800 Fuel-Efficient Stoves for Guatemala

by EcoLogic Development Fund
Fernando Recancoj stopping for a snapshot
Fernando Recancoj stopping for a snapshot

In EcoLogic’s regional office in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala (known locally as Xela, a homage to its indigenous name Xelaju), EcoLogic Communications Officer, Riley Hunter, sat down with Fernando Recancoj, long-time EcoLogic Field Technician for our Totonicapán project to get a better idea of what makes EcoLogic unique, why Fernando has stayed so committed to EcoLogic for 9 years, and why he is confident that EcoLogic the best place for him to create change and help rural and indigenous communities conserve their natural resources in Totonicapán.

Here’s a transcript of our talk:

Riley: Tell us how you became involved for the first time with EcoLogic and what is your role now?

Fernando: Well, the first time I came into contact with EcoLogic was through a consultation in which EcoLogic wanted to implement an irrigation system in the [reforestation] greenhouses in Totonicapán. So they spoke with me. At that point I was working, as I still do, in Totonicapán, and I offered them my services to install this system, they paid me for it, and this was the first time I had contact with EcoLogic.

Later, there was a position for a technician with EcoLogic that would be helping the 48 Cantones, and well, I heard of it and applied, and here I am after 9 years.

Riley: From your point of view, describe the most significant change you’ve achieved since your involvement with EcoLogic?

Fernando: Hahaha, good question. I think the most significant change for me is something that goes two ways — both for the communities and for me as a professional or a person who collaborates in community processes. It is the subject of empowering families and communities to address the issues related to their natural resources.

Because for me, this subject [of empowerment], when I started with EcoLogic, it wasn’t something new but it didn’t have much familiarity in conservation work. My job before was much more related to food security and agriculture, but when EcoLogic entered the scene I saw this part of natural resources, so I think it has been this change, for me as a person, knowing more and helping more with processes related to the conservation of natural resources and the interaction with people and their resources, such as the goods and services that the forest provides, like water. I think it is empowering for me and the communities to think of conservation like this, and it’s a better type of conservation.

Riley: Why is this significant to you?

Fernando: It’s significant because, I think you start making sense of the problem. I think this approach makes you more conscious of the situation and you begin acknowledging the related issues, and most importantly, more than understanding the causes of the problems, it allows you to take actions. You begin to understand from your place, from your profession, from your position, that you can start taking action. Not just stay with romantic ideas of the beauty of the forest and how beautiful the birds are, but what do we desire? You find that the people really need the forest resources and its not that they are poorly educated or something like that. It’s because it’s a human necessity. So, you have to start to deepen what you’ve learned in college and in your courses. It’s not just the theory, you have to start modifying a little bit and adapting a bit, conserving the environment is definitely a process of adaptation.

To provide a bit of context on Fernando’s work in Totonicapán, Fernando, like EcoLogic’s other field technicians, works daily in the field to implement and oversee our work on the ground, including reforestation activities, the installation of fuel-efficient woodstoves, and environmental education and mobilization. Fernando organizes EcoLogic community volunteers, prepares scientific reports, collects data, observes and monitors field work, facilitates educational and training workshops, and many other project related tasks. Without Fernando and EcoLogic’s team of field technicians, our work would not be possible.

The bases of mitigating climate change are: to reduce or eliminate practices that generate greenhouse gases (GHGs) and increase the global temperature of the planet, and to increase reserves of carbon storage so that they are not released into the atmosphere.

In the meantime, adaptation consists of all the actions that individual, group and business must take to adjust to the new conditions of extreme cold or heat, prolonged droughts, intense frost or hail storms, etc. The goal is to no longer see these extreme weather patterns as threats that can cause harm, but to learn to manage them and live with them.

"Both mitigation and adaptation must go hand in hand," said Jonathan Schwars of the United States Agency for International Development's Low Emission Development Project at the Second National Congress on Climate Change held in the city of Quetzaltenango, another department of the Western Altiplano of Guatemala and also being affected by climate change.

In order to know where to mitigate and how to adapt, the threats must first be defined, said engineer Rolando Gómez of FUNDAECO. It’s also imperative that municipal mayors prioritize the conservation of green areas in the urban center, restoration of fragmented areas, and harvesting of rainwater. He added, "The more natural resources are taken into account in mitigation and adaptation strategies, the more environmental services will be provided to the population."

According to Marta Pérez de Madrid, Climate Change Officer of the International Union for Climate Change (IUCN) for Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean, "municipalities have to be involved from the outset in the processes of adaptation to climate change", because adapting is "making decisions and fostering the solutions that nature gives us and raise the profile of ecosystems as a response to climate change," she explained at a virtual seminar for journalists on Ecosystem-Based Adaptation.

In the 48 cantons of Totonicapán, Guatemala, local leaders are actively involved in the implementation of projects that benefit their communities, including mitigation and adaptation to climate change. They are well organized in five different boards of directors and for one year they carry out community work in favor of their municipality and without payment.

Many people in the rural areas of the 48 cantons of Totonicapán live in poverty and use firewood as the main source of energy in their homes. One of the ways to contribute to the preservation of the natural resources of the community, to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and to help improve their living conditions is by using a fuel-efficient stove that reduces consumption of firewood and helps to prevent respiratory diseases, because the kitchens are not filled with smoke.

Together, Ecologic and the Board of Natural Resources of the Ancestral Community Organization of the 48 cantons select the families that receive a fuel-efficient stove.

In order for the beneficiary families to value and take care of their fuel-efficient stove, they must make a contribution consisting of 2 sacks of sand, 20 blocks and 2 sacks of mud, as well as pay for the labor of the assistant mason who builds the stove.

They also commit to participate in reforestation days, environmental awareness talks, and “healthy home” workshops. In a “healthy home” workshop, through demonstrative and experiential methodologies, they are taught from the correct handling of food, to the use, hygiene and maintenance of their new conserving stove.

EcoLogic provides the cement, the bricks, the tubes for the chimney, and the iron where the food will be heated. EcoLogic technicians make regular visits to the homes to evaluate the use and care of each stove. This is they verify that the model constructed in each home is the most appropriate and accepted by the people in the communities.

Follow this link to read Lucy's full story and see a video of Dora, from the canton of Chiyax, who thanks to the help and solidarity of her neighbors managed to obtain a house and a fuel-efficient stove: 

Links:

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.

Chris interviewing 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.

Daillen global Giving

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.

ArtCorps workshop participants
ArtCorps workshop participants

EcoLogic is always looking for ways to expand our toolbox of practices and techniques that inspire the active participation of rural communities is conservation. And we’re also always looking for ways to connect our partners to the skills and expertise of other groups that can add value to our collective work. There are a few aspects to EcoLogic's stove program in Totonicapan that you may not know about - like our partnership with ArtCorps! EcoLogic’s relationship with ArtCorps is a perfect example of both of these efforts. This past month, EcoLogic and ArtCorps combined forces once again to conduct a hands-on workshop with teachers in Totonicapán, Guatemala. A key component of our initiative in Totonicapán is working with our local partner, the Association of Communal Mayors of the 48 Cantones, to preserve indigenous Maya K’iche’ knowledge and beliefs around forest protection—beliefs which have enabled the K’iche’ communities of Totonicapán to effectively protect over 50,000 acres of forest for the past 800 years—and making sure that that knowledge passes down to younger generations. To achieve this, we use several techniques, including leveraging the expertise of ArtCorps!

ArtsCorps is a non-profit arts education organization dedicated to developing creative habits of mind in young people. EcoLogic and ArtCorps are old friends, having worked together in both Honduras and Guatemala. In 2012, we jointly released a children’s book of stories and pictures related to environmental stewardship created by indigenous children of Totonicapán. This time around, ArtCorps held a three-day workshop to train teachers in arts-based methods for building leadership, transferring knowledge, and inspiring creative action for positive behavior change related to environmental protection. ArtCorps, in collaboration with EcoLogic and our local partner, agreed to train teachers from 18 different primary and middle schools in the region. Teachers are a critical population to equip: they have a captive, eager audience in the classroom; they can influence a large number of students; and they can utilize the techniques for years to come.

Once teachers are trained by ArtCorps, EcoLogic assists them in identifying how to apply those skills so that children understand and become inspired to maintain their unique cultural heritage which is so tightly linked to nature and its protection.

After a series of ice-breakers and creative introductions, a key activity of the workshop was to collectively design a giant tree that represents their community. The roots represent people’s dependency on nature. The trunk represents the current state of natural resources and their threats and challenges. The branches represent the skills, knowledge, and talents that community members have. And the leaves represent ideas for how to apply those skills and talents in ways that address the identified challenges. As EcoLogic’s Regional Program Director, Gabriela González, expressed “the tree model was an incredibly effective way for the teachers to reflect upon and analyze issues and solutions.” And this model can be replicated in the classroom quite easily because it is so interactive, creative, and colorful.

Many of the teachers approached EcoLogic staff after the workshop—freshly inspired and humming with ideas—and shared their interest in expanding our reforestation program in Totonicapán. Over the past 8 years, EcoLogic and the 48 Cantones have organized and trained community members to reforest over 500,000 trees! But there is certainly more that can be done. It was great to hear the interest and drive amongst the teachers. They also urged us to replicate the workshop in other communities in the area because so many more schools would benefit from the tools they gained. Moving forward, we are particularly excited to see the teachers apply their new skills in the classroom, and to see what kind of new solutions and recommendations the students come up with as well!

Community-based trainings such are these comprise one element of our integrated approach for protecting the communal forest of Totonicapán. In addition to our work preserving and transmitting traditional K’iche’ knowledge and beliefs related to forest stewardship, we are also working with community members to reforest areas that are essential for water provision (over the past 8 years, EcoLogic and the 48 Cantones have organized and trained community members to reforest over 500,000 trees!), installing fuel-efficient wood stoves in communities in order to decrease pressure on the forest (195 stoves were installed in Totonicapán in 2015), and working with our partner and local authorities to curb illegal logging that takes place in the forest.

hree workshop participants getting creative
hree workshop participants getting creative
Josefina (right) and her fuel-efficient stove
Josefina (right) and her fuel-efficient stove

Dear Global Giving supporter,

After working at EcoLogic for a year and a half, I finally had the opportunity to visit Guatemala during an all-staff retreat in January. I’ve heard and retold the stories of so many of our fuel-efficient stove beneficiaries — but I had never seen one of EcoLogic’s stoves in real life! Because of this, I was so excited to meet Josefina on my visit to Plan Grande Quehueche, Guatemala. Josefina received her stove three years ago, and she loves it. This model keeps her family safer from burns, and she said she can cook more food on the stove at once due to the larger surface are. She recalls how smoke from her old stove used to fill the house, and is thankful that this stove is more hygienic. 

“We don’t have to take our kids to the clinic as often because of burns or because they are sick from the smoke.” When you live in a remote village like Plan Grande Quehueche, a trip to the doctor’s is not a simple journey. In Josefina’s home, an issue has been how to place a chimney in the thatched roof house (the traditional building style in this remote village) — you can’t put it through the roof without creating a risk of fire. But EcoLogic técnico Daniel Herrera developed a solution to this. You can position the chimney so that smoke exits the house through a reinforced hole in the thatched roof, which is much safer and healthier than allowing the smoke stay low in the home where people are breathing.

Fuel-efficient stoves require much less wood. Josefina’s family is using less than half the wood they used to, meaning they don’t have to carry as much, or go collect it as often — just a few pieces burn all day long. Hearing how happy Josefina is with her stove made me think of how happy all of you would be to hear that your support is creating a safer home for thousands of families like Josefina’s and reducing the impact of cooking on the nearby forests. Please give today so EcoLogic can reach our goal of working with 800 more families to install fuel-efficient stoves, for their health and the health of the forests.

Best Regards,

Alexa

 

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Organization Information

EcoLogic Development Fund

Location: Cambridge, MA - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.ecologic.org
Project Leader:
Alexa Piacenza
Program Associate
Cambridge, MA United States

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