the poultry project

LKWD Music Fest

August 22nd, 2013

It’s been a long year since the last post! The founders of the Poultry Project have been busy bringing life back to a circa-1924 bowling alley – Mahall’s - in their home-state: Ohio.

In November 2012, Kevin Kopanski (Poultry Project volunteer and photographer) held a fundraiser and photography exhibit to showcase his work from the 2011 Design/Build Uganda trip. Since then, Kevin has spread the message about the Poultry Project by exhibiting his work all over Greater Cleveland.

This weekend, Mahall’s will host the 2nd Annual LKWD Music Fest. All outdoor beer sale profits will go to the Poultry Project, and a service trip is being planned for early 2014.

 

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Eric Wafana b.2002 – d.2012

June 14th, 2012

This week, Peter Welikhe (Poultry Project’s Uganda Director) shared some devastating news with us. Eric Wafana, age 10, passed away. Eric and his mother, Sophie, joined the Poultry Project  back in 2006. Sophie worked hard to grow her project, purchase a cow with profits and in 2011, she bought a small coffee farm.

When we met Eric, he was just a toddler. Last summer, he was a robust youth, doing well in school and full of smiles. Despite access to ARVs, medical care and education and the unconditional love and support of a powerful, courageous mother, Eric could not fight the odds against him. We don’t have all the details, but it is likely that TB, malaria or another curable, communicable disease weakened his compromised immune system.

One of the main purposes of the Poultry Project is to spread awareness about the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Stigma, controversy and ignorance still hinder national and international prevention efforts. Aid dollars often never reach the folks, like Eric, in need. And then there’s a plethora of historical, structural, economic and political issues that complicate HIV/AIDS prevention, service, and treatment. Add extreme poverty, weak social/medical/academic infrastructure, malaria and TB to the mix and it seems like Eric was up against the world.

It’s days like these that make us recognize the fragility and miracle of life. We are humbled to have walked hand-in-hand with Eric.  And we honor Eric, his family, his mother, his fight, his life. Rest in peace, sweet Eric.

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DESIGN COMPETITION RELAUNCH 2012!!!

March 16th, 2012

Due to an underwhelming number of entries for our second chicken coop design competition, the Poultry Project decided to make some changes to the competition guidelines and relaunch the contest.

SIMPLIFY.

THE GIST: Design a coop for 10-15 chickens. A large coop. A coop that can be used in a community garden (one near you, perhaps?) or by  farmers growing their flocks. And don’t worry about modifying your design for use in Uganda. We’ve eliminated the Uganda coop modification requirement for entries, as we’ve realized this component of the contest results in most applicants submitting two projects. That’s a lot of work, and we want to make this competition simple and accessible to a wider audience.

ENTRY FORM: download CCDC2012 Entry Form. (learn more here)

DEADLINE: August 1, 2012

Send questions to kflamos@poultryproject.com

GOOD LUCK!

 

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Design Competition Deadline Extension

January 2nd, 2012

Good news fellow procrastinators…we’ve extended the deadline for the 2011 Chicken Coop Design Competition from 12/31/2011 to MARCH 1, 2012!

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Kansas State Students’ Coop Design Exhibit

November 22nd, 2011

Kansas State University architecture professor, Katrina Lewis, contacted the Poultry Project last year after the 2010 Chicken Coop Design Competition (CCDC) expressing interest in getting her students involved in the next coop design competition.  Almost immediately after the 2011 CCDC launch, Katrina’s second-year architecture students started working on their designs. A few weeks ago, the students shared their coop design models with the community at their “Chicken Coop Celebration.” The students are still working on the Uganda modifications of their coops. Here’s a look at their exhibit.  THANKS KANSAS STATE!!!!!

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2011 Chicken Coop Design Competition

August 17th, 2011

It’s been over a  year since we launched the first chicken coop design competition and we’re ready to do it again! We are still ironing out the details, but to all the eager designers, makers, chicken keepers, architects and creatives out there — plan on an end of the year (2011) deadline. Check back in the next few weeks for competition details, application form, entry rules, and all that good stuff.

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Chicken Delivery II

July 13th, 2011

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!

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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: 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: Emily Axtman

June 15th, 2011

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]

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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: David

June 8th, 2011

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!

 

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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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Poultry Project Farmer-Appreciation Day, Mbale

June 3rd, 2011

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]

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Mbale Coop-Material Delivery | Willison

June 2nd, 2011

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!

 

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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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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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Building Tracy’s Coop

May 23rd, 2011

I take a mostly passive role in the coop building. I sit on the sidelines and watch as the build team turns papyrus sheets, wire mesh and tons of wood poles into a gorgeous, sturdy chicken house. On Wednesday, they built Tracy’s coop with the help of Ambrose Milton. TASO Tororo counselor, Debra, recommended Milton for the job. Milton is in Senior VI and TASO helps pay his school fees. A year ago, Milton’s mother left an abusive relationship, disappearing into the night, and nobody knows where she is or what happened to her. Milton’s father was never around and he has no siblings. He stays at the hostel attached to his school free of charge because they understand his unique situation and are willing to help. Milton will work with the build team to construct the other 9 coops in Tororo. This opportunity will help Milton gain new skills and earn income to help pay for his Senior exams. Milton plans to go to university and he is hopeful that he will see his mother again.

Emily Axtman (Emily A.), David, Eric, Joe and Milton built Tracy’s coop in 4 hours, working nonstop. Kevin put down the camera several times to help build. Emily and I cut the binding wire (it’s become our coop task). Tracy’s home is near a freight train and an amazing granite rock formation that sits in the center of Tororo. As with most coop builds, the neighborhood children flock to the scene to check out the muzungus and watch the build. Initially, we occupied the children with some colored pencils and legal pad paper. I drew a silly picture of a tree, bird and two monkeys. With only 12 pencils and over 24 children, sharing had to happen. One of the boys suggested that 2 people share one pencil. The arrangement worked well and the children began drawing under the nearby mango tree. One by one they ran home to gather their own pencils and pens, so within minutes they each had something to draw with.  We walked over to see what they were drawing and they all were drawing a rendering of the picture I drew. It was amazing.

But the drawing activity soon lost its luster and they were back at the build site observing the process, eager to get involved. Emily A. took note of their curiosity and patiently instructed them in binding the wire mesh to the wooden frame with wire. The children listened and watched intently and began twisting the binding wire tightly and cutting the ends with the pliers.They were so proud about their contribution to the coop. I’m so glad Emily A. took the opportunity to engage them in the process and teach them a few building tricks. Satisfied with their building foray, the children returned to the drawing after Emily A. sharpened their pencils with her pocket knife.

It’s really amazing to see the group work together, engaging the community and family in the building process. Tracy went to fetch sand for the cement mixture and Sharon borrowed a hoe from the neighbor to mix the cement. Joe, Milton, David and Eric used pangas to dig the holes for securing the coop in the ground. Dirt was added to some of the holes to make the coop level. David worked on the bird ramp while Joe and Milton nailed wooden poles to the tin roof. Kevin and Eric put the papyrus sheets on the coop panels. Eventually, the coop came together and the team showed Tracy how to use it, clean it and repair it. Another coop built, over 25 to go. Fortunately, after Joe and Emily A. leave, the team they’ve trained-David, Eric, John, and Milton- will build the remaining coops together and earn money while they do it. As Emily A.’s t-shirt says, “Design. Build. Transform.”

[Photos 2,7,8,11,12 by Kevin Kopanski.]

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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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Hard Work

May 21st, 2011

He woke up with the roosters around 6:30am, got dressed and headed to the hardware store, lumber yard and car park on a boda-boda to order and purchase the chicken coop materials. He’s in a different country and doesn’t speak the language, so this isn’t an easy task. But he’s been negotiating and dealing with the panga-swinging lumber jacks, tin roof salesmen and truck drivers for weeks and has the process down to a science. By 8am, the truck is loaded with hundreds of logs, binding wire, dozens of papyrus  sheets, 4x4s and huge rolls of wire mesh. After picking up the build team and a TASO counselor, they set out on the 1.5+ hour drive to Soroti to deliver coop building materials to 10 families. Despite the unanticipated detours to the TASO Soroti center and a trip to town to purchase bicycles (a task delegated to someone else), he kept his cool and loaded the bicycles onto the truck with a smile.

Sitting atop the wooden poles in the back of the truck under the hot, African sun, he waved to each villager along the bumpy, crater-spotted country road. The storm clouds started looming around 6pm and there were still 5 homes to visit. In the cold rain, he handed each wooden pole and role of wire mesh to the families with a smile and patience. He graciously unloaded the rest of the materials to the last family at 9pm with mud everywhere, no light, and rain pouring down. And during the 2+ hour drive back to Mbale, he stayed in the bed of the truck, crouched under a flimsy tarp so that one of the builders, Eric, could sit in the truck cabin.

This nonstop, dedicated work began months ago, at his desk in New York, NY. He worked out an arrangement with his firm to scale back his hours (and salary) in order to commit more time to the Poultry Project. He spear-headed the nonprofit status filing for the organization, mobilized the US and Uganda Poultry Project teams, developed detailed budget and record keeping tools, organized a detailed schedule and workplan for the Expansion + Coop Design/Build Initiatives, set up weekly conference calls with the Uganda project manager, and created an assessment survey and measuring system for participant selection (he did other administrative and programming tasks, but there’s too much to mention). In his down time, he raised money to fund to the May intiatives.

He arrived in Uganda only three weeks ago. In this short time, he’s already overseen 30 home visits, 3 training workshops, acquisition and distribution of coop building materials and bicycles to over 50 families, and 7 coop builds. He wakes up early and goes to bed late. He works all day long and rarely breaks. He does this work with love. He shows the Poultry Project participants that with hard work and determination, anything is possible.

Joseph Pavlick’s compassion, rock-solid work ethic and commitment to improving the lives of AIDS-affected children has made the Poultry Project what it is today. We are  grateful to have him on the team.

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Tororo New Participant Workshop

May 19th, 2011

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 ]

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