Update from Pine Ridge

It’s hard to believe that it has been nearly 7 years since the start of the Lakota Lands Recovery Project (LLRP). Regular reflection is a cental component to Village Earth’s praxis approach to community empowerment. In the spirit of Paulo Freire, the term praxis refers to an ongoing cycle of analysis, action, and reflection that has the power to reveal the root causes of oppression as well as the path out. The LLRP itself was launched after nearly two years of facilitating meetings across the reservation where we asked community groups about their vision for the future. By in large, this vision was about getting out of the overcrowded and deteriorating government housing projects and back onto their lands. Guided by this vision, the LLRP was formed, serving as a grassroots support organization to grassroots initiatives to recover, protect and utilize their lands on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Allied in praxis with people across the reservation we’ve learned many things about the tangled web of history, policy, bureaucracy, and trauma that Residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation and reservations across this country face on a day to day basis. This has evolved into three central pillars of our strategy; 1. Supporting Lakota’s who are already utilizing their lands, 2. Providing education and outreach on land-recovery, land-use, and 3. Advocating for the rights of Native Americans across the nation to utilize their own lands. Below I’ll try to briefly update you on the ways we are supporting each pillar.

The focus of our efforts for the first pillar has been in supporting the development of the Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative (LBCC), a cooperative we helped establish in 2008 to market and distribute grassfed and field harvested buffalo meat raised by Lakota families on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Shortly after it’s incorporation in the State of South Dakota, we helped to form a regional distributor for Northern Colorado Allied Natural Meats (ANM), Ltd. For the past two years, ANM has been buying buffalo raised by the LBCC and distributing throughout Northern Colorado which is helping to generate income for these small producers on the Reservation to cover their expenses and grow their herds. It can also be purchased online. We’ve continued our yearly donations of Buffalo in partnership with the Danylchuck Buffalo Ranch in Rye, Colorado. We’ve also been working with a private donor and the Oglala Sioux Tribe Elderly Assistance Program to distribute buffalo meat raised by the LBCC to elders across the reservation. We are happy to announce the re-organization and re-birth of the Lone Buffalo Project. It is now in the control of Henry Red Cloud and his Tiwahe. We are excited that this reorganization will breathe new life and energy into this project. Also, we are looking forward to assisting Virgil Bush to start up a new buffalo ranch on the reservation this fall. Virgil has been a long-time supporter of Buffalo reintroduction on Pine Ridge and after our recent fundraising tour in Germany and Switzerland, we are looking forward to helping him establish a herd of his own.

For the second pillar of our approach, we have recently completed a project in partnership with the Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF) to simplify the maze of bureaucracy, forms, and applications necessary for Native land-recovery and use across Indian country. This work will be appearing in a forthcoming edition of the “Message Runner,” the ILTF’s newsletter. We also continue our work answering questions and distributing information to Lakota’s interested in consolidating and utilizing their lands. In fact, we have run out of copies of our highly popular strategic land planning manual/atlas. We are currently looking for funding to update and print more copies. To read more about the three pillars of our work, please visit the Pine Ridge project blog.

VE acts as consultant to the Chicago Field Museum

Last April, Village Earth was invited by the Chicago-based Field Museum’s Environment, Culture and Conservation Division (ECCo) to facilitate a number of workshops with indigenous Shipibo and Kakataibo communities in the Peruvian Amazon. Specifically, Village Earth was asked to help organize women artisans in these communities to form artisan committees as part of the communities’ “Quality of Life Plans”.

These quality of life plans are part of ECCo’s conservation efforts to protect the Cordillera Azul National Park in the central Peruvian Amazon and its surrounding buffer zone. As a part of the conservation strategy of the buffer zone, ECCo and its local partners have developed quality of life plans with each community to maintain cultural autonomy and sustainable livelihoods in the face of intensifying pressure from extractive industries. Within these plans, each community has determined their  priorities for community well-being. Like so many of the other indigenous communities Village Earth has worked with in the Peruvian Amazon, issues like artisan cooperative development and clean water were noted as community priorities. It is hoped that alternative economic development projects like these will bring sustainable sources of  much needed income to communities and provide an alternative to the traditional extractive industries which threaten the conservation of the park and its buffer zone.

Because of Village Earth’s experience in this region of the Amazon, they were hired as consultants to facilitate the artisans women’s workshops within the communities.

The workshops were very successful in that the women analyzed their situation and came up with plans together to organize themselves. ECCo’s local partner, Peruvian NGO CIMA (Center for the Conservation, Research, and Management of Natural Areas) and the indigenous federations that represent these communities, are providing guidance and insuring that the artisan committees are continuing to receive training in business development and connection to markets.

As Village Earth has seen over the past few years, artisan cooperative development has been a successful way for women to bring more income into their families, while at the same time continuing to value their cultural traditions as expressed in their arts and crafts. So far the project has been successful due to the dedication of the CIMA extensionists and tecnicos from the indigenous federations that continue to support the committees.
For more information about our training and consulting services, please visit our website. For information about our own projects in the Peruvian Amazon, please visit our project website and blog.

New Course in Disaster Management

In response to our course participants’ interest in disaster management, we have developed a new five-week online course entitled Grassroots Participatory Disaster Management. In light of the many recent natural disasters, we feel this course will help expand our students’ expertise by understanding participatory methods of working in high-stress, disaster situations. Please visit our website to review this and other online training offerings.

Village Earth Honors Governor Bill Ritter at Third Annual Albertson Medal Gala

This year, Village Earth has chosen to honor Colorado Governor Bill Ritter with the Albertson Medal in Sustainable Development at its third annual fund raiser, the Maury Albertson Sustainability Gala.  The medal and event are named for Maury Albertson, who was co-founder of Village Earth and the Peace Corps.  Governor Ritter will receive his medal as recognition of the positive role he has played in introducing and implementing the New Energy Economy in Colorado.

“Governor Ritter has championed a new found passion for sustainability in Colorado,” said Jerry Kennell, Chairman of the Board of Village Earth.  “Through his efforts we are seeing renewable energy and its supporting infrastructure rapidly expand and thrive. Throughout the state, companies with sustainable products and services are growing at a breath-taking rate.  We owe Governor Ritter a debt of gratitude for the encouragement and support he has given to sustainable development.  We are honored that he is accepting the Albertson Medal in Sustainable Development and providing heightened visibility to Village Earth’s efforts to improve the quality of life in impoverished communities worldwide.”
The Event
The Maury Albertson Sustainability Gala is an annual dinner and dance that promotes sustainable development and features the presentation of the Albertson Medal in Sustainable Development to an individual who has demonstrated a deep commitment to encouraging sustainable development in the U.S. or abroad. It will take place on August 28, 2010 at the Colorado State University Lory Student Center Ballroom at 6:00 p.m.
The 2009 winner of the Albertson Medal in Sustainable Development was Dr. Bryan Willson, Professor at Colorado State University and Founder and Director of the Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory for his work on energy and the environment. The 2008 Gala honored Dr. Maury Albertson at his 90 birthday and awarded the first medal to Dr. Bernard Amadei, founder of Engineers Without Borders. Dr. Albertson passed away January 2009. If you are interested in attending the event, tickets for the Sustainability Gala are $75.00 per person and $600 for a table of eight. For more information or to reserve tickets, please contact Mims Harris at (970) 493-1117 or [email protected]

Maurice L. Albertson
Dr. Maurice Albertson, cofounder of Village Earth and Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering at Colorado State University (CSU), worked with Sergeant Shriver to establish the Peace Corps in 1961. Dr. Albertson continued to be a major influence in the field of international development, serving as a consultant to the World Bank, USAID, UNESCO, and other important agencies.

Distaster Mitigation Course Now Open

For sometime now, we have been receiving requests to develop new five-week online courses on the topics of disaster mitigation and renewable energy as applied at the village level. We are glad to report that this upcoming session (starting June 4th) we will now be offering “Community-Based Disaster Mitigation.” We expect high enrollment, so enroll early while space remains. Registration closes on May 28th. Please visit our IISD training website to review other online training offerings.

In-Person Trainings for Engineers Without Borders and Others

In an effort to fulfill our mandated role of educating others on the Village Earth Approach to sustainable community-based development, we have recently conducted numerous trainings with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) chapters from around the country. The two-day, in-person courses focus on a number of areas essential to the successful implementation of projects. 

In order to create successful projects, we must ask ourselves, “What is it about a project that makes it successful and sustainable? What structural, social, or even psychological barriers inhibit or prevent individuals and groups from getting involved and working together for change?” In this training we focus on a model for how EWB chapters can fit into the overall process of community change, focusing on the relationship between local partner organizations, EWB Chapter organizations and communities. We explore the concept of appropriate technology as both the “hard” physical technologies, but also the “soft” social-organizational technology that ensures equitable distribution and long-term sustainability. This training draws on the theories and methods of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, whose work has guided some of the most successful development and education programs around the globe, including the Orangi Pilot Project in Bangladesh, the NAAM movement in Burkina Faso and the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka, among others.

These courses have been very well-received thus far. One student told us, “To put it mildly, this course has changed the way I view myself in the world. I have no doubt that it will affect how I conduct myself as a member of a team and as a leader. I am especially interested to see how it affects my interactions with my existing social groups of work, family, school and friends.”

So far, UC Santa Barbara, University of Illionois Champaign-Urbana, Rutgers University, EWB Northeast Regional Chapters, Colorado Springs Professional EWB Chapter, Princeton, Hope College, University of Michigan and the Colorado State University EWB Chapter have participated in our specialized training. If you are interested in scheduling an EWB training or a specialized training for your group, please contact us by replying to this email.

Project Spotlight: Empowering Youth in Cambodia



Cambodia has experienced a long history of political instability, including one of the most destructive regimes of the 20th century.

The Khmer Rouge took power in 1974. Educated people were the targets of this regime that tortured and

murdered more than 2 million Cambodians during its 4-year Maoist revolution. By the end of the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge had completely destroyed the educational system in Cambodia.

In 1979, Vietnam overthrew the Khmer Rouge, but guerilla warfare continued. In 1991, the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia sought to rid the country of the last of the Khmer Rouge holdouts and usher in democracy and foreign investment.

Despite recent economic and political strides, Cambodia faces significant challenges that may impede

development. Problems such as extreme poverty, poor education, corruption, and human rights abuses continue to plague the country and its people.

The urban poor are undoubtedly some of the worst affected, as they struggle to feed and educate their families. Many are forced to survive with sporadic and informal employment, and youth have few opportunities for a better future.

The Project

Empowering Youth in Cambodia (EYC) believes that Cambodia’s greatest assets are its young people, as 50% of the population is under 22 years of age. By educating young Cambodians from poor communities, with an emphasis on creating young leaders, EYC feels change is possible.

EYC currently operates three schools in slum communities in Phnom Penh, with a total of around 350

students. Students learn English, computer skills, leadership, sports, health, and other life skills.  Medical care is offered to the wider community as resources allow, with the priority going to students and children.

Many graduates of EYC’s Aziza and Lakeside schools are now employed as teachers at EYC’s Youth School.  Other graduates have gone on to university, with seven 1st year scholarships given this year alone. EYC has also provided job placements for more than 20 students.

Looking Ahead

EYC recently hired a Community Organizer to assist in the organization’s efforts to engage people throughout the communities in which they work.  EYC is also working with youth who have an interest in community organizing and leadership. The hope is to create a team of organizers to help communities with a willingness to partner.

EYC recently created a family planning team, and has had great success in the first phase. The plan is to develop an outreach team that would work with larger NGOs to offer much-needed family services in the community.

Unfortunately, each of the three slum communities where EYC operates is facing potential or certain eviction, and therefore the loss of EYC schools and students. If and when this happens, EYC will assess the situation, and the possibility of relocating to wherever the community is placed.

Much work remains to be done to combat the endemic development problems in Cambodia, but Empowering Youth in Cambodia is providing hope and inspiration that a better future is possible. The support of programs and organizations like EYC is absolutely crucial if we hope to stem the tide of poverty and human rights abuses in Cambodia.

New Course on Community-Based Food Systems

The cultivation, preparation, distribution, and consumption of food are rich processes that shape how we organize ourselves socially, economically, and politically. Control over food systems at the community level is central to self-determination and sustainability. In this seminar, students will learn about various approaches to building community-based food systems and movements for food justice around the world. This seminar will evaluate successful efforts at food system relocalization and the protection of community food resources, as well as the factors that threaten these efforts. With a special consideration for the needs of indigenous, marginalized, low-income, and migrant communities, students will develop a conceptual toolkit and set of resources that will allow them to assess the limitations and possibilities of their own community’s food system. This course will help to support community-based food systems efforts by creating linkages between students, information and resources. It will be taught by Teresa Mares, who is currently a doctoral candidate in Anthropology at the University of Washington. To participate in this course, enroll now.