”

Next Steps

Next steps include building demonstration stoves in the three communities where we plan to work.  We always learn from this experience, as we get direct feedback from the eventual users about what will work for them and what will not.  After the designs are agreed upon, we will initiate construction in groups of 20 Р25 in each community, aiming to entice even more participants to invest in an improved cookstove design as we install the 100 funded by this project.

new clean cookstove design Guatemala

To learn more about this project please visit www.catapult.org.

Indoor Air Pollution: The Silent Killer in the Kitchen

Indoor Air Pollution

Indoor air pollution is often referred to as¬†“the killer in the kitchen.” The¬†World Health Organization¬†(WHO) estimates that 4.3 million people, mostly women and children, die each year from the effects of this pollution, and millions more are chronically sickened. This toxic pollution is caused by billions of people cooking their meals indoors, over open fires.

Worldwide, more than 3 billion people still rely on biomass fuels (wood, dung, and agricultural wastes) for their daily cooking and energy needs. Cooking with wood over an open fire fills kitchens with smoke; smoke that contains dangerous levels of particulates and carbon monoxide. This heavy exposure has been likened to smoking five packs of cigarettes a day. Breathing the toxic smoke from open cooking fires can lead to acute respiratory illness, pneumonia, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Women and children are most seriously affected, as they are the family members who spend the most time in the kitchen.

To address this problem, we build clean cookstoves that are designed to use far less wood and emit up to 80% less IAP than a traditional open fire. Our cookstoves are designed to be built locally, using local materials and labor. This approach reduces deadly smoke in the home while also stimulating local economies.

clean cookstove Guatemala
International Director Sebastian Africano (right) visits with a family who has a clean cookstove built into their kitchen.

Conservation can, and should, create a bright future for all. Join us in our effort to reduce toxins and pollution in the kitchen. Visit our website to learn more about our clean cookstoves and how you can become a supporter of this important program!

Community Voices: Hilda Garcia

For over 10 years, Do√Īa Hilda Garcia has been an integral part of our conservation efforts in El Salvador. Here, she shares her story about how¬†she became involved with our work. Thank you, Hilda, for your dedication to the environment and people of El Salvador!

Do√Īa Hilda in our tree nursery in El Porvenir, El Salvador.
Do√Īa Hilda in one of our tree nurseries in El Porvenir, El Salvador.

I used to suffer from the smoke of an open cooking fire. A friend told me about TWP’s clean cookstove program, and I jumped at the chance to participate, even though my husband was out of town so I didn’t know if he would approve. I built my stove with Larry Winiarski [inventor of the Rocket stove] and we made tortillas on it the same day! When my husband returned from his trip and saw the Justa stove, I told him all about it and was relieved that he supported my decision.

Without all the smoke, my eyes don’t water and my family can eat comfortably indoors. My older children always used to suffer from respiratory infections, but my youngest girl grew up very healthy, breathing clean air.

In 2003, TWP asked for my help creating a play about the Justa stoves. The play was so successful that they proposed that I work as a stove promoter. I am happy being a stove promoter. I leave the house more, I have new friends, and I’ve seen new places, even Nicaragua for an international stove conference. My husband now works as a stove builder, so helping people with Justa stoves is a family affair for us.

Hilda visits with a clean coostove user in El Salvador.
Hilda (left) visits with a clean coostove user in El Salvador.

When I visit people to follow up after they have built their cookstoves, they say it’s like a gift from God. The Justa stove has improved my life and the lives of many others.

Community Voices: Juana Mancia Alvarado

clean cookstove El Salvador

Juana Mancia Alvarado lives in the town of Rio Abajo, El Salvador and makes her living by selling homemade tortillas. Over the years, her health has been negatively impacted from breathing the toxic smoke and fumes emitted from her traditional cookstove. And, Juana is not alone. More than 2 million people in El Salvador, and 3 billion people worldwide, are impacted by indoor air pollution, the majority of which are women and children.

When families do not have access to electricity, they are forced to cook their meals with wood. This causes many human health problems, as well as deforestation throughout the country.

Trees, Water & People (TWP) and our partners address this problem by building clean cookstoves for families and small business owners like Juana.¬†Each of our cookstoves decrease a families’ need for firewood by 50-70%, as compared to standard open fire cooking. When vented to the outside of the home, these improved cookstoves also decrease indoor air pollution, which is responsible for the death of 4.3 million people globally every year¬†(World Health Organization, 2014).

Our partners at Arboles y Agua para el Pueblo built a¬†Justa¬†clean cookstove inside Juana’s kitchen, which now removes nearly all that toxic smoke from the home. She says “now, I never get sick!” In addition, she has greatly reduced her fuelwood expenses, allowing her to save¬†more of her hard earned money.

To learn more about our Clean Cookstove Program and to make a contribution please visit our website.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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Every year, on March 8, millions of people around the globe come together to¬†celebrate the social, political and economic achievements of women while focusing the world’s attention on areas that still require further action. The first International Women’s Day was held in 1911, and continues to be an important day in promoting equality for all women.

International Women's Day logoInspiring Change¬†is the 2014 theme and “encourages advocacy for women’s advancement everywhere in every way”. It calls for challenging the status quo for women’s equality and vigilance inspiring positive change.

At Trees, Water & People, we empower women and inspire positive change by helping to fight energy poverty. Our clean cookstoves, solar lights, and composting latrines are some examples of the technologies we use to improve the lives of girls and women in Latin America.

These programs would not be successful without the leadership and hard work of local women. Throughout our program countries, these women provide us with the guidance necessary for implementing successful, long-term solutions to the problems facing their families and communities. Their feedback informs our cookstove designs, mobilizes community members and inspires change for a better future.

We hope you will celebrate this International Women’s Day with us by donating to our programs¬†that improve the lives of women and girls in Central America and Haiti!