Africa

Kwibuka –Kinyarwanda for “Remembrance.”

rememberingYesterday, all across Rwanda, people began gathering in stadiums, churches and community centers to take part in Kwibuka, or “Remembrance.” Bko8w4sCMAA96lS

20 years ago marked the terrible beginning of the Rwandan Genocide, during which almost one million people were killed as tribal Hutus rose up and slaughtered their Tutsi neighbors, friends and even family members.

Two decades later, Rwanda is a shining star of economic development in Africa, but the psychic scars of the trauma remain.

woman2In 2012, I was able to visit Rwanda with Heifer International and bear witness to Heifer’s programs in that country. The first day, I went to the Northern Province and watched a Passing on the Gift ceremony, where recipients of a Heifer cow pass on the first-born female to another needy family.

Instrument of peace.

An instrument of peace.

It’s a beautiful tradition at the heart of Heifer’s ideology, made doubly poignant by the fact that many of the givers and recipients were on opposite sides of the Hutu/Tutsi divide. Thank youBut Rwandans seem dedicated to rebuilding their country and repairing the terrible schism.POG52

“Have peace!” the people shouted — and answered with “Unite in reconciliation and uproot the genocide ideology.”POG4

It was one of the most moving and inspiring ceremonies I’ve ever seen… and one I’m not sure I would ever have the spiritual capacity to emulate.

POG

So here’s to the beautiful Rwandans in their quest to remember, and be reconciled.kidsAnd to Heifer, for being a part of the healing.

Categories: Africa, Heifer International, Photography, Rwanda, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Giving Thanks for All Y’all … and for Malawi!

I guess this means I'm in the autumn of my years...

I guess this means I’m in the autumn of my years…

In the last few weeks, I’ve celebrated my 60th (gulp!) birthday in Atlanta, Denver and Minneapolis (why stop with just one city?) and that, along with the impending Thanksgiving holiday, has given me occasion to reflect on all the things I’m grateful for.

Me & my friend Eman, whom I haven't seen for 25 years - in Target's HQ in Minneapolis

Me & my friend Eman (whom I haven’t seen for 25 years) in Target’s HQ in Minneapolis

I have to say, I feel blessed in almost every possible way. Sure, my muscle tone and mental acuity may be rapidly waning, but I’ve still got a Jack Palance-like grip on my Denver friends from 40 years ago (I refuse to let them go, no matter how much they try)… plus all my friends from Philadelphia (you know who you are)… and my newest and dearest friends from Atlanta. Plus my own humongous family, of course. And if that’s not an embarrassment of riches, I don’t know what is.

Speaking of friendship, I’m also reminded that this time last year, I was in Malawi with my friend Patti Ross, as part of my global travels with Heifer Internationalfamily

patti w kiddiesMalawi is one of the poorest countries on earth, yet it’s also known as the Warm Heart of Africa. girl in green

The people we met were memorable in the extreme…woman

…from the Heifer staff to women farmers to kids in the village  — lady farmer

kids3

mom & childI can still see their faces and feel the force of their personalities as vividly as if it were yesterday.

3 kids

Not to mention a memorable feast day of cooking in the village of Mchinji that I will only mildly recreate this Thursday.

Lots of supervision on shelling peanuts...

Lots of supervision on shelling peanuts…

Struggling to get the nsima perfect...

Struggling to get the nsima perfect…

Plenty to be thankful for...

But so much to be thankful for…

So this holiday season, when you have your family and friends gathered around, I hope that you will remember Heifer in your giving …goat…for my friends in Malawi, and for all the families around the world who are hoping and praying for your generous gift of an animal.groupHappy Thanksgiving, thanks a million for being such loyal readers, and I love you!

Local frangipani ... glorious!

Local frangipani … glorious!

More posts on beautiful Malawi:

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/11/26/muli-bwanji-malawi/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/11/29/2-goats-for-janet/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/12/03/the-many-ecological-wonders-of-leonards-world/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/12/06/moving-into-positive-in-malawi/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/12/09/what-i-cooked-in-malawi/

papaya in wind

 

Categories: Africa, Malawi, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

Cameroon, the Remix.

4 girls from Mordok, coming in from the fields.

5 girls from Mordok, coming in from the fields.

Cameroon was easily one of the most fascinating, diverse, disturbing and memorable countries I visited in 2012 with Heifer International…and that’s really saying something.red scarf

My visit started with a minor disaster – we missed our flight from the capital city of Yaoundé up north to Maroua, and there wasn’t another one for 3 days. But as so often happens (if only I had the equanimity to keep this in mind), that accident ended up fortuitously taking me on the road to Douala, where we were able to see 3 other projects that were totally unique to Cameroon: one with snails…

Tangue Jokelt Dieudonne, proud member of Heifer's  Melong GIC with his snails

Tangue Jokelt Dieudonne, proud member of Heifer’s Melong GIC with his snails.

one with pigs …

Cute pigs from the CIG Women's project in Douala

… and one project with cane rats, a rodent I fear with hysterical fervor.

(and don't say that he's more afraid of me than I am of him)

(and don’t try to say that he’s more afraid of me than I am of him)

The south of Cameroon, like Douala, is wet, fertile and steamy….

Banana country!

Banana country!

…unlike the sere, flat and unrelentingly dry L’Extreme Nord. Scorched earth, Maroua

In fact, Cameroon is known as “Africa in miniature” because it contains all the continent’s topography: coast, desert, mountains, rainforest and savanna.

The southerners tend to be short, chubby, affable and primarily Christian…President Emilienne Zikou and VP Denise Nannou, GIC Ndoungue

…while the northerners are tall, lean, reserved and often Muslim.muslim girl

And it is the North that I worry deeply about. Water has always been scarce here, but never more so than now, with climate change prolonging the dry season to almost 11 months a year.mother water

The women of Barza, where Heifer dug a  bore hole, still have to walk about 5 miles each way, every day to secure enough water for their households, and even though men now share the task (thanks to Heifer gender equity trainings!) it’s a grueling, maddening waste of time and energy.woman w water

The people of Cameroon, though, are lovely, particularly in the L’Extreme Nord. As I was watching them one day, I wrote this in my book:

“Poverty isn’t pretty. It’s messy, smelly, sweaty. Filthy water hangs in the gutters of the streets. Old, beat-up things are used to the point of extinction and well beyond.boy and toy

Children in tattered cast-off clothing run barefoot through the dust. holding on

But poor people in Africa are also often heart-wrenchingly beautiful. friends

They rise above the destitution of their surroundings, the women sailing like colorful jibs through the channels of a jumbled market… two beauties…splendid and serene.”

Yes, I loved Cameroon. In fact, I love the energy, faith, colors, strength and smiles of Africa as much as any place I’ve ever been. kids

Who wouldn’t?

~~~~~~~~~~

To read more about the inspiring Heifer projects I visited in Cameroon (including the rats), click below:

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/06/01/bienvenue-cameroon/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/06/06/poverty-slimed/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/06/08/hunger-no-games/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/06/11/dead-hen-walking/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/06/13/just-add-water/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/06/15/one-womans-nightmare-is-another-mans-dinner/

Categories: Africa, Agriculture, Animals, Cameroon, Heifer International, Photography, Travel, Water, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

A good/bad day in Malawi.

cropped shedMost days on the road with Heifer are really good days. And some are just hard.

The last day we spent visiting projects in Malawi was a hard one – not because of what we did but because of what we saw. We were visiting the Khongoni project near Lilongwe that supports people with HIV/AIDS by providing them with training, trees, seeds, and milk-producing goats. I expected the towns close to the capital city to be more affluent, but in fact they were some of the poorest communities in this very poor country.hardwell & wife

Our first visit was with Hardwell Chidesmbo –a HIV-positive father of 16 (yeah, that’s right) whose first wife died of AIDS, leaving behind 8 children. With his second wife (also HIV-positive) he has had another 8. That boggled my mind but far worse, the children were dirty, frantic and hanger-thin. The entire household seemed teetering on the verge of neglect and one little lamb had a broken leg. One of Hardwell’s daughters was disabled and another had died, leaving behind an infant daughter who was also HIV positive. The situation seemed more than any mere livestock could improve.

How much can 2 goats do?

These two goats from Heifer will bring much-needed nutrition and income for Hardwell’s family.

And yet, Ginison Moliyere, the local Community Animal Health Worker that Heifer has trained to provide animal services, was not feeling discouraged. He told me that Hardwell’s family had only just received the goats so he felt there was plenty of time for them to progress and improve their situation. Ginison had come to splint the lamb’s leg after it tumbled out of its new shed and it’s now healing well.

Ginison Moliyere, Heifer's intrepid CAHW.

Ginison Moliyere, Heifer’s intrepid Community Animal Health Worker with his Heifer bike.

I can’t tell you how this young man’s dedication moved me.  Ginison spends 2 days each week on his Heifer bike, traveling the 15 km. radius of this project and helping people keep their goats robust and healthy. Ginison helps them do that with advice, encouragement, and hands-on training (and the government provides anti-retroviral drugs). And he does it all as a volunteer.

Records

Belvin Manda and Victor Mhango from the central Heifer office, going over records under Ginison’s goat’s watchful eye.

Ginison also gives vaccines, keeps impeccable records for 5 groups of about 250 recipients, and is raising two goats of his own (although one of his pregnant goats died the day before – a big setback). But at age 39, HIV-positive, with six children of his own and a new wife (his first wife died), Ginison doesn’t seem to sweat the small stuff; he is tremendously dignified and remarkably resolute. His household is neat as a pin, his children are all in school, and clearly he has a gifted way with animals.Gidion talks

Despite his volunteer status (farmers do pay him a small fee and eventually it should become a business), Ginison’s role could not be more important. Heifer’s project is a joint effort with the National Association of People Living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) and will reach 1,000 HIV-affected families with meat or dairy goats to improve their income and nutrition (goat milk is easier to digest than regular milk and has been shown to increase white blood cells). If it weren’t for people like Ginison willing to offer day-to-day support to the project beneficiaries and extend the reach of Heifer staffers, there is no way this project could reach its goals.

Sweet but so, so poor ...

Although 1 in 7 Malawians have HIV/AIDS, the numbers are going down – hopefully fast enough to protect the next generation.

Some people like Hardwell, with his 16 ragtag children, seem almost beyond the reach of Heifer’s battery of trainings. (Although Heifer’s gender equity and family health trainings are certainly encouraging people to control their own reproductive future — and of course, educating girls has been proven to be the most effective route to decreasing family size, and Heifer is all about keeping kids in school.) While it would be naive to think that every Heifer story would be one of immediate success, it was still  difficult not to feel some despair at the prospects for Hardwell’s family.

But then Ginison took us to meet Rebecca Mzingwa… and she was nothing short of an antidote and an inspiration.Rebecca2

In August 2011, this HIV-positive widowed mother with 3 children and 1 mere acre of land received 2 goats from Heifer. In September, her goats gave birth to 2 more, she passed them on to another HIV family, and since then, her goats have kidded again (I love that phrase) and now she has 5 healthy thriving goats. She sells 3 liters of milk every day (saving ½ liter for herself and 8-year old Bernard) collects grass from the public wetlands every day to feed her goats, and raises maize and vegetables on her 1 acre, fertilized with goat manure.Rebecca Mzingwa

In 2-3 years, she wants to have 20 goats and I don’t doubt for a minute that she’ll do it.

“My children are orphans so I need to support them with these goats,” she says confidently, as Bernard snuggles up to her. “I am very healthy and very strong. I am fine.”Rebecca & goat2

She’s more than fine; she is a woman with a plan. And some very healthy goats.

Categories: Africa, Animals, Heifer International, Mothers, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

The many ecological wonders of Leonard’s world.

Leonard!Leonard Manda is a big man with a big heart and big ideas.

KasunguHe’d better be. As Heifer Malawi’s program director of the Enhanced Community Resilience Programme, Leonard is responsible for helping 1,600 families in 45 villages around Kasungu National Park cope with climate change and the increased occurrence of drought. These conditions cause folks to go into the nearby national park to poach for meat and cut down trees for firewood, so every day Leonard hops on his motorcycle and goes out to teach people in these far-flung villages to make better choices.

Rennie and the 20-liter water bucket they call "friend" because it takes one to lift it down from your head.

Rennie Katundu and the 20-liter water bucket they call “friend”– because it takes one to lift it down from your head.

Quality control tools.

Quality control tools.

Simple energy stove.

Simple energy stove.

And boy, is he creative! I learned so much from Leonard, I couldn’t write down notes fast enough. He’s taught women like Rennie Katundu in Mzumbatu Village to make energy stoves, using clay from anthills that is pure and uncrackable. First, the women cure the clay by burying it in a pit for 2 weeks. Then they smear ash inside a bucket mold to prevent sticking and spread the clay inside the mold with their heels. They use “quality control tools” Leonard fashioned from sticks to precisely measure the width and depth of the clay, then place the molds inside to dry overnight, release them in the morning, finish with the handles and pot rests… and voila! A time-and timber-saving treasure!

Leonard also teaches the women to make super-smart fireless cookers (think of it as a wireless crockpot) so they can cook rice and protein-rich beans in a fraction of the time. This cooker is so clever it delighted me to no end…fireless w lid

Instead of wasting 4 hours and bundles of firewood to cook beans, women can boil them in water for 40 minutes in the morning, pop the pot into an old basket lined with banana leaves, cover it with an insulated top, and four hours later (lunchtime!) the beans will be piping hot and ready to eat.fireless Everything to create this fireless cooker is readily available to the women – old baskets, banana leaves, old cloths – and it can make the difference between a family eating a diet of all carbs and enjoying protein-rich meals. (And rice “cooks” in 40 minutes after just two minutes of boiling!)

But Leonard’s bag of tricks goes far beyond the kitchen. He’s also teaching people to use the local public dambos (wetlands) to grow community gardens all year round – and to make vegetable “sack gardens” using plastic bags of soil, manure, river sand and permeable stones to hang in the house for immediate use.

A dambo filled with winter lettuce

A dambo filled with winter lettuce

To combat deforestation in Malawi’s densely populated land, Leonard is helping to create tree nurseries in villages like Mzumbatu, where the women are growing thousands of seedlings in an empty plot. watering trees.

Heifer and its partners provide the seeds, soil, and training – but the women do the work of planting each plastic sleeve of soil, and watering the tiny acacia, senna semia and other indigenous trees that will soon provide firewood and poles for the community.

Miss Ruth DeoThe indomitable Ruth Deo showed us what the resulting Community Wood Lot will look like. With Leonard’s guidance, her village grew the trees from seeds for months, then 20 villagers spent 5 days planting the 5,500 tiny trees on a hectare of land the village headman had donated. In 5 years, these trees will be grown and each of the village’s 88 families will be allowed to take 4-10 trees every year from the lot (depending on need). And since seedlings will be replanted every year, the village will ensure its supply of sustainably-grown wood for the future – right in its own back yard.

Big trees... soon to come!

Big trees… soon to come!

Leonard’s also a big fan of conservation agriculture – and he took us to Joseph & Bibiana Phiri’s farm to show us how minimum tillage, crop rotation, and crop residue management can replenish exhausted soils and increase production.

Bibiana Phiri

Bibiana is a force of nature in her own right, and was eager to show off her fields covered in corn husk residue that cuts down on parasitic witch weed, improves sandy soil, and decomposes in the rainy season to form compost. She’s kept the trees in her fields, adds manure on top of the crop residue, and is now using 1/2 the expensive fertilizer her maize used to require. Bibiana’s goats – 2 of the 1,268 Leonard has placed in Heifer’s 45 villages – are thriving and she and her husband are big fans of the useful trainings they’ve received.

The Phiris... knee-deep in conservation agriculture!

The Phiris… knee-deep in conservation agriculture!

Now it’s not like Leonard is doing every bit of this work himself. The ECRP is a $15 million, 5-year, 61,000-family endeavor funded by the Department for International Development, Irish Aid & Norway, and implemented by a consortium of aid organizations, with Heifer as the leader in livestock. In that role, Leonard is a trainer of trainers, working with multiple ministries of the government to make sure these programs endure after Heifer’s role has ended – but his leadership, passion and just plain sweat equity were a marvel to behold.leonard3

In our final hour together, Leonard showed me the cool Energy Kit Heifer has put together to offer at a discount to smallholder farmers. The kit consists of a solar panel, solar light, rechargeable battery, and transistor radio for crop information and news (illiterate people can still listen), …. all at a 30% discount. energy pack

I thought that was a perfectly fitting metaphor for Leonard–an indefatigable source of sound and light for Malawi!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

heifer-international1-640x501And for all you technophiles (and Mac-ademics) … check out what MASHABLE had to say about the new Heifer catalog app… the FIRST non-profit magazine tablet app ever.  Click here to download it on your iPad or Android tablet & you’re good to give! Whoeeee!

Categories: Africa, Agriculture, Environment, Farming, Heifer International, Inspiration, Malawi, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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