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!

Notes from the Field: Generations of Knowledge and Experience Converge

Guatemala apiculture workshop

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

A lot of my recent “firsts” have been in Guatemala, while working with TWP partner Utz Che’¬†– an umbrella group for 36 campesino organizations throughout this vast country. Through Utz Che’ I met the community of La Bendici√≥n – a displaced population of some 100 families from San Marcos, who were resettled in the south east of the country, in the Department of Escuintla.

P1090040

Since 2011 a group of young men from La Bendición has been approaching me very formally, seeking support for some community projects they were getting off the ground. Their pitch was impressive Рsaying that while they lived in a remote area with no municipal services, they saw an opportunity to make their living from the land and resources around them, avoiding migration to the city or to the United States.

After three years of visits, I have never been let down by these guys – they’ve planted tens of thousands of trees, thousands of pineapples, and have a small enterprise producing honey.¬† So, when they asked me to support them getting additional training in bee keeping to improve their business, I made it a priority to see that it happened.

Guatemalan honey
Guatemalan honey

For two days in November 2014, a group of 16 beekeepers from the Utz Che’ broad network of partners came together at the Meso-American Permaculture Institute (IMAP) on the south shore of Lake Atitl√°n to receive an apiculture workshop from local expert Genaro Simalaj. The participants ranged in age from 16 to 70 years, and were from throughout Guatemala – three generations of knowledge and experience in one powerful convergence.

When participants were asked in an introductory circle what bees meant to each of them, responses included “they are part of my family”, “they are who give life to nature through pollination”, “a healthful economy” and “they are the scientists that do with nature what no one else can”.¬† We then spent two days studying and splitting hives, collecting honey, and learning from each other in the mountains around Lake Atitl√°n.

This workshop was a reminder to me of the importance of my work at TWP – a fulcrum between the aspirations of rural communities and the resources that help them become reality. David Bautista, the unwavering leader of the youth group from La Bendici√≥n said that “when the adults are no longer here, it’s us (the youth) who are going to have to guide this ship”. My role, as I see it, is just to fan the sails.

Guatemalan apiculture

Join TWP on a work tour to the community of La Bendición the week of March 15 Р22 to build clean cookstoves, work in the tree nursery, learn about bee keeping, and help fix a water system. A great way to travel while giving back!  Register by Dec. 31 for a 5% discount: www.treeswaterpeople.org/worktour

Community Voices: Don Marcos

Guatemala civil war
Don Marcos defends his land and his people during the Guatemalan civil war.

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

“The hardest parts were the hunger…and the sleeplessness.” recounted Don Marcos, a septuagenarian survivor of the brutal civil wars in Guatemala that left over 200,000 (mostly indigenous campesinos) dead. Two spoonfuls of oats and a spoonful of sugar was all the food available for weeks at a time while protecting Mayan heritage and homeland from military persecution. Hundreds of thousands died, but many survived, only to face continued struggle to live a dignified life after “peace” was officially declared in Guatemala in 1996. Don Marcos tells us his story while holding his head in his hands under a photo taken of him in 1982, where he can be seen stoically gripping an automatic rifle with three other indigenous soldiers behind him, tasked with ensuring the survival of an ancient culture.

Today, Don Marcos is a community leader in El Tarral, one of the dozens of highland Mayan communities from Huehuetenango who have been displaced to southern coastal climates. His organization – the San Ildefonson Ixtahuac√°n Development Association – is one of the 36 indigenous groups under the umbrella of the Asociaci√≥n de Forester√≠a Comunitaria de Guatemala Ut’z Ch√©,¬†Trees, Water & People’s partner in the country. We had the unique opportunity to build Don Marcos’ family a new cookstove as a training exercise for some younger members of his community – teaching a proven technology that reduces fuelwood use, improves family health and saves families money through its daily use.

It was a community effort to build Marco and Nati's new clean cookstove.
It was a community effort to build Marco and Nati’s new clean cookstove.

Ut’z Ch√© provides a voice to indigenous communities who seek to protect land and resource rights where they live – be it on ancestral lands or lands adopted post-displacement. As agro-forestry and forest conservation are two pillars in this process, clean cookstoves and solar lighting are a perfect compliment, improving sustainability, autonomy and health for communities that have been marginalized for centuries. As someone who has spent a decade working in rural Central America, I couldn’t be more inspired and energized to contribute, as the resilience and identity exhibited by Ut’z Che’s partners is extraordinary, and their will to thrive is as salient as their preserved languages, customs and traditions.

Don Marcos’ struggle is now for his children and grandchildren. While it’s miraculous that he’s here at all, he knows that he has little time left to leave a better future for his descendants. He was happy and proud to offer his house as a training ground for the group of young men in his community, who look to him as an elder and a teacher. His is the first of 60 cookstoves we plan to build in the community of El Tarral – projects made possible only by your donations and support. We thank you for helping us make life a little more hospitable¬†for the millions of humble people that only seek the sustainable and dignified future they deserve.

Trees, Water & People 2013 Annual Report

The year 2013 was a powerful time for making new commitments, but also for completing some of our most needed and ambitious projects. It was a time when our nation was struggling still, but slowly improving from a period of fiscal instability.

We send a special heartfelt thank you to all of our donors and supporters that have provided their generous financial support, but also for the wisdom and advice that makes all of our projects possible!

Please click here to see our 2013 audited financial statements and 990s. For questions regarding our financials please email Diane Vella, Finance Director, at diane@treeswaterpeople.org or call 970-484-3678 ext. 22.

Photo of the Week: Tree Nurseries Flourish in Guatemala

Guatemala tree nursery

About this photo

Our reforestation partners in Guatemala, La Asociación de Forestería Comunitaria de Guatemala Ut’z Che’, have been very busy this year! Just in 2013, they have already planted 85,450 trees in 4 different communities throughout Guatemala, with more to be planted by the end of the year. Species planted include moringa, lemon, orange, pine, papaya, tamarind, noni, and guanaba.

These trees are important for both environmental protection and economic development. Local communities use these trees to improve watershed and soil health, as fruit orchards, and as future sources of timber and fine hardwood.

To learn more about our work in Guatemala please visit our website.

 

Notes from the Field: Not Your Typical Summer Internship

by Kelly Cannon, International Program Intern

Gathering feedback from the community helps us implement successful programs.
Gathering feedback from the community helps us implement successful programs.

So I thought I would attempt to share a little glimpse into my life-changing summer experience. I‚Äôll start with a bit of background. My name is Kelly Cannon. I‚Äôm a Global Studies and Spanish major with a Business minor currently studying at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. I landed a position as the International Programs Intern with the non-profit organization Trees, Water & People (TWP) this summer. I was enthused. The internship seemed to combine all of my passions ‚Äď community development, travel, Latin America, Spanish, people, and adventure. I could not wait for the incredible learning opportunity ahead.

So just like that I found myself spending six weeks exploring every corner of Honduras and Guatemala generating market data for a clean energy distribution enterprise. I conducted household interviews, held focus groups, taught communities about solar energy, while also exploring the competitive landscape, supply chain opportunities and developing a marketing plan for solar energy distribution in energy-poor regions of Guatemala.

maizI visited dozens of communities throughout these regions, but I want to share about my experience in one place in particular. La Bendición, Guatemala is surrounded by breathtaking views of lush, green landscape and three volcanoes. The best part about staying in La Bendición was just living life with the people there. I stayed with a host family for four days. I spent a large amount of time with my host mom and her daughter, Silsy. We woke up at 6:00am and brought a bucket of corn to the molino. We waited in line with all the other women, poured the corn through some complicated machinery, and watched it transform into flour used to make tortillas. I’m pretty sure I became a professional tortilla-maker by the time I left the community.

Gautemala

Another morning my mom and Silsy took me on a long walk to a cornfield where their cows graze. We visited the animals and then picked a big bundle of leaves off the corn. When we returned home, they taught me how to fold the leaves around flour to make tamales. Later that afternoon, they called me out to the backyard for another lesson. They snatched up one of the chickens running around the yard and held it over the pila (the outdoor sink). My mom and Silsy broke its’ neck right in front of me, poured out the guts and blood, and plucked the feathers off the body before putting it in a bucket of hot water. One hour later we were all sitting around the table eating the tamales and the chicken. I treasure my time in La Bendición experiencing a new way of life with my host mom and Silsy. I learned so much about their daily tasks while sharing in wonderful conversation. I fell in love with moments during my time there that I will always cherish.

community outreach
The children look on curiously as we conduct interviews with their parents.

In addition to living life with the people in La Bendición, I was of course also working on the solar energy project for TWP. I held a meeting with the women in La Bendición the day I arrived to teach them about the solar energy products that TWP distributes and let them know I would be visiting households and conducting interviews. I wanted to ask families about how they illuminated their houses at night with no access to electricity, calculate their current energy expenditures, demonstrate the products, and gauge their interest in this alternate form of clean energy. The women expressed gratitude and excitement at the meeting and many volunteered to be interviewed first. Over the next few days Silsy and I talked to seventeen different families in La Bendición. The community, as a whole, showed great interest in the solar energy products. The people told me about the extreme need for this project in their community and the obstacles they face on a daily basis due to the absence of light. Many families wanted to purchase the lights from me on the spot. Sadly, I had to explain I was not selling the products just doing a preliminary investigation in order to bring the products to the community in the future.

The experience in La Bendición was eye-opening and encouraging. I felt at home there. The interviews allowed me to learn a lot about the current energy situation in this community and in Guatemala as a whole. The people were supportive and welcoming, especially once they learned my purpose for visiting. When I left on a chicken bus that Friday morning to head to a new community, some of the women came out, kissed me on the cheek, and wished me luck on the rest of my trip. I was sad to leave but also even more excited and passionate about bringing solar energy to families in hard-to-reach communities.

Photo of the Week: Clean Cookstoves, Healthy Homes in Guatemala

clean cookstove guatemala

About this photo

In Guatemala, over¬†71% of the nation’s¬†14 million people are dependent on wood to cook every meal. This demand for fuelwood has put a huge strain on one of the country’s most precious natural resources: the forests. Our programs in Guatemala aim to decrease fuelwood consumption and, at the same time, improve the health of families and the overall environment.

The Emelda cookstove (pictured here) provides household cooks with two or three powerful burners, different size pot supports, a removable steel griddle, and is made with local materials for a truly appropriate solution. Every time a family cooks a meal, they conserve wood and reduce deadly indoor air pollution. A win-win for people and the planet!

Photo of the Week: Clean Cookstoves Save Children’s Lives

clean cookstove Guatemala

About this photo

Sebastian Africano, TWP’s International Director, took this picture during a recent visit to¬†Nuevo Todos Santos near Escuintla, Guatemala. This young boy is standing in front of his families Emelda clean cookstove, installed by TWP and our partner organization, La Asociaci√≥n de Forester√≠a Comunitaria de Guatemala Ut‚Äôz Che‚Äô.

In Guatemala, more than 71% of the nation‚Äôs 14.7 million people are dependent on wood to cook every meal. Cooking over an open fire causes a wide array of human health issues, affecting women and children the most. In fact, it is estimated that 4 million people die every year from exposure to smoke in the home. TWP’s clean cookstoves reduce deadly indoor air pollution by up to 80% and reduce fuelwood consumption by up to 70%.

Learn more at www.treeswaterpeople.org.

Photo of the Week: TWP and Ut’z Che’ Build Cookstoves in Guatemala

clean cookstove Guatemala
TWP and Asociaci√≥n de Forester√≠a Comunitaria de Guatemala Ut’z Che’ build clean cookstoves in rural, indigenous communities of Guatemala. Each cookstove greatly reduces deadly indoor air pollution and uses up to 70% less fuelwood than a traditional open fire. Because cooking shouldn’t kill!