Posts Tagged With: Partners in Health

Goats … an anti-viral agent.

If you’re a woman in Rwanda, you’re almost twice as likely to be infected with HIV as a man. That seems hideously unfair, particularly after rape was used as a weapon during the genocide of 1994, resulting in a huge swell in the numbers of infected women. Still, even today it is a reality.

Cluadine Uwamaiya, mother of six and HIV+ in Kibungo.

So Heifer International has teamed up with my second most favorite organization, Partners in Health, to improve the health, nutrition and income of people living with HIV/AIDS in the Eastern Province, who make up 2.5% of the population there.

Partners in Health, which grew out of Dr. Paul Farmer’s pioneering community health work in Haiti in the 1980s, is the first responder. Since 2005, PIH has been providing crucial medicine and health care to HIV patients, as well as food packages for 10 months, in order to strengthen and stabilize these weak, poor and malnourished folks and get them on the road to recovery. But after that immediate intervention, patients still needed a way to provide themselves and their families with sustainable income and food security. And that’s where goats (and Heifer) come in.

Goats are quick to reproduce (they can be bred in the first year), their milk is highly nutritious (reportedly it really helps bolster one’s white blood cells that fight off infection) and with easily available forage (old banana peels, kitchen waste and some grasses) goats will produce a lot of poop to fertilize vegetable gardens that the people are encouraged and trained to plant. So Heifer has given away hundreds of South African dairy goats to people like Charlotte, who has used that gift to transform her life.

Charlotte found out she was HIV+ in 2003, after she had four heartbreaking miscarriages in a row and went in for a test. But her husband, from whom she got the infection, argued that she was not infected and so she got thinner and sicker until 2005, when she visited PIH (or Inshuti Mu Buzima as it’s known in Kinyarwanda) and was put on life-saving medications. In 2009,  Charlotte received a goat from Heifer, passed on its first female offspring to another family, and now has two more female offspring that provide her with so much milk, she has plenty to sell.

Nobody in Rwanda would ever drink goat milk before .. but they love it now!

With her goat milk income, Charlotte bought a pig that is now pregnant, and she can sell those piglets for about $120/each (if healthy and fat, a pig can have two litters a year of about 8-12 piglets each). Charlotte also bought a heifer and is eager to raise more goats, sell more milk, plant more vegetables and bananas, and buy more land. In a big kitchen garden that surrounds her house, she also grows carrots, beets, and maize that she sells, but she’s really famous for her excellent bananas (thanks to copious amounts of manure).  

Her 13-year old son is tall and handsome, and she’ll have the money to send him to the best secondary school –although in Rwanda it’s considered quite a tragedy to have just one child (a fact my only-child Lulu found ironic). When she talked about her four missing children, Charlotte looked bereft, but she quickly said, “I don’t think about being sick, I think about the future. It’s only when I talk about being sick that I get sad.”

Leaving Kibungo…

As we pulled away from her house, I was thinking of how Charlotte had stood up in front of the whole town meeting and told her story, and the courage that must have taken. Then I thought of the song the people were singing at the meeting (it only rhymes in Kinyarwanda, folks): “People say if you have HIV/AIDS you are going to die, but we are not prepared to die… We are going to live!”

Categories: Africa, Animals, Heifer International, Photography, Rwanda, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

A fishful of dollars.

Every last tilapia is precious.

Valentin Abe

What you don’t know about tilapia could fill a hatchery. Trust me on this.

When I went to Valentin Abe’s new, solar-powered, mega-cool Caribbean Harvest hatchery in the Central Plateau of Haiti, I was taking notes as fast as my fat little digits could write, and I still only got half of everything this awesome guy from the Ivory Coast (and Fulbright scholar at Auburn University… and one of Time‘s 100 most influential people in the world) told us about how farm fishing can transform the lives of the poor.

Brooders brooding.

Tilapia farming starts with a bunch of brooders (doesn’t everything??) – whose genetic lineage can be traced back to the Nile. With oxygen pumped through the water that is sourced from the nearby river (filtered and cleansed), the brooders can breed at 4 months and will reproduce every six weeks (as long as you remove the baby fish so the mommies aren’t distracted).  The female lays her eggs, the male fertilizes them, then mom incubates the eggs in her mouth (up to 2000 of them) for 4 days, then releases them, although they are still transparent and can’t be seen.

Little ones (tens of thousands of 'em)

Tilapia like togetherness: 600/cubic meter.

At 7 days of age, however, the babies become visible and instinctively head for the sides of the tank – where they can be removed with a fine mesh net in the cool of the early morning or late afternoon. The babies will then be transferred to separate tanks that hold 20,000 fish each, where they are fed, oxygenated and grown to 1/2″ long in about a month. At this point, the “fingerlings” are transferred in oxygenated plastic bags to nearby Lake Peligre where they are kept in cages owned by individual fishermen who will feed them three times a day for about 4 months.

When these babies get to be a pound apiece, each fishermen can sell his crop of 2000 tilapia for $2.40/pound (with $1.10 of that going to  expenses) — for a profit of about $2500 per harvest. And that, my friend, is the beautiful rainbow at the end of this long tilapia road.  It’s why Clinton Global Initiative has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hatchery, Partners in Health is ordering all the tilapia for its brand-new hospital in Mirebalais from Caribbean Harvest farmers, Solar Electric Light Fund has installed the beautifully reliable, sophisticated solar system, and Heifer International is donating the $450 cages to Peligre fishermen.

Beautiful Lake Peligre

Because once this operation gets up and running (it just came on line last month), it has the potential to produce 40,000 fingerlings a month —  which would be a game-changer for the poor communities around Lake Peligre and the surrounding Central Plateau.Despite the fact that this is an island, Haitians eat only 4.4 pounds of fish a year (contrasted to the global average of 35 pounds) and the country imports $26 million of cod annually from Taiwan. The beauty of farming tilapia locally is that while it improves the protein-starved diet of Haitians, it also provides an income to farmers and fisherman living around the lake — and supports the schools in villages like Sylguerre that we were lucky enough to visit with Valentin Abe to see the school and witness tilapia farming in action.

The schoolchildren were all waiting for us to dock ..over there.

Quick ... over here!

We can beat that stupid boat...

And we're all over here now .. Welcome!

Around the lake, 8 destitute schools with no government support are struggling to survive –with the help of Partners in Health and two teachers leading the Community Action for Education and Development around Lake Peligre(ACEDLP). Tilapia farming is an idea that can be scaled up quickly, produce sustainable profits, and enable the people to support their schools and get their children a good education.

"Now I don't have to choose which of my children I send to school."

The plan is for each fisherman to receive one free gift of 2000 tilapia fingerlings from Caribbean Harvest (and its sponsors) and a cage from Heifer International. After harvest, he will reinvest part of his proceeds in another crop of fingerlings, and then on the third harvest, put aside money to pass along the gift of a new cage to another farmer (Valentin estimates each farmer can harvest 3 crops of tilapia a year.)

There are still some kinks to be worked out: Abe found that 1/2″ tilapia babies survive better than the 2″ older ones during transfer, and the farmers have to perfect their feeding and distribution to prevent the fingerlings from perishing and get them to market while they’re fresh. But the potential is totally there for a sea change in the fishing industry of Haiti … with the beautiful Lake Peligre children on the line.

I’m in!

Categories: Haiti, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

The paradox of Haiti.

To be honest, I was a little nervous about going to Haiti, Month #2 in my 12-trips-in-12-months visiting Heifer International sites.  Not because I was scared something bad might happen to me, but because I was afraid I wouldn’t find anything good to say about the country.

Well, like most worrying, that was a waste of brain space.

3 big things to like about Haiti... girls going to school!

Despite Haiti’s mind-boggling set of challenges and truly appalling lack of infrastructure–which was the case even before the earthquake of January 12, 2010– the country is beautiful (really!) the people are irresistibly gregarious, gorgeous and dignified, and there’s more life packed in one square mile of this country than in some entire states of the USA (you know who you are).

Art in the wind in Port au Prince

Plus, the projects Heifer is undertaking in Haiti are amazing and on a scale that the organization has never undertaken before…which I seriously can’t wait to tell you about.

But I’m not going to be too Pollyanna here. Some of the things I saw here made me ashamed to witness them.

Tent children

When I was taking a photo of a huge pile of trash randomly on fire by the side of a garbage-choked watery culvert running through one of PAP’s more notorious slums, a Haitian man sternly shook his head, as if to rebuke me for trying to capture the utter desolation of that scene. I didn’t take the photo – but the odd thing was, what I really wanted to show was that walking right beside the blazing garbage, beautiful women in clean, ironed dresses passed men in dress shirts and neat trousers– all going to work, going to market, carrying on.That refusal to bow to the indignity of living in conditions that should be crippling is incredibly inspiring. The tap-taps of Haiti alone stole my heart, with names like “Patience” “Eternal Capable” and the slightly unnerving “Blood of Jesus.”Tiny children toting big gallons of water up steep hillsides stop to smile and wave. In villages where people scarcely have enough to eat, you’ll hear songs of praise wafting up from an unseen church. And everywhere – everywhere! – people are working incessantly to improve themselves and their country—which makes you want to do anything you can to empower them to write a better script for their future.

Unfortunately, “doing anything you can” is not a prescriptive or particularly helpful instinct in Haiti. Or as Paul Farmer of Partners in Health put it succinctly, “Doing good is never simple.” While over 50% of American households –and the rest of the world–donated $1.2 billion to relief organizations after the earthquake, 2 years later debris still clogs the streets of PAP, tent cities of unimaginable squalor still house more than 250,000 homeless (but it was 1.5 million 12 months ago!), and the unemployment rate is well over 50%.What Haiti needs now are a decent infrastructure, functioning government, income-generating jobs, and the ability to feed itself (like it was starting to do 20 years ago, before a flood of cheap American imports crushed the life out of Haiti’s smallholder farmers).Heifer’s powerful new projects in Haiti are all about addressing the last two imperatives of jobs & agriculture with integrity and vision.  But… I have to write about that tomorrow.

Today, after 7 straight days of bone-crushing rides smushed in the back of a Land Cruiser, I’m taking the afternoon off– although that is a relative term, as we still have 5 hours to Cap Haitien and somehow the resolutely cheerful Ewaldy has convinced me we should take the bad back road so I can see more of the “bon paysage.”

Eternal Capable – that’s Haiti (and hopefully me)!

Categories: Agriculture, Haiti, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 49 Comments

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