the poultry project

Chicken Delivery

June 22nd, 2011

After three weeks in the care of a poultry farming/animal health expert, the chickens were delivered to families in Mbale, Tororo and Soroti. The chickens spent those three weeks eating wholesome feeds (maize bran; vitamin supplements; protein-ants, maggots, fish; greens; minerals-crushed bones, shells, and salt), drinking clean water, getting de-worming treatment, and receiving vaccines to prevent new castle disease and fowl pox. In the meantime, the build team finished building all the coops. So, the participants received healthy birds that are almost ready to start laying eggs and they have a new coop to give the birds shelter. We’ll have more photos of the delivery this week, so keep checking back!

 

 

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Meet the Team: Peter Welikhe

June 6th, 2011

In 2007, Peter became the Social Support Officer at TASO Mbale and took on full responsibility for the on-the-ground management of the Poultry Project as our Regional Manager. Peter is the best! He has his hands full with providing support services to thousands of TASO clients, managing the Poultry Project, working on a Master’s Degree, and being a family man. He continues to amaze us with his enviable management savvy, vision, creativity, compassion and a relentless commitment to serving others. As they often say in Uganda, “I do not have words,” we too cannot find the words to express our gratitude and appreciation to Peter for sharing his time, intelligence, spirit and energy with the Poultry Project. Thank you, Peter.

 

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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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Shamim

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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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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Build a Coop + Expansion – May 2011

March 4th, 2011

We’ve been working hard over the past few months to plan for our upcoming work trip to Uganda.

On the agenda:

1. Build a Coop 2011: Emily Axtman, the 2nd place winner of the Chicken Coop Design Competition, will go to Uganda to work with Poultry Project participants to design an easy-to-assemble, durable, efficient chicken coop made from local materials.  After the model coop is designed, Axtman will hold building workshops where participants will receive the materials and assistance to build their own coops.

2. Mbale Expansion: The team at TASO has identified 15 families to add to the project in the Mbale region.  In May, we will visit some of these families at their homes, procure and prepare the distribution of each families’ poultry business assets and host their first training workshop.  These added families will also receive supplies and instruction for building coops.

3. TASO Expansion: The success of the Poultry Project has been noticed by TASO’s executive leadership and they want us to begin working with other TASO branches (11 throughout Uganda).  Expansion to the Soroti and Tororo TASO branches is planned for May and we hope to plan to work with 15 families at each location.

To fund this huge endeavor, we have rallied our networks of friends, colleagues and family to spread the word about the Poultry Project and to get involved in our fundraising campaign.  We also have an event planned at the Woods in Williamsburg (Brooklyn), NY for early April – more details to come.

Ways to get involved:

1. Follow us on Facebook.

2. Become a part of our fundraising team on Crowdrise.

3. Donate $5, $10, $20, $100 – whatever you can give – at poultryproject.com

4. Spread the word!

Your compassionate concern and continued support help us give the HIV/AIDS-affected children of Uganda an opportunity to earn money, acquire farming and business skills and improve their lives.  We are forever grateful!

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The Importance of Microsaving in Developing Countries

July 27th, 2010

I recently ran across a NY Times blog post written by Nicholas Kristof in May of last year. In it Kristof discusses the importance of ensuring a secure place to save money for the poorest people in the world’s developing countries. He asserts that savings is a more important element of microfinance than lending due to the risks of theft and violent crime in countries whose poorest inhabitants are forced to keep their savings under their own roof. Says Kristof,

“Likewise, the book notes that many poor people must pay to save. That’s right — instead of receiving interest for depositing their savings with someone, they have to pay interest on their own money. One common scheme in West Africa, for example, charges an annual interest of 40 percent for accepting savings. If you struggle to save $100, a year later you have $60. But at least it’s safer than it would be under the bed. If we develop banks that actually serve the poor and accept savings, even if they paid zero interest, that would be a huge step forward and a big incentive to start saving.”

Check out Kristof’s full post here. It’s a short read but an interesting look at the importance of the availability of a secure place to save money.

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Security, Stability Necessary for Economic Growth

July 20th, 2010

Following the July 11 terrorist attacks that rocked the Ugandan capital of Kampala, billionaire Kenyan businessman Chris Kirubi discussed how instability brought about by the threat of terrorism can cause great harm to the economic climate of the region. In a July 19th opinion piece for Business Daily Africa Kirubi said,

“Take for example the average Kenyan, who after many years of saving and visualising being self-employed, decides he wants to establish an up-market eatery that can be frequented by all nationalities.

Apart from the usual fixed overhead costs, he now has to contend with additional insurance costs to cover terrorism and the re-building of his business in the event of such a catastrophe.

He is obviously going to think harder and longer before starting up any such venture which puts at risk his whole livelihood.”

Kirubi notes that in East Africa small to medium market enterprises are some of the biggest creators of jobs in the region. In order for entrepreneurial-minded people to go about starting such small to medium-sized businesses political stability within a country, as well as within neighboring countries, is essential. Such a statement may seem obvious but it’s difficult to overstate the importance of peace, stability, and a competent government for developing economies. Without the assurance that their businesses will be secure from the presence of any external threats seeking to damage them (terrorists or a civil war for example), entrepreneurs are much less likely to start their own businesses. Fewer small businesses mean fewer employment opportunities that in turn mean lower levels of consumption. Lower consumption levels hurt already existing businesses leading to a downward cycle in economic activity. All in all instability reduces the likelihood developing countries will experience economic growth.

You can check out Kirubi’s full piece here.

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