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First Impressions: Pride, Gratitude, and Harmony

by Alexa Piacenza, Program Officer for Individual Giving

During my year and a half working at EcoLogic, I have been consistently inspired by stories of our work. Seeing updates on our progress never gets old, and I’ve always been excited to hear more. That being said, I was curious… I had never traveled anywhere in Mesoamerica and though I could imagine it, it was hard to fully grasp the day-to-day impact of our work. As much as I’ve always cared for the well-being of the communities we work with, I didn’t truly know who they were. Looking at pictures and videos of fuel-efficient stove models and maps of reforestation helped, but couldn’t fully satisfy my curiosity. It would be an understatement to say that I was eager to experience the real thing.

EcoLogic’s 2016 all-staff retreat was my first chance to see our work in real life, not to mention to meet so many of our colleagues who work in the field! The feeling of unity that developed with our field staff that had come from all around Mesoamerica for this retreat was overwhelming. People that had been corresponding with each other via Skype and email for months (or for a few of us, even years) had the chance to meet in person for the first time. We created strong bonds over the volcanic eruption-induced detour we experienced (yes, a volcanic eruption really did shut down the Guatemala City airport while we were mid-flight), a surprisingly competitive staff fútbol tournament, the beauty of Amatique Bay, and, of course, our collective passion for conservation.

quehueche welcome

A ceremony during which EcoLogic was welcomed to Plan Grande Quehueche. Two of the candles represent the entrance and exit of the sun; the other two represent the entrance and exit of air (Photo Credit: Chris Patterson).

I was struck by the warm welcome we received in the communities we visited, and how excited some of the community members were to meet us and share their ideas and stories. We were lucky enough to be invited into the home of Josefina and Carlos Tení, who have had their fuel-efficient stove for three years, and absolutely love it. I’ve heard and retold the stories of so many of EcoLogic stove beneficiaries—so I was thrilled to see one of these stoves in real life! They explained how it not only reduces their use of firewood, but its design keeps their family safe from burns and from smoke filling up their home.

“We don’t have to take our kids to the clinic as often because of burns or because they are sick from the smoke.”

Upon hearing this, I immediately understood the importance of these benefits. I had just experienced the journey from the city of Livingston to this remote village; it was a long, bumpy ride—not easy for a sick or wounded child.

boat grey water

Grey sky meets grey waters as a boat full of EcoLogic staff glides along the Amatique Bay to visit no-fishing zones (Photo credit: Amanda Foster)

On the third day of the retreat we took a refreshing boat ride to Belize, guided by fishermen we support. The people of Barranco, Belize gave us a special welcome to their community center, and took us out on motorboats to see the two of the eight no-fishing zones they have established with the other fishermen in the area. Prohibiting fishing in these zones allows for shrimp and other seafood to reproduce effectively so that the surrounding communities do not become depleted of the resources they need to survive, and can foster a conservation ethic. I was so touched to meet Alvin Loredo, former board member of EcoLogic’s partner SATIIM, and to hear his gratitude for EcoLogic’s work. Alvin has tried to communicate the severity of overfishing in this area to many organizations that were not able to help:

“We have tried to talk to people about our struggle. We’ve sat in offices and explained it to people. And I am so happy that EcoLogic came on board. You deserve a round of applause.”

As I heard the history of these struggles and floated past the beautiful mangrove trees in the bay, I fully understood EcoLogic’s effort to support the leaders and communities who are committed to conserving this coast, and the importance of conserving natural resources with the fisher associations of this region. When the people of Plan Grande Quehueche and Barranco expressed their thanks, I felt rejuvenated in my role on EcoLogic’s development team, and couldn’t wait to pass this feeling of gratitude to our donors and allies. When Alvin says “You deserve a round of applause,” we know that it’s not just EcoLogic Staff who are deserving, but all of you who support and root us on.

After such a remarkable trip full of moments that opened my eyes to the real-life impact of our work, I am more grateful than ever to work for EcoLogic. As we returned to Boston a few weeks ago, I dreaded readjusting to the frigid weather, but I knew that these experiences would give me the energy and motivation to relay the stories of these communities to our supporters. I learned that while many of the results of our work can be laid out in a graph or map, another important result that is less quantifiable is the relationship built on trust and harmony that EcoLogic staff has with our partners in Mesoamerica. It also opened my eyes to the fact that we all have an opportunity to protect and regenerate the natural resources that we all rely on: local actions matter, whether it be in Amatique Bay or our own back yard.

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