Partnership with Peace Corps and ECPA Increases Access to Clean Energy in El Salvador

Peace Corps cookstove project El Salvador
Peace Corps Volunteer, Ismaldi Cueto, helped build clean cookstoves in the community of Las Pillas, El Salvador with training from TWP.

Since 2012, we have been working with the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA) in Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala as part of their “Improving Access to Clean Energy” initiative.

As implementing partners for the ECPA, we are working to:

  • Increase low carbon economic growth and development
  • Accelerate the uptake and deployment of renewable, energy-efficient technologies, including solar energy products such as solar lighting and phone chargers
  • Advance countries’ abilities to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation
  • Promote regional cooperation and integration

Ambitious? Yes! But we have had great success with this program, and a huge part of that success is due to strong partnerships. Peace Corps has been one of these strong partners.

In El Salvador, our local partners have worked to train Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) to build clean cookstoves. PCVs, in turn, teach local people in their communities about the benefits of our cookstoves and help them build them in their homes. This training model empowers local people with the knowledge to build and maintain cookstoves long after the PCV has left the community. Knowledge is passed along, deforestation is reduced, and homes are healthier as more and more families switch from traditional open fire stoves to clean cookstoves.

To date, this innovative partnership has built nearly 500 clean cookstoves with ECPA funds and the help of dedicated PCVs.

building clean cookstoves El Salvador
Don Jorge Garcia trains community resident Osmi Rameriz in cookstove construction in the town of Caserio Las Minas.

Community Voices: Noemi and Fani

by Lindsay Saperstone, International Communications Coordinator

clean cookstove users Nicaragua

Earlier this month, we traveled to Nicaragua to visit with Prole√Īa, our long-time partners who have been developing clean cookstove technology for years. We were lucky enough to be served a tasty Central American meal cooked on one of these cookstoves: the Mega Ecofog√≥n.¬†Our generous cooks were two sisters ‚Äď Noemi and Fani ‚Äď who, for the past five years, have used one of Prole√Īa‚Äôs clean cookstoves in their small restaurant that they operate out of their home. They served us pupusas (a traditional Salvadorian food), fresh tortillas, and beans. It was delicious!

Noemi cooks tortillas, a staple of the Nicaraguan diet, on a clean cookstove
Noemi cooks tortillas, a staple of the Nicaraguan diet, on a clean cookstove

Fani, the younger of the two sisters, says that she has loved using the stove in her house/business because it saves them a lot of money on firewood and also makes their kitchen beautiful.

In Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, approximately 80% of the population still cooks each meal with fuelwood. In addition, 90% of the deforestation in the country is attributed to fuelwood consumption. Clean cookstoves like the Mega Ecofogón are helping to improve the environment by using far less wood while, at the same time, improving human health and saving small business owners like Noemi and Fani money.

According to Noemi, ‚ÄúWe can put the stove anywhere we want in the house, the ceiling is no longer dark from the smoke and we don‚Äôt have conflicts with our neighbors about the smoke. In fact, now most of our neighbors have stoves too!‚ÄĚ They also explained that the stove makes their restaurant more efficient because they can prepare a meal in about an hour and twenty minutes as opposed to the 2 hours it took before.

Working with women entrepreneurs to improve their environment, health, and livelihoods is one of the best parts of my job. I was truly inspired by Noemi and Fani and thankful that they shared their story with us.

Visit our website to learn more about our clean cookstove designs and consider supporting our clean cookstove program in Central America.

Noemi demonstrates how the Mega Ecofogón works
Noemi demonstrates how the Mega Ecofogón works during our visit to Nicaragua

Community Voices: Blanca Lilian Ebarr√°

Blanca Lilian Ebarr√°

‚ÄúI don‚Äôt breathe in smoke anymore and I can cook rice, stew and make tortillas all at once. The griddle heats up really well, cooks fast, and my pots stay clean.‚ÄĚ

After a hot and bumpy two hour drive up a steep, winding road we reached the community of La Cuchilla (‚ÄúThe Blade‚ÄĚ), El Salvador, a reference to the mountain ridge that it sits atop. We’ve come to visit Alicia Cock, a Peace Corps Volunteer who‚Äôs been living here since August of 2009. Around the table, Alicia shares with us a list of this year‚Äôs projects, including promoting economic opportunities for women and the introduction of Justa cookstoves to La Cuchilla. While only 80 families live in this tiny community, 65 of them now cook their meals on clean-burning Justa cookstoves, an accomplishment that Alicia speaks of with great joy.

The remoteness of villages like La Cuchilla can be a challenge for coordinating a clean cookstove project. Some supplies like wood ash and clay can be contributed by the locals, but the griddles, combustion chambers, and chimneys must be supplied by Trees, Water & People‚Äôs Salvadoran partner, √Ārboles y Agua para El Pueblo. When extra funding was needed, Alicia raised an additional $2,000 through the Peace Corps Partnership Fund by asking her friends and family to donate. Once the supplies arrived, she provided training to a father and son team who became the resident cookstove builders (tecnicos).

Alicia Cock and Blanca
Alicia and Blanca cooking tortillas on a new cookstove

Blanca Lilian Ebarr√° is one of those cookstove beneficiaries. She‚Äôs a bubbly young woman who was happily making tortillas when we arrived to say hello. When asked how she liked her new Justa cookstove, she cheerfully shared with us all the benefits and ways her life has improved. ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt breathe in smoke anymore and I can cook rice, stew and make tortillas all at once. The griddle heats up really well, cooks fast, and my pots stay clean.‚ÄĚ When asked about firewood consumption, Blanca said she noticed right away that she was cooking with about half of what she habitually used. She said that she doesn’t have to buy firewood because her husband goes up the hill and prunes the trees instead. ‚ÄúBut now with this stove he goes less often and he‚Äôs very grateful for that!‚ÄĚ

When Alicia returned to the U.S., she happily reported the 15 families, who originally were not interested in improved cookstoves, are now asking to be included in the project. The families we visited said that they’ll be sad to see Alicia go, but will remember her fondly as they cook on their much appreciated, clean and economical Justa cookstoves.

Photo of the Week: Creating Jobs with Clean Cookstoves

Nicaragua cookstove factory

About this photo

TWP’s Clean Cookstove Program¬†is unique because we build¬†all¬†of our stoves in-country, using locally sourced materials and creating much needed jobs. Our local staff are proud to be building products that will create healthier homes and a better environment for their country.

(Pictured: Staff from our clean cookstove factory in Nicaragua.)

Community Voices: Rodrigo Santos

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

studying by solar light Honduras
Rodrigo Santos studies by the light of a solar lamp at his home in La Paz, Honduras.

Rural Central America has always been a magical escape for me.  You see and experience life at its most basic levels, and while the people are often of little economic means, they are proud, hardworking and tremendously generous.  The air is clean, smiles abound, and everyone is generally busy with something, but will never deny an opportunity to lend you a hand.

On my most recent trip to Honduras, I met Rodrigo Santos, an inspiring young man who reminded me of the importance of education and innovation, no matter where you are in the world.

Rechargeable RadioRodrigo amazed us in the field, as he is a college student that lives in a very rural community with no access to electricity.  He attends university classes 1.5 hours from where he lives. Not only was he one of the first in the area to purchase one of our solar products, but because of his electrical engineering skills and tinkering interests, he has become the go-to solar entrepreneur and maintenance man in his community.

People like Rodrigo make me want to continue working each and every day to bring sustainable energy solutions to Central America, solutions that improve people’s livelihoods and protect the environment.

To learn more about our expanding Solar Energy Program please visit our website.

Rodrigo Santos with his family in La Paz, Honduras.
Rodrigo Santos and his family in La Paz, Honduras.

Photo of the Week: Lighting Homes and Minds in Honduras

solar lighting Honduras

About the photo

Our colleagues at Greenlight Planet, a company that manufactures the solar light  you see in this photo, estimate that study times for students in homes that have switched from kerosene lighting to solar increase by 75 percent.  In the homes we visit in Central America, we regularly find good evidence that this is the case. Several customers have commented that kids can study better at night and adults can crunch numbers for their business, or work on their savings and loans group ledgers later into the night.  This is perhaps the greatest impact of our work alongside the direct cash savings that families experience.

Photo by Darren Mahuron

TWP Launches For-Profit Subsidiary to Distribute Solar Energy in Latin America

clean energy

We are excited to announce the launch of our new for-profit subsidiary, Luciérnaga, a social enterprise that brings clean energy solutions to rural Central America. Luciérnaga distributes small (<15W) solar lighting technologies that affordably meet lighting and device charging needs for energy poor populations.

1.6 billion people, roughly 1/4 of the global population, lack access to electricity, and millions more have only expensive and unreliable access. In Central America alone, 7.4 million people are without electricity. Families rely on kerosene, candles, and ocote (a local pine used like a candle) for light. These energy sources are both expensive and have a negative impact on both human health and the natural environment.

solar light hondurasWith support from the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA), our Solar Energy Program was launched in January 2012 with a shipment of 450 Sun King Pro lamps to Honduras. In March of 2012, we made our first large order of household lighting systems from Barefoot Power. By September 2013, over 4,000 lights had been imported, expanding the program to Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. By the end of this year, we will have more than 6,000 lights in Central America.

As demand for our products grows, we have incorporated Luciérnaga LLC as a subsidiary of Trees, Water & People in order to more efficiently manage our supply chain, reducing the cost of lights for our many customers.

We are excited to grow this social enterprise so we can bring clean energy to families throughout Central America. You can support our work! Please visit our new crowdfunding campaign to see how you can help.

For more info please visit the new Luciérnaga website or email Sebastian Africano at sebastian@luciernagasolar.com.

Luciernaga Logo Light Background

New Photo Exhibit Opening to the Public Nov. 1st

photo exhibit

We are pleased to announce the November 1 opening of our new photography exhibition, Illuminating Opportunity: A photo exhibit for social good, an exploration of our solar energy program through the eyes of Fort Collins-based photographer Darren Mahuron. The photo exhibit will be open to the public November 1 from 6-9pm at the Community Creative Center located at 200 Mathews Street in Old Town Fort Collins.

The exhibit will take you to the heart of rural Honduras, where we work with local communities to distribute small-scale, clean energy technologies such as solar lighting and solar phone chargers. Darren Mahuron’s unique photos highlight the rich Honduran culture while showcasing TWP’s important efforts to light the homes of families living without electricity.

In Honduras alone, 2.3 million people still have no access to electricity. Families rely on kerosene lamps and candles that are expensive and produce high levels of indoor air pollution. Our solar products deliver immediate, triple-bottom line returns to the poorest communities in the Western Hemisphere. Reducing dependency on kerosene and switching over to solar lighting systems brings staggering social, environmental, and economic returns.

‚ÄúWe envision a world where every person, down to the last mile or ‚Äėbase of the pyramid,‚Äô has access to clean energy in an affordable manner.‚ÄĚ said Sebastian Africano, International Director.

Read more about the exhibit in today’s Coloradoan!

Photo of the Week: End Energy Poverty

Honduras energy poverty

About this photo

A member of the Lenca Women’s Ceramics Cooperative in rural Marcala, Honduras holds up a piece of Ocote candle that she uses when she needs light after the sun sets on her village.

In Central America, 7 million people live without any access to electricity. Worldwide, more than 1.5 billion people have no electricity. Alternative sources of energy, such as kerosene and wood, are expensive and have a negative impact on both human health and the natural environment.

Our Solar Energy Program is helping to bring clean energy to local communities throughout Central America by providing access to affordable solar powered solutions.

Notes from the Field: Illuminating Opportunities for Energy Poor Communities

solar light and clean cookstove Honduras
Cooking by the light of a new solar lamp (Photo by Darren Mahuron).

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

Over the past year, our Solar Energy Program has grown considerably, and we are now importing product for distribution in four countries: Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras.  Funding from Catapult.org has enabled us to make a bulk purchase of 1,000 household solar lighting systems, the Barefoot Power Connect 600, both for commercial resale and as samples to our growing network of distributors throughout Central America.  Of the 1,000 units, 600 were sent to Honduras where we have 125 individual vendors and 20 institutional distributors representing our product line in rural communities.  This product arrives perfectly timed for promotion during the holiday season, which also corresponds with the yearly agricultural harvest.

Meeting with community members is an important part of project implementation.
Meeting with community members helps us to implement successful projects.

I recently spent four weeks touring the regions of Honduras in which we have distributed product since January 2012, and had the opportunity to interview dozens of customers who are benefiting from the clean renewable energy that we’ve made available to them.¬† There are tailors that can work longer hours, rural shops that can stay open later, students that can study long after dark, kids who don’t have to be afraid of going to the outdoor latrine in the dark, and hundreds of women who don’t have to breathe the toxic smoke from kerosene or wood splinter¬†ocote¬†candles when they rise before dawn to begin their daily routine.¬† By all indications, we saw that this was a project that needed to be expanded aggressively.

Risks and Challenges

Every ambitious project has its unique set of challenges and lessons to be learned.  We have seen manufacturers increase their prices as they bring new products on line, we have expanded our geographic reach to serve four countries instead of just one, and we have re-routed our supply chain to import in bulk through a central location (in this case through a free-trade zone in El Salvador). We have learned lessons every step of the way.

Next Steps

Currently, we have formalized our approach even further by registering a wholly owned subsidiary of Trees, Water & People, called Luci√©rnaga (‘firefly’ in Spanish), that will manage all of the supply chain related parts of the business.¬† Our goal is to be able to purchase larger quantities of product and to make our supply chain more efficient, providing our customers with the best value possible.¬† We are generating employment, new income streams, and clean energy for Central American families, and we plan on continuing to grow our operation to the benefit of tens of thousands of families.

luciernaga logo black

To learn more please visit our website or email Sebastian Africano at sebastian@treeswaterpeople.org.