Volunteer Voices: Sustainable Energy on Native Lands

by Kirstin Moore, TWP Development Intern

It’s saddening to witness America’s Native people living in such poor, inadequate conditions. The Lakota were forced to migrate to the Pine Ridge Reservation, and after decades of oppression many of them are now unemployed, suffering from malnutrition, and unable to meet their basic needs. Some people living on the reservation have little to no access to the electrical grid. For others, electricity is available but the cost of the utility is impractical.

Upon arrival to the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center (RCREC), you are immediately welcomed by a huge mural with the words Hau Kola painted in large letters, which translates to “Greetings Friends.” It is a place where like-minded people who share a similar vision are able to connect. It all began with what Henry Red Cloud calls a “hot-air collector.” He was building his own when his curiosity led him to form a natural relationship with Trees, Water & People (TWP).

Photo by Kirstin Moore

Thanks to the supporters of TWP, a week-long workshop was held to educate Native Americans on how to build and maintain off-grid solar systems. What would have been a thousand-dollar training session was free for those interested in participating. People came from on and off the reservations, including Standing Rock, with the intention of spreading the word of harvesting sunlight as an energy source and job creator.

Professionals from Solar Energy International (SEI) taught us how to generate electricity through the simple task of monitoring the sun. Our team developed off-grid, 12 volt solar light buckets and a small 48 volt trailer with the ability to power lights, computers, pumps, and tools. The most amazing aspect of the training was that no matter your skill level, you were able to gain an understanding of what solar power can do and how the systems operate.

Cedric Goodhouse of the Standing Rock Tribe and Lawrence Richards of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation connect wiring on a donated Magnum inverter.  Photo by Dave Bowden

For example, I learned that the PV panel converts solar energy into electrical energy; the charge controller regulates the amount of charge going in/out of the battery, and the inverter changes DC current to AC current and vice versa. Within a week, I had advanced from stripping wires to wiring components.

One merely has to look around, read some news, and watch a little television to understand there is a dire need for sources of clean energy. This innovative technology is affordable and can be applied as a method to reduce energy consumption from the grid and encourage self-sufficiency through renewable energy.

To learn more about the events and workshops of Trees, Water & People, or how to get involved, please sign up for our monthly newsletter.

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Partner Spotlight: Ut’z Che’

Ut’z Che ‘(good tree in Mayan language K’iche’) is a Guatemalan NGO that represents 36 community organizations dedicated to sustainable management of their forests, forest plantations, water sources, biodiversity and other natural resources.

utzche logoThe Association Ut’z Che’ was formed with the main objective to legitimately represent the demands and interest of their grassroots organizations in different sectors, effect change in public policy areas related to the management of forests, and assist with rural development in general. Another key part is to strengthen the capacities of its member organizations, to achieve conservation and sustainable productive use of natural resources.

In Guatemala – where the state does not respond to the needs and demands for comprehensive development – Utz Che has organized to defend and claim their rights.

“Communities have been protecting natural reserves for centuries but living in poverty. We want people to improve their livelihoods while protecting forests.”

We are honored to work with Ut’Z Che’ and the communities they represent. Together, we build clean cookstoves, plant trees, and distribute solar lighting to their members in Guatemala, all in an effort to empower local people and conserve the natural environment that is so important to their livelihoods.

To learn more please visit www.utzchecomunitaria.org

Community Voices: Rodrigo Santos

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

studying by solar light Honduras
Rodrigo Santos studies by the light of a solar lamp at his home in La Paz, Honduras.

Rural Central America has always been a magical escape for me.  You see and experience life at its most basic levels, and while the people are often of little economic means, they are proud, hardworking and tremendously generous.  The air is clean, smiles abound, and everyone is generally busy with something, but will never deny an opportunity to lend you a hand.

On my most recent trip to Honduras, I met Rodrigo Santos, an inspiring young man who reminded me of the importance of education and innovation, no matter where you are in the world.

Rechargeable RadioRodrigo amazed us in the field, as he is a college student that lives in a very rural community with no access to electricity.  He attends university classes 1.5 hours from where he lives. Not only was he one of the first in the area to purchase one of our solar products, but because of his electrical engineering skills and tinkering interests, he has become the go-to solar entrepreneur and maintenance man in his community.

People like Rodrigo make me want to continue working each and every day to bring sustainable energy solutions to Central America, solutions that improve people’s livelihoods and protect the environment.

To learn more about our expanding Solar Energy Program please visit our website.

Rodrigo Santos with his family in La Paz, Honduras.
Rodrigo Santos and his family in La Paz, Honduras.

Partner Update: Ut’z Che’ Unites Community Groups in Guatemala

guatemala tree nursery

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

It’s now been two years since we first sat down with our current partner in Guatemala, The Association for Community Forestry: Ut’z Che’, to discuss how we might work together to bring TWP’s programs to their network of 32 community organizations. In 2013, this relationship has flourished – growing from the seed planted at that initial meeting into an impactful partnership.

For seven years, Ut’z Che’ (“good tree” in the K’iche’ dialect) has built a strong foundation by uniting community groups from around Guatemala that want to responsibly manage their forest resources.  There are many small groups around the country that create livelihoods with forest products such as fruit and timber, and activities like furniture production, handicrafts, and tourism. However, Ut’z Che’ saw an opportunity to blend their diverse approaches and challenges for the benefit of both communities and the environment.

guatemala clean cookstoveThis year, TWP and Ut’z Che’ have built 87 clean cookstoves. This pilot project will soon be replicated in more Ut’z Che communities based on the positive feedback we have received from families. We have also grown over 85,000 trees for four partner communities, to be used in watershed protection, as orchards, and for future sources of timber and hardwood.  Based on the success of these two programs, we have asked Ut’z Che’ to become a distributor of solar energy products in our Central American network.

So, as we continue to expand our work in Guatemala, keep visiting our website for information on how you can support this growing partnership. Help us build a positive future for the people and the environment that make Guatemala so unique!

A Social Enterprise Approach

by Lindsay Saperstone, International Communications Coordinator

family in Honduras
Connecting rural communities to clean energy resources like solar lighting requires innovative approaches to development.

Social entrepreneurship is a pretty hot buzzword these days, often referring to the intersection between business and charity, in which innovative market solutions are used to address global challenges such as poverty, hunger, and climate change. The field itself arose from an understanding that business and charity as usual are not always enough to address the world’s most challenging problems. Classic examples of social enterprise solutions include smart phone apps that allow farmers in rural Africa to check real market prices on their crops, urban gardens that provide low-cost healthy food to low-income residents and microfinance institutions that have brought financial services to millions of the worlds’ unbanked. A social enterprise innovation can be a physical product, such as a clean burning cookstove or a service innovation, such as the use of the “Avon ladies” door-to-door sales model to sell health products.

Central to the field of social entrepreneurship has been the emphasis on the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP), or the four billion global citizens that live on less than two dollars and fifty cents a day. The argument made famous by C.K. Prahalad in his 2004 book, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, is that companies should treat the BoP as a potential profitable customer base and not just as charity cases. Others in this field have focused less on the potential “fortune” in this population, but still the importance of treating beneficiaries of aid programs in the same way any retail or service businesses would treat their customers. This means taking the time to do the market research to figure out what people in developing countries want, what messaging or marketing will appeal to them and how much they are willing to spend on it. This attitude greatly enhances adoption rates and the overall sustainability of any program designed to make a difference.

There are indeed, unique challenges to conducting business at the bottom of the pyramid. Poor infrastructure, corruption, and unpredictable communications can make distribution and supply chain management tricky. Moreover, because customers might be extremely price sensitive, it’s imperative to find creative ways to make the products affordable.

Risks aside, social enterprises are rapidly growing and rapidly creating significant impact in the developing world. They are also notably growing in the non-profit world. According to a recent report conducted by Harvests, Inc. & Community Resource Center, of the 331 non-profits surveyed throughout the state of Colorado alone, more than 40 percent of respondents indicated their organizations currently operate one or more social enterprises and 27 percent of nonprofits without a social enterprise are considering a launch.

ecofogon honduras 2013
The Ecofogon cookstove is built locally by our partners in Honduras and sold throughout urban areas in the region.

Trees Water & People has long believed that the likelihood of success of any development program is directly related to the degree of community buy-in and financial self-sufficiency. For example, our clean cookstove programs in Guatemala and El Salvador employ a cost-share model. TWP and their donors purchase the stoves’ specialty components such as the griddle, chimney and combustion chamber and the end user puts in the rest of the materials (all locally sourced items) and their time and labor, or “sweat equity.” Another example is TWP’s partnership with Lakota Solar Enterprise, a 100% Native American-owned and operated renewable energy company that manufactures solar air collectors and supplemental solar heating systems to provide affordable heating to low-income families on tribal lands.

The latest social entrepreneurial activity to come out of TWP is Luciérnaga (meaning firefly in Spanish), a for-profit subsidiary of our Solar Energy Program which distributes solar lighting and cell phone charging solutions to rural Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. TWP’s goal is to make Luciérnaga a self-sufficient entity that covers the cost of business through its product sales. Look for updates in the coming weeks on the details of the Luciérnaga business model and how we are using this model to create a bigger impact in the areas where we work.

TWP’s Cleantech Project Wins National Energy Globe Award

energy globe award

We are excited to announce that we have been selected for the Energy Globe National Award for our clean energy project in Honduras. One of today’s most prestigious environmental awards, it is presented annually to projects focusing on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and resource conservation.

Our project, Clean Energy for Central America: Providing Solar Technology to Last Mile Communities”, is a partnership with Honduran non-governmental organization Asociación Hondureña para el Desarrollo (AHDESA), to create a market in Honduras for life-changing cleantech products that provide solar lighting to rural families without access to electricity. These products save families money by reducing fossil fuel consumption, while decreasing deadly indoor air pollution and lowering hazardous greenhouse gas emissions.

solar lighting Honduras
In Honduras alone, 2.3 million people still live off-grid, with no access to electricity. Families rely on kerosene lamps and candles that are expensive and produce high levels of indoor air pollution. Our cleantech products deliver immediate, triple bottom line returns to the poorest communities in the Western Hemisphere. Reducing dependency on kerosene and switching over to solar lighting systems brings staggering social, environmental, and economic returns.

“We envision a world where every person, down to the last mile or ‘base of the pyramid,’ has access to clean energy in an affordable manner.” said Sebastian Africano, TWP’s International Director.

This project will now move on to a second round of judging. It is eligible for the International Energy Globe Award, to be announced later this month.

To learn more please visit the Energy Globe Award’s website!

The AHDESA team in Honduras with the National Energy Globe Award for solar lighting project.
The AHDESA team stands proud with Sebastian Africano (bottom right) after winning the National Energy Globe Award for their work bringing solar lighting to rural families.