Making a House a Home for a Lakota Family

by Adelle McDaniel, National Intern

Traveling up to Pine Ridge Reservation for the very first time, I had a lot of questions. Statistics about poverty, living conditions, and health tumbled around my head; I could (and did) rattle them off to anyone who asked where I was going for the weekend. But at that point, I didn’t really know where I was going for the weekend. I didn’t even really know what I was doing when I got there.

When Richard, Trees, Water & People’s Executive Director, pulled up next to a newly built, sustainable Compressed Earth Block (CEB)  house on the reservation and I hopped out, the latter question was quickly answered. I would be helping to clean, organize, and prepare the building for the open house the following day. More importantly, I would be part of giving the gift of a home. The three bedroom earthen block home features solar-heated floors and forced air, a PV system on the roof, and one happy family inside.

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Community members blessing the new home in a drum circle.

Very little is more rewarding than making others happy. Knowing that you created a safe, beautiful place for a family to spend their years, though, far surpasses that. Everyone at the open house could see the proof of that joy on the faces of the two most influential people on the project, Richard Fox and Henry Red Cloud, and we could feel it in their hearts.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Paul Shields, the recipient of the new CEB home. Paul worked tirelessly on the construction of the compressed earth block home and volunteered on many community-based projects on Pine Ridge. Paul’s efforts are not only for his children, but also to share the beauty of Lakota culture with his grandchildren. Though jobs on the reservation are hard to come by, Paul’s dedication to renewable energy and sustainable development exemplifies the inspiring work of the community to create a positive future for the next generation.

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Henry Red Cloud (left) welcoming the Shields Family with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

It was more than a privilege to be included in the occasion. I couldn’t begin to choose my favorite moment from the weekend. Would it be shaking hands with the new owners, or seeing tears in their eyes? Sharing laughs, meals, and work with the other volunteers or gaining a new perspective without even noticing? Maybe just taking in the scenery and the soul of a place I had never been.

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Adelle McDaniel playing with the kids during the open house.

The question of where I was going was perhaps both more and less easily answered than what I was doing. I was going to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. I came back from a place filled with devastation and hope, injustice and integrity, and a deeply embedded history with courageous new beginnings.

If you would like to help programs and projects such as this, please donate today! 

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Guest Blog: The Five Worst Things You Can Do for the Planet

by Jessica Reynolds, Community Manager at Solar Action Alliance

The bottom line is that the worst thing an individual can do is to increase – or not reduce – his or her carbon footprint. In other words, each of us needs to decrease the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants our activities produce as much as possible.

There are a number of things an individual can do that are truly bad for the planet, but perhaps the five that are the most common are:

Wasting energy, especially fossil fuel-based energy

bulbThere is a lot we do that wastes energy. Given that most energy is still generated by fossil fuels such as coal and oil, energy production still results in massive amounts of greenhouse gasses. The worst thing an individual can do, therefore, is to waste energy.

For example: leaving unnecessary lights on; allowing unused appliances, including computer monitors, to continue to run; using incandescent light bulbs; washing your laundry in hot water, not monitoring your energy usage, not installing thermostats and timers, and not replacing old appliances with ‘green’ versions. The US Department of Energy provides a great deal of information about what items and activities waste energy.

Wasting Water

Water is an increasingly valuable resource, especially in some parts of the world. Wasting or overusing water is a serious way to negatively impact our planet.

As stated on the Oxford Brookes University website, “Water scarcity has knock on effects not just for drinking water supplies. Food production can be affected, while landscapes can be altered and degrade without sufficient water [and] both the pumping and cleaning of water requires energy. As the majority of energy used in water sanitation comes from fossil fuels, these resources are also depleted, while additional greenhouse gases are emitted”.

Not Recycling

trashNot recycling negatively impacts the planet in several ways. Firstly, by sending all our household waste to landfills we introduce items that release toxins into the soil, groundwater, and air. A huge amount of our  junk, especially plastic of various kinds, finds its way into the oceans and seas where it kills marine creatures. Secondly, if you don’t “recycle” wasted food by composting it, it ends up in a landfill and rots and produces methane gas, which is a big greenhouse gas culprit.

Engaging in greenhouse gas and other pollutant generating activities

There are a lot of things we do each day that are bad for our planet because they generate pollutants of various kinds. One of the many things that has a negative impact is using your private motor vehicle on daily commutes. You could also buy a vehicle that guzzle fossil fuels and produces high levels of emissions. Instead use public transport, cycle, carpool, or even walk.

Additionally, you could eat a great deal of meat because as author and journalist Adria Vasil points out, “51 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, pigs, and poultry”.

Buying products that are resource greedy or toxic

waterMany products we use often are bad for our planet. For instance, indulging our passion for denim and taste for bottled water is not good for the planet. Both products involve production processes that use vast amounts of both fossil fuel energy and water. This means both manufacturing processes use a scarce resource and belch CO2 into the air.

A lot of products we purchase and use daily like soap, detergent, cleaning agents, and other personal care products contain chemicals, toxins and, in some cases, hormones. These find their way into the air, soil, and water through landfill seepage etc. Buying products in non-biodegradable packaging such as plastic and styrofoam also harms the planet.

However…

… If you want to work to heal the planet there are numerous websites, such as One Green Planet, and organizations that provide really helpful practical tools and tips.

Given many of these five are linked either directly or indirectly to the use of fossil fuels and their negative impact, isn’t it time to consider moving to clean, sustainable energy? Solar energy ticks all the right environmental boxes, and so many others too. For information on solar and related topics, visit the Solar Action Alliance.

If you want to help underprivileged communities in Central America and on Tribal Lands in the United States have access to renewable energy, please consider making a donation.

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Jessica Reynolds is a Community Manager at Solar Action Alliance. She loves her Brittany spaniel named Frankie, traveling, Michigan summers, and helping promote sustainable energy.

Solar Action Alliance is a group of environmentalists who want to spread the word about the cleanest, most reliable and abundant source of renewable energy: the sun.

 

 

 

 

Notes from the Field: Native Students Expand Solar PV at KILI Radio

KILI radio solar PV expansion

On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home to the Oglala Lakota, over 40 percent of residents live without access to electricity. On Native American Reservations across the U.S., the Energy Information Administration estimates that 14 percent of households have no access to electricity, 10 times higher than the national average. Many tribes are looking to renewable energy as a way to provide reliable, clean energy to their tribal members.

Since 2007, Trees, Water & People’s Tribal Renewable Energy Program has been training Native communities in a variety of renewable energy applications, including solar PV, solar heating, wind energy, geothermal, and solar water pumps. This program strives to put the power of nature — the warmth of the sun, the power of the wind, the shelter of trees — to work for Native Americans.

Last week, we hosted a Solar Energy Workshop that brought Native Americans from around the country to the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The workshop explored basics of solar energy and culminated in a hands-on installation at the KILI Radio station, Voice of the Lakota Nation, where students expanded a solar PV array.

Students expanded the KILI Radio station's solar PV array, creating more clean energy sources on Pine Ridge. (Photo credit: Boots Kennedye)
Students expanded the KILI Radio station’s solar PV array, creating more clean energy sources on Pine Ridge. (Photo credit: Boots Kennedye)

We were honored to have an all-star list of guest instructors join us for this workshop. Special thanks to:

 To learn more about upcoming workshops please visit www.solarwarriors.org.

Native American Rights Fund Offsets 2014 Carbon Footprint

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Trees, Water & People’s Tribal Renewable Energy Program puts the power of nature — the warmth of the sun, the power of the wind, the shelter of trees — to work for Native Americans. In partnership with First Nations communities, TWP builds and installs supplemental solar air heaters for families in need and provides green job training to tribes around the country. These solutions are sustainable, economically beneficial, environmentally friendly, and celebrate the Native Americans’ respect for Mother Earth.

Every year, each solar air heater prevents 1.39 tons of carbon emissions generated by fossil fuels. The Native American Rights Fund’s contribution to this form of renewable energy greatly reduces the organization’s environmental impact and helps Native American families in need by providing clean, free heat from the sun.

Native American Rights Fund’s Statement on Environmental Sustainability

Carbon Offset Partner Logo (250px)“It is clear that our natural world is undergoing severe, catastrophic climate change that adversely impacts the lives of people and ecosystems worldwide. Native Americans are especially vulnerable and are experiencing disproportionate negative impacts on their cultures, health, and food systems. In response, NARF is committed to environmental sustainability through our mission, work, and organizational values. Native Americans and other indigenous peoples have a long tradition of living sustainably with the natural world by understanding the importance of preserving natural resources and respecting the interdependence of all living things. NARF embraces this tradition through its work and by instituting sustainable office practices that reduce our negative impact on our climate and environment. NARF is engaged in environmental work and has established a Green Office Committee whose responsibility is to lead and coordinate staff participation in establishing and implementing policies and procedures to minimize waste, reduce energy consumption and pollution, and create a healthful work environment.”

To learn more about NARF’s commitment to environmental sustainability please visit http://www.narf.org/about-us/environmental-sustainability/

New Solar Furnace Design 100% Off Grid

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by John Motley, Assistant National Director

In 2003, Trees Water & People (TWP) partnered with Colorado State University to design a solar air heating system that could be manufactured entirely by our tribal partner Lakota Solar Enterprises (LSE), a 100% Native-owned and operated company located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  Over these 12 years, TWP and LSE have built and distributed over 900 solar air furnaces, saving Native American families over $6.4 million in heating bills. This year, we are looking to make this system even more affordable, while at the same time taking it completely off the grid.

Over the winter, we invested in research and development of this new system. There were a few hurdles to overcome before we could make this a reality. First, we needed the system to function entirely on direct current (DC), as this is the type of electricity that Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels produce.   Second, we needed to move a comparable amount of air through the system so that we could maintain the same thermal efficiency as our previous system. And finally, we had to achieve all of this while using far less energy, as we would be working with a 35W solar panel as opposed to drawing from the home’s electricity.

To meet these challenges, we worked from two angles. One was using a new direct current (DC) that would power not only the fan but also the thermostat and shutoff mechanisms. Second, we redesigned the duct work to streamline the air flow, lessening the drag and back pressure caused by the serpentine ducting necessary with the old fan’s system. Last, we changed the design of the stand for the panel, as it was no longer necessary to house the cumbersome old fan and its duct work.

Woman and Solar Heater (Dan Bihn)
TWP and LSE have built and installed over 900 solar furnaces for Native American families living on tribal lands.

With the help of a knowledgeable board member with a background in computer cooling systems, we found a DC fan that could move as much air through the Solar Air Furnace as the previous model. This allowed us to begin designing a off grid system that would provide its own energy to bring heat into the home.  By simplifying the ducting, we were able to bring down the overall cost of the system, while improving airflow. We can now insure that this new heating system will be far more efficient and will save the user even more money on their overall energy needs.

Trees Water & People, in collaboration with our partner Lakota Solar Enterprises, is looking forward to implementing this design in all new systems this summer. Our first off grid furnace will be installed in mid-April. Stay tuned for updates!

For questions or to learn more about TWP’s solar furnaces please contact John Motley at john@treeswaterpeople.org.

Tribal Renewable Energy Program

Community Voices: Roman Rios

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Don Roman Rios stands near his bread oven at his home in La Gloria, Guatemala. (Photo by Jeff Abbott)

Over 500,000 homes in Guatemala are without electricity, leaving millions of people in the dark once the sun sets. Adults are unable to work at night and children struggle to study by dim candle lights, which also emit toxic fumes into the home. Candles are expensive too, costing families up to $20 per month, money that could be spent on food, medicine, or small business expenses.

Trees, Water & People’s social enterprise, Luciérnaga, is working throughout Central America to solve this energy poverty problem. Luciérnaga imports solar products, like lights, phone chargers, and solar household systems, into Central America, providing local entrepreneurs with access to products in bulk, at an affordable price. With knowledge of their community’s needs, these solar entrepreneurs can distribute solar lights to families at a price they can afford.

Don Roman Rios lives in the community of La Gloria in Guatemala’s La Zona Reyna, a very rural area in the department of El Quiche. His purchase of a solar home system has allowed he and his wife to expand their small bakery, which they run out of their home kitchen. “Now, we are able to bake bread starting at 6am until 10pm or 11pm.” said Don Roman. The purchase of solar lighting has allowed them to expand their business and production, and save on the purchase of candles.

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Don Roman’s house is now lit by a solar home system, which includes four LED lights and a battery storage system for charging electronics. (Photo by Jeff Abbott)

“Before we had to use candles to light the room,” said Don Roman. “Which could get really expensive.” Prior they were paying one quetzal per candle, and having to purchase five or six to light the room. In order to charge their cell phones, which are ubiquitous throughout Central America, Don Roman and his wife had to pay a neighbor or use the cigarette lighter in the car. “Now that we have solar light, we just have to plug our phones in here [USB charger on the battery] and we can charge.”

Overall, Don Ramon and his family have greatly benefited from the purchase of a solar household system, though Don Roman wishes he could have the chance to purchase larger solar panels in order to collect more light. Don Ramon and his family are one of over 4,300 families who have purchased solar products from Luciérnaga’s vendors.  These life-changing products offer an affordable way for rural Central Americans to gain access to clean energy that improves the environment and their livelihoods. To learn more please visit www.luciernagasolar.com.

The electrical grid has yet to reach rural areas of Guatemala, where millions live without light once the sun sets.
The electrical grid has yet to reach rural areas of Guatemala, where millions live without light once the sun sets. (Photo by Jeff Abbott)

Project Update: Lighting homes in rural Honduras

solar light Honduras

Nearly 50% of the 600 solar household lighting systems we sent to Honduras have been installed. We’re providing 1,200 new LED light points, 600 USB charging ports for cell phones and other small devices, and a new level of dignity for rural families that have lived their entire nocturnal lives by the light of candles, low quality flashlights, and contaminating kerosene lamps. Donors to our Catapult project helped to fund 125 of the lights in this shipment, allowing us to reach many more families in need of clean energy solutions for their homes.

Get personal

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Miriam Leonel Bonilla

“Many of our customers used to use ocote (a local pine that is used as a candle), and the smoke really bothered them. Or else they would buy candles and flashlights, and that was really expensive. They are very happy with their plantitas – solar lights!” -Miriam Leonel Bonilla, solar light user and distributor, Las Marías, Honduras

Risks and challenges

Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and our vendors and promoters live with risk every day. We are lucky to have a dedicated team of people across the country that see the opportunities that exist in solar energy. They believe that the benefits that solar energy brings to their families and communities who buy the systems outweigh the challenges in getting them into the field.

What we’ve learned

solar light HondurasThis order of Barefoot Power solar household systems were our first test of a new international supply chain that has us ordering product in bulk to a central warehouse in El Salvador, from which the products are distributed by land to four different countries. Every step of that process contained a lesson in how to be more efficient in getting these products to the families that need them most. On a macro level, we have learned that we have one of the most innovative approaches to getting products to several Central American countries at once. In Honduras, we have learned that whoever can provide households with the best customer experience will be the one to succeed in expanding the great opportunities in renewable energy for the developing world.

Next steps

Working with social impact technology company Dimagi, we will be piloting a new mobile data collection app called CommSell. This app will allow our field staff to complete surveys on an Android phone, in the field, and automatically populate a database that tells us where our products are, how long they’ve been there, and how much money they are saving users. We can also use this information to conduct follow-up visits and maintenance as needed.