In the coastal towns of Punta Alegre and Puerto Lara in the Gulf of San Miguel, Panama, EcoLogic recently held a community workshop on: "Why and How to Plant Trees." The workshop highlighted the benefits of reforestation especially the reforestation of watersheds. Workshops like this allow communities to learn the process and rationale behind reforesting, and reinforce their interest in participating in the project. Through education and learning exchanges, the communities of San Miguel are learning how to preserve their watershed and improve their own well being. Our work in Panama is just another way we are connecting the dots between the health of the planet and its people.
The relationship between forest conservation and water provision is central to EcoLogic’s work in this region, as it is positioned at the very intersection of environmental conservation and meeting people’s needs. Workshops that engage people in the technical know-how as well as the real-life application of reforestation provide the communities with long-term solutions and reliable access to clean water.
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 San Mateo Ixtatan a community served by our Cuchamatanes project, EcoLogic and its local partner, the Association of the Northern Frontier (MFN), have pioneered a new component to our forest guardian training program: a woman-centric series of workshops to promote environmental awareness and resource conservation. Many of the people we work with in this area are Chuj, a Maya people who have lived in Northern Guatemala and Mexico for thousands of years, and who have, against formidable odds, retained their language and aspects of their traditional culture. The Chuj were reduced to poverty by the taking of their communal lands by Spanish colonial authorities of the 17th and 18th centuries, and they were also deeply and adversely affected by the 36-year Guatemalan civil war, during which time the military government perceived them as "internal enemies." While Chuj women have historically participated in society on nearly equal footing with men, these days many Chuj women are confined to the home, have limited access to community services including healthcare and education, and speak limited if any Spanish; many are illiterate.
Our workshops focus on educating husbands with their wives about the importance of women gaining an undertanding of conservation activities -- after all it is the women who literally feed the firest at home-- and we work to gradually acclimate both men and women to women gaining autonomy to collaborate together to have a meaningful impact on resource management. Many women who attend our workshops go on to join recently formed women-only groups that meet to participate in reforestation and land maintenance activities.
The three women pictured here, Maria Lucas Jacinto, Isabela Alonzo Martín, and Micaela Alonzo Pérez (left to right), meet with 8-10 other women three to five times a month, to visit the forest location pictured as well as other sites, to collect trash, clear paths, create fire breaks, and thin the trees selectively to encourage the growth of those remaining while obtaining modest amounts of firewood. Isabela, a nineteen year old bilingual Chuj woman who is currently attending university, is a school teacher as well as the San Mateo Ixtatan's coordinator of the newly created "office of the woman." Isabela, collaborates regularly with EcoLogic Field Technician Gyovany Diaz, and the two are working hard to identify and develop activities and workshops that will strengthen the role of Chuj women in social, political and environmental decisions and activities. Says Gyovany, "EcoLogic's workshops and educational programs have many benefits including boosting women's self-esteem and participation in civil society. This has advantages because it helps women take a more active role in daily activities and decisions which directly helps to protect natural resources and the environment in and around San Mateo Ixtatán. I hope EcoLogic and our partner MFN, continue to develop and support these women's groups, because they act with a passion and resolute commitment to protect the trees, water and animals of this area. Their success can only succeed in making matters better for everyone here in San Mateo."