Experiencing Community Development in Nicaragua

by Annalise Mecham, Development Director

As the incoming Development Director at Trees, Water & People, my job is to raise the funds that will keep the organization running. Even before taking this position, I knew that to do my job successfully I would need to visit the places where we work, shake hands with our partners, smell a kitchen with a clean cookstove, and touch the soil where we are growing our trees.

This opportunity came in the middle of January when I got to travel to Nicaragua for a week-long stay with Gemara Gifford, TWP’s International Director, and Paul Thayer, a TWP board member. Shortly after arriving at the Managua airport, Paul, Gemara and our fabulous tour guide (and partner of past International Director, Lucas Wolf), Valentina, drove directly to Gaia Estate. The Estate is a Certified Bird-friendly coffee farm outside the town of Diriamba and is owned by long-time TWP friend Jefferson Shriver. Jefferson greeted us with a glass of wine, dinner, and conversation about Nicaragua. He stressed the importance of promoting farming systems that integrate overstory trees (i.e. agroforestry), and high-value and environmentally-friendly products like vanilla and turmeric. After a good night’s sleep, we awoke to the smell of fresh coffee brewing, beans that had been picked and harvested from his farm just days before.

We spent the next day with Proleña visiting Tierra Verde, our newly opened climate change education center in La Paz Centro. Since TWP’s last visit, the first floor of the dormitory has been built and 600 trees have been planted on the property (25 different species in all) as well as infrastructure for the site including roadways and electricity. Having seen Tierra Verde in many photographs, it was essential to see the property and hear about the exciting events planned for 2018.

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Conducting a strategy session at Tierra Verde with Proleña’s Executive Director, Marlyng Buitrago (second from the right) and Technical Director, Leonardo Mayorga (far right). Photo by Annalise Mecham.

Although more construction will be taking place this year, the vision for the center is starting to take shape. We talked in detail about the workshops that we have planned, including bringing in local farmers to talk about agroforestry, university students to discuss climate change, and TWP Tour participants to visit the center. We discussed plans to complete the tree nursery with at least 50,000 trees in the first year, as well as demonstration sites for clean cookstoves, and adding a greenhouse for growing and genetically testing trees.

After our visit to Tierra Verde, we toured Proleña’s workshop in Managua and visited local urban cookstove beneficiaries. I have always been aware of the impact of clean cookstoves, but it was a completely different experience to see and smell the difference. The women we visited graciously welcomed us into their kitchen and explained the changes in their lives and their health after the clean cookstove had been installed. Although my Spanish is limited, it didn’t take me long to realize how these women felt about their clean cookstoves. They would pat gently on their chests and touch their eyes, implying that they could breathe easier and their eyes were less irritated.

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Doña Thelma (center) and her family in her home. She is one of the beneficiaries of a clean cookstove and sells 300 tortillas a day to customers.

The last day was one of the most profound for me as we visited the rural communities surrounding the northern town of Jinotega, in particular, the remote village of La Cal. To get there, we had a few hours’ drive on an impossibly steep and windy dirt road with a one hour walk up a steep rocky path. The village was tucked away in a mountain valley and one of the most remote communities I have ever visited.

Upon our arrival, we were introduced to the only teacher in the community, a young man who gave us a tour including the one-room schoolhouse and various family homes. The families we visited we welcoming, kind, and joyful. We interviewed many women about the impacts of their clean cookstoves, played with the kids, saw how much time it takes to gather wood, and the challenges of living in rural Nicaragua. As we drove back that evening to Managua, the feeling I had wasn’t sadness at the rural living conditions, but a sense of awe at their resilience.

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A house with corn hanging from the roof in the remote village of La Cal.

On the plane ride home, I was thinking about my biggest take away from the trip. What was I going to bring back to the TWP community of donors and supporters? Without a doubt, it was the unique community-based approach that Trees, Water & People uses when working in Central America and U.S. Tribal Lands.

TWP’s approach is based on the philosophy that communities have the best judgment of how their lives and livelihoods can be improved, and if given access to the right resources, they should make decisions that will be most impactful for them. I believe that this community-based development is the most effective way to create change. Change does not come easy for anyone. Changing the way someone cooks their food can seem impossibly difficult. But, TWP’s approach to involve the community and a local nonprofit (in the case of Proleña in Nicaragua) allows for the change to be approached on an intimate, community level.

This type of grassroots change is not the easiest route. It is complicated and complex and takes years to actualize. Luckily for TWP, we have been planting seeds this way for 20 years and will continue to for many, many more!

If you would like to learn more about Trees, Water & People’s work, please sign up for our email list.

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From Community to Cup: Café Imports Becomes a TWP Corporate Partner

by Katie Murphy, Strategic Partnerships Manager 

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Café Imports brings some of the highest quality green coffee to the global market. What makes them truly shine is not only their excellent product but the way they engage in business. To minimize their environmental impact, they have partnered with us to continue their carbon neutrality for the next two years. With the environment at the forefront of all their decisions, Café Imports believes it is just simply part of doing ethical business in the ever-changing coffee market. They believe that quality, education, and progress are the driving principles that make their services exemplary, and here at Trees, Water & People, we couldn’t agree more.

“This new effort in 2017, a charitable effort by the ownership of Café Imports, guarantees again that all of our coffee is carbon neutral by the time it arrives at our warehouse.“

    —Andrew Miller, Café Imports Founder

By becoming part of TWP’s Partners for a Sustainable Planet Program (PSP), Café Imports is doing more than just offsetting 3,378 tons of CO2. Through reforestation and clean cookstove efforts in Honduras, Café Imports can ensure their carbon neutrality and further their existing philosophy which highlights the “tree to the cup” traceability of their coffee.

You can see for yourself how Café Imports examines their carbon footprint in their 2017 Environmental Progress Report. By computing not only their shipping and business travel, but including the day-to-day office and warehouse output, and even employee commuting, Café Imports can feel confident in their carbon footprint metrics and make changes to their business practices accordingly. In 2016, they were able to reduce their annual carbon output by 11% from the previous year.

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Café Imports is taking carbon offsets further!

This unique partnership in the Honduran Highlands lends support to 220 local families in the twelve coffee producing communities we work with and also trains locals in agroforestry practices. By diversifying coffee farms with shade trees and integrated food crops, we can strengthen coffee crops and improve economic opportunities in these communities. Additionally, Café Imports has sponsored the construction and installation of 20 clean cookstoves and the training of two local Hondurans in stove design and construction. Implementing clean cookstoves helps families breathe cleaner air, reduce their reliance on and consumption of fuelwood, and improves their quality of life for years to come.

Our partnership connects Café Imports to the families that grow coffee, taking their existing philosophy of “tree to cup” to “community to cup.” TWP is proud to partner with a business who doesn’t just talk the talk about environmental responsibility; they walk the walk.

If you would like to learn more about our Corporate Partnership Program, click here! 

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Project Update: NICFEC Dorms Underway

By Lucas Wolf, International Director

June marks the gentle start of summer in the northern hemisphere, but in the more southern latitudes, particularly in Central America, June brings brutal summer heat. Despite that heat, construction workers are toiling, sweating, and laboring on the dormitory — our first major construction project on the site of the Nicaragua Center for Forests, Energy, and Climate (NICFEC).

In addition to the dormitory, a trench and pipeline are under construction from its base to a biofilter tank near the edge of the property. This biofilter, or residual water treatment system, will process and treat graywater from the dormitory and other buildings so that we can recycle the water for our agroforestry nursery, and clonal tree garden. Two thousand bricks have already arrived on site to construct the walls of the main building, with another 4,000 set to come later. The full dormitory project is on time and within budget and should be completed before the contractual deadline (and the arrival of the rains!).

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Construction site for the future Nicaragua Center for Forests, Energy, and Climate (NICFEC). 

Recently, we visited the NICFEC site with friends from the women’s cooperative, Artists for Soup, based out of La Paz Centro. This dynamic group has received training from our friends at BioNica and the Asociación para el Desarrollo Agroecológico Regional (ADAR) in the arts of biointensive smallholder agriculture, designed to increase food sovereignty and nutritional values in underserved communities. Elioena Arauz, the women’s cooperative leader, and her team will soon dig and plant 12 biointensive beds on the NICFEC site and contribute to our goals of sustainability, food sovereignty, women’s empowerment, and climate change adaptation and mitigation.

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Construction of the new NICFEC dormitory is currently underway.

At the end of May, our first organized tour of NICFEC and its surroundings will take place with a special group of Trees, Water & People donors, board members, staff, and a few new TWP friends. This group will get a behind-the-scenes look at our progress to date and meet with Proleña board members, architects, and construction specialists shaping the NICFEC vision. Upon the conclusion of this trip, we will move forward with agroforestry and landscaping plans as well as the development of our clonal tree garden.

We would love our supporters to take a trip with us to Nicaragua and visit NICFEC upon its completion. Please stay tuned for future travel opportunities by signing up for our email list!

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El Salvador Partners Win the J. Kirby Simon Forest Service Trust

Seven months ago, I met Trees, Water & People thanks to this very blog. I was looking for an organization in El Salvador working in one of the areas that I consider most essential to life: planting trees. Meeting them was loving them: after a few google searches and a few e-mails, I knew I had found my counterparts.

I wanted to partner with TWP to support reforestation activities in El Salvador. I work in the US Embassy in San Salvador and, as an employee, I can apply to grants from the J. Kirby Simon Foreign Service Trust, an organization that has supported volunteer efforts of employees working at U.S. diplomatic missions worldwide for 21 years. Fast forward to September 2016: Armando Hernández, the director of Arboles, Agua, y el Pueblo in El Salvador, and I designed a project that just won $3,000 from the J. Kirby Simon Trust to support tree planting efforts in my country.

 

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Verónica Vásquez Cuerno planting trees in El Salvador (photo by Inés Pacas).

 

Thanks to this small project, Arboles, Agua, y el Pueblo El Salvador will improve the facilities of its newly acquired tree nursery and will have part of the funds necessary to grow the 40,000 saplings in 2017. It’s not difficult to see that TWP and their partners in El Salvador have invested their hearts and souls into the organization’s mission. I feel proud to be able to support their efforts, and I hope volunteers from the U.S. Embassy and other organizations will join us in giving El Salvador the green environment that we all deserve.

But 2017 seems so far away, and I am impatient, so a couple of weeks ago I made the first trial of mobilization of volunteers. I did so by promoting the planting of 600 trees in the Ecoparque El Espino, a forest/coffee plantation in the San Salvador Volcano, managed by a campesino cooperative. I thought of this when I heard that Armando still had trees to plant from those grown in 2016. We had to take advantage of the rainy season’s last weeks, to allow the saplings to survive in their new home.

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Volunteers in El Salvador working together to plant trees (photo by Giselle Méndez).

Along with my closest friends, we collected additional funds (so we could leave the J. Kirby Simon’s funds intact), and we put together a group of 30 people, including Scouts and members of the Cooperative El Espino. In six hours, we planted saplings of the species we Salvadorans know as San Andrés, Madrecacao, Black Cedar, Cocoa and Maquilishuat, which is a symbol of my country. We ended up exhausted and happy! Although we slipped in the mud, went up and down a steep hillside a thousand times, got soaked in the rain, and ate a snack spiced up with dirt (yum!), we all shared this feeling of achievement; that together we added a little heritage to El Salvador.

I am aware that this little project will not stop global warming or even deforestation in my beloved Ecoparque. I also know that if even only 60 of the 600 saplings survive, it will be a gain. Still, I want to allow myself a moment of optimism and I want to believe that at this critical moment, it’s the collective strength of people that will save our world and our humanity. We must continue to try and keep our forests growing —forests are our source of life, green, and peace and they are worth the effort.

To learn more about Trees, Water & People, please visit www.treeswaterpeople.org. Our grassroots conservation efforts depend on friends and donors investing in our work. We hope you will join our community today!

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TWP Celebrates International Day of the World’s Indigenous People

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

Today marks an important date on the calendar for indigenous communities around the world as the United Nations declares the International Day of the World´s Indigenous Peoples. This year, the Indigenous Peoples Day highlights the importance of education for indigenous communities worldwide.

For the international and national partners of Trees, Water & People (TWP) as well as the home office employees, every day is indigenous people´s day. Our tribal program in the US continues to break new ground on housing opportunities on the Pine Ridge Reservation, expand access to sustainable agriculture and improve food security, and work to reforest hillsides that have been decimated by fires and erosion. Our partnership with Henry Red Cloud has led to many educational opportunities for Native Americans over the years, such as business development courses, green job training, and sustainable building.

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These two young Native American women were the recipients of our Solar Women Warrior Scholarship and learned how to install solar air heaters. Here they are working on fans for a heater.

Internationally, with our partner Utz Ché in Guatemala, we are also working to provide education opportunities, training, and capacity building for indigenous communities. In our primary community of La Bendición, where we led two work tours last year, we continue to support training in beekeeping (two youth leaders attended an apiculture and permaculture workshop at the Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute in San Lucas de Toliman).

La Bendición was founded in 2000 by two different indigenous communities that were displaced by the armed conflict in the 1990s in western Guatemala. They were relocated to an abandoned and defunct coffee plantation in the southeastern part of the country and were passed a bill for the value of the land, as assessed by the government. The discrepancy between the valuation of the land and what they received has characterized the next 16 years of their community’s existence. They have fought for dismissal of this over-inflated debt so they could get on with learning how to live separated from their ancestral land and people.

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Osvin Goméz of La Bendición fits a wax mold into a frame for the beehive to build a new honeycomb.

According to Oswaldo Mauricio, our primary coordinator with La Bendición and the director of Campesino exchanges for Utz Ché:

“The relationship between TWP, Utz Ché, and La Bendición contributes to an enhanced quality of life in many different ways. Together we improve the overall reforestation and conservation of the forests, protect the watersheds and the rivers, moderate the use of firewood and pressures on the forest, and help smallholder farmers diversify their parcels (productivity projects). All these activities are the primary focal point for the creation of better educational opportunities, both informal and formal. All of these developments help to ensure clean and healthy food production and consumption for the families of La Bendición.”

In addition to these efforts, our ongoing goal to build 500 clean cookstoves, in collaboration with Utz Ché and two Guatemalan improved cookstove producers, EcoComal and Doña Dora, is helping to train and educate other Utz Ché communities on the use and maintenance of the clean cookstoves. Your donation will allow indigenous communities in southern Guatemala to have access to these clean cookstoves, as well as the training they need to use and maintain them.

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15th Anniversary of La Bendición

by Lucas Wolf, Assistant International Director

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the founding of one of our keystone communities, La Bendición, in southeastern Guatemala. This community served as a gateway for us when we sought to deepen our presence in Guatemala through our local partner, The Association for Community Forestry, Utz Ché (translates as “Good Tree” in the Kaqchiquel language). Utz Ché introduced Trees, Water & People (TWP) to La Bendición with hopes that we could develop a long-term relationship to address some of the long-term challenges the community faces, such as agrarian debt, isolation and lack of livelihood opportunities.

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Women of the La Bendición community cooking.

La Bendición was founded on June 7th, 2000 by two indigenous communities that were displaced by the armed conflict in the 1990s in western Guatemala. They were relocated to an abandoned and defunct coffee plantation in the southeastern part of the country and were passed a bill for the value of the land, as assessed by the government. The discrepancy between the valuation of the land and what they received would characterize the next 14 years of their community’s existence. They have fought for dismissal of this over-inflated debt so they could get on with learning how to live separated from their ancestral land and people.

Last year, which marked my first year with TWP, I was fortunate enough to visit the community on three different occasions. My first week with TWP, March 2015, I joined our International Director, Sebastian Africano on a work trip with 16 other participants from all over the U.S. It was a huge success and served as a great introduction to the critical partnership building and community development that are a hallmark of TWP´s development model. Then, in October, I made an individual visit to work with Oswaldo Mauricio Orozco, who is both one of the community´s main youth group leaders and the Coordinator for Campesino Exchanges at Utz Ché. During that visit, we analyzed lessons learned from the March work trip in preparation for the then-upcoming December-January work trip with the Geller Center and Unity of Fort Collins. These groups also had a tremendous experience during their time in the community.

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The work group from the Geller Center and Unity of Fort Collins learning about coffee farming.

Our efforts at La Bendición are ongoing, with continued support in many strategic areas, including:

Agroforestry and apiculture – helping to strengthen and deepen the community´s commitment to strengthening the full life cycle of the forest and diversifying livelihoods with value-added products.

Sustainable agriculture – while coffee remains the principal cash crop, pineapple plots have increased exponentially and they are now focused on commercialization and marketing of these high-quality fruits.

Capacity building and leadership – supporting the youth group in its efforts to lead on agriculture, livelihoods and forestry through important trainings and opportunities for education and professional growth.

Community forestry and ecotourism – from its founding, La Bendición´s leaders realized how important the surrounding forest is and they have worked tirelessly to manage the buffer zone with an eye toward conserving forest health. Ecotourism proposals and concepts are currently underway and the renovation of the main community center was a focus of the last work trip´s efforts.

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Harvesting pineapple in La Bendición.

Help us celebrate the anniversary of this special community by donating to our efforts to install 500 stoves in three Utz Ché communities over the next two months. We are currently raising funds to complete the installation of these stoves with an eye toward expanding the project to Utz Ché’s network of 40+ indigenous partner communities across Guatemala. La Bendición is one of these communities, and we are excited to continue to support them as they continue on a path of sustainable development, autonomy, and prosperity.

Feliz Aniversario!

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15,000 Trees Have a New Home

This year’s planting season has been a great success so far! With the 15,000 ponderosa pines in the ground, thanks to the hard work of 39 Native Americans, Trees, Water & People (TWP) has beaten our previous year’s planting by 5,000 trees – and that’s just the start! For 2016, our goal is to plant 17,000, however, we wiped out the Colorado State Forest Service Nursery’s supply of ponderosas with our 15,000 order! So, we will be patiently waiting for the remaining 2,000 trees to sprout. This is all part of TWP’s goal to plant 1 million trees on tribal lands over the next several years.

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The planting crew gearing up to plant 15,000 ponderosa seedlings.

TWP’s Tribal Reforestation project came about a few years ago in response to several wildfires that severely impacted Tribal lands in southern South Dakota. It is estimated that 20,000 acres of ponderosa forests were lost, with very few seed trees surviving to naturally replant the forest. That’s why we’re working to help put the “pine” back in Pine Ridge! Planting the ponderosas will improve air and water quality, reduce soil erosion, re-establish wildlife habitat, enhance ecosystem resiliency, and sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gases all while engaging Native Americans in the protection of their lands.

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Putting the “pine” back in Pine Ridge!

There to capture all the action on film was a videographer from Vision Makers Media. This Native-operated filmmaking organization empowers and engages Native Peoples to tell stories. They envision a world changed and healed by understanding Native stories and the public conversations they generate. We’re excited to be teaming up with Vision Makers Media to show you the progress of our reforestation efforts. With their 40 years of experience, we know you will enjoy the captivating footage of the scenic plains. Stay tuned for the video in the coming months!

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The tree planting dream team!

If you would like to help us plant trees on the Pine Ridge and Rose Bud Reservations, please make a donation to our Tribal Reforestation program.

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