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.
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.
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).
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.