Thriving Beyond Expectations

DSC07242.jpg
A beneficiary of TWP’s clean cookstove program in Guatemala welcoming us before entering her home

by José Chalit, Marketing & Communications Manager

It’s the feeling of being welcomed into a stranger’s house with a fresh, warm cup coffee while we ask about their newly installed ‘Justa’ Stove or their new organic garden. I’ve heard people talk about this experience since I joined TWP last summer – folks that have been on a trip with us via TWP Tours, our Board of Directors, my co-workers – they’ve all shared stories with me about the unique experience of visiting the communities that TWP works alongside in the field. After returning from 2 weeks visiting our projects in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, these stories I have been hearing materialized into real experiences that changed my opinion about how our work has potential to create real change, and why it works.

When I first began visiting our projects last summer, I felt lucky to be part of developing communications around our innovative and meaningful community development projects, but it was too early for me to truly understand the bigger picture of what it is that we do. After I visited Guatemala in August to meet with members of the community of La Trinidad who had been displaced (again) by the eruption of Volcán De Fuego, I began to understand the impact of TWP’s work on a slightly deeper level.

It became clear that TWP prioritizes the voices and experiences of smallholder farmers first, and that our ability to continue working internationally with success hinges upon how we develop these relationships. Nevertheless, I still felt like I was missing a broader perspective of our road map.

dsc07053
Volunteer with the Environmental & Natural Resource Ministry monitoring El Salvador’s second planned fire break in its modern history

Over our recent two-week trip, I continuously reflected on whether or not the communities our work with local non-profit partners truly impacts their lives as compared to surrounding areas not yet reached. Needless to say, all throughout the Americas rural indigenous people are suffering from the environmental impacts of erratic changes in climate patterns. For example, the folks in the community of La Bendición in Guatemala have had to adapt away from centuries-old farming practices passed down from their ancestors because of a prolongated dry season that is limiting their typical harvest season. The Environmental and Natural Resource Ministry of El Salvador is in the process of implementing some of the first ever controlled burns in the country’s national conservation areas to prevent wildfires due to similar reasons. In both scenarios, our local non-profit partners have worked alongside these communities to implement programs and projects that address the immediate needs of local people while also creating long-term paths for people to have healthier livelihood opportunities.

Nevertheless, I came to understand that if any of these projects are to be successful, it is for two primary reasons:

  • The knowledge and capacity held by those most deeply affected by the problems we are tackling positions them the best to champion the solutions to the challenges they face on a daily basis.
  • We know that the most significant global polluters and extractors aren’t doing nearly enough to combat the fallout of their operations, so the folks (rural indigenous, more often than not) most impacted by the effects of environmental degradation are the ones worth investing our time, energy, and resources.

Whether it is through protected area land management in the highlands El Salvador or the clean cookstove implementation program led by indigenous women in La Bendición, the choice TWP makes to invest in the ideas of the most marginalized became even more evident to me.

It’s that feeling of being so readily and enthusiastically welcomed into a community by strangers who might not even speak your same language. It’s the palpable aura of hope, empowerment and self-esteem that prevails in a community that believes in itself and its ability to overcome challenges brought on by unexpected climate catastrophes. It’s beyond the results of what any study, number, or statistic can tell us, but something that is only felt by a close encounter with a community that is confident in their potential to thrive beyond even their own expectations. This is what it feels like to visit a community where TWP is working alongside, and we can’t emphasize enough how lucky we are to be doing this work that would be impossible without your support.

 

Part 2: The Road to Clean Cookstoves

by Gemara Gifford, International Director

Clean cookstoves don’t just save lives; they add healthy years to someone’s life.

In November of last year, Trees, Water & People and our Nicaraguan partners, Proleña, partnered with Aprovecho Research Center to compare the emissions from open-fire stoves to those from Proleña’s improved stoves, manufactured in Managua. The results were alarming, which is why we are raising $8,000 to provide 60 clean cookstoves to those 60 study participants still cooking over open fires.

20171116_073601
This woman was a volunteer participant in our study. An air quality monitor hangs around her neck as she stands by her traditional open fire stove.

This study took place near Jinotega, Nicaragua with half of the families using traditional open fire stoves, and the other half using Proleña’s clean cookstoves. Each stove user volunteered to wear a small monitoring device that attaches to the shirt near the woman’s face to approximate her exposure to smoke for a 24-hour period. These monitors collect small airborne particles, referred to as PM2.5 in the air quality monitoring field, that are the most commonly measured pollutant coming from wood smoke. PM2.5 particles are widely accepted as a principle source of illnesses like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lower respiratory infections, lung cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

filter photos
These are some of the filters from the particle monitors used in this study. The filters on the left are from homes with a clean cookstove. The ones on the right are from homes using traditional open fires. Photo by the Aprovecho Research Center.

The average traditional stove user in this study was consistently exposed to 245 µg/m3 of particulates, qualifying their kitchens as a “HEAVY POLLUTED” environment, according to the EPA’s Air Quality Index. In homes where an improved stove had been introduced and adopted, exposure to indoor air pollution was reduced by an average of 63%.

Averted Disability Adjusted Life Years (ADALY) is a commonly used metric for public health studies that represent the number of years of healthy life made possible by reducing exposure to particulate matter in smoke. Using the ADALY methodology, we determined that if clean cookstoves were installed in 500 homes (helping 2,500 people), we could extend life in that population by 286 years. This is why we’ve launched the “Clean Cookstoves and Healthy Families in Nicaragua” campaign because, quite frankly, cooking shouldn’t kill!

Overall, this study was an excellent reminder that clean cookstoves are indeed critical, tangible tools that can help improve a person’s quality of life measurably. It is difficult to put a price on extra years of health, but with $8,000 we’ll be able to complete funding for 60 stoves needed in Jinotega.

Help thank the women in this study who opened their kitchens to us, and who are still breathing smoke as you read this. Give Health. Give Hope. Give Today!

Give here

IMG_9209
This woman uses her clean cookstove provided by Proleña to cook tortillas.

 

 

Part 1: The Road to Clean Cookstoves

by Valentina de Rooy

Valentina de Rooy is a Nicaraguan psychologist with experience in qualitative research about social phenomena. Her passion is working with rural communities on a diversity of issues for the community development in Nicaragua, her country of origin. Valentina became familiar with Trees, Water & People’s work through Lucas Wolf, TWP’s former International Director, whose dedication to the people and the environment inspired to engage in TWP’s mission.

I recently had the opportunity to travel with Trees, Water & People’s nonprofit partner in Nicaragua, PROLEÑA, for a clean cookstove health study. The Aprovecho Research Center and PROLEÑA joined forces to carry out a study to measure the difference in pollution from smoke emissions in households cooking with wood in traditional stoves and improved stoves around Jinotega, Nicaragua. My role was to serve as interpreter and research assistant to Sam Bentson, the lab manager for Aprovecho.

20171119_101058
Doña María from the community of La Cal in Jinotega, who participated in this indoor air pollution study, shows us her new improved cookstove from PROLEÑA.

For a month and a half, we stayed in Jinotega, a city located in northern Nicaragua in the dry corridor of Central America. Sam, some technicians of the NGO La Cuculmeca, and I visited more than 120 homes in six rural communities in the outskirts of the city of Jinotega.  The participants in our study received us with great hospitality, stories, and gifts of crops they grew themselves. The children of the communities satiated their curiosity by following us to each of the households; some of them were even essential to the study by showing us the route to their neighbors’ homes.

20171119_092603
Sam Bentson (Lab manager at Aprovecho Research Center) places a µPEMS inside one of the houses from La Cal community in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

We met so many amazing people during our stay. We met Don Aparicio, who has dedicated his life to the development of projects in his community of Saraguasca. While we were walking along the hill one day, Don Aparicio sang to us some verses composed by “Los Soñadores de Saraguasca,” a group of which he is a member and dedicates his songs to nature, its protection and conservation:

Let’s take care of the animals,

that enliven our environment,

like those found in the forest

over there at Agua Caliente.

For destroying our woodlands,

they had to be absent,

but if we reforest,

they will return.

In the last stage of the study, we met Doña Cata from the community of Las Lomas. Doña Cata and her husband Mario are pioneers in their community when it comes to crop diversification for their own consumption and they play a key role in hosting community meetings for the people engaged in agricultural projects.

IMG_20171117_135720
Valentina de Rooy (research assistant of the study) explains to Doña Catalina, leader of the Las Lomas community in Jinotega, the purpose of the study and how to use the HAPEX device.

Doña Cata introduced us to Idania, a young entrepreneur who runs her own cake-making business by modifying her PROLEÑA clean cookstove with two large pots in a small oven for baking cakes. Like most beneficiaries of improved stoves, Idania enthusiastically commented on her positive experience with smoke reduction and fuel saving. Now, the stakeholders are looking forward to the results of the study, hoping to know about their health condition in order to suggest changes for the future of their communities.

An update from TWP’s International Director, Gemara Gifford:

We are pleased to announce that each participant in this study who cooks with an open-fire cookstove will be receiving a brand new clean cookstove as a reward for participating in this study. For the first time, these families will be able to breathe easier and save time and money on fuelwood. Keep an eye out for how you can sponsor a family to make this a reality! If you would like to help fund the construction of these families’ clean cookstoves, please donate today! 

Give here

Indoor Air Pollution: The Silent Killer in the Kitchen

Indoor Air Pollution

Indoor air pollution is often referred to as “the killer in the kitchen.” The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 4.3 million people, mostly women and children, die each year from the effects of this pollution, and millions more are chronically sickened. This toxic pollution is caused by billions of people cooking their meals indoors, over open fires.

Worldwide, more than 3 billion people still rely on biomass fuels (wood, dung, and agricultural wastes) for their daily cooking and energy needs. Cooking with wood over an open fire fills kitchens with smoke; smoke that contains dangerous levels of particulates and carbon monoxide. This heavy exposure has been likened to smoking five packs of cigarettes a day. Breathing the toxic smoke from open cooking fires can lead to acute respiratory illness, pneumonia, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Women and children are most seriously affected, as they are the family members who spend the most time in the kitchen.

To address this problem, we build clean cookstoves that are designed to use far less wood and emit up to 80% less IAP than a traditional open fire. Our cookstoves are designed to be built locally, using local materials and labor. This approach reduces deadly smoke in the home while also stimulating local economies.

clean cookstove Guatemala
International Director Sebastian Africano (right) visits with a family who has a clean cookstove built into their kitchen.

Conservation can, and should, create a bright future for all. Join us in our effort to reduce toxins and pollution in the kitchen. Visit our website to learn more about our clean cookstoves and how you can become a supporter of this important program!

Photo of the Week: Happy International Women’s Day!

gathering firewood Guatemala

 

About this photo

A woman bundles firewood that she just finished chopping in Tiquisate, Guatemala. The firewood will be used to cook the next couple days of meals for her family.

Around the world, 3 billion people still cook ever meal over an open fire. In Guatemala alone, more than 70% of the population is dependent on wood to cook every meal. And, gathering fuelwood is no easy task – a task that most often falls on the women and girls who cook for their families.

This International Women’s Day, we want to honor the billions of women and girls around the world who struggle each day with energy poverty. We hope for a future where every woman can safely prepare a meal for their family without having to worry about collecting fuelwood, breathing in toxic smoke, or having their young children burned. Cooking shouldn’t kill!

Learn more about how we are fighting energy poverty at our website.

Photo credit: Don Usner 2009

Happy International Women’s Day!

by Megan Maiolo-Heath

Today is International Women’s Day, an important time for us to celebrate the powerful force that women play in every aspect of our lives; this is a day to celebrate women’s equality and achievements.

Much of the work we do at Trees, Water & People centers around making women and their children healthier. To do this work, we collaborate with women leaders in every country we work in. These women are leaders because they are never afraid to address difficult problems facing their communities. These women work together to provide the best quality of life for their families using the resources available. Whether we are working together to bring clean cookstoves to a community, planting fruit trees on a family farm, or building solar heating systems on a Native American Reservation, I can guarantee there is always a smart, hard-working, and courageous woman behind the scenes helping to lead the charge!

So, to all of the women in the world: Happy International Women’s Day! Let us all come together to celebrate today, and every other day, each and every woman that is special in our lives.

Read this great article from EcoWatch to learn more about “12 innovations that are helping women get access to credit, improve their incomes, feed their families, introduce sustainable crops to markets, and reduce rural poverty.”

Happy 100th International Women’s Day!!

Around the world, people are celebrating International Women’s Day! This is a wonderful opportunity for each of us to recognize the beautiful women in our lives and to tell them how their strength, love, and wisdom makes us better people.  According to the official website, “International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In some countries like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, IWD is a national holiday. The first IWD event was run in 1911 so 2011 sees the Global Centenary.”

Standing proud next to a new fuel-efficient cookstove in Nicaragua.

Trees, Water & People has long had a woman- centered approach by nature, as working with cookstoves connects you directly to the women in every home and community. TWP has diligently worked to help over 46,000 households replace smoky, open-fire stoves with clean, fuel-efficient cookstoves. This change allows women to lead healthier lives, increase their savings and time to confidently care and provide for their children and families, provide a clean and safe home environment free of smoke where women feel proud to cook their daily meals, and contribute to making their communities vibrant places to live.

Doña Justa next to the fuel-efficient stove model she helped to design and create. Thank you Doña Justa for your leadership and contribution to the clean cookstove movement!

Doña Justa opened up her home in 1998 to TWP to help and guide us in designing a stove that Honduran women would love; 12 years later the Justa stove model with rocket combustion chamber is still leading the cookstove movement in Central America!

TWP embraces all the women whose lives touch us on a daily basis. We are proud to stand side by side with strong women leaders and to help more and more women, children, and men enjoy healthy and fulfilling lives.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Without the involvement of women our cookstove projects would be difficult, if not impossible, to sustain.