Peter sent more photos of the chicken delivery. Now, all the families in Soroti, Tororo and Mbale have their 5 chickens (4 hens + 1 rooster) and a gorgeous chicken coop designed by Emily Axtman. Thanks to all of the Poultry Project’s donors, supporters, and the amazing team at TASO for making this Expansion + Coop Build Initiative a success!
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!
Emily Pavlick is a nutritionist, aspiring ayurvedic chef, master granola baker and yoga instructor by trade. But its her immense heart and compassion, her warm presence and careful touch, her understanding eyes and unwavering generosity, her open mind and unwavering determination, and her belief in the connectedness of humanity that make her work with the Poultry Project so important.
Emily helped start the Poultry Project back in 2006, two years before she stepped foot on Ugandan soil. She was moved to act when she learned about AIDS orphans and their caregivers struggling to make ends meet during that first summer when the project was just a dream. She wanted to make sure that James, a 5 year old boy who had lost both parents to AIDS, had access to food and transportation to his clinic appointments at TASO for meds and TB treatment. She wanted to help Hanania get a roof over his head and help Jude care for his younger siblings. As a full-time student and waitress in Boston, she used whatever spare minutes she had to raise money to get the project going. She baked and sold her granola, asked friends and professors for support, and sent hundreds of emails. Fundraising is hard work, but Emily knew that at that time, it was the best way for her to help. When she finally got to Uganda, she worked hard to add 6 families to the project, build a house and restore a roof for some of the participants, provide basic nutrition counseling and education to participants and TASO staff, and work with her husband, Joe, to devise a division and savings match program for the farmers, strengthening their support network and adding incentives for saving money. This year, she planned an amazing fundraiser at the Woods in Brooklyn, baked almost 50 lbs of granola to sell, planned and co-facilitated the new farmer workshops, and took a month of unpaid leave from her job at the New York City Health Department to go to Uganda to build coops, lead workshops, add families to the project and do a little bit of nutrition counseling.
Whether shes in Uganda or stateside, Emily makes herself available to do any task. A jack of all trades, she gets the job done with grace and efficiency. Sometimes the work is hard and it brings her to her knees. At these times, after a child has passed due to an AIDS-related illness or she sees a child with malnourishment and stunted growth, Emily tries to stay strong, but the tears flow and feelings of helplessness and even failure creep in. “Are we doing enough?” she’ll ask. Together, we realize that we are doing the best we can, that we cannot erase suffering or stamp out poverty, and that we can seek change within ourselves. Having these conversations, grieving together, encouraging each other to move forward, celebrating the successes, making life-long friends with the farmers and TASO staff, and knowing that we have changed their lives and they have changed ours–these are some of our personal benefits from this work.
Emily Axtman (a DesignCorps fellow) submitted one of the winning designs for our Chicken Coop Design Competition. We asked Emily to work on a design for a chicken coop that could be used by our farmers in Uganda. She jumped at the opportunity, because she is committed to public service and she believes that design can promote social, economic and environmental change. Before her work in Uganda, she designed and built chicken coops for migrant farmers in rural North Carolina. After Uganda, she went to Austin, TX where she’s participating in the Public Interest Design Program. She’s part of a growing community of architects and designers making big change with small scale projects.
In the months leading up to her volunteer stint in Uganda, she read books on the region and HIV/AIDS in Africa, researched materials and construction methods common in rural Uganda, communicated with our partners in Mbale to learn more about Ugandan poultry farming and building practices and designed a model for the Poultry Project coop. Once in Uganda, Emily and the team got to work. Emily conducted a workshop with Poultry Project farmers to refine the coop and make sure it fit the farmers’ needs. With a few changes and three days of hard work, the demonstration coop was complete and the on-site coop builds at farmers’ homes began. Emily helped train the build team and together, they built 7 coops.
Emily exudes creativity, curiosity, ambition and compassion. She approaches her work with the utmost sincerity, humility, dedication and focus. She never presumed that she had all the answers and she frequently sought feedback from the build team and the farmers. She rarely put down her hammer to take a break. I loved watching her teach the Poultry Project farmers and beneficiaries how to build, use and maintain the coop. It was amazing to see a group of people turn a pile of wooden poles, a roll of wire mesh, papyrus, nails and a tin roof into a gorgeous, streamlined chicken house. And after the roof was put on the coop and the last touches and adjustments were made, we drove away from the home feeling proud about what we built, together.
Emily created this graphic to illustrate how a Poultry Project farmer uses their initial flock of 5 chickens to generate a lasting source of income and nutrition.
“The chicken coops that were built over the course of the project stand as a tangible product representing a system designed to provide the necessary resources for the participants to bring themselves out of poverty.” – an excerpt from Emily Axtman’s blog.
Emily loved learning how to use a panga, so much that she took one home in her suitcase. The fresh pineapple in Mbale made her happy and before she left, she walked to the market to buy one for us to share. We wanted her to cut it up with her panga, but she used a kitchen knife instead. She’s saving the panga for building more life-changing, community-enhancing structures. Thank you, Emily!
[Photos 1, 3, 4 by Emily Pavlick; Pineapple photo by Kevin Kopanski]
Eric and John are both supported by the TASO Mbale school fees assistance program. Peter (manager of the school fees assistance program) recruited them to join the build team, because he knew they wanted and needed part-time jobs. Eric helped build the model coop and during his school break he worked with the build team to build over 10 coops. He’s back at school now and John will take his place. Eric and John have parents living with HIV/AIDS, which is why they receive support from TASO. Milton lives in Tororo and he lost his father to AIDS-related illness. His mother was in an abusive relationship and disappeared, leaving Milton all alone. TASO Tororo helps him with his school fees and he boards at school, for free.
Being part of the build team has been a formative experience for these young men. They’re learning building, design and teamwork skills. They also make some money. And they get to do this while helping others. It’s a great service learning opportunity and we’re happy Peter had the foresight to include Eric, John and Milton in the project. Emily Axtman became really close with David and Eric during the builds and on her last work day in Uganda, she got to build a coop in Soroti with just David and Eric. She said they moved so gracefully through the process, without distractions from a dozen neighborhood children clamoring to play with the tools or me and Emily taking a million photos. David and Eric taught Emily how to use a panga and she taught them a trick or two about building and design. Joe and David, despite the language barriers, formed a strong bond too. Joe used to work in construction in the US, so he was able to share some tips in exchange for panga lessons. It was a mutual learning experience for the whole team and friendships were made. After each build, the exhausted, starving team would go to the best, local Ugandan-food restaurant to eat rice, beans, matoke and chapati. The favorite spot for the post-build meal: Tower Restaurant in Mbale (around the corner from the clock tower).
Loading and unloading heavy wooden poles and planks, traveling for hours in the back of the truck under the hot sun (or torrential rains), working nonstop to get the coop up in 4 hours, cleaning up the build site mess and getting ready for the next build, always with a smile–thank you Eric, Milton and John for your hard work!
Joe, Eric, David, Milton, and Emily A.
Before the chicken coop construction began, Peter recruited David, a TASO Mbale handyman, to help with the building. David is proficient with a panga, which quickly became the primary tool for the coop build. The model coop took three days to build. Originally, we expected each family to construct their own coop; however, after the first on-site build, the farmers asked for help. With the coop build time down to four hours, we decided to have the build team construct all 53 coops.We built 13 coops while we were in Uganda. This month, David is traveling all over Eastern Uganda to construct the remaining 40 coops.
This coop building job is a great supplemental income for David–he’s making double his usual daily wage at each build. He has eight children to support, so the extra cash is always needed. David goes the extra mile and he’s so reliable and hard-working. During the builds, he never idles. David and Joe aimed to finish the coops faster each time. At Shamim’s house, David walked her around the coop giving her a tutorial on coop use, maintenance and security. David also helps lead the other build team members that are younger than him. He also taught Joe how to count to thirty in Lugisu. He’s an amazing man and we’re so grateful that he’s part of the Poultry Project team. Thanks, David!
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]
After weeks of artful negotiations with the Mbale lumber and hardware dealers, unloading and carrying hundreds of heavy poles and planks, and hours traveling on bumpy, muddy roads for chicken coop material deliveries, we were finally at the end. We had four deliveries to go in the Manafwa district, southeast of Mbale. We all loaded into the same turquoise painted construction truck used for every pick-up and delivery (including Soroti), with me and Emily in the front and Joe, Peter, Kevin and David in the back, atop the wood, mesh and poles.
Manafwa district borders Mbale, Tororo, Kenya and Bududa District. With tropical rain forest, mountain vegetation and some savannah grassland, it is a lush, agriculturally rich region. Arabica coffee grows in abundance. We drove to the top of a Mt. Elgon foothill for the first drop-off to a home next to a primary school. The school occupied the top of the tiny mountain with panoramic views of the countryside. The children, all dressed in fluorescent pink uniforms, were outside for recess and they gathered around the truck to watch the unloading. We made two more deliveries and ended the day with a home visit and delivery to Willison.
Willison, age 10, and his three sisters lost their father to AIDS-related illness. Their mother abandoned the family several years ago when she learned of the father’s HIV status; her whereabouts are unknown. Willison and his sisters live with an aunt near their paternal grandfather’s banana farm. They are surrounded by family and have lots of support, but additional income is needed to pay for their school fees, miscellaneous medical expenses, clothing and food. We gathered under an old shade tree at the grandfather’s house with Willison’s family to discuss the Poultry Project (coop, poultry management, success stories). Willison was shy at first but started to open up, especially with Emily and Kevin. As we were leaving, one of Willison’s cousins presented us with a large branch of bananas from the grandfather’s farm–heartwarming generosity!
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.
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.
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.
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 ]