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Eugene Nonprofit Recognized At Paris Climate Conference

A woman in Senegal with an improved cookstove. Photo: CREATE!
A woman in Senegal with an improved cookstove. Photo: CREATE!

The local nonprofit Center for Renewable Energy and Appropriate Technology (CREATE!) received a Gender Just Climate Solutions Award recognition from the Women and Gender Constituency (WGC) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at the COP 21 Climate Change Conference in Paris. 

CREATE! was founded by Barry Wheeler in 2008; he’s been working with the poor and displaced in Sub-Saharan Africa for the past 30 years. Wheeler has also taught international community development, sustainable development and project planning at the UO.

Wheeler says CREATE!’s goal is to serve rural villages in developing countries to cope with global climate change in their communities. The nonprofit highlights four intersecting issues: water, food, energy conservation and income generation. But, Wheeler says, “The most important thing is water. All over Africa there’s a saying, ‘l’eau est la vie,’ water is life. And it’s true, everything depends on water.”

While the program assists with access to water through well rehabilitation, CREATE! offers to teach participants how to build more efficient stoves, using half the amount of wood they’d usually use, and couples it with a tree planting program to teach sustainability.

“The programs are truly sustainable, and don’t just pay lip service to sustainability,” Wheeler says. “Our goal is to empower our own staff, and through the implementation strategies in the villages that help the villagers become empowered.” 

The program has four staff members in Eugene, and 13 staffers in Senegal.

Wheeler says he was trying to produce a different model of philanthropy when he founded the nonprofit. Unlike many aid organizations, Wheeler says, CREATE! is designed to “educated and empower” people, which is why it hired an all-Senegalese staff.

“That’s one of the things we’re most proud of in our organization,” says Louise Ruhr, CREATE! chief operations officer, “that all of the work done in Senegal is done by Senegalese staff. Even our country director is Senegalese.” 

The active approach of CREATE! in helping its beneficiaries takes just as much, if not more work, from the beneficiaries to learn and implement what they learn, Wheeler says.

The Gender Just Solutions recognition is “aimed at making gender responsive and equitable solutions visible and central to just climate action.” The full list of those recognized for their work across the world can be found at womengenderclimate.org.

“This award provides a global recognition for what we’re doing and validation for this approach,” Wheeler says.