“We need to protect the environment because the environment is our life... If [we] don’t, I think we will be left without water.” In her recent interview with EcoLogic Kenia reflects about her personal experience as a member of a Water Committee in rural Honduras.
In the village of San Lorenzo, Kenia lives with her husband and two daughters. She describes San Lorenzo as a beautiful community of about 30 families where small-scale cattle ranching and farming are the primary livelihoods. Growing up, Kenia observed and was inspired by her parents’ strong involvement and contributions to their community. She wanted to follow in their footsteps. Now, when there is a problem, such as a water shortage or community disagreement, people call on Kenia. As a community leader, she welcomes her neighbors with open arms into her home, where she does what she can to resolve the matter.
When it comes to the community’s need for clean water, Kenia has played an active role as a member of their water committee for about 15 years, through the Association of Water Committees of the Southern Sector of Pico Bonito National Park (AJAASSPIB in Spanish), one of EcoLogic’s local partners in Honduras. Before AJAASSPIB’s involvement, Kenia says that her community struggled with a lack of organization in managing its microwatershed. Thanks to AJAASSPIB and EcoLogic’s help and educational workshops, however, Kenia’s community has seen some very positive changes. For EcoLogic, sustainably managing a microwatershed means providing resources to help communities like San Lorenzo reforest degraded land in their microwatersheds in order to reverse damaging erosion and protect the health of the area’s brooks and springs. They now have reliable access to potable water and community members have been making their payments.
They use the funds collected from water users to keep the microwatersheds in good condition. According to Kenia, the people in her community understand their water situation and when they have problems, they bring them to the committee. The committee then works with the help of AJAASSPIB to resolve them. As Kenia proudly puts it, “Everyone has been collaborating…we resolve any problem and continue moving forward. We support each other.”
The water committee and AJAASSPIB have been working hard introducing new fuel-efficient stoves in local homes. When asked if she has seen a reduction in firewood use and health improvements in her community since the introduction of these stoves, Kenia replied, “Of course! People, women in particular, are very happy and grateful...” She went on to explain how, thanks to the new stoves, there are no longer dangerous levels of smoke--that can trigger serious health problems--filling homes.
Although Kenia and her community have taken tremendous steps forward for their society and environment, there is still much work that remains. For instance, they are currently dealing with a pine beetle infestation in and around the microwatersheds that has advanced fairly quickly and is causing harm to the trees. Kenia says her community is worried and looks forward to finding a solution to this problem with the help of the national forestry institute (ICF) and local organizations.
Despite the myriad of challenges Honduras and its people continue to face, one must admire Kenia’s continuously optimistic and positive tone throughout her entire interview. With every piece of good news she shares, she quickly follows it with the exclamation: “We are so happy!” or “We are so grateful!” There is no denying the positive impact organizations like AJAASSPIB and local water committees have had not only on the environment and access to clean water, but also socially. Workshops, meetings, and community planning have helped bring communities together under the common interest of protecting their water sources, and, as Kenia would add, their source of life.
We are pleased to provide an update on the positive impact our work has had on the members of the local communities in northern Guatemala. In the beautiful words of one of our onsite technicians Elmer Urizar:
I love being able to share knowledge with people and to bring them options that they didn’t have before. I’m motivated by knowing that what I do has a real impact on the lives of members of my community. I am able to show them that there are solutions to the problems they face, and that’s the most inspiring feeling in the world.
Thanks to our committed local staff—like Elmer—and your support, over the last year we have made a significant positive difference on local livelihoods and the health of the forest.
One of the main goals of the project is to reduce deforestation in the Nentón, Pojóm, and Ixcán river watersheds and to stop the advancement of the agricultural frontier. In working towards this objective, we led five educational workshops on how to organize and sustainably manage community microwatersheds. In the Pacomal microwatershed we built 18 fuel-efficient stoves, reforested 12.35 acres of the Santo Domingo community, trained 12 promotors on small-scale sustainable farming techniques, trained additional forest guards, and implemented 1 new tree nursery. In the Cambalam microwatershed we built 17 fuel efficient stoves, reforested 9.88 acres, and established 1 new tree nursery.
Under the management of natural regeneration, reforestation, and agroforest systems, to conserve and restore 74 acres. In working towards this objective, we lead four training workshops for the 240 recipients of our stoves. We also monitored reforestation of 432.25 acres conducted in 2013-2015, to ensure tree survival. We established 12.35 acres of agroforestry systems, and about 100 acres of natural regeneration from the Yaluquel community (where work is completed by the women). Additionally, we carried out native species reforestation in 26.68 acres.
EcoLogic wants to thank you for your ongoing support as we continue to work hard for the future of the Guatemalan forest.
Don’t underestimate the impact a stove can have on a woman’s life. In rural communities in Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and Mexico, women do most, if not all, of the cooking for their families. In many homes, this means spending hours bent over an open fire, breathing in damaging smoke and carbon monoxide. Cooking over an open fire is detrimental both to women’s health and to forests. Harvesting firewood for cooking is a driver of deforestation in many rural areas in Central America and Mexico. By building fuel-efficient, clean-burning stoves in our project communities, EcoLogic helps improve the health of both families and forests. All of the stoves that we use reduce families’ fuel wood consumption about 60 to 70%, compared to traditional open-fire cooking methods. This saves women and children time and energy harvesting wood, and also reduces pressure on forests.
Stoves, however, are not one size fits all.
A family in Oaxaca, Mexico, will have different local conditions, cooking needs, and traditions than a family in Atlántida, Honduras. Some features are constant throughout most models. For example, “Throughout Central America, people like to cook tortillas, so most models we use have a tortilla griddle, or plancha,” explained Reyna Guzmán, an engineer at the Stove Certification Center at Zamorano University in Honduras. However, to make sure that a woman gets the most out of a new stove–and continues to use it for a long time—we build different models depending on the needs of communities in different regions.
EcoLogiccurrently uses six different kinds of stoves, depending on the region and community. The best way to decide which model is right for a community is, of course, to ask the women who will use them. Usually, EcoLogic field technicians use their knowledge of a given community to propose a few stove models. We bring women together to discuss the features of different stoves, and they decide which model they think would work best for them. Then, we choose a small number of families to pilot the stoves, to make sure that they work well for that community’s needs. Finally, we expand the stove program in that community, with the ultimate goal of building a fuel-efficient stove in the home of every family who needs one. After we build the stoves, we also train women to correctly use and take care of their stoves, and our field technicians regularly check in on families with new stoves to help them with the transition and to answer their questions.
Here are three of the models we use the most—
Where we use it: Guatemala
How it’s built: Plancha means “griddle,”and the name refers to the iron cooking griddle on top. The Plancha stove usually features three burners for cooking, which are made by simply cutting holes in the iron. The body of the stove is made from a mixture of clay and sand. There is a combustion chamber for fuel wood and, importantly, a chimney to let smoke escape from inside the home.
Good for cooking:The separate burners make it easy to cook pots of rice and beans at the same time. Rice and beans, or arroz y frijoles in Spanish, is a staple dish throughout Guatemala. Black beans are simmered for hours until they are tender and creamy, and then mixed with sautéed onions, peppers, and garlic and white rice. Rice and beans are often served with corn tortillas—ideally also freshly made on the Plancha stove—and fried plantains.
How it’s built: The Justa stove is built from bricks or blocks of concrete or adobe. As with all the fuel-efficeint stoves that Ecologic uses,Justa stove models feature a combustion chamber for wood, as well as a chimney for ventilation. The Justa stove is topped with one large metal griddle, or plancha, for cooking. Justa models also feature an attached shelf on the side to store food, plates, or cooking equipment. “Cats and small children can sit there, too, although that’s not what the shelf was built for…” laughed Guzmán. Many women in Honduras decorate the stoves with painted ceramic tiles at the end of construction.
“Cats and small children can sit there, too, although that’s not what the shelf was built for…” laughed Guzmán. Many women in Honduras decorate the stoves with painted ceramic tiles at the end of construction.
Good for cooking: The large griddle makes theJusta stove ideal for flipping fresh corn tortillas. For a hearty breakfast, stuff a hot tortilla with refried black beans, crumbled queso duro cheese, and the Honduran-style sour cream known as mantequilla to make baleadas. Some recipes also add fried eggs, avocado, or seasoned ground beef or pork.
Where we use it: Oaxaca, Mexico
A Patsari stove in the small community of San Bernabé, in Oaxaca, Mexico
How it’s built: the Patsari is a squat stove that is usually built from brick, but can also be constructed from concrete. It features two or three burners. One or two are smaller, which makes them good for pots of rice or beans, and the third is larger, which makes it an ideal griddle for cooking fresh corn tortillas. A small combustion chamber is located near the bottom of the stove, and like all fuel-efficient stoves, it features a chimney to keep smoke and soot out of families’ homes.
Fun fact: Patsari means “the stove that cares” in Purépecha, a language spoken by the indigenous Purépecha people from the state of Michoacán.
Good for cooking: Oaxaca is famous for its delicious cuisine, and the state is home to more than 200 known recipes for mole, a rich, complex sauce made from chili peppers and a long list of other ingredients, which sometimes includes chocolate. Because mole takes a long time to cook, it is usually saved for special occasions. Mole negro, or black mole, is slightly sweet, dark in color, and can made from toasted chili peppers, plantains, onions, tomatoes, tomatillos, cloves, cinnamon, chocolate, nuts, and more, depending on the recipe. On Día de los Muertos in November, the aromas of smoky mole negro simmering in pots on Patsari stoves perfumes the air in the village of San Bernabé, located within EcoLogic’s project site in Oaxaca.