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Interview with Carrie Hessler-Radelet, Project Concern International

In 15 countries across Asia, Africa, and the Americas, Project Concern International (PCI) is dedicated to helping vulnerable communities lift themselves out of poverty — and thrive for years to come. And as a 2019 Rick Steves Climate Smart Commitment grant recipient, they're working to help people in the developing world adapt to the impacts of climate change and curb their contributions to it.

We asked Carrie Hessler-Radelet, president and CEO of Project Concern International, to tell us more about the work her organization is doing with support from our Climate Smart Commitment.

What is PCI's mission?

PCI is a global development organization that drives innovation from the ground up to enhance health, end hunger, overcome hardship, and advance women and girls — resulting in meaningful and measurable change in people's lives.

Why is addressing climate change important to PCI?

The negative impacts of climate change are most deeply felt among the poor in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Women in rural communities are especially vulnerable to the increased risks and burdens brought on by climate change, such as crop failure, lack of water, unpredictable weather patterns, and natural disasters. In order to achieve our mission, we must address these challenges with community-led, sustainable solutions that give families the tools to live with health, independence, and dignity.

PCI's scope includes helping communities in Guatemala. Can you tell us more about that work and how it relates to climate change?

PCI's work under the Rick Steves Climate Smart Commitment will begin in the dry Western highlands of Guatemala, in a region called Huehuetenango. There, families face devastating droughts and food shortages brought about by climate change. PCI will support community-led approaches that provide new sources of nutritious food and safe, sustainable cooking methods so families can live healthy lives now and into the future.

Our work in Guatemala also centers on community members, especially women and girls, as partners, not just as beneficiaries. Under our Climate Smart Commitment program, we will connect families with safe, efficient cookstoves to replace dangerous, environmentally damaging open fires as well as climate-smart gardens that conserve water and provide nutritious food.

How will the Climate Smart Commitment grant impact PCI's work in Guatemala?

Women in Huehuetenango feed their families by preparing food over traditional open fires. This cooking method puts them at risk of serious health problems from smoke inhalation to eye damage. It also requires large amounts of firewood, which causes destruction of the local environment and is a significant contributor to global climate change through deforestation.

Yet, there is a proven solution. Clean, efficient cookstoves dramatically reduce health risks to women and their children and lower CO2 emissions by 50 percent or more. Investing in a single stove can save enough carbon to offset up to 10 round-trip flights between the US and Europe.

With the support of the Climate Smart Commitment grant, PCI's program will empower local women entrepreneurs to launch the promotion, supply, and maintenance of new stoves. These women leaders will engage in environmentally sustainable, health-promoting business opportunities and help their communities thrive for generations to come. The whole community will benefit from new trainings on forest conservation and sustainable firewood sources, as well as water-saving gardens that will be new sources of healthy, local food. Key indicators of our success will include the number of trees planted and the number of families adopting safe, fuel-efficient cookstoves. Along the way, we will incorporate feedback from the local community to continually improve and strengthen our program.

What can the average person do to help?

I believe deeply that every single person can make a difference, wherever they are. It may feel like just a drop in the bucket, but raindrops become rivers and rivers flow into the sea. We all have a role to play, and a great first step is to visit our website to see a whole range of options, from volunteering your time to contributing directly to one of our communities or programs. PCI works all over the world to make meaningful change in people's lives, but that change would not be possible without our supporters, from Rick Steves to you!

Carrie Hessler-Radelet is the President and CEO of Project Concern International (PCI). She is passionate about empowering communities to discover their own sustainable, innovative solutions to poverty.