Author Archives: Betty Londergan

About Betty Londergan

Writer, Author, Deep Thinker, and Recklessly Happy Giver.

Fishing against the tide.

rough fishingIn the rough-and-tumble port city of Machala on the southwest coast of Ecuador, the tides come in and the men… like their fathers and grandfathers before them… go out to sea.grandpa

About 5000 fishermen live and work in Machala and most of them are small, artisanal fishermen. They go out in pairs, in brightly-painted boats with about 4000 feet of net, and they fish the 8 miles of protected water that is legally reserved for non-industrial fishing.throwing out

It’s hard work. The nets are heavy even before they are water-logged, and the men will generally let them out and pull them back in four or five times a day. The Machala fishermen are looking for corvina (sea bass) bagre (catfish) and robalo (bass) but there’s no doubt that there are far less fish – and far fewer species of fish– in the ocean these days.

Smaller catch... fewer fish

Smaller catch… fewer fish

In fact, 85% of the world’s fisheries are being harvested at capacity or are in decline—which is not sustainable by any calculation. “Todos menos,” (“Everything is less”) a town fisherman describes it succinctly.fish on floor

On a good day, two men can pull in $100 to $150 worth of fish – but $50 immediately goes to the intermediaries who sell 85% of all the fish in the Ecuadorian market. Heifer’s project in Machala, begun last year with a 26-family co-op, is working to enable those families to sell directly to customers without the intermediaries –with a new dock, ramp, and restaurant where the women can sell fresh fish, prepared fish, ceviche and their famous fried plantains.

You can never stop their hands from moving -- specially when they're shredding plantains!

You can never stop these women’s hands from moving — specially when they’re shredding plantains!

The new Heifer dock is  a visible, beautiful sign of progress and the community is proud as a pelican about it.new dock

As male-oriented as the fishing world is, it’s the women of Machala who are fiercely political, organized and focused on change. “We used to feel impotent, but now we know we can break the chain of the intermediaries,” said Rosa Lopez, who started the women’s group Movimiento de Mujeres de El Oro in 2003.

Along with a community banking program, she also established the Clean Food program to support Machala’s artisanal fishing & food sovereignty rights – then last year, went on to start the Coast to Sierra pipeline, bringing fresh fish by truck from Machala to the protein-starved Highlands families living three hours inland – and bringing fruit, vegetables and legumes in the empty trucks back to the produce-poor coast.greens

Women from Machala have taught their Highland cousins to clean, cook and love the fish – while they are improving their own nutrition with produce from the interior.

It’s a win/win effort improving both nutrition and income in both communities– and the best part is, the people doing the hard work are reaping the profits. “We have our own scales so we won’t get cheated, and we determine our own prices,” said Luis proudly.

Negotiating with the intermediaries is never a good part of the job.

Negotiating with the intermediaries is never easy — or pleasant.

Fishing is dangerous work and this close-knit community has learned to look out for each other, to protect themselves from thieving, piracy and even from the giant industrial boats that can take up to 100 tons of sea bass in one sweep through these fishermen’s protected waters.

It's hard to compete with gigantic factory ships in these small vessels.

It’s hard to compete with gigantic factory ships in these small vessels.

But the Heifer project’s investment in a spanking new dock has made them feel empowered and special.

the group

What a group!

“People can see the progress we’ve made and they’re going to be following our example of activism and cooperation,” adds Rosa. “I’m sure of it.”

A life on the water.

At home on the water in Machala.

I’m sure of it, too!

Categories: Ecuador, Environment, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Bienvenidos, Ecuador!!

sweet girlsIn the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit I’ve already been to Ecuador, my finale country in this year of travel for Heifer. But because with 12 x 12 I’m going to places nobody ever goes (the farms in poor, remote valleys and small fishing villages in risky ports on the coast), I’m actually seeing every country for the very first time– whether I’ve been there before or not.working fields

Ecuador is an awe-inspiring country in a whole bunch of ways. Although it’s rather small by South American standards, it’s one of 17 countries that biologists like to call “mega-diverse” (and how much do you love that phrase?)

The gigante petrino tree -- cousin to the mighty ceiba!

The gigante petrino tree — cousin to the mighty ceiba!

In fact, it’s got the most biodiversity per square mile of any country on earth – including these parrots.parrot

Ecuador is on the equator (duhhh!) but because it’s in the Andes and has the world’s highest active volcanoes (Cotopaxi is rumored to be due for a new blow-out), it’s not really sweaty-hot tropical. Cotapaxi

But it is one of the biggest producers of tropical crops – specifically shrimp, cocoa, sugar cane, coffee, and yes, bananas.banana plantation

Ecuador has a handsome, youngish President Rafael Correa who is progressive in the mold of Latin America’s dynamic new crop of politicians who are bringing courage, cajones and change to their people…. and that gives me cause for great optimism, despite the challenges of poverty and hunger in the rural provinces.girl in hammock

Quito, a beautiful colonial city that I remember as being rather run-down, is now hip, urbane and downright glossy.city on a hill

It’s amazing to come back 15 years later and see so much changed. However, the real glory of Ecuador, to my mind, is the charm of its people – particularly the indigenous people who live in La Sierra (as opposed to La Costa or La Amazonia)… although in truth, all Ecuadorians are pretty irresistible.blue & magenta

I’ve got such stories to tell about what I saw (and ate)! Stay tuned ..

Categories: Ecuador, Environment, Heifer International, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

It’s My Blog’s Day!

Last October, I proposed to Heifer International that I visit 12 countries in 12 months in 2012 to visit their projects around the world…. and they said yes!

Heifer 12 x 12 was born in January 2012, and today— 12/12/12 — I’m celebrating this journey of discovery & inspiration that is almost coming to an end. Thanks for coming along on this wild, joyful ride!!

Categories: Appalachia, Armenia, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Heifer International, Malawi, Nepal, Peru, Photography, Romania, Rwanda, Travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , , | 59 Comments

What I cooked in Malawi!

tastingMy hands-down favorite day in Malawi – and one I will never forget — is the day we visited Chimuti village in Mchinji District and the women dragged me into the “kitchen” to cook the national dish of nsima, a white, corn-powder concoction that looks like grits-on-steroids and tastes blandly divine.

Chimuti lies right near the border of Malawi and Zambia, and it’s a town so full of dazzling women and healthy cows, it’s like the poster child of what Heifer can accomplish.mom, baby & heifer

Before 2011, nobody in Chimuti raised dairy cows, but once they witnessed the prosperity brought about by cows in a neighboring town, they were all in.heifer

As we strode up to the house of Sophia Chimala, the women all began to clap and sing, and we saw her original heifer Shine, and the twins Shine had given birth to (after her first offspring was passed along to another needy family).sophia & heifer

Sophia is 45, beautiful, and spunky as all get-out. It was she who led me into the smoke-filled kitchen (that had me crying my eyes out after a minute or two) and told me to get to work with my two sous-chefs, Miss C & Miss P.

Miss C & Miss P - they're shy but powerful (in their Heifer wraps)

Miss C & Miss P – they’re shy but powerful (in their Heifer wraps)

And so I did get right down to work.

Me and Miss C, getting our cooking on...

Me and Miss C, getting our cooking on… (all photos of me taken by the fabulous Patti Ross)

Here’s what we made.

First, the beautiful vegetable dish:stirring vegs

Cut up leaves of the bean plant. Cook for ten minutes with some salted water in the pot. Add 3 cut-up tomatoes. Add ¾ of a dish of pounding nutsground peanuts (pounding them by hand and then sifting through basket weave requires a whole set of skills that I don’t possess – but my attempts sure amused everyone.) Cook the vegetables and nuts another minute and salt to taste. Don’t make Miss P. roll her eyes by requesting a hot pad to pick up the scalding pot cover … they never use them but somehow don’t get burned.

For Nsima:

Bring 3-4 cups of water almost to a boil. Sift in corn flour. Stir.

Me wimpily stirring...

Me wimpily stirring my nsima (with a lot of oversight)…

If lumpy, make a roux of water and flour in separate bowl and add back to the mix. Add about 5 cups of the corn flour. Stir very, very, very vigorously with a paddle – up and down, over and under, until you’re about ready to drop. Don’t mind if Miss C strongly urges you to stir a lot harder.

How it's really done by a pro...

A professional shows how it’s really done…

When it’s thickened, using a special spoon, dip in water then ladle out a mango-sized scoop of the mix, and plop it onto the plate, then dip the ladle in water again and use the back to carefully smooth the top into a big egg-like mound. Don’t forget to dip in water between every scoop or you will make Miss P very unhappy. Arrange the identical mounds of nsima carefully and make the plate look pretty.

making nsima

Wash all the dishes you will be using (and don’t forget to rinse thoroughly).  Clean pots with a bamboo branch and pretend you are not vastly entertaining every village child in sight.washing up

Serve the women and children outside, and serve the men inside. (And keep your mouth shut about that arrangement.) Be grateful that the children pretend that this is the best nsima they have ever eaten. my nsima!

Pretend you also fixed the fall-off-the-bone tender, mouth-watering chicken that Misses C & P made this morning.chicken

Stanch the river of tears still pouring out of your eyes from the kitchen fire smoke.tears

Eat one of the best meals of your life…lunch

…with some amazing, beautiful women (who were allowed to eat indoors), including the lovely Miss Sophia….  sophia1

…and Heifer’s project manager, aptly named Grace, who after lunch took us to visit some more beautiful cows and farmers in the village.

Heifer's Grace, walking through Mchinji village.

Heifer’s Grace Gopani Phiri, walking through Chimuti village.

See new tin roofs going up, cement floors being poured, healthy children, and the prosperity that these big Friesian heifers from Heifer have brought to Mchinji. mom & baby

Then visit Heifer’s BUA milk collection center that will allow 200 families from multiple villages to aggregate their milk and sell it commercially — a whole new income stream!collecting milk

Finally, thank God (and Heifer’s Victor Mhango, who master-minded my cooking initiation) for this amazing Mchinji day!! Farewell, beautiful Malawi …..girls2smiling boyheifer w girlsbaby heifersophia & hubbyFrangipani

Categories: Animals, Food, Heifer International, Hunger, Inspiration, Malawi, Photography, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 30 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

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