The Poultry Project expanded its services to TASO centers in Soroti and Tororo this year, but our roots are in Mbale. We planned a party/workshop for our Mbale farmers to create an opportunity for the old and new farming families to meet, have fun and spend a little time talking about poultry farming. Lona, one of the original farmers, sang a song of appreciation to the Poultry Project. She’s a single mother with two children and she has grown her small flock of chickens into a successful business, acquiring several goats and a cow. Her oldest child, Yekosophat, is at the top of his class and their poultry business made regular school attendance possible. Several of the original farmers stood up to share their experiences, challenges and goals. The new families asked questions and relationships were formed. Peter and Joe went over the savings match program with the participants and awarded prizes for Farmers of the Year. Steven and Sophie were the 2011 winners and they each received leather-band watches–something they said they needed and loved but would never buy for themselves.
It was really amazing to be in Mbale five years after the first Poultry Project workshop, to see our friends and learn about their achievements with their poultry businesses, to be able to work with more families and to watch the children grow. But several children were missing from the party. Between 2007 and 2011, five of the original Poultry Project beneficiaries died from AIDS-related illness. Before the party, we were in Peter’s office working on some project reports and I noticed a small note and photograph laying on top of a box of tools. I recognized the photo, so I picked it up. It was a note I wrote to John Natule back in late 2007 along with a photo taken of John and his uncle (also his guardian, both his parents died from AIDS-related illness). It was a short note telling John that we’re thinking about him and we hope that he’s in school and working hard. I asked him questions about his day; what is he in to; how is the family; how’s the poultry – are they laying, is he eating the eggs, selling the eggs, etc; what does he want to be; where does he want to go.
John died in 2008 at the age of 1o or 11. TASO counselors worked hard to ease the tensions in the household, as John was treated differently than his cousins because of his HIV+ status. I felt sad reading that letter. The letter was almost laughable, like how is this silly letter going to make a difference, how is the poultry business going to make a difference. I felt so helpless and inadequate. Francis, a TASO counselor, came into the office and immediately became aware of me and my little moment with the note. He knew I was upset and he took the note from my hand. He remembered John. I told Francis how I was having a hard time understanding and dealing with all the emotions involved in working with sick children. He didn’t have any answers about why John died and other HIV+ children thrive, or why babies are still being born every hour with HIV in Africa even though it’s totally preventable, or why children suffer abuse from family members, or why some children have access to everything they need and others don’t. He just gave me a hug. He deals with death, sickness and extreme poverty everyday. He’s not immune to its emotional toll, but the work has hardened him. I didn’t feel better, I just felt numb. It’s easy to ignore these realities when I’m home in Ohio in my comfy house, with access to everything I need and the security of knowing that if there was a major tragedy, I have a support network that is unbreakable. I have never starved nor have I ever put a starving baby to bed. I have had my share of suffering, just different kinds. Having the workshop after reading that letter made me feel hopeful and inspired. I met so many women and children determined to work hard and to not let life’s obstacles get in the way. I remembered the reasons why we started the Poultry Project–to give HIV/AIDS-affected children and their caregivers an opportunity to earn income. It’s really simple and it’s been working. Everyday, we are trying to improve our service delivery by strengthening capacity building trainings, improving the assets we give the families (i.e. healthy chickens, chicken coops), conducting in-depth monitoring and evaluation, and diversifying our funding sources. We have all come a long way and we’re going to keep moving forward.
The party ended with a moving performance by the TASO Mbale Drama Group…
[Photos by Kevin Kopanski]