Mario Ardany de Leon is a straightforward, no-nonsense kind of man—a particularly good quality for EcoLogic’s Guatemala Program Officer to have, as every day he is overseeing projects that aim to solve some of the region’s most pressing issues. Unsurprisingly, he is a great source of information for project updates, stories, and explanations about what EcoLogic does and why.
As Mario leaned forward with his head bowed toward his computer in order to hear our voices more clearly through the often-wavering Skype connection, which serves as the easiest method of communication between the field and EcoLogic’s Cambridge office, we took advantage of the clear line and cut to the chase. We asked if Mario had any significant stories from the field related to the recent visit of our friends from Global Giving in Totonicapán—the site of the EcoLogic Forest of the Water Spirit project. Global Giving is an online giving platform that has promoted EcoLogic’s work for years, so it was an excellent opportunity for them to see the impacts that they’ve helped EcoLogic attain on the ground!
Perhaps Mario’s candid and venerable demeanor comes from his 15 years of experience working with small scale farmers in Guatemala, or it could be due to his direct knowledge of the issues that rural communities in the area face, as Mr. Mario Ardany de León himself is native to Totonicapán—a place where The Association of Communal Mayors of the 48 Cantones, our local partner, practice a unique relationship with nature and those who enter their forest. These villages view their communal forest as the provider of water, and therefore life, which is an ancestral belief that has been in place for over 800 years. So perhaps more appropriately, Mr. Mario Ardany’s clarity and directness when discussing such issues, is a reflection of this time-honored perspective.
As we sat in the Cambridge office, we found ourselves gazing through the computer screen at the sunwashed bitter-orange and salty-teal hues of the crackled paint on the rafters and support beams inside of Buga Mama Restaurant—a favorite meeting place of EcoLogic staff in Livingston, Guatemala, due to its internet capabilities. It is also in close proximity to the boat launches in Amatique Bay, which lead upriver to project sites. Mario, who had just traveled cross-country from the highland, western department of Totonicapán to the humid, eastern coastal town of Livingston, to check in on EcoLogic’s projects, dabbed his forehead with a handkerchief and began to tell us a significant story of success.
This is the story of Lety.
(Scroll around the interactive map to explore the areas we mention in the story!)
As any good storyteller would, Mario began Lety’s tale with a phrase meant to draw us into what he was about to tell us, and with soft tropical music in the background along with faint, melodic clinks and scrapes of kitchen activity in the waterfront restaurant, we felt like we were just across the table from Mario.
Technology like Skype is quite a marvel for our staff. Even though we use it daily, we are continually grateful that we are able to immediately connect with field staff while countries apart—we often feel like we are right there
“Now, pay close attention,” Mario declared. Once our attention was properly focused, he began his story:
We took our friend from Global Giving, Daillen Culver, along with representatives from the Natural Resources Committee of the 48 Cantones, to visit some of the communities we are working with to build fuel-efficient stoves—and there we encountered a family that told us of an experience they recently had. They said that a single mother in the community wanted a stove, but had no house in which to construct it. She had been living with various family members and would cook for her children on an open pit fire outside. The same community organized and helped to construct walls of adobe and mud. They brought wood planks, corrugated steel sheets, and between all of them they were able to construct a small living place for her. She didn’t have her own place so she wasn’t able to have a clean stove, but the community pulled together so she could have the benefits of the stove. Afterward, they checked on her to see how she was doing—how she felt with her new stove and her own place to live; to see if her new conditions had transformed her family environment. Seeing and wanting a clean stove led her to receiving her own place to live. It’s nothing too big, but this is a story of success for us.
As we exclaimed our amazement from the office, we were so happy that Daillen was able to learn about this marvelous story firsthand. Daillen was warmly welcomed by the community, as Mario and a community representative guided her on a trek through the countryside to see the work that EcoLogic is doing in Totonicapán—and during this trek is where she first heard the story of Lety.
Photo courtesy of Global Giving
Lety’s desire for a fuel-efficient stove was likely inspired by seeing the benefits of fuel-efficient stoves in the community where she lives. In Totonicapán and other project areas, EcoLogic promotes and facilitates the use of fuel-efficient stoves in communities that are inspired to lessen the impact that their reliance on wood has on the forests surrounding them.
As wood is a primary fuel source for cooking and heating in these areas, the depletion of trees is an obvious cause for concern. The fuel-efficient wood stoves that EcoLogic helps introduce and install significantly reduce the impact that the use of fuelwood has on the community’s standing forests, as they improve combustion efficiency. This reduces the need for community members like Lety to cut and collect fuelwood. Additionally, these stoves are significantly safer for families and children in particular, as the venting of smoke alleviates the concern of stagnant smoke in the home—which has been known to cause respiratory illnesses.
These benefits are what Lety wanted for her family, and—having experienced these benefits themselves—the community was inspired to join together, pool the resources they could spare, and build Lety a new home with a fuel-efficient stove.
Though the story of Lety is only the story of one family and one community coming together and embracing change. This is an incredible testament of success for Mario and the for rest of us at EcoLogic. It reaffirms that what we are doing in Totonicapán is truly working for communities and shows that the relationships we strengthen can engender unexpected ripple effects that positively impact people’s lives and the environment.
If this story isn’t a strong indicator of empowerment, we’re not sure what is.