The Gift of Pride: 500 Stoves for Guatemala Complete!

by Gemara Gifford, International Director

As the holiday season begins in the United States, many of us gather with family to cook our favorite meals, celebrate with friends, to reflect back on the past year, and to make plans for the next. If we’re lucky, the holiday season creates a sense of comfort, community, and pride.

As TWP looks back on our year, one of our proudest moments has been working with you – our community – to help 500 more families in southern Guatemala begin their new year with a brand new clean cookstove. Last week, the final installment of stoves were delivered, and families are now being trained on its care and maintenance, just in time for the holidays! In March, some of you will be joining TWP Tours on our next tour to the region to see first-hand how families have been impacted by their new stove.

Clean Cookstove training in Guatemala
The final training and installment of stoves was completed last week, meaning 500 more families in Guatemala are starting their New Year with a new stove!

If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that clean cookstoves have a lasting impact on people’s lives because they:

  • reduce dangerous indoor air pollution by up to 85%
  • reduce forest fuelwood needed by up to 50%
  • are more efficient and thus save families valuable time and money

But perhaps the most inspiring and transformative impact of a stove is not in the numbers, but rather, within oneself. By listening to women across Central America for the last 19 years, we know that stoves:

  • increase women’s self-esteem and self-worth
  • create hope, pride, and dignity
  • help people thrive, not just survive
  • foster the ability to think “beyond tomorrow”

When I met Doña Teresa earlier this summer, she was thrilled to cook me something yummy on her new stove. She was proud to tell me how her day-to-day activities had been transformed. “My clothes look so much nicer now,” she said. “I don’t have soot all over them, and I am not embarrassed to invite my friends over anymore.”  The best part was her smile. There are certain things that we simply cannot communicate with statistics – the pride in her face told me everything I needed to know. “And by the way, I don’t have to spend so much time cooking, this thing stays on all day, and the wood that I need is much less,” she said.

Doña Teresa with her cookstove in Guatemala
Sometimes transformation begins with a stove. Doña Teresa tells us what her new stove represented to her above.

I am excited to visit Doña Teresa again on my next trip in January to see how she doing, and thank her for teaching me such a valuable lesson about what a stove represented to her!

At Trees, Water & People, we believe that everyone plays a role in making the world more sustainable and humane. Our donors provide the means, we provide the network and know-how, our local partners deliver the solution, and each beneficiary provides local materials and labor. Together we drive change and create dignified, healthy futures for our global community.

So thank you, to each and every one of you, who have helped us tell this remarkable story. I couldn’t feel more ready for 2018 to help people make transformative changes in their own lives.

Sometimes that story begins with a stove.

If you are interested in traveling with us or learning more about our programs, please sign up for our email list.

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Community Voices: Jorge Perez Talavera

Don Jorge
Jorge Perez Talavera stands proud next to 4,300 coffee seedlings at his tree nursery in Chachagua, Nicaragua.

by Megan Maiolo-Heath and Lucas Wolf

In the north central region of Nicaragua, 80% of families are dependent on coffee for their livelihoods. In the rural areas where farmers are scratching out a living – growing coffee and living off the land to feed their families – 68% of the population does not have access to electricity, one of the lowest electrification rates in Central America (IDB, 2010). The closer you get to the “last mile”, as we have done on a recent trip to the remote farming village of Chachagua , the more families you will find struggling to survive on only a few dollars per day.

TWP Assistant International Director, Lucas Wolf, and I had the pleasure of staying with a local family during our four days in the community as part of a trip with our local partners, buildOn and GivePower. Jorge Perez Talavera, his wife Damaris Godoy Garcia, and their 17 year old daughter, Ara Yorleniz Perez Godoy, welcomed us into their small home, which has no running water or electricity. At night, situated around their rudimentary stove, Damaris and Ara Yorleniz cooked us hot meals: rice, beans, and tortillas overflowing with Nicaraguan flavor and love. We spent a lot of this time laughing together, finding that Nicaraguan humor is fueled by sarcasm. My kind of humor! We also had the opportunity to discuss the harsh reality of life in the campo, living off the land and relying on family and community to survive.

The closest town to Chachagua is Murra, a rough, 2-hour drive by truck or motorbike. No buses drive this far back into the mountains, making agriculture a necessity for income generation and for feeding your family. Rows of coffee plants dot the hills, along with other crops like maize, beans, banana trees, squash varieties, and root vegetables.

Chachagua Nicaragua
Don Jorge’s tree nursery is situated next to the rinsing and drying facility, with fruit trees surrounding the area.

Down the hill from Jorge’s small adobe home sits his tree nursery, where he is currently growing 4,300 coffee seedlings and a variety of fruit trees. He uses organic methods to grow the coffee, such as mixing garlic and cayenne for use as a pesticide. During the coffee harvest, Damaris and Ara Yorleniz help Jorge pick the ripe, red coffee cherries by hand.

“All of us spend long days together to harvest the coffee. It’s very hard work and the whole family helps.”

For the subsistence farmers in this region, who depend on the land for their survival, climate change is not a far off threat that they casually discuss. Climate change is happening. Right now. There is no debate about how or if a changing climate will affect them, the question is how will they adapt and survive. I invite climate deniers to visit Chachagua and tell the families here that climate change is a hoax.

“We have noticed a big change in the weather and temperatures over the past six years. The rains come later now and it’s much warmer, which affects how our coffee grows.”

Nicaragua deforestation
Agriculture is a major contributor to deforestation in Central America, making access to agroforestry education critical to environmental and human health.

In Nicaragua, temperatures are rising, drought is the new norm (and flooding when it does eventually rain), and crop disease is devastating, especially to rural coffee farmers and landless farm workers. The nation consistently ranks in the top ten among the places most affected by climate change (Global Climate Risk Survey). Coffee is Nicaragua’s second largest agricultural export earner. In 2012-13 an outbreak of La Roya (coffee leaf rust), which spread to 37% of the crop, cost $60M in losses. Small farmers like Jorge, who have no extra money to purchase fertilizers, have been hit hard by La Roya. When their mature coffee plants die from the rust, new seedlings can be planted, but they take three years to produce coffee. And, when there is no coffee there is no money.

When we discuss ways that farmers like Jorge are adapting, everyone we talk to points to reforestation as a top priority for improving all aspects of the local environment. Even the highest levels of government in Nicaragua are supporting practices like crop diversification and shade grown coffee, which improves soil and watershed health while protecting farmers from crop failure. With more diversity, and less dependence on one crop, families can survive when diseases like La Roya hit.

Chachagua Nicaragua
The beautiful view from Don Jorge’s home in Chachagua, Nicaragua.

On our last morning with the family, we all gather around the kitchen fire drinking coffee. It’s been pouring rain all night, a welcome return of moisture after days of no rain (and it’s supposed to be the “rainy season” in Nicaragua). Damaris has prepared a chicken for us, an incredibly generous gesture for a family living at this level of poverty. Lucas takes this time to express our gratitude for their hospitality:

“We know it is a hard life out here. We recognize that and we want to support you in any way possible. To see a family that is so happy together and so welcoming to strangers like us has really touched our hearts. Thank you for letting us into your home.”

Jorge responds, with a smile, “No matter what, the most important thing in life really is happiness.”

Project Update: The Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate Takes Shape

Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

 The Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate (NICFEC) is well on its way to becoming a reality. Over the past month, Trees, Water & People (TWP) and our partner, Proleña, have made considerable progress with a Nicaraguan architect, creating the master plan for the center. The plan will be finished and transferred to blueprints by the end of June 2015, at which point we will be ready to break ground. Once we begin building, we’d like to maintain the momentum to have the site operational and receiving guests by mid-2016.

Your donations will help make this a reality!

Once the dorms, classrooms, and workshops are constructed, we will begin the process of sizing and designing solar energy systems to power the site. We have a number of colleagues in the solar industry around the world who are committed to helping us with this challenge, and we are even considering designing a course around the installation. Also, as construction advances, planting of our various agroforestry plots will begin, demonstrating different combinations of crops and productive trees that can increase resilience on a rural farm.

Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy and Climate
Meeting with partners are the site of the Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate near La Paz Centro.

 As climate change rears its ugly head in the tropics, families already living in extreme vulnerability will have to adapt their approaches to be able to survive in rural areas. This means changing the rate at which they consume natural resources, and diversifying their crops and planting schedules to withstand volatile weather patterns. TWP’s NICFEC will be a resource for these farmers and their communities, providing them with a suite of technologies, proven methods, tree seedlings, and curriculum that will support them in this transition.

Thank you for supporting this effort – we look forward to keeping you informed as the Center takes shape and gets closer to opening its doors!

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From the Board: Building the National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change

by Jon Becker, TWP Board Member

Nicaragua clean cookstove factory
TWP Executive Director Richard Fox at Proleña’s cookstove factory in Managua.

It’s Wednesday in Managua, which puts me in the middle of my 10 day Central American journey. Here in Nicaragua, Trees, Water & People’s Executive Director Richard Fox and I are completing a series of meetings with our long time partner, Proleña.  It is a very exciting time here – we are truly getting our hands dirty to launch one of our biggest projects in the region – the National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change.

NicaraguaSeveral years ago, with support from our donors as well as funds from the Rio Tinto Prize for Sustainability, we helped Proleña purchase a property in a rural area near the town of La Paz Centro, an hour northwest of Managua.  After years of planning, fundraising, and dreaming, we have finally started construction of the Center. Today I had the pleasure of walking the seven acre property with Proleña’s Director Marlyng Buitrago, Technical Director Leonardo Mayorga, Board member Juan Torres. We visited the two buildings that have already been constructed, chatted with our caretaker and his family who are living on the land, and imagined the day (soon!) when the views, including majestic Mt. Momotombo in the distance, would also feature the classrooms, dormitory, agroforestry demonstration areas, clean cookstove workshops, and more that will make up the Center.

A view of Momotombo from the National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change
A view of Momotombo as it rises near the shores of Lake Managua – a beautiful backdrop to the National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change.

The Center is a unique and critically important addition to the entire region’s capacity to restore and maintain forest health, expand the use of clean energy and appropriate technologies, and develop adaptation strategies to the already present impacts of climate change.  As such, it will embody a model worthy of replication as all of the world steps up to the challenge of climate change and the transition to renewable energy.

I was flashing back to similar feelings of excitement, concern, and hope that I felt just a few years ago walking the grounds of the mostly unfinished Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.  I was remembering the flood of joy and satisfaction I reveled a little more than a year ago, when I was attended the grand opening of the Sacred Earth Lodge training center and dormitory at Pine Ridge. We did it before – we can do it again.  And I want to be there for La Fiesta!!

To learn more about the National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change in Nicaragua please visit our website.

The 2014 Year in Review

We are proud of all that we accomplished over the past 12 months with our local partners throughout Latin America and on tribal lands of the United States. Together, we are helping communities conserve their natural resources and create more sustainable livelihoods. Thank you for supporting our mission and programs. We look forward to a New Year with new possibilities!

year in review 2014

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 Proleña, 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 Ecofogón. Our generous cooks were two sisters – Noemi and Fani – who, for the past five years, have used one of Proleña’s 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, “We can put the stove anywhere we want in the house, the ceiling is no longer dark from the smoke and we don’t have conflicts with our neighbors about the smoke. In fact, now most of our neighbors have stoves too!” 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

TWP’s Regional Coordinator Graduates from Academia de Profesionales Solares de las Américas

SEI workshop

Benjamin Osorto, TWP’s Regional Coordinator in Central America, recently completed the Academia de Profesionales Solares de las Américas (APSA) program, where he was part of the first graduating class. Congrats Benjamin! 

This innovative program, designed and managed by Solar Energy International with support from the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas, teaches Latin American students how to design, install and maintain solar PV systems and to successfully launch and administer businesses in this critically important industry.

Matthew Harris, Director of Academia de Profesionales Solares de las Américas, wrote, “A new chapter has begun in the Americas and after graduating this first group of people in to the APSA program I am humbled to know that the world is blessed with 50 champions linked by a strong passion to do good for their countries and the world.” 

To learn more about this program please visit the Solar Energy International Website.

SEI APSA