the poultry project

Meet the Team: Emily Pavlick

June 17th, 2011

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.

 

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Meet the Team: Kevin Kopanski

June 11th, 2011

Kevin, fresh out of photojournalism school, learned about the Poultry Project back in 2007. He’s been trying to go to Uganda ever since. With a great job at a local Cleveland photography studio, a few years of built-up anticipation, a compassionate heart and an eagerness to share his creativity and talent with the Poultry Project, Kevin was finally ready to set foot on Ugandan soil. Kevin generously volunteered to document the Poultry Project’s work with photos and video.


He immediately fell in love with Uganda, the people, the food and the lifestyle. By day two, he was plotting his return (two weeks was not enough time!). When he wasn’t making stunning photographs or filming, he was looking for other ways to help. Kevin built coops, befriended the participants (especially Willison, Robert and Shamim), taught a few children how to use his camera, loaded and unloaded coop materials, and always stepped forward when help was needed. On our way to Kampala, it started pouring rain and Kevin hopped out of the vehicle and onto the roof to untie and take down our luggage. Kevin has a lot of the qualities I admire in my dearest Ugandan friends–he’s patient, humble, agreeable and kind. His photographs are amazing. Check out his work on our blog (stay tuned for an upcoming gallery show and more of his Poultry Project work on our website) and on his site.


Kevin took this photo outside of the TASO Mbale nutrition clinic.

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Meet the Team: Eric, John and Milton

June 9th, 2011


Eric

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.


John

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.

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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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Wanale Ridge

May 28th, 2011

Uganda is known as the Pearl of Africa. Travelers usually head to the western, southwestern and northern regions of the country to spot mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, see elephants in Queen Elizabeth National Park and go on safari in Kidepo. We’ve been to Uganda a few times, but our work has kept us focused on Mbale and the surrounding areas (no time or money to go on a big African safari). The Brandt Uganda Travel Guide describes Mbale as a town to pass through, not stay in. It dismisses the eastern region like US travel guides dismiss Ohio (our home state), but we disagree. Mbale is paradise. From any point in the city you can see Wanale Ridge, part of the Mount Elgon range. Wanale is dotted with tiny thatched-roof homes and terraced gardens. Men and women run down the steep mountain paths with jerry cans of water and cooking oil, bananas, and other heavy bundles perfectly balanced on their heads. Children climb trees and play football with their homemade soccer balls. Farmers cultivate every inch of the arable land, the soil is so rich. Wanale Ridge is such a grounding force in Mbale, especially when you’re in town, amidst the hustle and bustle of urban life.

Last Sunday, we had some free time and decided to walk up Wanale. It certainly wasn’t a gorilla trek and we didn’t see any giraffes or cute tree monkeys, but we did witness some of the most beautiful views and landscape we’ve ever seen. Banyan trees, wild flowers, granite and limestone rocks, lush banana and coffee plantations, cows and goats grazing on land that seemed to be on top of the world–we didn’t need to go on safari to see Uganda’s bounty, beauty and might.

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Hunger

May 26th, 2011

Proper nutrition is a critical component of care in people living with HIV/AIDS.  In partnership with USAID, TASO implemented a therapeutic feeding program to support malnourished child clients.  Each Tuesday and Thursday the clients gather in the children’s clinic and patiently wait to be seen by their counselors and physicians.  While waiting, a nutrition technician gathers anthropometric measures suchs height, weight and mid arm circumference.  These measures determine which children receive the high energy, fortified feeding packs called “Plumpy-Nut”.    The supplement is basically 3/4 cup of peanut butter with added milk powder, sugar, soybean oil, and vitamins & minerals.  Some children are prescribed up to five per day depending on their status.

In the past, all children who presented with moderate to severe malnutrition were given the supplements.  However, a recent cut-back in funding has made the cut-off more stringent and TASO can only provide supplements to those who are categorized as “severly malnourished.”

One of our newly added participants receives the nutrition services at TASO.  His name is Akoth – we met him at the Tororo workshop, he sat in the front row with his older sister.  At first glance, I thought he was around 8 or 9 years old.  His eyes are large, glassy and black, with a focused stare that seemed to look right through me.  His shoulders were narrow and the sleeves of his tee shirt fell past the elbow, hiding his bony forearms.  His chest would slowly rise with each inhale; labored breathing was apparent.  He would place his hands on his somewhat misshapen head to either stay awake or fight back the pain of a headache.  He seemed uncomfortable, so I quickly asked the counselor if there was anything we could do for the little boy.  She shared with me that this small child was hungry, he didn’t feel well and he in fact, was not a child, but 17 years old.  This was the first time that I’d seen such marked effects of undernutrition.  Akoth is HIV positive, has stunted growth and is severely anemic.

Childhood stunting is a reduced growth rate caused by malnutrition in early childhood or malnutrition during fetal development due to a malnourished mother.  Stunting and its effects are permanent.  Children who experience this nutrition-related disorder, in most cases, do not regain the height and weight lost as a result.  Overtime, the child will be faced with physical conditions that result in premature death because vital organs never fully develop.  Children born with HIV are at a higher risk for stunted growth because of their increased nutrient needs and compromised immune systems.

While TASO provides the therapeutic feeding program, it’s never enough for some children.  Due to extreme poverty, chronic illness and inadequate healthcare, some children will never get a chance at a normal childhood.

This post, and blog in general, is not a call for action from our readers.  Rather, an opportunity for the reader to imagine the reality as it exists here in Uganda and much of the developing world.

Akoth, 17

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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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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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