Posts Tagged With: Climate change

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

Viva Vega Alta!

big ceiba

The mighty ceiba tree is not supposed to be blooming.. but the climate is changing.

On Day 3 of my trip to Ecuador, we drove up from the watery coastal towns of El Oro province to spend the night in Loja Province, in the crackly dry forest town of Vega Alta on the very border of Peru. The environmental contrast was stark, particularly as this was the very end of the dry season and every blade of grass seemed dry as kindling.

sink

Water, water — almost nowhere, barely enough to drink.

 Our host family, headed by Rosanna Apollo, is part of 26 families (most of them related) that live in this sparsely populated town where land is plentiful and cheap, and goats outnumber people by about 30 to 1. young goat Rosanna and her granddaughter Cecilia cooked us a beautiful lunch…

Simple .. and sensational.

  …then we walked to her brother Santos’s house and up, up, up through the dry forest to see the town water supply and irrigation well that Heifer has helped to provide.

The Santos boys walking through the dry forest.

The Santos boys walking through the dry forest.

The challenge in Vega Alta is water, pure and simple. These woods used to boast millions of hardwood trees, before agricultural clear-cutting and burning stripped the mountainsides up to the very summits.

(You can see the burning hillside on the left.)

(You can see the burning hillside on the right.)

Heifer’s agro-ecological project in Loja will include training 600 families to cope with ever-diminishing water supplies by undertaking irrigation projects, planting trees, diversifying crops, and managing soil moisture with crop rotation, organic fertilizer and mulching.

cleraing the pipe

Santos’s son Alexis clears the irrigation pipe.

Caritas Allemagne, a Catholic charity, built the big irrigation system that provides metered water for 60 Vega Alta families from a source 13 km away, but it’s the small irrigation pump that Heifer invested in and 60-year old Santos put in himself that has created a small garden of Eden here.irrigation star

Santos showed us papaya, lime, lemons, sour oranges, cacao, coffee, sweet potatoes, sugar cane, beans, bananas, guavas, peppers, passionfruit, achiote, and yucca that were all thriving under the soft rain of sprinklers from his Heifer irrigation pump.

Achiote, also called the "lipstick tree" produces seeds that are used in food coloring.

Achiote, also called the “lipstick tree,” produces seeds that are used in food coloring and flavoring.

With irrigation and the manure from his goats, Santos has increased his farm’s production by 300%  –and that’s no small potatoes.

fresh papaya

Heifer’s Leonardo Mendieta samples the luscious papaya.

As the dry forests across Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador grow ever drier and water grows ever more precious, Heifer irrigation & agro-ecology and Heifer livestock may well make the difference between children here eating .. or not. Alexis, Darling & goats

That night, after we ate a beautiful meal of vegetables and fruit, (but went without a shower because there was no way we were going to use more water), I had my computer open to show everybody their photos, and Rosanna and her family began looking over my shoulder at the photos of farmers around the world. Rosanna & parrot

They were so intrigued to see the crops people were growing in Haiti, in Cameroon and in Vietnam (it seems everybody, everywhere grows cassava)…cassava!

… and they could see that they were hardly the only poor people working hard in the world. They asked a hundred questions about the people they saw in my photos…

They all liked her face .. and her hat... and her giant Black Tiger Shrimp!

They all loved Trinh from Vietnam — her smile, her hat… and her giant Black Tiger Shrimp!

…and once again I cursed myself for being such a language laggard, and thanked heaven (and Heifer) for Michelle, my awesome translator. As we fell asleep that night on their beds they’d generously offered us, we prayed we wouldn’t have to get up in the middle of the black night to use the dry latrine out back (another Heifer innovation!) and that their pet parrot would clam up until dawn. aw geeOur prayers were answered! And in the morning– after a beautiful breakfast that was 10 times what we could eat –

corn cakes…the hardest thing was saying goodbye.bye bye

But I know these folks in Vega Alta are in good hands with Heifer folks like Leonardo Mendieta to look out for them.

Arcela (Rosanna & Santos's sister), Leonardo and her baby goats.

Arcela (Rosanna & Santos’s sister), Leonardo, and her baby goats.

And I’ll just pray the rains will come.

Miguel Santos - my hearthrob!

Miguel Santos – my hearthrob!

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL … AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!

Categories: Agriculture, Ecuador, Environment, Farming, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Just add water.

There are many places on the planet where climate change is being debated. Barza Village in the Far North of Cameroon isn’t one of them.

The beautiful houses of thirsty Barza.

This area in the Sahel area of Africa (the transitional swath of land between the Sahara desert to the north and savanna to the south) has always been hot and dry, with 7 months of scorching heat that often reaches 113 degrees. But in the past 22 years, things have gotten far, far worse for the farmers of L’Extreme Nord.

The grannies remember when rainfall was dependable and water accessible.

Rainfall has decreased from 900 mm to about 400 mm a year. Nearby Lake Chad had a surface area of 25,000 square kilometers in 1970; today its surface area is 2,000 square kilometers. (How did I not know this??) And for the people here in Barza, water has gone from being something that is a challenge to obtain — to something that consumes their entire day, as the people walk back and forth repeatedly to the only source of water, a river 10 kilometers away.

In 2003, Papa Maliki, Barza’s village chief, in desperation started a GIC community group, with the intention of asking for help in ensuring the education of the town’s children and reducing poverty and malnutrition.

But it all starts with water.In 2006, Heifer began to offer assistance with sheep and donkeys (that can carry water) and in 2011, in conjunction with Bethlehem Foundation and the GIC community group, Heifer dug a borehole that would provide clean, potable water to the town — for which the people are indescribably grateful.

The daily queue for precious water at the borehole.

The hole is 55 meters deep, but working 16.5 hours a day it’s already pushing capacity, and every day at noon it must be given 90 minutes to rest and refill. Barza’s borehole is managed by Tabitha Koffa, president of the GIC, and with the water committee, she’s established a system of distribution based on the town quadrants, and a maintenance fund to which everyone contributes in the event the borehole needs repair: $4/year for a family; $2/year for a single person.

Borehole President Tabitha Koffa, with a lot on her mind.

Each of Barza’s 200 families may take (2) 20-liter jugs every other day of the fresh, clean water from the borehole –but it still takes about 150-200 liters of water a day to provide drinking, cooking, washing and animals’ water in these large households. So the women (and men, since Heifer’s gender trainings taught that water collection is not just women’s work) must still walk 5 miles each way to carry questionably safe river water back to their homes.

When I saw the process and drove (not walked) the route, I got enraged. Many philanthropic organizations like charity:water and Dig Deep have called water a basic human right – and when you consider the complete, utter, appalling waste of human capital as people haul water on their heads five miles to home … it makes you wonder what our priorities are. Yes, it’s a government’s job to build the infrastructure that provides water to people’s homes, but it’s a moral crime, in my estimation, for us to allow anyone on this planet to live without water.

One borehole costs @ $15,000. The Far North of Cameroon is estimated to need 11,600 of them. That would cost $174 million – about 40% of what the USA spends on a single F-22 Raptor aircraft.

Politicians can argue all they want about climate change, but the fact remains that we’ve caused the vast majority of it (Americans use 25% of the world’s energy & cause far more of the carbon emissions that are driving up temperatures and wreaking havoc on weather patterns) and poor people in the Sahel are picking up the tab.

Or should I say picking up the 20-liter bottles of unclean water, putting them on their heads, shifting their babies on their back – and walking slowly home.

Categories: Africa, Cameroon, Heifer International, Photography, Poverty, Travel, Water | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Edith Piaf in the Andes

As we drove up and up, from Cusco to Marcapata through the Ausangate Range of the Andes, the air got markedly thinner, and the scenery got wilder and more spectacular. There were five of us in the truck: me; Lidia, the adorable Director of Heifer Cusco; Rosaluz, my Heifer translator; Carlitos, our jovial driver; and Kristen, an enthusiastic American volunteer working in the Cusco office. As we blasted Edith Piaf on the CD player (in complete & wonderful incongruity), they tried to explain to me the intricacies of Heifer’s Alpaca Bio-Diversity in High Andean Communities program. I was trying hard to follow, but I kept getting distracted by the amazing views of llamas, alpacas, glaciers and peaks out the window….and La Vie en Rose.

Beautiful and pristine, this part of the Central Highlands is inhabited almost exclusively by llama and alpaca herding communities in one of the few remaining pastoralist societies in the world. The wet season runs from October – May, when the pastures soak up water like a sponge, and fluffballs of grazing alpacas dot the hillsides. In the dry season, May- October, life gets a lot more challenging, as pastures shrivel and the grazing is sparse. It’s a never-ending struggle for survival, and the 22 Andean communities in Heifer’s program are far-flung, small indigenous villages that are almost exclusively dependent on the alpaca for income, meat and sustenance.

 The Highlanders’ hard-wrung existence is further threatened by climate change, with disappearing glaciers leading to scarcity of water and diminished pasture; food insecurity (only potatoes grow at this rarefied altitude and 45% of children under 5 are malnourished), and the low quality of the alpaca herds.

In past years, white alpaca fur was by far the most valuable, so breeders began to kill their brown, black and tan alpacas. Before you could say “genetic disaster,” the 22 natural shades of alpaca became 90% white, and in-breeding caused a multitude of weaknesses in the animals.

Pretty blue eyes, but that's not a good sign in alpacas.

So Heifer is making an investment in these 4,333 alpaca-raising families to help them not only survive, but thrive. Working in partnership with AMADARES, a local NGO, Heifer is providing robust bulls in non-white alpaca colors, seeds and materials, as well as funding 2 veterinarian/technicians. In monthly workshops in each community, the techs teach the breeders better methods of reproduction, animal care, pasture maintenance, shearing, categorizing the fiber, and making alpaca handicrafts.

The alpaca rainbow coalition -- how beautiful!!

We met Claudio Pacco, one of the vet/techs, when we finally reached Marcopata at dusk, a sweet little town huddled in a valley between two giant mountains. Claudio lives in Puno and drives 9 hours every month to Marcopata to begin a 20-day stint where he rises daily at 4:30 a.m. to ride his motorcycle (brrrrrr!) to the remote villages so he can get there before 6 a.m. when the alpacas are put out to pasture.

Claudio at work, with a storm coming in.

Claudio is 31 and both his parents and grandparents were alpaca breeders, so he feels it was his destiny to be a vet. “I have a very inner feeling about alpacas,” he tells me shyly, “and I love working with them, even though they have lots of problems.”

Alpacas do have lots of problems – which I’ll be telling you about at length in my next post – but lack of love from Claudio isn’t one of them. I’ve rarely met anyone whom I felt was more committed, gentle and self-effacing (he wouldn’t even translate comments that praised him) – although I worried that he was never going to get married with a killer schedule like he’s keeping.

As we all walked back to our rustic hotel that night, getting ready for a big trip to the communities the next day, I looked up at the Ausangate Range and remembered that in Andean culture, the mountains are considered gods (“apu”), as protector and creator of the people, and source of water. Those sacred beliefs have held fast for six centuries — but now that gold has been found in the Ausangate, the mountains themselves are at risk of being torn apart, as well as the way of life of the alpaca farmers. The Heifer/ADAMARES teachings and trainings in community organization, empowerment, and building a sustainable economy are laying some great groundwork for a different outcome. Let’s just hope it’s in time for the next generation!

She's got her lasso and she's ready to go!

And just in case you’re longing for a bit of La Vie en Rose, here ya go!

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Heifer International, Peru, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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