Jun 27, 2011

Long Way 'Round

Greetings from Livingston, Guatemala. I’m out here this week visiting our project with APROSARSTUN, our partner in the region. I don’t think I’ve talked much about this project since being in Guatemala. It’s way out here on Guatemala’s Caribbean coast. This part of Guatemala is really different from the central highlands, where Xela and Totonicapán are located. The area is crazy humid, and the main mode of transportation is boat and canoe. Livingston is a somewhat popular tourist destination, but outside of the tourist center, the rural communities are very remote, very small, and quite underserved. For example, the President of APROSARSTUN is from a village of 15 families. Jose Domingo, EcoLogic’s project técnico is from a community of 35 families, and Samuel, a community promoter recently hired on the project, is from a village of 12 families. Each of these communities are accessible only by boat up small creeks, followed by some walking through the jungle. And each of these communities are part of our project. More than any other EcoLogic project I’ve seen, this one is reaching people way WAY off the beaten path. To me, it’s really cool and really inspiring.

So enough background. This week, I did so many things that each deserve their own post. Thirty-three stoves in Barra Sarstún -- a fishing village on the edge of the Sarstún River-- are being constructed. Francisco, José Domingo, Martín (President of APROSARSTUN,) and I were there to watch/help the first one get built. It was awesome watching the process from the very first brick. I’ve seen so many that are completed and always wondered what it took to build one. As a rule, stove recipients for each EcoLogic project are chosen based on their participation in the project and must help build their stove. In practice, this looks different from project to project. In Barra Sarstún, recipients are members of the Barra Sarstún Fisherfolk Committee, which is the group we work with to develop sustainable fishing practices in the region. The fishermen involved in the committee understand the need to conserve and care for the environment which provides them with their livelihoods (fish!), and are therefore excited to participate in projects which help advance conservation. The stove we watched get built was being installed in a home of a committee member, Don Fabian Vega, who was actually not around to help and got another committee member, Jose Antonio, to cover his labor for him. So Jose Antonio, who is getting his stove in a couple of days, helped our two stove gurus with the construction.

Here’s what you need to build a fuel-efficient stove: cinder blocks, bricks, cement, sand, water, clay/mud (filler in the base of the stove), shovel, machete, trowel, aluminum chimney, and about four hours. And you need to know what you’re doing which is why we hire two men that have built many of our stoves. Oh, I also met some families that really like their stoves and I got to eat some awesome flour tortillas cooked on one. This was the first time I had flour tortillas in Guatemala. They were insanely good. Oh, I also ate a delicious fried fish caught by a member of the fisherfolk committee. Pretty cool. After these 33 stoves are completed, every members of the association will have a fuel-efficient stove in their home.

SO that’s a lot and that’s just the stove. I also visited some agroforestry parcels in some other communities. Come November these parcels will have corn planted in them in rows between the guama trees. The harvest will be in February. I’m coming back down to eat me some guama-protected corn!

While here, EcoLogic also conducted a seminar on conservation and sustainable development project design at  a local school, Ak'Tenamit, which is dedicated to educating students from indigenous families. This school, with which we often collaborate, focuses on ecotourism and rural development, and their hope is that their alumni return to their respective communities to be agents of change. It was great to help facilitate the seminar and hopefully, even if very slightly, help equip these young people with some tools that they can apply in their own communities, to the benefit of their families and neighbors.

Okay, that’s all I got. And it’s starting to rain on me and I’m fairly certain this computer is not waterproof.  Hasta Pronto!

- Chris Patterson, Program Officer for EcoLogic
Chris collaborates closely with the senior program officer by writing grant proposals and project reports, investigating potential funders, and following trends in philanthropy, conservation, and international development. Chris was a fellow for the Ford Foundation's Difficult Dialogues Project and documented his time working from EcoLogic's regional office in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala from March to June, 2011. 

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