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)

Community Voices: Dema Rios Dubon

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Doña Dema and her family live in the community of La Gloria. The purchase of a solar home system from TWP’s social enterprise, Luciérnaga, has saved her family a great sum of money each month. Prior to owning the solar energy system, they used a gasoline generator for energy, which cost them 3,000 quetzales ($391USD) to purchase, plus the cost of fuel.

“Now it is better with the solar panel. We no longer have to purchase gasoline for the generator just to charge our cell phones.”

With a solar home system, Dema is able to work later into the night sewing and embroidering, activities that she loves to do and also make her extra income. Furthermore, her children are able to study later into the evening after the sun sets.

The system has four LED lights plus USB ports for charging cell phones and other electronics. A great example of how clean energy is changing lives for families living in rural, last-mile communities!

Access to Clean Energy: From Pilot Project to Sustainable Enterprise

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In 2011, armed with a grant awarded under the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA), nonprofit organization Trees, Water & People launched an initiative to increase the use of clean technologies in several Latin American countries. That pilot project has since spawned a social enterprise that is making solar lighting products accessible to customers in rural areas of Central America.

It all began with a three-year, $1.2 million ECPA grant awarded by the U.S. State Department to Colorado-based Trees, Water & People (TWP) for an initiative called “Improving Access to Clean Energy in Latin America.” The goal was to develop effective ways to reach off-grid markets with climate-friendly products such as clean cookstoves, solar lanterns, and small solar home systems.

While such products provide tangible benefits—cleaner indoor air, reduced expenditures on conventional energy, and higher-quality lighting and cooking—a major challenge is how to create a sustainable supply chain to reach markets with the greatest need. Last-mile distribution is complex, unpredictable, and expensive. Roads are sometimes impassable, mobile communications are often unreliable, and many rural households have no access to financing.

TWP worked hand in hand with a social enterprise called PowerMundo—which had tackled some of these problems in Peru—and with partners in Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador to develop a sustainable commercial model for hard-to-reach areas in Central America.

After trying several different approaches, TWP found that existing rural institutions such as agricultural cooperatives, nongovernmental organizations, and rural savings and loans groups could be effective distributors and retailers of the clean-technology products. Since such groups often already have a credit relationship with small-scale farmers for agricultural investments, they can provide these same farmers with the payment terms they need to invest in products that have a true impact on their lives.

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Last year, TWP took a step toward making the initiative sustainable by establishing a social enterprise called Luciérnaga LLC (the name means “firefly”) to serve Central America with solar lighting products. “We wanted to create a vehicle through which the project could continue to grow,” explained TWP International Director Sebastián Africano.

Luciérnaga fills a business niche by providing a link between manufacturers and small local distributors. It imports solar lighting products in bulk to a central location in El Salvador, handling logistical details and ordering in large enough quantities to keep the price per unit low. The items can then be distributed over land to partners and clients throughout the region, in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala. Any profits would be reinvested in the company.

The growth of this business model and the birth of Luciérnaga as an independent company with an international presence show how short-term grant funding can be leveraged toward longer-term sustainable development objectives, according to Africano.

Today, TWP is working to standardize its methods in each country and implement a mobile phone-based monitoring system where distributors can keep track of their sales, collections, and warranty processes through a common online database. The goal is to keep costs low and provide a new source of income for rural individuals and institutions while potentially reaching millions of households in Central America that don’t have access to electricity.

Since launching this program, Luciérnaga and PowerMundo have sold close to 10,000 solar lighting products through their networks, providing illumination, device-charging capabilities, healthier households, and over $200 in cash savings per year, per product, to more than 50,000 people in Latin America.

This post was originally published by the Energy and Climate Partnership of Americas. To view the original blog post click here.

Bright Futures

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by Megan Maiolo-Heath, Marketing Manager

Within each community our work touches, we encounter the same desires among local citizens: a healthy life and a bright future for themselves, their children, and their grandchildren. I think this is a desire that most every human on Earth longs for and strives towards. We seek healthier minds, bodies, and spirits.

At Trees, Water & People, we design conservation projects with one important question in mind: How can we create a bright future for every person we work with? Our approach to conservation includes more than just environmental protection. We seek to improve all aspects of life, including human health and economic well-being.

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Children in Honduras benefit from solar lighting technology.

An example of this can be seen within our Solar Energy Program, which brings clean energy, like solar lights and home energy systems, to families living without electricity. Solar energy reduces the use of natural resources and cuts harmful emissions while providing families with a better quality of life. Children can study at night, long after the sun has set. Families save money by replacing kerosene lamps and reducing mobile charging fees. And, health is improved by reducing pollution in the home.

Solar lighting systems are both literally, and figuratively, creating a brighter future for thousands of families who have been left in the dark. And, this can be seen with each of our community-based programs, including reforestation, clean cookstoves, solar heaters, and green job training. We provide local people in Central America, Haiti and on Native American reservation with the tools, training, and resources needed to tackle some of the greatest challenges facing their communities.

This is what inspires us each day and, from what so many donors have told us, this is what inspires other people to give to these important projects. Conservation can, and should, empower people to have a brighter future!

We hope you will continue to follow our work and progress. In the coming months, we will give you a closer look at how we are creating bright futures for thousands of families.

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Helping Communities in Central America Adapt to a Changing Climate

National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change

by Megan Maiolo-Heath, Marketing Manager

For many years, we have been supporting conservation throughout Latin America, helping local people manage their most precious natural resources: trees, soils, and water. During this time, the communities we work with have experienced the negative effects of climate change first-hand, including hurricanes, droughts, flooding, and crop loss.

Here in the U.S. and other developed nations, we are beginning to see how a rapidly changing climate can hurt our environment, economies, and health. But, the poorest people in the world have been feeling the brunt of climate change for years.

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Local farmers and their families are feeling the effects of climate change first-hand.

We have been working with our partners in Central America to help communities face this challenge by continuing our efforts to plant millions of trees and build clean cookstoves for thousands of families. In addition, we have introduced clean energy products, such as solar lighting and solar cell phone chargers, so families can gain access to energy that does not lead to more pollution and environmental degradation.

But this is not enough. We must continue our work to educate people and share knowledge across borders. This is why TWP is developing the National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change in La Paz Centro, Nicaragua.

This new facility will be an educational resource where communities can learn about renewable energy, forest management, clean cookstoves, and clean energy solutions. In addition, we will develop the center as a global facility, where global citizens from around the world will be empowered with the skills needed to adapt to climate change in their region.

2014 Project Timeline:

National Center for Biomass Energy and Climate Change 2014

We have broken ground on the Center and constructed several buildings already. Now, we are moving onto the next phase of development: building classrooms, hands-on demonstration sites, and forestry plots that will make this a unique place for learning and sharing knowledge.

You can support this project by making a donation through our website: www.treeswaterpeople.org. Thank you for your support!

For questions about the new Center please contact Sebastian Africano, International Director, at sebastian@treeswaterpeople.org. Stay tuned for updates!

Happy International Women’s Day!

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Every year, on March 8, millions of people around the globe come together to celebrate the social, political and economic achievements of women while focusing the world’s attention on areas that still require further action. The first International Women’s Day was held in 1911, and continues to be an important day in promoting equality for all women.

International Women's Day logoInspiring Change is the 2014 theme and “encourages advocacy for women’s advancement everywhere in every way”. It calls for challenging the status quo for women’s equality and vigilance inspiring positive change.

At Trees, Water & People, we empower women and inspire positive change by helping to fight energy poverty. Our clean cookstoves, solar lights, and composting latrines are some examples of the technologies we use to improve the lives of girls and women in Latin America.

These programs would not be successful without the leadership and hard work of local women. Throughout our program countries, these women provide us with the guidance necessary for implementing successful, long-term solutions to the problems facing their families and communities. Their feedback informs our cookstove designs, mobilizes community members and inspires change for a better future.

We hope you will celebrate this International Women’s Day with us by donating to our programs that improve the lives of women and girls in Central America and Haiti!

Trees, Water & People’s 2013 Highlights

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It’s been a busy year at Trees, Water & People! On Earth Day, we celebrated our 15th anniversary of community-based sustainable development in Latin America and on tribal lands of the United States. Over these 15 years, we have been honored to help tens of thousands of families live better, more healthy lives. Utilizing appropriate technology, such as clean cookstoves, composting latrines, solar heaters, and solar lights, the communities we work with are learning how to protect their local environment and make a better life for their loved ones. With access to appropriate technology, plus training in sustainable agriculture, watershed protection, and renewable energy, current and future generations will be better equipped to face a changing climate.

In 2014, our staff and local partners will continue their commitment to helping local people protect, conserve, and manage their most precious natural resources. Our work is based on the belief that natural resource conservation is absolutely essential to the social, economic, and environmental well-being of communities everywhere. Conservation and economic development can, and should, go hand-in-hand!

We hope you will continue to follow our work in 2014 and beyond. Have a healthy and happy New Year!