Sunday, December 29, 2013

Why Do I Do This?

It is 7:30 in the morning. I just finished making a batch of banana bread and a batch of regular bread. Why? I have been awake since 4:00 am after about 4 hours of sleep. My body feels terrible. I have a strange headache even though I have taken medicine. My muscles are very stiff after a very restless sleep, where I was plagued with very real yet disjointed dreams. I have a hard time focusing my mind. I thought of soaking in a bath tub, watching a TV show or movie, reading a book, anything to occupy my time and my mind. My thoughts are a jumbled mess, weaving back and forth between Africa, North and South America. I drift between my very modern life and the primitive life of the people that I work with in these far away lands.

The bread? that is to keep my hands and body busy while my mind tries to sort out what races back and forth through it. It helps me to feel productive even though what I do each day seems so miniscule.

The 45 hours that I spent traveling back from Malawi have hammered my body, complicated with the day versus night time difference. I fight sleep all day whenever I sit down and at night I can't sleep inspite of being so tired. I take a nap during the day because I can't go any longer and wake up in a zombie like coma. I fight for an hour to get my body going and my head cleared. How do I deal with jet lag? Why do I deal with jet lag?

I go back to my title "Why do I do this?" Why do I put myself through such physical hell? Why do I spend weeks away from my family in conditions that push me to the edge. The water is polluted the food is suspect at best. The bugs are plentiful and often anxious to bite me. I hate having to cover myself with bug repellant, and sleep under a mosquito net but the alternative is much worse. There is always the concern that I will get some severe sickness due to a bug bite, contaminated food, dirty water, or just by shaking the hand of a little child. I often yearn for refuge as I work under these trying conditions, refuge in the word of God, refuge in the encouraging words of my family and friends over the internet (when it is available).

The heat and humidity is a constant challenge this time of year. I struggle to sleep at night as the thin foam pad that I sleep on seems to absorb every ounce of body heat multiply it and thrush it back at me throughout the night. I am constantly searching for a less hostile spot on the mattress where the heat is less intense. I roll to the other side and find relief just long enough to drift back to sleep before the mattress scorches me again. It does make it easier to get out of bed in the morning.

This last trip I had the pleasure to share my room with a large rat. He even decided to share my food, chewing through the plastic bag to get to my trail mix. I zipped my food inside my computer bag but found that he had worked the zipper open enough to squirm in for a late night snack. The thoughts of that rat crawling around on my bed as I slept added a sense of calm and serenity to my nights. NOT!

So why do I do it? Why not get a nice comfortable job here locally that pays better without all of the fringe benefits of third and fourth world travel. Why? Why? Why? Why would anyone take the path that I have taken? Was I somehow warped in my childhood as my mother shared with me The Road Less Traveled or No Man is an Island? Am I seeking some Holy Grail? Some Shangi La? The Impossible Dream?

It comes down to one simple fact. The Lord has asked me to do it and I must obey. I must have the understanding and the faith that my vision is limited and God knows all.  That even though I don't like all of what I have to go through, it is what is best for me. In God's infinite wisdom and intricate plan, He knows that this experience is what I need to grow and develop into the man that He needs me to be and that I would want to be if I had His perspective. God's plan is the perfect one so I follow it and watch the miracles happen.

What Miracles? Maybe tomorrow I will share some of them

Friday, August 30, 2013

How The Institue for Self Reliant Agriculture (SRA), feedtheworld.org helps rural families

Rosa and Rafael live on the steep hillsides above Mojanda. Like many other rural families they have been left behind by the world. Their small farm on an acre or two doesn't provide even enough food for the family to eat so Rafael travels to the city to work. Their main diet has been the corn that they harvested and a little bit that Rafael can buy with his meager pay. How does SRA help?

Rosa and six of their seven children in front of their home
When The Institute for Self Reliant Agriculture (SRA) did a presentation of the program to their village they wanted to participate. In the process the first step is to sign a contract. The family commits to complete an evaluation at the beginning and the end of the program to measure its effectiveness. They also commit to attend the training classes on health, nutrition, agronomy, and animal care. The children need to be enrolled in the local school. At the end of the program the family will give back to SRA, for other families, seeds and animals like they have received. If the family will commit to do these things then the program begins.

The vegetable garden for a variety of vegetables They are harvesting every day.
The evaluation and size measurements are done first to see the level of malnutrition in the family. Then a plan is set up as to what vegetables, grains, legumes, and animals will be used to fulfill the nutritional needs of the family. It is much more economical for these families to grow their own vegetables than to try and buy them in the market.  Once the plan is set up, the lessons begin: nutrition, health, cooking with new vegetables, etc.
Alfalfa on the right, and recently planted corn and beans on the left.
The agronomist teaches them to prepare the land for the different varieties of plants, what fertilizers to use, what illnesses and parasites to watch for, and how to treat them. He also helps them decide the quantity of the vegetables, grains, legumes, and forages that the will need to grow. Most families will have chickens for eggs and meat so they will need to raise corn for the chicken feed. They will usually have guinea pigs and a couple of goats so they need alfalfa to feed them. In the case of this family they have a sheep and some rabbits also.

The guinea pig are multiplying quickly
This family was given  one male and five female guinea pigs to start the program about a year ago. They now have about 40 guinea pigs and are able to eat about three each week as their protein source. The model stresses that their children's health is critical and they should not sell any produce from their farm unless all of their nutritional needs have been met and they have stores for the next season.

With all agriculture projects there are ups and downs. Newcastle disease came through their area and wiped out all of the chickens before they were able to do anything about it. With another lesson learned SRA will get them more chickens to start again. That is one of the reasons that this is a multi-year project. In agriculture each year is a little different.

This is about 1/3 of this families grain storage, some for food and some for planting next season.
This family has performed well. They have stored the corn, beans, barley, wheat and amaranth that they harvested this year. They have a years supply of their basic food needs and feed for their guinea pigs, rabbits, goats, chickens and sheep. All of it was grown on their own little farm. By the end of next year they should be totally self sufficient nutritionally and in a much better situation economically. SRA will do a final evaluation to see how well they are doing nutritionally and give them a graduation certificate. In most cases these family's diets will be much better than the average diet of children in the United States.

This family has already noticed the difference in their health, growth, and educational performance. If this family is like others that have finished the same program, the children will have good educations and will be able to get good employment, breaking the cycle of poverty in their family.

This program takes a lot of work and a lot of money for each family but the results for the family and indirectly to the community are long lasting. These families are taught how they can lift themselves out of poverty. They are then expected to teach and help others in the community to do the same.

The SRA program is one of the few programs that I have seen that doesn't create dependent people and leave "monuments to philanthropic ignorance" in the villages. It changes lives for the better!!



Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Institute for Self Reliant Agriculture's demonstration farm at La Universidad Technica del Norte

Today the staff from The Institute for Self Reliant Agriculture took us to their demonstration farm and research plots at La Universidad Technica del Norte in Ibarra, Ecuador. They have an impressive program where they show rural farmers how to improve the food production on their land.
Pablo, Sixto and Raquel gave me a tour of the project
Here they have set up the one hectare (2.47 acres) small scale agriculture model that was developed by the Benson Institute at Brigham Young University. The model teaches families to grow the crops and animals necessary for them to become nutritionally self sufficient and to improve their lives economically.

The alfalfa is doing very well. This is the dry season so some of the grain has not been planted yet.
The model includes planting a garden with a variety of vegetables to provide a balanced diet for the family, grains for the main part of the family's diet and forage and grain to feed the animal that provide the rest of the protein for the family's diet.
Potato and sweet potato are growing well in the demonstration garden

 The family also has small animal which are chosen based on the needs and the experience of the family. Chickens are usually one of the animals, rabbits, goats, and guinea pigs are other animals used in the model.

Here the SRA is raising guinea pigs that will be distributed to the families in the program. They grow rapidly only eating alfalfa and are a staple food in Ecuador.

Guinea pigs raised to be distributed to the families in the program. These will be the base for the families production of guinea pigs.
SRA and the University make good partners as they compliment the work that each of them is doing. SRA technicians teach the students how small scale agriculture can be used to break the chain of poverty for the rural farmers in the distant regions of the country.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Visits to the small rural farms in Cochas, Ecuador

In 1966 the government of Ecuador passed a law requiring the large land owners to give up some of their land to the local people that had worked on the haciendas "plantations". As a result a new group of small farmers developed.

Edelina and her children and very happy with what they have learned
Most of them were given the poorest land on the hacienda. They farm the steep slopes without irrigation water. In most cases these farmers grew one crop and had to buy the rest of their food in the market in the valleys far below. It became very difficult for these families to provide enough nutritious food for their children. About half of the children in these areas are malnourished. With the help of The Institute for Self Reliant Agriculture (SRA), Edelina now has enough to feed all of her children. This year they have grown enough that they will have food stored for the whole year plus enough to plant again. They currently have 40 guinea pigs that they use as their principle source of protein.

The first part of their harvest is in their storehouse ready to be shelled off the cob.







Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Working with other organizations to decrease malnutrition and poverty

Today we went to the Diocesis of Chulucanas for the Primer Encuentro Interinstitucional por el Desarrollo Humano Integral ( the First Inter-agency Conference on Integral Human Development). The organizer of the conference, Bishop Arturo Purcaro, hopes that by bringing groups together with similar goals more can be accomplished. It was a great opportunity to see the work that is being done in the area by other non-profit organizations that are focused on improving people's lives.

Richard and I waiting for the conference to start.
We traveled on to Frias where we met with the students of the nursing school there. The Institute for Self Reliant Agriculture (SRA) is partnering with the school to teach the rural villagers good hygiene and nutrition. The students went out and did an initial assessment of the habbits, health and nutrition in the rural areas around Frias. They have been trained how to teach these principles and have been given teaching materials. They will teach the families with a series of lessons. When the program is finished the survey will be done again to measure the acceptance and implementation with each family.
The students showing off their new hats that they will wear as they go to teach their lessons
They are excited to partner with SRA in this project. To show their appreciation and enthusiasm they put on a program for us where they sang songs and danced traditional dances. They are a talented group. Their performance was very fun.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Farm visits outside of Piura, Peru

The staff from The Institute for Self Reliant Agriculture (SRA) took us to three farms outside of Piura. These are small land owners that have young under nourished families. SRA does an initial assessment of the families and then works with them with the goal of improving their nutrition and economic situation. In the best scenarios the families become nutritionally self sufficient or self reliant.

The crop has been planted and is coming up, now he needs the irrigation water.
The area outside of Pirua is a desert but large dams provide water that turns it into fertile farm ground. Unfortunately the powerful irrigation companies control the water and can usually determine what the farmers produce. Rice uses a lot of  water and they make money selling water to the farmers so they require everyone to plant rice. If they don't the water flooding over the fields kills their other crops. This farmer is taking a chance on other crops like corn and beans. If they turn out ok they will bring him more nutritious  food for his family.

This farmer still cultivates by hand and with a horse but he has a cell phone also.
The agronomist from SRA works with the farmer to show him the other crops that he can grow and gives him the seeds that he needs. The SRA nutritionist works with the family to show them which plants provide the nutrients that their children are missing.

One of the challenges of this farmer is that people come and steal his produce. One of his neighbors has some very nice sweet potatos growing. It happens to be the same variety that was stolen from his garden a short time ago. In this area robbery of the crops is very common.

Guinea Pigs are an important protein source and grow quickly.
Chickens and turkeys provide eggs and meat to improve the children's nutrition.
The SRA animal scientist works with the families to help them develop housing for animals so they are protected from diseases and predators. They also work with the agronomist who teaches them how to grow  feed for the animals.
This farmer is very happy with the new food that he is learning to grow.

In just a few months the chain of poverty and malnutrition of these families is being broken. Under ideal conditions families can reach nutritional self sufficiency in two years. They now have the knowledge to break the chain of poverty.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Self Reliant Agriculture's Demonstration plots at La Universidad Nacional de Piura

Our first full day in Piura started with a late breakfast. I guess the hotel staff was not used to breakfast at 7:30. After a half an hour wait they served us eggs, rolls, and fresh fruit juice. Oscar patiently waited while we ate our breakfast. He filled us in on what was going on.

Carlos showing Richard the elephant grass trials
We met Carlos and Abel at the office and rode over with them to the University where they showed us the demonstration plots. These have several functions. They give the staff a place that they can show the small scale model to farmers, students, and government officials. Showing is always more effective than telling. The plots are also used to evaluate different varieties of plants that can be used on the small family farm. In addition University students can participate in the planting, nourishing, and harvesting of the various crops so that they know how to do it practically not just theoretically.


One of the evaluation plots. The yellow and black things are insect traps.
The crops are doing well and the seeds can be harvested and distributed out to the participating farmers. In some cases like sweet potatos, cuttings are taken to transplant on the farms.
The nursery garden with the compost mixing area in the back.

They have a small nursery garden where they start some of the plants. They are transplanted when they are big and strong enough to go on their own.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Peru and Ecuador with The Institute for Self Reliant Agriculture (SRA)

I am off on another adventure that I am really excited about. I am going to Peru and Ecuador for The Institute for Self Reliant Agriculture (SRA). I will be leaning how their model is being implemented in these two countries and reporting to the board of directors. I have the great privilege of accompanying Richard Brimhall who is on the board and is the former Associate Director of The Benson Institute.

We met with Alan Silva in Miami to get an update of the projects and personnel. Alan is very good at organizing and presenting a lot of information in a short period of time. We spent all morning with Alan and had a pretty good idea of what was going on with the two projects when we finished.

As we boarded our plane Richard told me of some of the problems that he had had with checked luggage when flying to Peru. I had checked about everything so I was very hopeful that at least one of my suitcases would arrive without problems. I was very happy to see both of them arrive.

We took a taxi to our hotel across town. We were charged $40 or 120 soles for the ride. It seemed high but without experience in the country we didn't have much of a choice.

We stayed at Los Delfines Hotel in Lima. They provided a very nice buffet breakfast that included some traditional Peruvian food as well as continental breakfast items. The fresh fruit juices were phenomenal.

We walked down the street to get a taxi to take us to church. They often charge more if you get them right at the hotel. Our driver was a very nice older gentleman that struggled to find the church. He asked several people if they knew where the address was including a policeman. No one knew where it was. Richard had written down two addresses so the taxi took us to the second address which was further away. When we arrived and asked how much he replied that he was very embarrassed for not knowing the first address and didn't expect to get paid anything. We insisted that he at least get something so he accepted 5 soles ($2).

The church meetings were very inspiring. The members of the church welcomed us with open arms and treated us like special guests. I really enjoyed going and learning how I can improve my life.

The return taxi ride to the hotel charged us 7 soles ($3). We packed up, checked out and caught another taxi to the airport. The taxi driver found that his license to enter the airport was expired so he had to drop us off outside the airport and we walked the last couple hundred yards in. He charged us 30 soles($12.50). We have a better idea of what taxis charge now.

Our flight to Piura went well and Oscar, the director, picked us up at the airport and took us to our quaint little hotel. I was very tired from the travel so after checking a few emails I went to bed.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Baby Blankets for the Clinic

Today we went to the clinic to start the day off. 
Naomi and I by the clinic water tank
Naomi met us there to receive the blankets that Nancy Littlefield had sent over. I was very excited to bring them. On Friday mornings they give immunizations to the babies that have recently been born. There were many mothers present with her newborn babies. We distributed a new blanket to each one of the mothers that was there with her new baby. We also stayed to talk to Naomi and Joyce,her assistant, about the challenges of working in Ethiopia. The two of them work 24/7. They will deliver about 50 babies/month plus handle all of the other issues.

Mother's with their new blankets for their babies
I ask Naomi about the goat milk for the mothers with AIDS she said that they had four mothers on the program for a while but now they do not have any mothers on the program. I followed up a little bit more about the situation. It appears that the mammary glands do filter out the AIDS or the HIV virus so mother can nurse the baby and not give her baby AIDS. However other bodily fluids can transmit the aids to the babies. So they recommend that the mothers do not nurse their babies for more than six months.

There is a great stigma in the culture if the mother isn't nursing her baby. So there is pressure for the mothers with AIDS to continue nursing their babies later on. So if we have the goat milk then the mothers don't feel quite so much pressure to nurse the babies after the six month time frame.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Kenya with Thrive Life


Jason, Lindsay, and Amy in Amsterdam after a long flight

I am very excited to go to Kenya again. This time I will be going with Jason and Lindsay Budge, and Steve and Amy Palmer, the founders of Shelf Reliance that has grown to be Thrive Life. Alan Silva from The Institute for Self Reliant Agriculture, SRA, will be going with us also. It is a wonderful group!

We started our journey learning another lesson about travel. Double check and make sure your names is exactly the same on your passport and your tickets. One of our group had her middle name listed on one and  her maiden name as her middle name on the other. They had to change the tickets which led to a long story that will probably be funny but now is just painful.

We added  to our group in Mombasa to complete our expedition group. We have Alan, Steve, Angela, Amy, Lindsay, Jason, Martin, and Leah
In Amsterdam we also met up with Alan for our long flight to Nairobi. Leah met us at the airport with John, our driver. The battery was dead on the car so we asked around until we found someone with "jumper cables" (they were really just two lengths of heavy wire that we held against the battery posts). After the car started the guy with the cables wanted me to pay him. I have learned to defer to my native counterpart who understands the culture and knows what is appropriate. Leah gave him about 300 Kenyan Shillings ($3.5) to share as he saw fit with the crowd that had gathered to help. It was one of those times that I wish that I understood the language. It appeared that some of them were discontent with how it all happened. I have helped dozens of people start their cars with jumper cables and have never accepted anything but thanks.
Amy points out that there isn't much room between the cars after the attendant has Leah park in a spot definitely to narrow.

We stayed at the Nayali Hotel in Mombasa. The parking attendant had Leah pull into a spot that only had about a foot on each side of the car. I had to crawl to the back seat to be able to squeeze out of the car. In spite of the parking attendants confusion as to how to turn the wheel Leah was able to drive in and then back out the next morning.

As I walked down to the beach passed the swimming pool, I was almost wishing that I had scheduled a few hours extra in the morning to relax at the hotel. It was raining but there were still several people enjoying the beach.

We had a very nice buffet style breakfast in the hotel. Marty and Angela from Aqua Culture without Frontier joined our expedition group. They will look at the water situation and give us recommendations on how to better utilize the water that is here. They also can give us ideas of using fish ponds in some of the areas.

Leah and Amy picked up Steve at the airport to complete our group. We should get the last of the luggage at the airport tomorrow. We know that it finally arrived in Mombasa. Travel tip #2: always put a change of clothes in your carry on in case your bags don't arrive when you do.We look forward to a great expedition in spite of a few set backs to start it off. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Water Cisterns for the Village School Children

The representatives from Thrive Life and I will be helping a school build a water cistern like the one in the picture. It captures the rain water from the school and gives them relatively clean drinking water, which is a huge improvement over their former routine of having the children walk a far distance to a pond to get very dirty water.

A large water cistern that collects water from the roof of the school when it rains.
This was installed in a village thanks to a school in Ogden Utah.
There are no water systems to provide water for this village. They walk to the closest pond or river depending on the dryness of the season. Women carry five gallon jugs of water on their heads every day for long distances to provide water for their families. In most cases the water that they collect is polluted with bacteria, microorganisms, and other impurities. Having a cistern to capture rain water can literally be the difference between life and death for some of these children. This cistern program is an option that they can utilize until they are able to gather the resources for a better water system. 

This school is almost finished, and now, thanks to assistance from Thrive Life, there will be  water for the children to drink
The philosophy of Koins for Kenya and The Institute for Self Reliant Agriculture,SRA is to ask the people receiving help to do all that they can on their own: i.e. - haul sand from the river, break rocks into gravel, provide the labor, and come up with 10% of the money. It costs $4000 to for the rest of the supplies that need to be purchased. The average wage is about $1 per day so it would be impossible for them to raise the money for the entire project on their own. With this program, the villagers feel ownership of the project while the donors make it possible to be completed.

The large rocks will be crushed by hand into gravel for making the concrete for the cistern
This school is being built as part of a similar program where donors provide the financial assistance that bridges the gap between what the people can do themselves and what needs to be done. This model has helped to build over 50 schools that now educate about 8000 students. It is amazing to see what has happened.
The cistern skeleton is being done. This is a very exciting time for the villagers.

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