Carlos Euraque, EcoLogic's technical coordinator at our project site in Olanchito, Honduras, was recently invited to the United States to present at a conference organized by Our Water Commons in New York state. Carlos gave a presentation on "MACO"—an alliance between EcoLogic, our nearby local partner, the Association of Water Committees of the Southern Sector of Pico Bonito National Park (AJAASSPIB), and the Municipality of Olanchito—to restore and protect a 6,500 hectare watershed that provides fresh water to more than 40,000 people. After the conference, Carlos visited EcoLogic's headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts to meet with funders and staff.
Carlos is a trained agricultural engineer, a passionate conservation advocate and an innovator who finds ingenious ways to get people involved and engaged. During his visit to our offices, Carlos told us about how Olanchito started a program to encourage high school students to actively participate in reforesting of the watershed.
We have established a green house, and I and a few others started seedlings for hundreds of native trees for reforestation. But the question was: how to get the trees planted at the Uchapa and Pimienta watershed when we don't have enough people, or the money to pay day laborers. I take student groups up to the forest all the time to raise awareness and teach them about ecology, so getting the young people involved seemed an obvious answer. In Honduras, we have a tradition of having students do "social service" as part of earning their diploma, so I approached Olanchito's vice-mayor with the idea that we require high school students to plant a certain number of trees before they can graduate. She agreed, and she and I drafted an agreement for Olanchito's secretary of education to sign which requires every graduating senior plant ten trees at the watershed in order to receive their diploma.
The agreement came into effect in 2012. Graduation happened just a week or so before the Christmas holidays, so for the first couple of weeks of December I was regularly taking students up to the watershed, up until the day before graduation. Then on graduation day I had a break. The very next day a group of students showed up at my office with their parents; their principal refused to give them their diplomas, so they had finally gotten the message we were serious! Altogether the program's a great success—in 2012 almost 400 students participated in the reforestation effort, and several of those young people told me that they were interested in pursuing environmental science degrees. A couple of them have even come back to volunteer, and learn more about the watershed.
It's people like Carlos who make EcoLogic's projects such a success at the local level, by tailoring solutions to the needs and the possibilities of a given place and its people. This is one of the ways we expect to realize our vision of a future where rural communities lead in the creation of a sustainable world for both people and nature.
Thanks to support from the Swiss Re ReSource Award for sustainable watershed management, and Intercultural Productions, a socially motivated video and multimedia production company, EcoLogic has created this five-minute documentary about the history of our work in northern Honduras, and our collaboration with our local partner, the Association of Water Committees of the Southern Sector of Pico Bonito National Park (AJAASSPIB).
In 2011, our Communities Organizing for Watersheds project was awarded second place in the annual ReSource award competition as an exceptional program that "raises awareness of the ecological, social, and economic significance of water sources and watersheds in developing and emerging countries."
EcoLogic and our local implementing partner, the Pico Bonito Southern Sector Water Council Association (AJAASSPIB), have continued to make great strides in promoting the conservation and reforestation of watersheds. Recently, we have moved forward with our environmental awareness campaign in the city of Olanchito and surrounding in an effort titled “Operación Stiker,” (Sticker Operation, in English). The effort is primarily led by students from the Regional University of the Aguán Valley. This group is committed to spread the word about protecting the watershed by passing out stickers to other students and community members. During the group’s first meeting they designed a logo and created 2,000 tri-folds expressing the importance of protecting the Uchapa-Pimienta subwatershed. So far we have printed 3,500 stickers, 500 pamphlets, 50 tee shirts, and 50 hats with the Uchapa-Pimienta campaign logo. These materials help engage local people in the stewardship of water resources.
Our work with AJAASSPIB demonstrates the willingness of local communities to become a part of conservation efforts. We have seen that conservation and restoration of forested microwatersheds - where communities rally around water sources and the forests that sustain them - is an effective catalyst for engaging local people and providing access to water. This approach of working at the most local of scales ensures that participating communities develop a sense of ownership vital to successful, long-term conservation. We look forward to disseminating the rest of the materials and continuing our work with the communities of Olanchito.
In rural Honduras, EcoLogic works with an Association of Water Committees (AJAASSPIB) to develop and implement practical plans to care for watersheds. Using a holistic approach that goes beyond pipes and infrastructure, we are taking into account the role of the ecosystem—the health of the land directly impacts its ability to drain and collect water. This includes reforesting degraded areas crucial for reducing erosion and regulating water flow.
With that in mind, EcoLogic has established an environmental fund with six AJAASSPIB member-communities to allocate a percentage of water user fees directly toward watershed protection. This ensures that community members are financing water source protection and restoration as opposed to only water infrastructure such as pipes, tanks, and faucets.
Through a series of trainings and workshops, EcoLogic has been able to establish this fund. We found the way to keep water fees down in the long-run is to create a fund that is preventative in nature – an environmental fund – which would decrease sediment and contaminants in the water and limit water shortages. These preventative measures would result in less filtration costs, less repairs due to wear and tear on pipes and faucets, and less water shortages resulting in a need to purchase expensive bottled water.
Through the community’s involvement and commitment, we are showing the world a model for protecting and restoring rural water sources in an effective, sustainable, community-led manner.
Our partner AJAASSPIB won the United Nations Equator prize recognizing their work in leading communities to conserve, restore and sustainably manage local water resources! EcoLogic nominated AJAASSPIB with confidence because of our close collaboration with the community organization. We work to promote their successes so they gain needed support. Doing so also helps get the word out about the ways the EcoLogic community is solving problems. As part of our mandate to strengthen community governance structures and leadership abilities, EcoLogic was instrumental in helping establish AJAASSPIB in 2003, and have worked with them since on activities including reforestation; the installation of fuel-efficient cooking stoves; the mapping, legal demarcation and protection of watersheds; and environmental awareness campaigns.
The goal of the Equator prize of the United Nations Development Programme is to “recognize and advance local sustainable development solutions for people, nature and resilient communities.” AJAASSPIB was one of 25 organizations world-wide selected to win from the more than 800 nominations received. AJAASSPIB will receive $5,000 for program activities and an AJAASSPIB former President, Zumilda Duarte, will travel to the Rio +20 conference in June. At Rio, Zumilda will participate in special trainings, workshops and networking events sponsored by the Equator Initiative.
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