Capacity Building to Combat Climate Change in Central America

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

At Trees, Water & People we operate under the belief that communities living closest to natural resources are the best situated to manage them in a sustainable manner. National or Departmental governments often have the mandate to designate protected areas, but are also often strapped for funds to properly monitor use and enforce protections. Communities living along the edges of these protected areas understand the value of these areas, but often their agricultural activities are at odds with ecosystem health. Pressures between the communities and the protected areas grow even more acute in periods of drought or crop disease, which has been the norm in Central America for the past four years.

There are many who believe there are better ways to work with these families rather than monitoring and enforcing against their incursions into the protected area. Instead of seeing communities as an implicit threat against these treasures, we at Trees, Water & People see a resource that merits development. That’s why we’ve started a new Capacity Building Fund – a donor supported fund that allows us to send our implementing partners to attend training opportunities in their region that help build climate resilience. For instance, we are currently sponsoring two indigenous youth group leaders in Guatemala. These leaders want to develop skills in sustainable agriculture at a 10-day course at the Insituto Mesoamericano de Permacultura (IMAP), which they will in-turn teach to their community. We are also raising funds for two longtime partners from El Salvador and Honduras to attend a 3 week workshop on protected area management. This course is taught by CATIE and Colorado State University’s Center for Protected Area Management.

One of the participants in this second training is Armando Hernandez, Director of Arboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP), our partner organization in El Salvador. His team recently finished the first phase of a project in the Biosphere Reserve Apaneca-Ilamatepec in Western El Salvador. There they worked with communities surrounding the biosphere to develop a management plan. This included training park rangers and local guides from the community, developing biodiversity curriculum for the local schools, mapping and adding signage to the trails, starting an agroforestry program with help from a local coffee farm, and implementing fuel-efficient clean cookstoves that use less woodfuel than the traditional alternative.

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Armando Hernandez, Director of Arboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP), with a Mejorada clean cookstove.

René Santos Mata of the Center for Education in Sustainable Agriculture (CEASO) is conducting a similar process with twelve communities in the Cordillera de Montecillos, a mountain range in Central Honduras that provides water to three major watersheds and acts as a stopover for migratory birds with threatened status in the U.S.

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René Santos Mata of CEASO working with his community members to develop a biosphere management plan.

Building the capacity of key actors with access to agricultural communities near protected areas creates a multiplier effect that results in a better relationship between community members and the natural resources on which their livelihoods depend.  Please visit the current home of our Capacity Building Fund to support the costs of this training for Armando and René. And be sure to check back with us quarterly to see new pairings of the people that help implement our programs and the educational opportunities they are pursuing. As always, thank you for supporting Trees, Water & People, and please pass this post to friends and loved ones that would be interested to hear about our work.

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Heather and Heidi: TWP’s MVPs

by Molly Geppert, Marketing Manager and Volunteer Coordinator 

In many ways, volunteers are the lifeblood of many nonprofits and Trees, Water & People is no exception. It’s hard to imagine where we would be without our wonderful volunteers. As the Volunteer Coordinator at our home base in Fort Collins, I am lucky enough to work with many of the dedicated volunteers who are willing to donate their time and energy to making our organization great.

In particular, Heather and Heidi have been a huge help. They assist with some of the most time consuming tasks, such as mailing out Thank You letters, helping manage junk mail, data entry, and sending out our newsletters. They have been coming into the office every Thursday (and sometimes Mondays or Wednesday depending on the project) since August 2015 and so far have contributed 60 volunteer hours each!

Heather and Heidi
Heather (left) and sister Heidi (right) working diligently at our Fort Collins office.

Their hard work has made a huge difference in what we can get accomplished in a week. Not only that, but having them around makes the office that much more fun and lively. TWP’s office dog, Kiva, loves to welcome the ladies by running in circles around them. Heidi cracks us all up with her funny stories and sarcastic sense of humor. For Christmas, Heather made a homemade, hand drawn Holiday card featuring a happy Christmas tree, a mound of presents, and a Santa Claus peaking out of the fireplace.  Valentine’s Day was a big surprise when Heather and Heidi made us all “Love Bugs” and went around the office personally delivering them to each staff member.

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Valentine’s Day Love Bugs

In their free time, Heather and Heidi are avid knitters and crocheters; they even have their own company called Touchy Feelies.  We are all so thankful to have both of these wonderful ladies in the office every week.

If you would like to donate your time and volunteer with Trees, Water & People, please email Molly Geppert at molly@treeswaterpeople.org to see what opportunities we have available. If you’re short on time or do not live in the Northern Colorado area, please consider making a donation.

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Infographic: Why Clean Cookstoves?

Since 1998, Trees, Water & People has been working with our partners and local community members to design clean cookstoves that greatly reduce deadly indoor air pollution, deforestation, and high fuel costs. These cookstoves are designed according to specific cooking needs and cultural context, which is why they can look very different from country to country. However, all of these stoves have one important thing in common: they make cooking much safer for women and their families.

Clean Cookstoves

To learn more about Trees, Water & People’s Clean Cookstove Program please click here.

Notes from the Field: Partnering for Sustainable Agriculture in Honduras

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by Lucas Wolf, Assistant National Director

In the small community of El Socorro, located just ten minutes north of Siguatepeque, Honduras, there is an impressive institution focused on sustainable agriculture. The Center for Teaching and Learning of Sustainable Agriculture (Centro Educativo de Agricultura Sostenible – CEASO) is a critical organization working to build local and regional consciousness.

Trees, Water & People (TWP) is looking to support and partner with CEASO to help local campesinos (farmers) improve and diversify their plots, helping to conserve and manage an increasingly critical protected area – Reserva de la Cordillera de Montecillos – that serves as a key watershed for the growing cities of Comayagua and Siguatepeque. There are plans to move TegucigalpaÂŽs international airport to the current air base (Palmerola) that has long served as a joint Honduras–U.S. operation since the conflicts of the 1980s. That airport move, along with the advanced work on turning the Tegucigalpa-San Pedro Sula highway into one of the best in Central America, will gradually increase development pressures in the central highlands region of the Cordillera de Montecillos Natural Reserve. Thus, our discussions on potential projects and proposals are timely as the region faces a quickly changing landscape and an ever-expanding agricultural frontier.

San José de Pané along the Cordillera de Montecillos in central Honduras
San José de Pané along the Cordillera de Montecillos in central Honduras

Like many areas of Honduras, the mountainous regions surrounding Siguatepeque are dominated by coffee. However, heavy dependence and reliance on coffee as a single cash crop is exceptionally risky. The coffee rust plague has caused significant damage, prices have been unpredictable and volatile, a small percentage of overall coffee value goes to producers, and climate change is impacting crop productivity. Not to mention the key fact that coffee does not turn into nutritious food for campesinos and their families. In some of the rural areas where we traveled around the mountain pueblo of San José de Pané, families are resorting to purchasing their corn and beans instead of producing it, due to reliance on coffee as the principal crop. CEASO works to ensure that these campesinos learn how to not only diversify their lands with other crops, but also conserve and protect their soil health and increase yields via ecological and organic methods.

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Traveling with staff from CEASO

Perhaps the best part of CEASO is that itŽs a friendly, welcoming, family-run operation. They took me in for the better part of five days and showed me the true meaning of warmth and hospitality. The father and founder, René Santos, works with his wife Doña Wilma and several of their children and friends to run a Sustainable Agriculture Technical School for local children. They started with just nine students and they are now up to 50, with more interest every year. ItŽs an impressive operation and they have received regional and national accolades.

These are the types of small and very well-run operations that we seek to partner with as they are professional, experienced, dedicated, and passionate, living and breathing sustainable agriculture as well as agroforestry. With the seeds of hope and optimism that are planted by small entities like CEASO, especially those that are focused on changing attitudes and behaviors towards more sustainable development and coexistence with protected areas, we can work to ensure a brighter future for Hondurans living in these rural, neglected areas of Latin America.

For questions or comments about our work in Honduras please feel free to email me at lucas@treeswaterpeople.org.

Building Climate Resilience in Cuba

Visiting with Cuban friends
Visiting with Cuban friends in 2009 – all smiles in a harsh reality.

by Sebastian Africano, International Director

In two weeks, I’ll board a plane in Miami that will take me to an island on which not many living U.S. citizens have set foot. The United States’ relationship with Cuba has been strained (at best) since Fidel Castro wrested power from military dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. This was the same year that Bob Dylan graduated from High School, Alaska and Hawaii were granted statehood by President Eisenhower, and the first color photograph of earth was transmitted from space.

Now, 56 years and 10 U.S. presidents later, we still hold an ideological, geopolitical grudge with a neighbor that’s closer to our mainland than either of the two states added to our country in 1959. On December 17, 2014, President Obama took momentous steps to thaw U.S. relations with Cuba, by easing some restrictions on travel and trade with the island nation. This is a significant step in starting a new conversation between our two populations to examine how each of us lives, what we value individually and as societies, and where there is common ground on which we could begin building a common future.

The threat climate change poses to agricultural communities is one such platform that doesn’t discriminate by political ideology, language, or history, and one conversation where all perspectives need to be heard. Trees, Water & People intends to take part in this important conversation with Cuba, and will take our first step by attending the Tenth Convention on Sustainable Development and Environment in Havana from July 2 – 6 2015. There we will meet with colleagues from Cuba’s Institute for Agroforestry Research (INAF) and the Cuban Association of Forestry and Agriculture Technicians (ACTAF) to discuss current challenges in the rural areas of the country, and where TWP’s experience in Agroforestry and rural development could potentially contribute to a solution.

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(Photo by Sebastian Africano)

Rural communities in Cuba live in similar conditions as their Caribbean and Central American neighbors, with salty and silty soils, a volatile tropical climate, and difficulty accessing water. As such, there exist great opportunities for exchange and learning in agriculture, soil remediation, and forestry. Cubans have much to teach, having lived through “The Special Period” that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. During that time, Cuban people survived through solidarity and ingenuity, having to devise ways to produce the majority of their own food without the benefit of petro-chemical and technological inputs. The lessons learned during these challenging times, and while living under 50 years of a brutal U.S. economic embargo, make Cuba a staunch ally in facing the adversity that will come with climate change.

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Havana, Cuba (Photo by Sebastian Africano)

Behind the curtain of U.S./Cuba relations there is a Latin American nation of over 11 million people whose reality is only known to us by the tidbits of popular culture that sneak into the mainstream. These people, while having lived a different history than the majority of their neighbors, still face the same challenges and have the same aspirations of most communities in Latin America – keeping their families fed and healthy, leading productive and purposeful lives, and creating opportunities for their children. Just as we support other Latin American communities struggling with issues relating to rural vulnerability, we seek to work with the Cuban people to create a collaborative future around resilience, reconciliation, and climate change readiness in the tropics.

Check in with TWP regularly for updates on our first exploratory trip to Cuba, and to support building climate resilience in the Americas! Also, feel free to contact me at sebastian@treeswaterpeople.org or at (970)484-3678 ext.16 with any questions.

TWP Welcomes New Assistant International Director

Lucas Wolf Guatemala
Lucas (left) didn’t waste any time getting his hands dirty on his first trip to the field, where he visited with communities in rural Guatemala.

We are excited to welcome Lucas Wolf to the Trees, Water & People (TWP) family. As the new Assistant International Director, Lucas will help manage our Clean Cookstove, Reforestation, and Solar Energy Programs in Latin America. Lucas will be based out of Central America, where he has lived for nearly three years.

“I’m looking forward to getting into the field and experiencing both the challenges facing the communities we work with and the rewards that come from the fruits of our collaborations,” said Lucas. “I have a keen interest in all of the countries, languages, and cultures in this region. The potential for sustainable and meaningful development is immense.”

Lucas spent most of the last five years learning the ropes of the USAID contracting world, but previously spent significant chunks of time in Central and South America. First, as a Peace Corps volunteer with the youth development program in Honduras, and then as a Rotary World Peace Fellow at the Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Currently based in Magagua, Nicaragua, Lucas will help to coordinate our projects in Central America and Haiti. A Fort Collins guy through and through – despite lots of years in other locales – he’s excited to be working for an NGO based out of his hometown that is also active in Central America, Haiti, and Tribal Lands of the U.S.

Community Voices: Hilda Garcia

For over 10 years, Doña Hilda Garcia has been an integral part of our conservation efforts in El Salvador. Here, she shares her story about how she became involved with our work. Thank you, Hilda, for your dedication to the environment and people of El Salvador!

Doña Hilda in our tree nursery in El Porvenir, El Salvador.
Doña Hilda in one of our tree nurseries in El Porvenir, El Salvador.

I used to suffer from the smoke of an open cooking fire. A friend told me about TWP’s clean cookstove program, and I jumped at the chance to participate, even though my husband was out of town so I didn’t know if he would approve. I built my stove with Larry Winiarski [inventor of the Rocket stove] and we made tortillas on it the same day! When my husband returned from his trip and saw the Justa stove, I told him all about it and was relieved that he supported my decision.

Without all the smoke, my eyes don’t water and my family can eat comfortably indoors. My older children always used to suffer from respiratory infections, but my youngest girl grew up very healthy, breathing clean air.

In 2003, TWP asked for my help creating a play about the Justa stoves. The play was so successful that they proposed that I work as a stove promoter. I am happy being a stove promoter. I leave the house more, I have new friends, and I’ve seen new places, even Nicaragua for an international stove conference. My husband now works as a stove builder, so helping people with Justa stoves is a family affair for us.

Hilda visits with a clean coostove user in El Salvador.
Hilda (left) visits with a clean coostove user in El Salvador.

When I visit people to follow up after they have built their cookstoves, they say it’s like a gift from God. The Justa stove has improved my life and the lives of many others.

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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Photo of the Week: (Solar) Power to the People!

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About this photo

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!