Local genius, Santos Rodrigo Opalaca, from western La Paz, Honduras, shows us how he reconfigured his radio to charge off one of our solar panels using two cell phone batteries. Innovation at its finest!
Learn more about how we are bringing solar energy to communities in Latin America at our website.
So I thought I would attempt to share a little glimpse into my life-changing summer experience. I’ll start with a bit of background. My name is Kelly Cannon. I’m a Global Studies and Spanish major with a Business minor currently studying at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. I landed a position as the International Programs Intern with the non-profit organization Trees, Water & People (TWP) this summer. I was enthused. The internship seemed to combine all of my passions – community development, travel, Latin America, Spanish, people, and adventure. I could not wait for the incredible learning opportunity ahead.
So just like that I found myself spending six weeks exploring every corner of Honduras and Guatemala generating market data for a clean energy distribution enterprise. I conducted household interviews, held focus groups, taught communities about solar energy, while also exploring the competitive landscape, supply chain opportunities and developing a marketing plan for solar energy distribution in energy-poor regions of Guatemala.
I visited dozens of communities throughout these regions, but I want to share about my experience in one place in particular. La Bendición, Guatemala is surrounded by breathtaking views of lush, green landscape and three volcanoes. The best part about staying in La Bendición was just living life with the people there. I stayed with a host family for four days. I spent a large amount of time with my host mom and her daughter, Silsy. We woke up at 6:00am and brought a bucket of corn to the molino. We waited in line with all the other women, poured the corn through some complicated machinery, and watched it transform into flour used to make tortillas. I’m pretty sure I became a professional tortilla-maker by the time I left the community.
Another morning my mom and Silsy took me on a long walk to a cornfield where their cows graze. We visited the animals and then picked a big bundle of leaves off the corn. When we returned home, they taught me how to fold the leaves around flour to make tamales. Later that afternoon, they called me out to the backyard for another lesson. They snatched up one of the chickens running around the yard and held it over the pila (the outdoor sink). My mom and Silsy broke its’ neck right in front of me, poured out the guts and blood, and plucked the feathers off the body before putting it in a bucket of hot water. One hour later we were all sitting around the table eating the tamales and the chicken. I treasure my time in La Bendición experiencing a new way of life with my host mom and Silsy. I learned so much about their daily tasks while sharing in wonderful conversation. I fell in love with moments during my time there that I will always cherish.
In addition to living life with the people in La Bendición, I was of course also working on the solar energy project for TWP. I held a meeting with the women in La Bendición the day I arrived to teach them about the solar energy products that TWP distributes and let them know I would be visiting households and conducting interviews. I wanted to ask families about how they illuminated their houses at night with no access to electricity, calculate their current energy expenditures, demonstrate the products, and gauge their interest in this alternate form of clean energy. The women expressed gratitude and excitement at the meeting and many volunteered to be interviewed first. Over the next few days Silsy and I talked to seventeen different families in La Bendición. The community, as a whole, showed great interest in the solar energy products. The people told me about the extreme need for this project in their community and the obstacles they face on a daily basis due to the absence of light. Many families wanted to purchase the lights from me on the spot. Sadly, I had to explain I was not selling the products just doing a preliminary investigation in order to bring the products to the community in the future.
The experience in La Bendición was eye-opening and encouraging. I felt at home there. The interviews allowed me to learn a lot about the current energy situation in this community and in Guatemala as a whole. The people were supportive and welcoming, especially once they learned my purpose for visiting. When I left on a chicken bus that Friday morning to head to a new community, some of the women came out, kissed me on the cheek, and wished me luck on the rest of my trip. I was sad to leave but also even more excited and passionate about bringing solar energy to families in hard-to-reach communities.
Throughout Honduras, 2.5 million people lack access to reliable sources of electricity. Families are dependent on expensive and unhealthy kerosene lamps and candles to light their homes at night.
We are working to change this reality with solar lights that provide clean, renewable energy from the sun. These innovative products reduce daily fuel expenses and indoor air pollution associated with the continuous use of kerosene for home lighting. By working with small businesses, women’s co-operatives, and local entrepreneurs, our solar products are reaching hundreds of isolated agricultural communities and therefore provide lighting for many off-grid families at a low-cost.
A woman from the Lenca Women’s Ceramics Cooperative in rural La Paz, Honduras shows off her solar powered LED light from our Cleantech Program.
This group of talented women artisans is responsible for some of the most remarkable ceramic work in Honduras, and have replaced candlelight and smoky ‘Ocote’ with solar lights, helping them work during the dark evening hours so they can get products to craft markets throughout Honduras. The co-op is also an authorized distributor of our lights, helping other community members illuminate their homes with solar.
Learn more about our efforts to bring solar lighting to Central America at our website!
It’s a strange and heavy burden you feel when you’re travelling through what is meant to be the second largest contiguous rainforest in the Americas, and you see more cattle than wildlife, more slash and burn desolation than old growth, and few signs of land-use planning or enforcement of regulations meant for protected areas. The Reserve of Man and Biosphere of the Río Plátano in Eastern Honduras is part ecological gem, part three alarm fire, with pristine jungle being continually converted to ranch land, to provide income to a continuously growing population of colonists from around the country.
Trees, Water & People (TWP) is fortunate to have both access to the communities of the Biosphere, and the support of a team of dedicated individuals determined to implement a combination of programs that would create alternatives to the current norm in this remote, off-grid region of the country. The common ingredient in all of our proposals is sustainable livelihoods – identifying appropriate, income generating activities that are as or more lucrative than cattle ranching, and which are restorative rather than destructive.
Through simultaneous investments in promoting shade-grown cacao, coffee and maya nuts with partner GIZ PRORENA and training entrepreneurs to sell affordable solar lighting technologies and clean cookstoves with partners AHDESA and USAID ProParque, we are stimulating activities that result in forest conservation, environmental education and income diversification – three foundations on which we can begin to build a more sustainable future for the Biosphere.
This challenge, however difficult, is always made easier with the support of TWP’s indefatigable donors and followers. This is our North American Amazon, the lungs of our planet, and a treasure worth protecting for our collective benefit.
Please visit www.treeswaterpeople.org to learn more about this and other projects, and to donate in support of creating alternative livelihoods for the inhabitants of this fragile ecosystem.
Eighteen months ago, Trees, Water & People (TWP) launched a program to sell solar photovoltaic lighting systems in Honduras under a grant provided by the U.S. Department of State’s Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas. This program has been so successful that we will be expanding to other Central American countries under the name Luciérnaga (“firefly” in Spanish). By utilizing our 15 year old partnerships in the region, we can reach people that have no access to electricity, helping them modernize, bring jobs to the country’s rural areas, and also importantly, care for their natural world.
Our focus is on two types of solar lighting and cell phone charging systems – a strong, waterproof, portable LED lantern, and a wall-mounted, lighting system with four LED bulbs that can be placed throughout the house. Both products are inexpensive, but still provide high-quality lighting that can replace the dirty kerosene lamps and candles that light every room in the home.
Rural families in the region often group together into small agricultural cooperatives – organizations made up of dozens to thousands of small farmers that combine their coffee, cacao, grain, timber, sugarcane, and other crops before they take it to the market. Cooperative members also use the organization as a bank – they take credit from the co-op before planting season, and pay it back when they sell their produce.
In places without banking services, cooperatives are a lifeline for rural families,
and a natural fit as a retailer for our solar lighting products. Since Trees, Water & People sells the lights and chargers to the cooperatives on consignment, there is little risk for the members and products can be purchased at a low-cost, on a payment plan. This distribution model allows us to offer quality lighting and cell phone charging products to unlit homes at affordable prices, improving the health and environment of these communities for many years to come.
The Luciérnaga project is another great example of how TWP is illuminating
opportunity and homes in Central America. However, we couldn’t do this without our donors, as their support has truly brought positive change to the lives of the people in these communities.
I recently returned from visiting our friends at PowerMundo in Peru. What a great trip! PowerMundo and TWP are currently partnering on a project with the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA). Together, we are distributing Cleantech solar products, primarily to “last mile” communities in rural areas of Central America and Peru, as part of our State Department funded project Improving Access to Clean Energy in Latin America.
Cleantech solar products are a high quality, low-cost solution to energy poverty – illuminating homes and providing mobile phone charging at the household level. These innovative products reduce daily energy expenses and indoor air pollution associated with current alternatives for home lighting (such as kerosene), and they pay for themselves within 6 – 18 months.
I am constantly inspired by the collaborations we have formed to help increase the deployment of these renewable, energy efficient technologies. This work is helping to reduce emissions in Latin America while increasing low carbon economic growth. A win-win-win for people, the environment, and local economies.
TWP’s International Director, Sebastian Africano, joined me with our Honduras partners, Ben Osorto and Ivan Caballero, to facilitate South-South collaboration between Central America and Peru while providing some project review and fiscal oversight duties. On top of meeting our business obligations, we were particularly glad to get up in the high mountainous Quechua towns in the Cusco area.
On this same trip, I also made my way to Central America, where I spent the afternoon with Lisa Kubiske, the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras. After a delightful lunch, we visited with Tim Longworth at Zamarano University, located in the valley of the Yeguare River in Honduras. Here, we saw the Stove Testing Facility at the university and demonstrated some of our Cleantech products to the Ambassador. While in the area, we also had the opportunity to visit some of our clean cookstove recipients and received valuable feedback about how the stoves performed in the most important facility – people’s homes!
Today, billions of people around the world are still without access to electricity in their homes, and billions more are still cooking over an open fire to cook every single meal. Regional cooperation and collaborations like this are helping to light homes around the world and bring safe cooking solutions to families. Stay tuned for more updates!