the poultry project

Mary Helen + Soroti Capacity Building Workshop

May 30th, 2011

Mary Helen is the Soroti chairperson for the Poultry Project. She lives with 4 of her 6 children and 3 grandchildren in a two-room, tattered-roof mud hut in front of Soroti rock. She refers to her home as “temporary housing,” but she’s been there since 2003. The Lords Resistance Army (LRA) invaded her village (and several neighboring villages) and launched a campaign of mass lootings, killings and child abductions. Over 250,000 people fled their homes to escape the violence and pillage. She dreams of resettling soon, but resettlement requires money to rebuild.

Shortly after she left the Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camp, she settled in Soroti town.  Her husband is deceased and she’s been on her own for almost ten years. Mary Helen is a certified midwife and has attended to hundreds of births. She fell ill and when she went to the clinic she found out she was HIV+. Then she lost her job because of her HIV positive status. Mary Helen is pushing forward and hopes to reenter the medical workforce someday. She’s already begun doing odd jobs at the TASO Soroti center in the pharmacy and clinic. In the meantime, she has several children to feed, cloth, shelter and educate and she is determined to make her poultry business grow and succeed.

After the Soroti Poultry Project Training Workhshop last week, the team realized that the Soroti might need an extra push to get their project going. The TASO Soroti Project Officer, Paul, and Peter worked together to organize an intimate workshop for five of the participants facilitated by one of the Poultry Project’s most successful farmers, Steven, because he speaks Ateso and is eager to share his knowledge. The Poultry Project build team would construct Mary Helen’s chicken coop while Steven led a participatory workshop with Mary Helen and the five other participants.

Steven and the Soroti farmers gathered under a jambula (Syzygium cuminii) tree and shared their poultry farming experiences, challenges and goals. Steven is an enthusiastic, engaging educator. He put the Soroti farmers at ease and encouraged them to be open and active in the discussion. After they discussed poultry management, Steven gave them another overview of the savings match program and showed them how to maintain and clean the chicken coop. He reminded them that although we want to see the families acquire larger livestock (cows, goats, pigs), it is essential that they always maintain a flock of at least 5 chickens. He answered questions and told them how he grew his 5 chickens to a flock of over 60. He told them that he has been able to pay school fees for eight children with his poultry business profits. He told them that they can do it too.

The build went smoothly (I think Joe, David and John could build a coop blind-folded) and the drive back to Mbale was uneventful. Kevin got some quality one-on-one time with Robert, one of the project beneficiaries, and had a chance to give him a thorough introduction to professional photography (strobe lights, tripods, composition, light meters and all). We left Soroti feeling so proud and energized about having one of our original farmers train new participants. The Poultry Project is truly changing lives.

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Wanale Ridge

May 28th, 2011

Uganda is known as the Pearl of Africa. Travelers usually head to the western, southwestern and northern regions of the country to spot mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, see elephants in Queen Elizabeth National Park and go on safari in Kidepo. We’ve been to Uganda a few times, but our work has kept us focused on Mbale and the surrounding areas (no time or money to go on a big African safari). The Brandt Uganda Travel Guide describes Mbale as a town to pass through, not stay in. It dismisses the eastern region like US travel guides dismiss Ohio (our home state), but we disagree. Mbale is paradise. From any point in the city you can see Wanale Ridge, part of the Mount Elgon range. Wanale is dotted with tiny thatched-roof homes and terraced gardens. Men and women run down the steep mountain paths with jerry cans of water and cooking oil, bananas, and other heavy bundles perfectly balanced on their heads. Children climb trees and play football with their homemade soccer balls. Farmers cultivate every inch of the arable land, the soil is so rich. Wanale Ridge is such a grounding force in Mbale, especially when you’re in town, amidst the hustle and bustle of urban life.

Last Sunday, we had some free time and decided to walk up Wanale. It certainly wasn’t a gorilla trek and we didn’t see any giraffes or cute tree monkeys, but we did witness some of the most beautiful views and landscape we’ve ever seen. Banyan trees, wild flowers, granite and limestone rocks, lush banana and coffee plantations, cows and goats grazing on land that seemed to be on top of the world–we didn’t need to go on safari to see Uganda’s bounty, beauty and might.

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May 26th, 2011

Proper nutrition is a critical component of care in people living with HIV/AIDS.  In partnership with USAID, TASO implemented a therapeutic feeding program to support malnourished child clients.  Each Tuesday and Thursday the clients gather in the children’s clinic and patiently wait to be seen by their counselors and physicians.  While waiting, a nutrition technician gathers anthropometric measures suchs height, weight and mid arm circumference.  These measures determine which children receive the high energy, fortified feeding packs called “Plumpy-Nut”.    The supplement is basically 3/4 cup of peanut butter with added milk powder, sugar, soybean oil, and vitamins & minerals.  Some children are prescribed up to five per day depending on their status.

In the past, all children who presented with moderate to severe malnutrition were given the supplements.  However, a recent cut-back in funding has made the cut-off more stringent and TASO can only provide supplements to those who are categorized as “severly malnourished.”

One of our newly added participants receives the nutrition services at TASO.  His name is Akoth – we met him at the Tororo workshop, he sat in the front row with his older sister.  At first glance, I thought he was around 8 or 9 years old.  His eyes are large, glassy and black, with a focused stare that seemed to look right through me.  His shoulders were narrow and the sleeves of his tee shirt fell past the elbow, hiding his bony forearms.  His chest would slowly rise with each inhale; labored breathing was apparent.  He would place his hands on his somewhat misshapen head to either stay awake or fight back the pain of a headache.  He seemed uncomfortable, so I quickly asked the counselor if there was anything we could do for the little boy.  She shared with me that this small child was hungry, he didn’t feel well and he in fact, was not a child, but 17 years old.  This was the first time that I’d seen such marked effects of undernutrition.  Akoth is HIV positive, has stunted growth and is severely anemic.

Childhood stunting is a reduced growth rate caused by malnutrition in early childhood or malnutrition during fetal development due to a malnourished mother.  Stunting and its effects are permanent.  Children who experience this nutrition-related disorder, in most cases, do not regain the height and weight lost as a result.  Overtime, the child will be faced with physical conditions that result in premature death because vital organs never fully develop.  Children born with HIV are at a higher risk for stunted growth because of their increased nutrient needs and compromised immune systems.

While TASO provides the therapeutic feeding program, it’s never enough for some children.  Due to extreme poverty, chronic illness and inadequate healthcare, some children will never get a chance at a normal childhood.

This post, and blog in general, is not a call for action from our readers.  Rather, an opportunity for the reader to imagine the reality as it exists here in Uganda and much of the developing world.

Akoth, 17

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May 25th, 2011

It’s hard to forget a girl like Shamim. Full of charisma, spirit, soul and cheer, her presence cannot be ignored. She is the star of TASO Mbale and, as we learned today, her village. It was the first time Emily and I had the chance to spend a whole day with our friend Shamim. While Joe, Kevin, David and Eric built the coop, we went exploring the village with Shamim. She took us up a steep, red-dirt road to her school, to her teacher’s house, to meet her friends and elders, to the clothing market and to meet her friend the tailor (she repurposed an abandoned truck cabin into a sewing studio). Everyone seemed to know Shamim and she greeted each acquaintance, relative and classmate with a handshake and smile. Every old man was introduced as her grandfather, adult women-auntie, and the old women were grandmothers. We walked back to her house to avoid the rain and spent the rest of the afternoon lounging under the trees on papyrus mats. Shamim speaks perfect English now, making it easy for us to communicate with her (ideally, we would speak her language, Lugisu). Back at the house, she shows us her recent school reports and they don’t match up with her obvious intellect. She’s been struggling at school lately because of sickness and the subsequent absences. And when she is at school, hunger, fatigue and ARV side effects affect her concentration. She kept telling us she was hungry, so we went back to the market and got her lunch and some bananas. When we returned to the house, she gave all the elders her food and left only a small portion for herself. This really bothered us, as we know that she needs every bite of protein, fat, and carbs she can get.

As we were loading up the car to leave, she pulled me and Emily aside for a confidential chat.  She gazed toward the ground and her smile faded as she told us her caregivers don’t love her and treat her poorly.  We didn’t have much time to gather more information before one of the elders came over and Shamim quickly changed the subject.  We have requested that a counselor speak with Shamim and her grandmother to figure out the whole situation and hopefully prevent any abuse, should that be the case.  It could also be that the caregivers are favoring the other children over Shamin, because of her HIV status.  It’s very common, for  the positive child to be treated differently, whether it be with access to school, food rations or the amount of housework given.  It’s really frustrating to not be able to solve all of Shamim’s problems right now. To make sure that she has the childhood she deserves. The Poultry Project is not going to bring Shamim’s parents back or take away her illness, but it will help her and her family make some money and it has the potential to flourish into a thriving business. Shamim’s family purchased a cow with profits from their poultry business and her enrollment at school, from P1 through P4 has been a direct result of the project. We are hopeful that the TASO counseling team will be able to identify and resolve the current issues the family is facing. Before we left, we hugged Shamim and told her that we love her and that everything will be okay-I hope we can keep our promise.

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Soroti Workshop + Build + Material Drop-off

May 24th, 2011

Last week, we held a training workshop for 10 new Poultry Project families in Soroti, a town west of Mbale. The 100 kilometer drive down Kumi Road was dotted with potholes and a speed bump every 25 meters.  Along the way we were able to take in the lush scenery including Lake Aoja, wide expanses of greenery where livestock grazed and rice paddies flourishing in the moist soils.  The Soroti TASO branch opened in 2005 and has already taken on a client load of 6,000.

Our team included Nova, Dr. Sakwa, Kevin, and me; Joe and Kelly were busy dropping off materials to the homes and building a coop. TASO Mbale counselor Nova works with the Therapuetic Feeding program for malnourished child clients.  Dr. Sakwa has been working with the Poultry Project since 2008 as our program Veterinarian.  He is 29 years old and graduated from Makere University, Uganda’s largest and most prestigious school.  He is always eager to join the team at workshops and never fails to deliver informative and detailed information to our participants on how to best keep their chickens.  When we arrived in Soroti we were given a warm welcome from Patrick, the TASO Soroti manager and long-time friend of Kelly.  He delivered a welcoming speech to new participants including stories of success from Mbale participants to increase interest in the project the children would soon be a part of.  While we snacked on warm chapati’s and freshly brewed black tea, we listened to the 3 hour lesson on proper chicken rearing.  Dr. Sakwa explained proper nutrition for the birds, how to mix feeds, the vaccination process, hygeine, housing and breeding. He said to the participants, “It’s not just me giving you my knowledge. You have knowledge about poultry too and I want to know about your experiences. We share knowledge.”

Just like the workshop in Tororo, the participants selected a chairperson. Mary Hellen Akol spoke throughout the workshop and when the time came to express interest in the chairperson role, her hand shot up and she enthusiastically volunteered for the position. Mary Hellen lives near the prominent, granite Soroti rock formation on the outskirts of town with her daughter, Cecilia Amunyir (Poultry Project beneficiary) and 5 younger children. The drop-off team told me that despite the heavy rain and messy mud, Mary Hellen and her children helped unload every piece of wood, mesh and papyrus for the coop. Her home is a small mud hut with a makeshift roof made of plastic tarps, tires, rice bags, grass and whatever else she can put there to keep the rains from coming in. Mary Hellen has kept chickens before, but disease and mismanagement affected her ability to ever make a significant profit from selling eggs. She told Dr. Sakwa that she learned a lot at the training and she is feeling confident about her ability to grow her 5 birds into a successful poultry business. The workshop ended with an overview from TASO counselors, discussing the next workshop time/date, distribution of bicycles and portraits by Kevin. The Soroti workshop didn’t run as smoothly as Tororo, but we are working with Peter to provide a little extra capacity building to ensure that the Soroti Poultry Project farmers have the support and resources they need to be successful.

While Kelly and Joe dropped off materials to 10 homes and Kevin and I facilitated the workshop, Emily A. worked with the build team (David, Eric and John) to build a coop for Poultry Project beneficiary, Vincent. Usually, the first coop build takes place at the chairperson’s home, but since Soroti is so far away and a chairperson hadn’t been selected it made sense to build a coop at a randomly selected home. Vincent is 14.  He lost his father to AIDS and now lives with his mother who is HIV+ and 6 siblings.  After his father passed, the family began to struggle paying for basic needs.  Borrowing and stealing in order to obtain enough food became a regular means of survival.  Stable housing is a luxury of the past.  Being a resourceful teen, Vincent began doing manual labor for a neighbor to earn extra money.  The neighbor later arranged for Vincent’s family to move into their home.  Although the home is safe, Vincent’s family worries about the future, should  the well-wisher decide the family of 8 should leave. It is our hope, that participation in the Poultry Project will help Vincent and his family earn enough income to become self-sufficient and not have to struggle to eat, go to school and pay medical fees. And maybe, they’ll make enough money to build their own home.

Kelly, Joe and TASO Soroti Project Manager Paul delivered coop materials to 10 homes. With one home nearly 60km from town and a late start, the drop-off took nearly 12 hours. Joe unloaded materials for 5 families in the rain (Kelly helped with a few, but she focused on meeting with the families and staying dry). Meanwhile, Emily A. and the build team waited at Vincent’s house for the truck. They finished building the coop around 6pm, but didn’t get picked up until 9pm. The family kept insisting that they spend the night and declining their generous hospitality proved uncomfortable for the build team, especially Emily A. She maintained her usual optimism and assured the family that the truck would be their soon to get them.  Emily and Kevin, back in Mbale  by 7pm, waited patiently for the team, unsure of their whereabouts or if they’d make it back that night.

It was a long day, but we all know why we are here. We look at the families we’re working with and we are inspired and motivated by their courage, strength, endurance, and hope.

Cecilia in front of her home near Soroti rock.

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Building Tracy’s Coop

May 23rd, 2011

I take a mostly passive role in the coop building. I sit on the sidelines and watch as the build team turns papyrus sheets, wire mesh and tons of wood poles into a gorgeous, sturdy chicken house. On Wednesday, they built Tracy’s coop with the help of Ambrose Milton. TASO Tororo counselor, Debra, recommended Milton for the job. Milton is in Senior VI and TASO helps pay his school fees. A year ago, Milton’s mother left an abusive relationship, disappearing into the night, and nobody knows where she is or what happened to her. Milton’s father was never around and he has no siblings. He stays at the hostel attached to his school free of charge because they understand his unique situation and are willing to help. Milton will work with the build team to construct the other 9 coops in Tororo. This opportunity will help Milton gain new skills and earn income to help pay for his Senior exams. Milton plans to go to university and he is hopeful that he will see his mother again.

Emily Axtman (Emily A.), David, Eric, Joe and Milton built Tracy’s coop in 4 hours, working nonstop. Kevin put down the camera several times to help build. Emily and I cut the binding wire (it’s become our coop task). Tracy’s home is near a freight train and an amazing granite rock formation that sits in the center of Tororo. As with most coop builds, the neighborhood children flock to the scene to check out the muzungus and watch the build. Initially, we occupied the children with some colored pencils and legal pad paper. I drew a silly picture of a tree, bird and two monkeys. With only 12 pencils and over 24 children, sharing had to happen. One of the boys suggested that 2 people share one pencil. The arrangement worked well and the children began drawing under the nearby mango tree. One by one they ran home to gather their own pencils and pens, so within minutes they each had something to draw with.  We walked over to see what they were drawing and they all were drawing a rendering of the picture I drew. It was amazing.

But the drawing activity soon lost its luster and they were back at the build site observing the process, eager to get involved. Emily A. took note of their curiosity and patiently instructed them in binding the wire mesh to the wooden frame with wire. The children listened and watched intently and began twisting the binding wire tightly and cutting the ends with the pliers.They were so proud about their contribution to the coop. I’m so glad Emily A. took the opportunity to engage them in the process and teach them a few building tricks. Satisfied with their building foray, the children returned to the drawing after Emily A. sharpened their pencils with her pocket knife.

It’s really amazing to see the group work together, engaging the community and family in the building process. Tracy went to fetch sand for the cement mixture and Sharon borrowed a hoe from the neighbor to mix the cement. Joe, Milton, David and Eric used pangas to dig the holes for securing the coop in the ground. Dirt was added to some of the holes to make the coop level. David worked on the bird ramp while Joe and Milton nailed wooden poles to the tin roof. Kevin and Eric put the papyrus sheets on the coop panels. Eventually, the coop came together and the team showed Tracy how to use it, clean it and repair it. Another coop built, over 25 to go. Fortunately, after Joe and Emily A. leave, the team they’ve trained-David, Eric, John, and Milton- will build the remaining coops together and earn money while they do it. As Emily A.’s t-shirt says, “Design. Build. Transform.”

[Photos 2,7,8,11,12 by Kevin Kopanski.]

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Tracy, Sharon and Winnie

May 22nd, 2011

Sisters since birth, best friends forever – kind of cheesy, but so true. My aunt Mary bought us a print with that saying and I can’t get it out of my head. Last Wednesday, we met some sisters with an impenetrable bond. Tracy lives in a peri-urban neighborhood in Tororo. Her father died several years ago from AIDS-related illness and her HIV+ mother has been living in the village with the grandparents, too ill to care for herself or her children. Tracy (age 19) took on the role of mother and father to her sisters Winnie (17) and Sharon (11) a few years ago. Although Tracy is the oldest and the primary caretaker, it’s evident that they take care of each other.

I have two sisters and I consider them my best friends. But we are not orphans. I still have a hard time trying to truly understand the challenges these children face when they lose one or both parents. The simple thought of losing a parent paralyzes me, and I’m thirty years old. As a mother, I think about my daughter and I’m so grateful that I have the health and resources to care for her. Tracy is one of the top students in her Senior IV class. She aspires to be a doctor but, aware of her responsibility to care for her sisters, she is considering becoming a teacher because it will be less expensive and allow her to enter the workforce sooner. Tracy’s counselor and the rest of the Tororo Poultry Project participants recognize her sharp intellect, reliability and strong work ethic–the group of farmers unanimously selected her as the Tororo chairperson.

We spent the day with Tracy and really got to know her. As the chairperson, her coop would be built first. While the build team cut poles with pangas and constructed a chicken coop, my sister Emily and I shared stories, challenges and dreams with Tracy. She showed us her school books and report cards. She told us about her friends at school and in the neighborhood. We walked to the market together and helped her gather food for supper. It’s spring holiday, so most Ugandan children are off school until the end of May. Tracy confided in us about the rocky relationship between her mother and her sisters. Her youngest sister is HIV+ and she struggles with seeing her mother ill and bed-ridden. She fears the progression of the disease and tries so hard to adhere to her treatment regimen.

Tracy ensures that her sister has food to eat, transportation to TASO appointments, and a durable mosquito net. It’s not easy for Tracy to keep up the house, her sisters’ health and wellbeing, and her schoolwork. Tracy tells us about the challenges and is hopeful that the poultry business will help make ends meet. She smiles often, but you can see the pain and struggle in her eyes. She rarely gets the chance to enjoy her teen years. I don’t know how she does it. She is one of the strongest women I have ever encountered.

Being with my sister Emily while spending the day with Tracy and her sisters made me feel so lucky and grateful. When I came to Uganda for the first time back in 2006, Emily took a sincere interest in HIV/AIDS work and started helping right away. She helped me start the Poultry Project and began working in HIV/AIDS in the US. Theresa, our other sister, is equally committed to the Poultry Project and has mobilized her high school friends to get involved with fundraising and HIV/AIDS awareness.

I watch how Tracy interacts with her sisters and, although my heart aches for her because her parents aren’t around, I am reminded that they have each other.

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Hard Work

May 21st, 2011

He woke up with the roosters around 6:30am, got dressed and headed to the hardware store, lumber yard and car park on a boda-boda to order and purchase the chicken coop materials. He’s in a different country and doesn’t speak the language, so this isn’t an easy task. But he’s been negotiating and dealing with the panga-swinging lumber jacks, tin roof salesmen and truck drivers for weeks and has the process down to a science. By 8am, the truck is loaded with hundreds of logs, binding wire, dozens of papyrus  sheets, 4x4s and huge rolls of wire mesh. After picking up the build team and a TASO counselor, they set out on the 1.5+ hour drive to Soroti to deliver coop building materials to 10 families. Despite the unanticipated detours to the TASO Soroti center and a trip to town to purchase bicycles (a task delegated to someone else), he kept his cool and loaded the bicycles onto the truck with a smile.

Sitting atop the wooden poles in the back of the truck under the hot, African sun, he waved to each villager along the bumpy, crater-spotted country road. The storm clouds started looming around 6pm and there were still 5 homes to visit. In the cold rain, he handed each wooden pole and role of wire mesh to the families with a smile and patience. He graciously unloaded the rest of the materials to the last family at 9pm with mud everywhere, no light, and rain pouring down. And during the 2+ hour drive back to Mbale, he stayed in the bed of the truck, crouched under a flimsy tarp so that one of the builders, Eric, could sit in the truck cabin.

This nonstop, dedicated work began months ago, at his desk in New York, NY. He worked out an arrangement with his firm to scale back his hours (and salary) in order to commit more time to the Poultry Project. He spear-headed the nonprofit status filing for the organization, mobilized the US and Uganda Poultry Project teams, developed detailed budget and record keeping tools, organized a detailed schedule and workplan for the Expansion + Coop Design/Build Initiatives, set up weekly conference calls with the Uganda project manager, and created an assessment survey and measuring system for participant selection (he did other administrative and programming tasks, but there’s too much to mention). In his down time, he raised money to fund to the May intiatives.

He arrived in Uganda only three weeks ago. In this short time, he’s already overseen 30 home visits, 3 training workshops, acquisition and distribution of coop building materials and bicycles to over 50 families, and 7 coop builds. He wakes up early and goes to bed late. He works all day long and rarely breaks. He does this work with love. He shows the Poultry Project participants that with hard work and determination, anything is possible.

Joseph Pavlick’s compassion, rock-solid work ethic and commitment to improving the lives of AIDS-affected children has made the Poultry Project what it is today. We are  grateful to have him on the team.

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Tororo New Participant Workshop

May 19th, 2011

Over the past several months, the Poultry Project team has been planning an expansion of the project to other TASO branches. TASO counselors from the Mbale, Tororo and Soroti branches identified the most needy AIDS-affected children and visited them at their homes to conduct a baseline assessment survey. A total of thirty children (ten from each TASO branch mentioned) were selected to become new Poultry Project participants.

Tororo, a midsize town southeast of Mbale, lies near the Kenya border. Today, we traveled to TASO Tororo to meet the new participants and conduct their first training workshop. After an encouraging introduction from one of TASO Tororo’s doctors, the project veterinarian, Dr. Sakwa, led the children and their guardians in a participatory workshop on poultry management. Feeding, housing, hygiene, disease control, and breeding were the main topics. Eunice, a TASO Tororo counselor, spoke with the participants about record keeping and savings, dealing with fears and challenges related to the business, chair person selection and a general overview of the goals of the project. Eunice said to the participants, “We are helping you start. Then you walk. Then you run. On your own. Then we clap.” Some of the children’s grandparents sprung from their seats, quickly followed by the rest of the participants and the TASO counselors, and they sang and danced a traditional Ugandan song. Two girls gave another performance (you could see that they’ve been practicing their moves) with two songs- one of welcome, the other gratitude.

While we were at the workshop, Joe and Peter and Debra (another TASO Tororo counselor) delivered coop materials to all of the Tororo participants’ homes.

The new participants selected their chairperson, Tracy, and set their next meeting for May 31. They left the workshop with their new bikes and a commitment to their projects. Eunice reminded the group that the child  (the TASO client that has lost one or both of their parents) is the reason why we are here. She said, “Whatever you do, first ask yourself, how is this benefiting the child?”

[Photographs by Kevin Kopanski ]

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Steven, the Master Farmer

May 18th, 2011

One of the original Poultry Project beneficiaries, Akido Betty, lives with her uncle Steven. He became the guardian of Betty and her siblings after their parents died from AIDS-related illness. Steven has children of his own, so supporting another family means growing and buying more food, building extra shelter, providing emotional support, and paying school fees.

Since he started the project in 2006, Steven has grown the initial 4 hens and 1 cock to a flock of over 60 chickens, 2 cows and several goats. He continues to amaze us with his entrepreneurial prowess and poultry-keeping expertise. With the sale of eggs and chicks, Steven keeps all of his children in school. Betty will graduate high school this year and attend university next fall, which would not be possible without her uncle’s commitment to his poultry business.

Not only is he a super-dad, Steven is eager to help other Poultry Project farmers by sharing his knowledge and expertise. Watching him build his coop today was awesome. He proudly placed some of his birds in the finished coop and couldn’t stop smiling. He already has plans to build another coop for his large flock (the coop holds about 15 birds comfortably).

[ Photographs by Kevin Kopanski - our volunteer photographer extraordinaire!]

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Poultry Project Evaluation

May 16th, 2011

In the Spring of 2010, students from George Washington University conducted a detailed project evaluation.  The results, below, helped us identify various areas of improvement, including the need for improved poultry shelter.

The team is heading to Bukedea today for the fourth chicken coop build workshop.  Check back for updates later today!

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Coop Build Workshop #3

May 15th, 2011

On Friday we returned to Sironko for our third coop build at Eric Wanafwa’s house.  Eric and his mother Sophie were added to the Poultry Project in 2006; they are both HIV+.  Since 2006, Sophie has taken her project and allowed it to flourish with her keen business sense and inspiring work ethic.  She is a mother, chicken farmer, a seamstress, and she recently acquired a cow and land to start growing coffee.  When we arrived she proudly walked us through a lush field of banana trees, sweet potatoes, papaya trees and beans to show us her first land purchase.   Standing with Sophie on land that she purchased with earnings from the Poultry Project reaffirmed the work we do here is valuable and life changing.  I stood with Sophie, feeling proud of her success and humbled by her strength.  As we walked around her land, the sunlight broke through the thick canopy of greenery and shined down on Sophie.

Sophie and her mother on her land.

Sophie and Eric's cow.

We then headed back to the house and got to work on the coop.  We were making great time when a huge storm rolled in.  The Poultry Project team pulled together and whipped up a chicken house in 4 hours.    Sophie and Eric gathered their chickens and placed them in their new home.

About twenty children from the neighborhood happily watched construction. They stayed the entire time.

Monsoon-like rainfall put the team on hold and made for a muddy construction site.

The team persevered and created a lovely coop for Sophie and Eric.

Placing the birds in their new home. On to the next!

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Coop Material Drop-off

May 15th, 2011

The past couple of days have been very busy – we’ve been driving to isolated villages, visiting families, buying and delivering materials, building coops and digging our rental car out of mud pits (Ugandan roads).  The 14 participants who received materials over the past three days were from Sironko, Bukedea and Budaka districts.  We also held our third chicken coop on-site build workshop at Eric Wanafwa’s home in Sironko.  During the next two weeks will begin our expansion in the Tororo and Soroti regions, adding 20 participants altogether.

Mbale lumber yard -- our first stop on delivery days.

The yard is always buzzing with customers, men at work, roosters, hungry goats, a few dogs and a solo Mzungu (white person) looking for a deal on wooden planks.

After 9 1/2  hours spent driving over crater filled roads, hauling wooden poles & planks, multiple mosquito bites and nothing more to eat than a protein bar a piece – we found ourselves less than 20 minutes from home and stuck in a swampy field.  For the next 2 1/2 hours we worked together to get the truck back on the road.  No one freaked out, everyone remained calm.  This is why I love Uganda, the peopleare so kind and peaceful.  When we were dropped Martha,  a TASO counselor, off at her house she shook my hand and said, “thank you for sharing this struggle with me.

“To struggle is to strengthen my faith, my hope and my belief in humanity.”
-Valentino Achek Deng

Our rental truck - driver included.

Stuck in a ditch.

Dropping off materials at Faith's home.


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Coop Build Workshop #2

May 12th, 2011

The Poultry Project held the second on-site build workshop at Mutonyi Sandra’s home. Sandra lives in Nabumali, in Bungokho County, in Mbale district.  The twelve year old girl lost both parents to AIDS, and along with her six siblings, lives with her aunt, uncle and their 3 children; there are 12 people in the household. When we first added Sandra in 2008, the family was in a very dire situation. There was little food for the children to eat and they had a small number of livestock. Today we saw firsthand the impact a few resources and training can have on an entire family of 12. We learned the bicycle provided to Sandra is used as a boda boda (taxi service) and earns the family 5,000 Ugandan shillings per week. With this additional income, they have been able to begin saving. With their earnings from the boda boda, they have purchased a cow that is now pregnant, one goat and their original 5 chickens have multiplied to 15. In addition to their livestock, they grow mangoes, papaya, passion fruit, jack fruit, maize and coffee.

Sandra and her siblings enjoying the sunshine and new soccer ball.

Sandra and her family in front of their new coop!

During rainy season in Uganda, many farmers tie their free range chickens with rope to prevent the chickens from wandering around and ruining the crops. Tying the birds is often stressful and painful on the animal and results in low productivity.

Having a chicken coop will give the chickens an opportunity to walk around, without destroying the crops. It will also reduce the chance of theft, loss to predators and protect the chickens from poor weather conditions. Before the team left, he quickly gathered up a few birds and placed them inside their new home.

While the team was working on the chicken coop, I taught the children how to use my camera.  Here are some photos I found later in the evening when I uploaded my pictures…


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Coop Build Workshop #1

May 10th, 2011

This month we will conduct 6 on-sight chicken coop building workshops in Mbale, Sironko, Kumi, Soroti and Tororo.  During the last few days we have been acquiring materials for the workshops in Mbale (the Mbale district will have two workshops because it has the most participants).  Each participant is provided with: 40 wooden poles, 4 sheets of timber, 30 meters of wire mesh, nails (3 different types), binding wire, a padlock & latch, rope, 3 bunches of papyrus, 5 hinges, and 1 bag of cement.  The materials are delivered by the Poultry Project team to each household prior to the on-sight build workshops, which are held at the district chairperson’s home.   During the workshop, how-to manuals and verbal instructions are provided in the local language.  All attendees are encouraged to participate in building the coop in order to gain a better understanding of the design and construction, before they begin their own.

Loading up the truck with Papyrus. This reedlike plant is native to Africa and grows up to 15 feet tall in the wetlands. Its uses range from making cloth, mats, sandals, sails and now -- chicken coops.

Acquiring sheets of timber at the lumber yard.

The wooden poles we had cut into 17, 16, 7 and 4 feet pieces. Each child received 40 poles to construct their coops.

Using a panga for custom-sized wooden poles. So much better than Lowe's!

Delivering the materials! We went to five homes and when darkness set in, we relied on Peter's cellphone to help us sort the materials. No streetlights in Mbale...


Today’s workshop was held at the late Angura James household.  It seemed fitting that we would begin at the home where the Poultry Project began in 2006.  Kelly met James and his older brother Charles 5 years ago at TASO.  Angura James was under the care of his five older brothers after losing both parents to AIDS.  James was also HIV+.  After meeting James and his family, Kelly was determined to help the children.  She gathered funds from friends and family members (probably many of you reading this very post) and began construction on a new, safe house for the six orphaned boys.  Shortly thereafter, the Poultry Project was born in an attempt to help children in situations similar to that of James.

Photo taken June 8, 2007. Back from left: Robert, Joseph, Charles. Front from left: Rubin, Charles (yes, there are two), James.

After a short reunion with Charles and his siblings, we immediately got to work.  Everyone was engaged, listening, participating, hammering, cutting, Panga-ing, and working towards the same goal.  After days of doubting the willingness and ability of our participants to get involved in the workshops, we felt silly when, within minutes of laying out the wooden poles, we had to literally hold Ugandan men, women and children back from nailing everything to everything and completing some version of our coop design within minutes.

We were worried that they would not have the right tools (hammer, pliers, wire cutters, saw, shovel etc.)…they found it silly that we use so many tools when the panga can do pretty much everything, and they proved it.

We were convinced that they would not understand or follow our English-style measurements…they found it rigid and elementary that we did not use a mix of English and metric units in our daily lives, like they do.

We went back and forth for weeks as to whether nails or rope should be used to bind the coop joints since we assumed they did not have much experience with nails…they laughed at how long it took us to hammer a nail into a piece of wood compared to them.

We thought that our how-to guide would be too confusing for them to read and understand…nearly all of them added notes, the guide being a little too simplistic for them.

Finally, we were worried that we wouldn’t have enough man power to build the coop in one day…they added a village of helpers to our team and built the coop in nearly 3 hours (it took us 3 days to build the model).

Chicken coop materials arranged in neat piles.

Let the building begin! Everyone was intent on learning how to build the coop and eager to get to work.


Homemade cement -- just add water! It was needed to secure the coop into the land.

Four of the brothers in front of the coop.


All in all it was a wonderful day – participants and team members alike learned something new.  As the team began to clean up and pack the truck, I asked James’s brother Rubin if he’d walk me over to pay a visit to James.  We quietly headed down the dirt path, gathering a few wild flowers along the way.  When we arrived at the headstones, the child pointed out where his mother, father, and little brother lay to rest.  I placed the tiny bushel of flowers on each flat of cement. As I hid my tearing eyes behind my sunglasses, Rubin looked over the great expanse of green pasture towards the mountains.  He then turned to me and smiled.

Standing with Rubin, I wondered if he saw his reflection in the immense rock that stood in a distance.  It has weathered many storms and harsh conditions, yet it remains still, strong and beautiful.

Rest in peace Angura James, 2001 – 2007.  And thank you to all our donors – without your support we wouldn’t have the privilege of helping such extraordinary families.

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Mbale Training Workshop for New Farmers/Coop Design*Build

May 9th, 2011

Our first week in Uganda has come to an end. We are all very proud of the work we’ve accomplished in such a short period. We have selected 10 new participants, distributed bicycles to 7 children, constructed the chicken coop model that will be used as the demonstration model at building workshops and completed two trainings for new participants and chairpersons. (The chairpersons are participants who have shown they’re capable of maintaining successful, small-holder poultry businesses. They are given the additional responsibility of managing the other participants who live in their division – we have 5 divisions in Mbale.)

The chicken coop the night before the workshop -- looking good!

The chicken coop was made using local materials and tools. The Panga, or machete, is was used to chop the poles which frame the coop. The panga is a multi-purpose tool, though. It’s used to cut fruits like bananas and coconut, mowing the lawn, trimming bushes, chopping wood and protection.


Joe has mad panga skills - obviously.

The selfless TASO clients, Eric and David, offered us hours of their time and building expertise. We couldn't have finished without their help.

Once the red roof was securely fastened, Emily A. put the final touch on the coop - the Poultry Project symbol made from a cardboard stencil. Love it!

At the new participant workshop, each of the chairpersons spoke about their personal stories and how the poultry project has impacted their lives. It was really beautiful to hear this project is indeed making a difference. Two stories that stood out are from a single mother who raises her HIV+, 7-year old son and a 55 year old uncle who cares for 12 children of deceased siblings. Sophie, with her original 5 chickens, was able to use the eggs to provide nutrition to her son, open a savings account, purchase a cow with savings and eventually purchase land where she has started a coffee farm. Steven has grown his chicken fleet to 62 and added goats and cows. The livestock, especially the cows, are valuable assets here in Mbale. In general, subsistence farmers in Uganda lack modernized farming equipment and must use manual labor or the assistance of bulls to plow their land. Having a cow opens up many opportunities for farmers such as increasing their farm output and renting out of their plowing services. Steven’s Poultry Project earnings have enabled him to send all 12 children to school. Success!

The beautiful Sophie!

Master farmer, Steven, after sharing his story with the new participants.

After the training, new participants were taken outside to check out the coop.

This upcoming week we will be holding 5 on-site building workshops in Mbale. In preparation, we will purchase materials for 5 chicken coops and deliver the packages to each chairperson’s home. During the workshop we will build the chicken coop that Emily Axtman designed. The workshops should take roughly 5-6 hours.

Also on the agenda for this week is the purchasing and delivering of coop materials to the homes of our existing participants. It was originally our plan to purchase materials for all participants (including newly added participants) so they could leave the workshop and begin construction on their coop at their homes. However, we need roughly $4,000 more to purchase materials for the newly added participants in Mbale, Tororo and Soroti. So – this week the newly added participants will simply get the instructions on how to construct the coop and until we have the cash-flow to purchase the materials, they will have to wait…

Say hello to the newly added Poultry Project participants of Mbale, Uganda:

Emily, Peter, and Joe with the 5 chairpersons, 10 new participants & their families. Both workshops were a great success and we're all looking forward to the weeks ahead in Uganda!

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Home Visits

May 6th, 2011

Peter and I went roadtrippin to check out the prices of bicycles and visit a few participants.

Our first stop was to Annet’s house.  What a lovely surprise!  It was so wonderful to see her smiling, happy and healthy.  When we met Annet in 2008, it was during a very hard time in her life.  She had many challenges; her health was poor, she wasn’t going to school, and she barely spoke.  This time around, she was beaming. As I sat on the wooden stool among Peter, Annet and her mother, I felt so grateful. What a priviledge to be here among such strong, real people.

Annet is Living with HIV.

Today we visited Nadunga Lukaya, a new participant from Mbale.  Just three years old and she has already faced more adversity than many experience in a lifetime.  Both of her parents recently passed away from AIDS related illnesses, leaving her in the care of grandmother who is in her late eighties.

When we visited Nadunga she was frightened by my white skin – she kept her eyes covered, even after being coaxed with sweets and ugandan coins.
I was the first white person she had ever seen.  At the sight of me, she screamed, cried and then held her little hands over her eyes for the entire visit.

And even though I wanted her to feel comfortable and take her hand away from her eyes, I somehow understood her fear.  This was the first HIV+ three year-old orphan I had ever met.   I too felt like closing my eyes.  Not to make her disappear, rather to avoid seeing her pain and suffering – so I could pretend everything was okay.

If only life were that easy…

It’s not always easy to face our fears, but when we do, the opportunity for true understanding and empathy arises.  Thank you Nadunga for helping me see your situation more clearly.

I know this trip will have it’s ups and downs, and we may not
improve the lives of every child we meet, but we can at least make small steps to helping our current participants get a foot on the ladder of development.
However small of an offering it may be, we will be providing Nadunga’s family with 5 chickens, vaccines for the birds, a bicycle, training from the vet and a chicken coop.

Nadunga and her family

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Expansion + Coop Design/Build: Day 1-2

May 5th, 2011

Our first day in Mbale was spent shopping for household items, eating local treats and a quick stop to marvel at the Source of the Nile.  Later in the day, we unpacked our many bags, made peace with the various insects who also call the TASO guesthouse home and returned to our single beds for a good night’s rest.  After a long journey, the work has finally begun.  The past two days have been jam packed with acquiring materials for chicken coop building and working with local craftsmen to straighten out kinks in our chicken coop model, which will be used as a demo for the participants. 

We have so much work to do and little time, but we are all hopeful in our efforts and Emily Axtman’s design.  It feels good to be back in Uganda – to be taken out of the hectic lifestyle we are all accustomed to.  Although our participants have many challenges, life in Mbale is splendid; the people are kind, the pace is gentle, and the beautiful landscape is inspiring.    We will try our hardest to update regularly, given we have internet access and our fieldwork is finished.  Please check back soon.  In the meantime, enjoy the photos…Wabale!

The Source of the Nile


A meeting of good friends on the Nile.

Mango season in Uganda! Ten mangoes purchased roadside for 1 USD.
Francis from TASO helped saw the wooden poles for the chicken coop.

Emily A. and Joe organize the wooden poles for the frame of the coop.


Making progress!


A welcomed visit from Shamin! Hugs were shared and she sang us a beautiful song in perfect English!

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Uganda bound!

May 2nd, 2011

After months of preparation, designing a model chicken coop for rural Uganda, throwing a fundraising event in Brooklyn, countless conference calls with our TASO partners and hundreds of emails, part of the Poultry Project team is en route to Uganda. Emily Pavlick, Emily Axtman, Khushbu Patel and Joe Pavlick met up at JFK last night for their 11pm flight.

After arriving in Entebbe, the team will head straight to Mbale to begin sourcing the chicken coop materials and bikes, preparing for the Coop Design/Build and Expansion workshops, and finding transportation to deliver the coop materials to hard-to-reach rural locations in Mbale, Soroti and Tororo.

Hundreds of generous donors have made the Poultry Project’s Expansion and Coop Design/Build initiatives a reality. This May, thirty new families in Mbale, Soroti and Tororo will become Poultry Project farmers. With the help of community design guru Emily Axtman, all Poultry Project farmers will receive materials and instruction to build to their own modern chicken coops.

On May 15th, I will join the team, along with photographer Kevin Kopanski. You can follow our progress here, the Poultry Project Facebook page and Emily Axtman’s blog.

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