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.