How Can We Reduce Migration Out of Central America?

by Sebastian Africano, Executive Director

Last week on Colorado Public Radio, I heard about a Pew Research Center study on U.S. immigration from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras ‚ÄĒ an area known as the Northern Triangle. The study shows that while annual immigration to the U.S. from Mexico fell by 5% after the Great Recession, migration from the Northern Triangle rose by almost 30% during that same period.

Most of this migration is attributed to a lack of economic opportunity, political instability, or the threat of violence that chronically affects the region. But peeling the layers back from these conclusions reveals other culprits, with severe implications for the future.

Roughly 60% Central Americans now live in cities, and this number is expected to grow to over 70% during the next few decades. Overcrowded cities force newcomers to live in marginal neighborhoods that lack basic services and business opportunities, and which are all but governed by organized gangs. The inherent challenges encountered in these harsh urban environments lead to the more visible outbound migration ‚ÄĒ to Mexico, the U.S., or beyond.

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Improving the lives of people living in rural areas of Central America can reduce the pressures caused by migration to cities.

The second concern raised by this trend is that as more people arrive in cities, food-producing regions of the country become depopulated. Traditional agriculture is not supporting rural populations while shifting weather patterns, crop diseases, depleted soils, and poor market access are driving the next generation of farmers to throw in the towel and leave the countryside.

Rural farm communities, most of them indigenous, are the de facto stewards of their watersheds, the producers of food for urban centers, and the last line of defense against industries (mining, timber, hydropower, etc.) that seek access to land and natural resources. Making life in rural areas more livable by diversifying agricultural production, rebuilding soils with agroforestry, and helping create new, sustainable sources of income is a practical and cost-effective way to slow outbound migration. These strategies can breathe life back into ailing Central American rural communities and the ecosystems they depend on.

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International Director, Gemara Gifford (right), works closely with our partners in rural communities in Central America, like local leader Do√Īa Norma (left), to improve life through sustainable alternatives.

While the current debate on immigration here in the U.S. focuses on migrants once they make to our border, there are far too few questions being asked about why people leave in the first place. It may be more difficult to change the political environment or the macro economies of these countries, but keeping rural communities thriving is one way that TWP can contribute to future stability and sustainability in the region and another way that your support can create real and lasting impact.

By donating to Trees, Water & People, you can help rural communities in Central America build more resilient futures. 

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Building With Compressed Earth Blocks: Part 1

compressed earth block with solar array
Compressed Earth Block buildings are energy efficient, sustainable and affordable.

by John Motley, Assistant National Director

It always amazes me the way something can come from nothing. This has never been more true than with my first experience constructing a Compressed Earth Block building. Two months ago there was a bare plot of land with a few stakes delineating the crude outline of what was to become a foundation, now there is a completed building with four walls, four windows, a door and a roof. But beyond the basic structure we have incorporated various renewable and sustainable technologies that will help the building maintain a regular temperature despite outside conditions.

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Producing compressed earth blocks creates local jobs.

The compressed earth block home that we will complete this summer is made from compressed earth blocks using a machine generously donated by the company EARTHinBLOCKS. The blocks are made onsite from locally sourced materials. Approximately 90 percent of the mix for the blocks is from the refuse of the local gravel company on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. We re-purpose waste material by combining it with a small amount of Portland cement and water to create blocks that are then compressed to 2,000 psi. This pressure causes cement to bind with the earthen material and then cures for up to a week. The blocks are four inches high by eight inches thick and then the length of the block can vary based on the amount of material put in to the compressor. The blocks are very dense and as such have high thermal mass. This means that the blocks are slow to change temperature, so in the summer months they stay at the average daily temperature and do not fluctuate, this means a cool building during the heat of the day and a warm structure during the chilly nights.

We have also incorporated a radiant heat floor that is warmed by solar hot water panels requiring no electrical input. This will help the office stay warm during the cold Dakota winters. We have also built a double wall out of the earth blocks that will absorb heat from our wood burning stove and radiate that heat throughout the night.

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Compressed Earth Block Training – June 2014

These blocks require no mortar due to their tongue and grove design. This allows for a group of six to put up four walls with windows and doors in four days. We purchased prefabricated roof trusses that also were able to be installed without any skilled labor in one single afternoon. In seven days we went from a blank slate to a  beautiful building that will serve as a demonstration home for anyone interested in learning more about Compressed Earth Block.

Trees Water & People is working to promote this type of construction to Tribes across the Great Plains who are struggling to find ways to build affordable and sustainable homes for their members. This construction has an upfront cost of less than $20,000 but the energy savings alone will offset the cost of the building within 15 years. Stay tuned as we continue this important work: sustainable building + renewable energy for a greener future on tribal lands.

We owe a special thank you to EARTHinBLOCK’s founders Elsie Walker and Susan England for their support and their time in completing this project.

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Notes from the Field: Let’s stop talking and start doing

By Pete Iengo, TWP Office Manager & Volunteer Coordinator

August 9, 2011: Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota

We are on day two of the straw bale house construction.  There has been great progress, thanks to the seemingly endless enthusiasm and energy of the TWP volunteers, Re-Member crew, Northern Cheyenne Reservation trainees, as well as many friends and family of Henry Red Cloud.

Birch Hincks, TWP's Tribal Lands Intern, works hard building a frame for the straw bale house.

This progress is in spite of a daunting thundershower that rolled through at about 10am today.¬† It looked as though the storm could really hamper our progress.¬† However, the ominous soaker lasted about 40 minutes, and before I knew it the crew was back to work.¬† After the storm came a lot of humidity and some searing sunshine.¬† It was definitely a stark reminder of Mother Nature’s power, the harsh year round conditions here on the reservation, as well as the great power of human will.

This is a very diverse and determined group, and while there are different motivations coursing through the project, there is a common thread that has become clear; let’s stop talking and start doing something to help people improve their lives.

By the end of work today we will have a complete roof, and the door and window frames will be in place.¬† Also, the foundation will be secured to the straw bale stacks with a simple but effective wood slat and bale string system.¬† With the structure of the house securely in place we are ready to have a plaster party!¬† All day participants have been sifting the clay to a fine powder, in preparation of the mixing process.¬† The clay stucco solution is the glue that will unite the house structurally and is going to be applied tomorrow.¬† Henry has been jesting about tomorrow’s Plaster Party all day, keeping things light.¬† In the days following we will add the finishing touches.

Flip through the time-lapse photos below to see a days worth of construction on the new straw bale house.

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