The New Haven/Leon Sister City Project is a progressive, bi-national, grassroots organization which seeks to promote social justice in the communities of Greater New Haven and Leon, Nicaragua.

Founded in 1984, the Project helps lead a movement of sister-city relationships between Nicaraguan cities and North American and European cities that arose in the 1980’s. The vision of NHLSCP was to create healthy ties between US and Nicaraguan citizens at a time when “the government of the US was engaged in an illegal war against Nicaragua,” said project leaders.

“The organization has been around since 1984,” explained Director Chris Schweitzer. “Up until 1998 we were doing most our work in the city of Leon. After hurricane Mitch the government there asked us and another nonprofit organization to help some rural communities recover from hurricane Mitch. So around the year 2000 we started working in rural communities to help people recover from that hurricane. That hurricane was also stronger because of climate change – 1998 was one of the hottest years on record. Much of our work in Nicaragua the past 15 years has been helping another community recover from climate change. So when we looked at the people in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria we said what can we do to help.”

In New Haven, the focus additionally is to respond to climate change and promote Forum Theater. The New Haven Leon Sister City (NHLSCP) organizes education, women’s rights, leadership development, public health and climate change projects. These efforts, rooted in local leadership, strive to address root causes of poverty and injustice and depend on individual donations and volunteer energy to grow.

“There are two different projects,” Schweitzer said. “One we started this summer called Elm Energy Efficiency Project (a resource for tenants and landlords) is an ongoing effort to get more renters and landlords to do more work on energy efficiency in their apartments. We are doing outreach to explain that even though you’re renting, you can still do a lot to be more energy efficient. We are concerned about climate change.”

Due to concerns of hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico, “This second project is a Solar Solidarity Project (SSP),” said Schweitzer. “It is meant to connect people who are willing to work to become more energy efficient until Earth Day (4.22.18) and redirect their savings to pay for solar panel installations in Puerto Rico.”

Schweitzer said, “People can look at information on our website to see how they can help by making sure they unplug their cable box and their television, for example, and save $80 per year and then they can turn their thermostat down a degree or two and can save another bit of money and can switch their light bulbs to LED and save another bit of money and let’s say they’ve saved $150 on the energy bill which can be redirected to Puerto Rico by either pledging to do that or they can make a donation right away.”

The SSP is in turn working with the Resilient Power Puerto Rico initiative to provide clean renewable energy to citizens of Puerto Rico, lowering their dependence on a power grid. The project, funded by New Haven area residents committed to lowering their energy usage (and bills) and redirecting their savings to solar installations, can help make a difference in climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. It is estimated households who join the energy efficiency initiative will save approximately $300 each year.

When asked of a future goal and creating the same initiative in additional devastated areas Schweitzer said, “it’s an interesting model isn’t it to combine energy savings and people get excited about helping people while being more energy efficient, it’s kind of like free money, it’s not coming out of your pocket but out of savings.”

The NHLSCP has achieved daily youth participation in improved education and nutrition programs, educating women about youth violence and actively working for change as well as omitting twenty tons of greenhouse gases which have been decreased through installation of efficient cook stoves.

“We have an office in New Haven that does climate change work and we organize delegations to go visit Nicaragua and send out interns in Nicaragua, but most of our work in Nicaragua is run by three full time Nicaraguan staff members who run rural education programs, preschools, after school programs, a domestic violence prevention program, and also run public health programs like a clean cook program. They work year round.”

New Haven-based Intern Arnnaz Khwaja explained, “When the hurricanes hit Puerto Rico, we were working on other projects which include landlords and tenants and energy efficiency but thought wouldn’t it be cool if people could use energy savings from their households similar to the project we are working on in New Haven, to help those in Nicaragua, while helping with climate change to have a better environment?”

“We are also trying to get schools involved, and have students take the lead, so they can learn about climate change and take responsibility in their households. It’s a great way for the younger generation to think about the environmental impact they make and to become aware of the ever-pressing issue of climate change.”

“Climate change is urgent,” said Schweitzer. “There’s lots of great stuff to do to make our homes and communities a lot healthier. We really do waste a lot of energy and that waste is having an impact on the environment. Anything we can do to pay more attention to that would be great.” Visit www.elmenergyproject.org for more information and to donate.