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!
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.
by Jon Becker, Trees, Water & People Board President
In the words of a great King, “I have been to the mountaintop, and I have seen the promised land”. The mountaintop is quite literal - we’re visiting villages to the west of Tegucigalpa at altitudes up to 9,000 feet. I have come to Honduras with Trees, Water & People’s Executive Director, Richard Fox, for a week of meetings with our Central American program partners and trips to the field to see our projects in place. The Asociación Hondureña para el Desarrollo (AHDESA) Director, Ignacio Osorto, is our driver and he is TWP’s longtime in-country collaborator on clean cookstove and reforestation projects. A tall, regal man who has been through decades of change, struggle, and hard-fought progress in Honduras, Nacho, as he is affectionately called, is taking us up to meet with two of AHDESA’s more recent clients. His son Ben, who basically grew up with AHDESA, is with us on this trip, in his new capacity as TWP’s Central American Regional Coordinator.
After about three hours of climbing and winding up into the highlands of the department of La Paz, through breathtaking pine forests intermingled with small farms and pueblos, we arrive at the picturesque mountain village of Marcala. To me, this is holy ground, because the area surrounding Marcala is one of the important and premium coffee growing regions of Honduras. It occurred to me that in a future, more perfect world, the lands underneath which petroleum lies will no longer be so treasured, and the places like Marcala, where great coffee comes from, will be properly venerated. But for today, we are here to meet with one of AHDESA’s new associates, La Cooperative Mixta Mujeres de la Sierra. Nacho has described them to us as a women’s coffee co-op, but what I’m about to experience goes so far beyond that label. Because now comes “the promised land”. We are greeted at the Co-op office by the women of the mountains, indigenous people called Lenca – smiling and so welcoming. They’re dressed in a mixture of western and traditional, brightly colored clothing, some with their children along.
We take our seats in their meeting room, the lights go down, and these lovely ladies whose roots go back centuries in this land begin their PowerPoint presentation to us. My head’s starting to spin as I hear their story about organizing themselves to improve their position in the coffee trade, expanding their work to include development, production, and branding of other products such as wines and snack foods, branching out into a variety of financial services including micro-lending, and delivery of educational programs for their members and their children. I learn that several of them have traveled to the U.S. and Europe to meet with other co-op and business leaders. I am absolutely floored. This is the “developing” world? Well, it’s developing very fast.
Nacho and Ben begin our presentation on the products and services we want to work with the Co-op on – clean cookstoves, solar lighting, and solar phone charging. I look around the room and see several of the women checking messages on their smart phones. Phones that might soon be receiving their charges from these solar appliances. They’ve actually been on board with our stove program for about a year and a half now, have completed the trainings on stove construction with AHDESA’s technicians, and have now built and installed some 500 Justa clean cookstove models. They are thrilled about the prospects for adding the solar devices to the mix – many of their members live without electricity in their homes.
We are thrilled about their organization, the depth and breadth of the services they provide, their remarkable ability for gracefully straddling the modern and traditional worlds. And perhaps most exciting of all – Las Mujeres are not alone, they are not one-of-a-kind. There appears to be a vibrant, growing movement of women’s rural agricultural co-ops in Honduras, and I presume this must spill over the borders into our other Latin American program countries – Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Peru, and Haiti. I feel like we have found our match, the perfect platform to connect with our mission, via of course our fantastic in-country project partners like AHDESA. I walk out of our meeting in Marcala, high in the mountains of Honduras, higher still with the excitement and joy of believing that our way forward is right here, in place and ready to go. These women are the real leaders into the better, more just, more sustainable future. Our job is to serve them. We can do and we will do this.