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Trees, Water & People is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1998 by Stuart Conway and Richard Fox, and is staffed by a group of dedicated conservationists who feel strongly about helping communities protect, conserve, and manage the natural resources upon which their long-term well-being depends.
The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) has been partnering with Trees, Water & people since 2012 and we are so happy they are a part of our Partners for a Sustainable Planet program. Over the last six years, we have been working together to not only support their environmental sustainability practices as a business but also support tribal communities throughout Pine Ridge Reservation.
One of the ways that we can make our voices heard is at the ballot box. For most of us, this process seems effortless; we show up to our local polling station, driver’s license in hand, and do our civic duty by checking a few boxes. One thing we don’t often think about is how hard it can be for Native voters to participate in this seemingly simple way.
Voting in Native Country can be tricky, as many tribes face multiple challenges when it comes to voter registration. Early voting, redistricting, identification requirements, and access to voting sites can often be barriers for many Native Americans. However, our partners at the NARF and the Native American Voting Rights Coalition (NAVRC) have been working tirelessly since September 2017 to identify these challenges and are work to overcome them before midterm elections.
Through hosting field hearings across the country, NARF is hoping to uncover some of the obstacles Native Americans face in the voting process and advance their access to voting:
“Field hearings are the most efficient way to learn about barriers that voters face in Indian Country: directly from tribal leaders, voters, and organizers on the ground. Many reservations are geographically, linguistically, and culturally isolated from the rest of the population.” –Native American Rights Fund
While our projects here at Trees, Water & People focus on bringing Native communities opportunities and educational training in renewable energy, we are happy to partner with organizations that help bring Native voices to the table. Supporting our communities in every way possible, whether it’s through green-job training or reaching remote areas for voter education, it is essential work that we must continue to do.
Some of the next field hearings to be held will be in Southern California and Tulsa, Oklahoma. To learn more about hearings in your area and how to get involved with NARF, Contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Together, we can help people and the planet.
As the incoming Development Director at Trees, Water & People, my job is to raise the funds that will keep the organization running. Even before taking this position, I knew that to do my job successfully I would need to visit the places where we work, shake hands with our partners, smell a kitchen with a clean cookstove, and touch the soil where we are growing our trees.
This opportunity came in the middle of January when I got to travel to Nicaragua for a week-long stay with Gemara Gifford, TWP’s International Director, and Paul Thayer, a TWP board member. Shortly after arriving at the Managua airport, Paul, Gemara and our fabulous tour guide (and partner of past International Director, Lucas Wolf), Valentina, drove directly to Gaia Estate. The Estate is a Certified Bird-friendly coffee farm outside the town of Diriamba and is owned by long-time TWP friend Jefferson Shriver. Jefferson greeted us with a glass of wine, dinner, and conversation about Nicaragua. He stressed the importance of promoting farming systems that integrate overstory trees (i.e. agroforestry), and high-value and environmentally-friendly products like vanilla and turmeric. After a good night’s sleep, we awoke to the smell of fresh coffee brewing, beans that had been picked and harvested from his farm just days before.
We spent the next day with Proleña visiting Tierra Verde, our newly opened climate change education center in La Paz Centro. Since TWP’s last visit, the first floor of the dormitory has been built and 600 trees have been planted on the property (25 different species in all) as well as infrastructure for the site including roadways and electricity. Having seen Tierra Verde in many photographs, it was essential to see the property and hear about the exciting events planned for 2018.
Conducting a strategy session at Tierra Verde with Proleña’s Executive Director, Marlyng Buitrago (second from the right) and Technical Director, Leonardo Mayorga (far right). Photo by Annalise Mecham.
Although more construction will be taking place this year, the vision for the center is starting to take shape. We talked in detail about the workshops that we have planned, including bringing in local farmers to talk about agroforestry, university students to discuss climate change, and TWP Tour participants to visit the center. We discussed plans to complete the tree nursery with at least 50,000 trees in the first year, as well as demonstration sites for clean cookstoves, and adding a greenhouse for growing and genetically testing trees.
After our visit to Tierra Verde, we toured Proleña’s workshop in Managua and visited local urban cookstove beneficiaries. I have always been aware of the impact of clean cookstoves, but it was a completely different experience to see and smell the difference. The women we visited graciously welcomed us into their kitchen and explained the changes in their lives and their health after the clean cookstove had been installed. Although my Spanish is limited, it didn’t take me long to realize how these women felt about their clean cookstoves. They would pat gently on their chests and touch their eyes, implying that they could breathe easier and their eyes were less irritated.
Doña Thelma (center) and her family in her home. She is one of the beneficiaries of a clean cookstove and sells 300 tortillas a day to customers.
The last day was one of the most profound for me as we visited the rural communities surrounding the northern town of Jinotega, in particular, the remote village of La Cal. To get there, we had a few hours’ drive on an impossibly steep and windy dirt road with a one hour walk up a steep rocky path. The village was tucked away in a mountain valley and one of the most remote communities I have ever visited.
Upon our arrival, we were introduced to the only teacher in the community, a young man who gave us a tour including the one-room schoolhouse and various family homes. The families we visited we welcoming, kind, and joyful. We interviewed many women about the impacts of their clean cookstoves, played with the kids, saw how much time it takes to gather wood, and the challenges of living in rural Nicaragua. As we drove back that evening to Managua, the feeling I had wasn’t sadness at the rural living conditions, but a sense of awe at their resilience.
A house with corn hanging from the roof in the remote village of La Cal.
On the plane ride home, I was thinking about my biggest take away from the trip. What was I going to bring back to the TWP community of donors and supporters? Without a doubt, it was the unique community-based approach that Trees, Water & People uses when working in Central America and U.S. Tribal Lands.
TWP’s approach is based on the philosophy that communities have the best judgment of how their lives and livelihoods can be improved, and if given access to the right resources, they should make decisions that will be most impactful for them. I believe that this community-based development is the most effective way to create change. Change does not come easy for anyone. Changing the way someone cooks their food can seem impossibly difficult. But, TWP’s approach to involve the community and a local nonprofit (in the case of Proleña in Nicaragua) allows for the change to be approached on an intimate, community level.
This type of grassroots change is not the easiest route. It is complicated and complex and takes years to actualize. Luckily for TWP, we have been planting seeds this way for 20 years and will continue to for many, many more!
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Happy 2018 from all of us at Trees, Water & People!
2018 is a significant year for many reasons, but the main ones is it’s Trees, Water & People’s (TWP’s) 20th Anniversary! As the staff and I reflected on the significance of this achievement, we tried to think back to the challenges that our founders, Richard Fox and Stuart Conway, likely faced when they started this organization in 1998, in Fort Collins, Colorado…
Email and the internet were barely commonplace in 1998. They photographed their work in the field with film cameras and recorded activities with camcorders. Field reports were received by fax and cell phones were just beginning to show up on the scene. Building a following back then depended on the depth of your Rolodex, your versatility with direct mail, and your candor on a landline.
Trees, Water & People was founded in 1998 by Richard Fox (left) and Stuart Conway (right), two foresters who saw a huge need to address the pervasive deforestation in Latin America.
Our founders worked hard to build successful relationships in the field, as well as systems and processes at home that would lay the foundation for a lasting organization. When I began working for the organization in 2005, little did I know the impact that TWP would have on the world.
Apart from the tens of thousands of beneficiaries we’ve been fortunate to serve through our projects, we’ve also created a home for dozens of staff, hundreds of volunteers and interns, and thousands of donors that have made our work possible. A significant number of those donors have supported us since the very beginning, and have literally given us the means to reach this significant milestone.
Rafael Ramirez is transplanting tree seedlings in a small nursery in Guatemala. Photo by Jeff Caesar, 1998.
We have planted close to 7 million trees, installed over 75,000 cookstoves, and trained hundreds of rural people in everything from fruit tree-grafting, to soil conservation, to solar power and clean cookstove design. Any way you look at this story, it’s an understatement to say that it’s been an inspirational journey.
However, the world has changed drastically in very visible ways over the past 20 years, and there are forces at work today that threaten the work of nonprofits like ours.
Nine of every ten deportees from the U.S. today are going back to Central America and Mexico. Climate change is threatening small-holder agriculture in the region, and the cities are busting at the seams with migrants from rural areas, and now from abroad. U.S. investment in International Development and diplomacy has slowed to a trickle, while changes to the tax law are threatening donations from our individual supporters.
Doña Justa making breakfast with her new fuel-efficient stove in Honduras. Photo by Jeff Caesar, 1998.
The challenges we face today are going to be very different from those faced by our founders in 1998, and are going to require that we be flexible and adaptable in how we approach our work. Your support is instrumental in our success and will be the cornerstone of what we build over the next 20 years.
For this reason, this year we’d like to celebrate YOU – our donors – who have been the lifeblood of this organization since we were founded. Over the next several months we’re going to feature 20 of our most ardent supporters, in hopes that they inspire you to share TWP’s work with your friends, family, and peers, and show them why you donate to this work.
The gains we’ve made for people and planet will only remain as such if we are vigilant and persistent in defending them – and we can’t do this alone. So THANK YOU – here’s to 20 more years of TWP, and to all the worth-while things we’re going to accomplish together!
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Last week on Colorado Public Radio, I heard about a Pew Research Center study on U.S. immigration from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras — an area known as the Northern Triangle. The study shows that while annual immigration to the U.S. from Mexico fell by 5% after the Great Recession, migration from the Northern Triangle rose by almost 30% during that same period.
Most of this migration is attributed to a lack of economic opportunity, political instability, or the threat of violence that chronically affects the region. But peeling the layers back from these conclusions reveals other culprits, with severe implications for the future.
Roughly 60% Central Americans now live in cities, and this number is expected to grow to over 70% during the next few decades. Overcrowded cities force newcomers to live in marginal neighborhoods that lack basic services and business opportunities, and which are all but governed by organized gangs. The inherent challenges encountered in these harsh urban environments lead to the more visible outbound migration — to Mexico, the U.S., or beyond.
Improving the lives of people living in rural areas of Central America can reduce the pressures caused by migration to cities.
The second concern raised by this trend is that as more people arrive in cities, food-producing regions of the country become depopulated. Traditional agriculture is not supporting rural populations while shifting weather patterns, crop diseases, depleted soils, and poor market access are driving the next generation of farmers to throw in the towel and leave the countryside.
Rural farm communities, most of them indigenous, are the de facto stewards of their watersheds, the producers of food for urban centers, and the last line of defense against industries (mining, timber, hydropower, etc.) that seek access to land and natural resources. Making life in rural areas more livable by diversifying agricultural production, rebuilding soils with agroforestry, and helping create new, sustainable sources of income is a practical and cost-effective way to slow outbound migration. These strategies can breathe life back into ailing Central American rural communities and the ecosystems they depend on.
International Director, Gemara Gifford (right), works closely with our partners in rural communities in Central America, like local leader Doña Norma (left), to improve life through sustainable alternatives.
While the current debate on immigration here in the U.S. focuses on migrants once they make to our border, there are far too few questions being asked about why people leave in the first place. It may be more difficult to change the political environment or the macro economies of these countries, but keeping rural communities thriving is one way that TWP can contribute to future stability and sustainability in the region and another way that your support can create real and lasting impact.
By donating to Trees, Water & People, you will be helping rural communities in Central America build more resilient futures.
As the holiday season begins in the United States, many of us gather with family to cook our favorite meals, celebrate with friends, to reflect back on the past year, and to make plans for the next. If we’re lucky, the holiday season creates a sense of comfort, community, and pride.
As TWP looks back on our year, one of our proudest moments has been working with you – our community – to help 500 more families in southern Guatemala begin their new year with a brand new clean cookstove. Last week, the final installment of stoves were delivered, and families are now being trained on its care and maintenance, just in time for the holidays! In March, some of you will be joining TWP Tours on our next tour to the region to see first-hand how families have been impacted by their new stove.
The final training and installment of stoves was completed last week, meaning 500 more families in Guatemala are starting their New Year with a new stove!
If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that clean cookstoves have a lasting impact on people’s lives because they:
reduce dangerous indoor air pollution by up to 85%
reduce forest fuelwood needed by up to 50%
are more efficient and thus save families valuable time and money
But perhaps the most inspiring and transformative impact of a stove is not in the numbers, but rather, within oneself. By listening to women across Central America for the last 19 years, we know that stoves:
increase women’s self-esteem and self-worth
create hope, pride, and dignity
help people thrive, not just survive
foster the ability to think “beyond tomorrow”
When I met Doña Teresa earlier this summer, she was thrilled to cook me something yummy on her new stove. She was proud to tell me how her day-to-day activities had been transformed. “My clothes look so much nicer now,” she said. “I don’t have soot all over them, and I am not embarrassed to invite my friends over anymore.” The best part was her smile. There are certain things that we simply cannot communicate with statistics – the pride in her face told me everything I needed to know. “And by the way, I don’t have to spend so much time cooking, this thing stays on all day, and the wood that I need is much less,” she said.
Sometimes transformation begins with a stove. Doña Teresa tells us what her new stove represented to her above.
I am excited to visit Doña Teresa again on my next trip in January to see how she doing, and thank her for teaching me such a valuable lesson about what a stove represented to her!
At Trees, Water & People, we believe that everyone plays a role in making the world more sustainable and humane. Our donors provide the means, we provide the network and know-how, our local partners deliver the solution, and each beneficiary provides local materials and labor. Together we drive change and create dignified, healthy futures for our global community.
So thank you, to each and every one of you, who have helped us tell this remarkable story. I couldn’t feel more ready for 2018 to help people make transformative changes in their own lives.
Sometimes that story begins with a stove.
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Since Trees, Water & People’s early days, we’ve found that the best way for our community to engage with our work is to experience it first-hand. Visiting our projects leads our supporters to embrace new relationships, explore new perspectives on culture, history, and humanity, and reflect on the “why” behind Trees, Water & People’s work.
Over the past two years, we’ve made an effort to expand our itineraries and offer new tours to destinations in Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Cuba. As we gained momentum, we realized that these new tours were incredibly rich experiences for participants, partners, and communities alike and that the demand was too high for us to manage ourselves.
With this in mind, we are proud to present TWP Tours — Trees, Water & People’s new travel arm, which will manage all aspects of our tourism offerings moving forward. TWP Tours provides us the flexibility to hire additional staff whose primary focus will be to create unforgettable travel experiences throughout Central America, the Caribbean, and on U.S. Tribal lands.
Unity Church in Fort Collins, CO traveled with us to the community of La Bendícion, Guatemala. These hands-on tours give you an opportunity to give back while experiencing local culture.
TWP Tours believes in low-impact and sustainable travel. We work with a network of experts on the ground to offer unique, off-the-beaten-path experiences to immerse travelers in the local culture. We are a team of experienced guides, cultural interpreters, and language translators — opening up a world that the average adventurer would only see at its surface.
The students of William Smith High School traveled with us to the Pine Ridge Reservation to plant trees. Using tree planting as an environmental education tool gives TWP Tours the opportunity to work closely with all ages of students.
Another unique aspect of our work is giving back. Through our association with local NGOs, we offer travelers the opportunity to participate in planting trees, harvesting coffee, building clean cookstoves, fixing water systems, increasing food security, and monitoring wildlife. We seek to make each trip carbon neutral via the work we do on the ground and strive hard to live up to our name: Travel With Purpose.
So, what are you waiting for?! Visit our new website at twp.tours and join our to stay informed about future travel opportunities. Our next adventure to the Honduran highlands is January 4 -13, 2018, where we’ll be monitoring migratory bird populations, installing rainwater cisterns, and building clean cookstoves with our local partner, CEASO. We hope to see you there!
Before moving to Fort Collins, CO in 2009, my wife and I settled in western El Salvador, a natural wonderland dotted with volcanoes, teeming with biodiversity, and a 40-minute drive from cool misty peaks to sweltering coastlines. Trees, Water & People (TWP) had worked there since 2001, through a small partner called Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo (AAP) building cookstoves, composting latrines, and maintaining the most beautiful tree nursery among all their programs.
Unfortunately, the country went through a particularly rough spell between 2010 – 2016, where political turmoil left a vacuum filled by some unsavory elements in society and significantly affected our ability to operate. Nevertheless, AAP adjusted to the new reality and began looking for new ways to improve their country from within.
Thanks to the FIAES fund from the U.S. and El Salvadorian governments, Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo was named co-manager of the Reserva de la Biosfera Apaneca-Ilamatepec.
Leveraging a strong reputation, AAP was able to gain access to a bilateral reconciliation fund in 2013, which was put in place by El Salvador and the U.S. to strengthen public spaces, including National Parks. They were named co-managers of a small National Park in the west of the country and began working with communities along the outskirts of this park, developing Ecotourism capacity and providing environmental education through local school systems.
Árboles y Agua para el Pueblo provides environmental education opportunities for local schools around the National Park, including tree planting!
Four years later, the small, dedicated team at AAP is now the head of a consortium of non-governmental organizations tasked with co-managing a network of parks throughout the west of the country. Their work focuses on improving everything from trails to interpretive signage, to biodiversity conservation, and alternative economic opportunities for youth. The road is long, but as El Salvador emerges from another dark patch of history, there is optimism on the horizon again, and TWP is proud to have continued supporting a positive future for the country.
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Since our last update in June, we have been very busy working on the Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate (NICFEC) with our partners at PROLEÑA. Set in one of the driest and most threatened ecosystems on earth, the Pacific Dry Corridor, NICFEC is a new regional climate change training facility where diverse stakeholders share knowledge, skills, and strategies in sustainable agriculture, forestry, fuel-efficient technologies, watershed management, soil remediation, and more. Over the last four months, we have nearly completed the dormitory where people from all across the world will be able to be housed to share knowledge on climate change mitigation and adaptation.
The dormitory for NICFEC is nearly complete. It will house visitors while they learn about climate adaptation in Central America.
We have also recently established two tree nurseries at the back of the site, which will soon house 50,000-100,000 native trees for use in reforestation, agroforestry, and fuel-lot projects. Like everything on site, the nurseries will serve as a demonstration. Farmers will be able to see, feel, and touch a tree nursery planted with species that can survive well in the arid climate, as well as learn how to market the products grown from the trees, i.e., fuelwood, poles for construction, fruits and nuts.
These seedlings growing in the NICFEC tree nursery will be used for demonstrations.
Perhaps the most exciting achievement was that we hosted our first event at the NICFEC site since we began construction! While we wish it were under different circumstances, we were able to hold a tree planting ceremony in honor of our dear friend, Lucas Wolf, with a majestic Ceiba tree in his honor. Over 30 people were in attendance from all across the country, many locals and colleagues whom Lucas built relationships with over the past three years in Nicaragua. Lucas was TWP’s International Director, and a dear friend, who passed away suddenly this July while traveling in Cuba.
In honor of Lucas’ birthday, we held a tree planting ceremony at the new NICFEC site.
Upon completion in 2018, NICFEC will feature live classrooms, workspaces, demonstration gardens, and private cabanas where local and international visitors — from smallholder farmer to high-level decision-maker — can both learn about and participate in climate change adaptation education in the Pacific Dry Corridor. On display will be a variety of demonstrative solutions including clean cookstove designs, fuel-efficient kilns and ovens, solar energy systems, green charcoal technologies, and agroforestry plots that reveal relevant strategies for climate change resilience, especially for local smallholder farmers. We expect to launch programming and tours in 2018!
If you are interested in traveling to Nicaragua with us, or any of our program countries, please sign up for our email list for upcoming trips.
I come to Trees, Water & People as an East coast transplant, having spent a majority of my life living in Virginia and all over New England. After living on Cape Cod for the past 12 years, my husband and I were ready for a bigger town, more opportunities, and better winters! After extensive research, we decided to relocate to Fort Collins and a few weeks ago packed up our two young boys, put our house on the market, and drove cross country (U-Haul and all!). So far, it has been one of the best decisions of my life.
One of the most exciting parts of this move has been my new job as Development Director at Trees, Water & People. I discovered TWP a year ago when I was researching nonprofits in the Fort Collins area. I was immediately intrigued by its mission of improving communities through the care and management of their natural resources. My grandparents were supporters and actively involved with the American Indian College Fund, so I was happy to see TWP’s work with Tribal communities. I was beyond excited to see their job posting this fall for a Development Director. I think I was the first to apply!
I have been working in nonprofit development for the past eight years, receiving my M.S. from Boston University in nonprofit management in 2011. I received my undergraduate degree in Environmental Education and had the honor of taking a year to explore the United States with the Expedition Education Institute, a traveling college that teaches ecological leadership through experiential experiences. It was a year that changed my life and the way I approach people, communities and the environment. I have a strong belief that the health of a community is directly affected by how they protect and preserve their local ecosystem.
While in New England, I worked at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA where I became hooked on the idea that a well-organized nonprofit can have a direct influence on improving individual lives. From there, I moved into the Development Director role at Calmer Choice, a nonprofit that taught social-emotional learning to students in the Cape Cod public schools, many of whom were underserved. It was here that I discovered my passion for serving marginalized communities and seeing first-hand the change that happens when committed people work together.
TWP’s mission is a perfect combination of my passions for environmental education, community empowerment, and nonprofit management. I am excited to start my journey as the Development Director at TWP. I look forward to creating and developing relationships with TWP’s partners, supporters, donors, volunteers, board members, and staff. Please feel free to reach out and introduce yourself! I would love to hear from you.
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There’s a new hero in town! Since this spring, Trees, Water & People (TWP) has been hard at work on our garden to create a sustainable, natural and chemical-free environment that both aesthetically enhances the neighborhood and provides a habitat for our native bird and butterfly species. We have been planting beautiful native flower species that have the combined benefit of requiring very little maintenance and water as well as inviting birds and butterflies to visit. We have also been striving to remove pests and invasive species solely through mechanical methods rather than using pesticides and herbicides so that our garden is as healthy and inviting as possible.
So when we saw that the Audubon Rockies had a “Habitat Hero” designation for homes and businesses that use “wildscaping” garden practices, we knew that we could take our garden to the next level and achieve that status! Our garden is a great mix of native plants, regionally adapted flowers, and tasty vegetables like tomatoes and peppers and we have recently added some great low-water plants such as echinacea, milkweed, sand cherry and a brand-new crabapple tree. We are proud of the work we put in to make our space a sustainable and wildlife-friendly habitat and even more pleased to announce that the Audubon Rockies’ awarded TWP the highest category: Habitat Hero Gold. An enormous amount of thanks is due to all of our volunteers and staff for working in the garden and making this possible!
We have collaborated with Audubon Rockies in the past and have admired their organization for quite some time, so we are very honored to have received this designation. It is imperative to acknowledge that we live in an arid climate, so the more that we can move away from water-intensive yards such as lawns and non-native gardens, the better! One of the biggest reasons we are proud to have achieved Habitat Hero status is that we hope to inspire others to do the same. We encourage you to check out Audubon Rockies’ website and start looking into ways that you can make your garden a sustainable habitat for local wildlife as well! If you are in the Fort Collins area, please drop in and check out our garden. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished and would love to share it with you!
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