Monday, July 21, 2014

Beulah 2014

On July 8th, I had the privilege of representing World Hope Canada to a gathering of roughly 1000 people at an annual conference (Beulah) of the Wesleyan Church near Saint John, New Brunswick. Below is the script and video (also available on YouTube) from that presentation:

video


The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the most desperate countries on the planet. Many people go daily without the basic necessities of life in a nation ravaged by war, corruption, and poverty that have killed millions and constantly leave millions more destitute.

World Hope Canada, in partnership with the Congolese national church, is helping to reverse this trend through projects and programs that equip health systems, advance food security, and enable entrepreneurship. Among these initiatives is FISH for HOPE.
Aquaculture, the farming of fish, has contributed to sustainable livelihoods in the past, providing much needed food and income for general household needs. But civil war in the 1990s cast these development initiatives into disarray and forced people deeper into poverty and hardship. Even though aid organizations have returned, aquaculture has not been a development priority, leaving it unsupported by government and non-government programs.

For the past two years, FISH for HOPE has been working to fill this gap. We have begun to reinvigorate the aquaculture sector, bringing improved food security and household income to literally thousands of people in Equateur Province.

We visited the project in February of this year. Because we are in regular contact with our management team in Congo, we knew the figures on how many seminars had been conducted, how many people had been trained, but the real impacts that we saw first-hand were more than I had even hoped for.

Aside from Mama Marie, who you can read about in World Hope’s most recent Annual Report (as well as on this blog - click here), Tandala was the first fish farming village we visited during that February tour. World Hope Board member Ralph Sikkema and I were led to the community fish ponds, descending a steep sloop that emerged onto numerous ponds surrounded by dozens of fish farmers eagerly anticipating our arrival. A hundred farmers had attended the aquaculture training seminar at the start of the project. With updated skills and roughly $200 worth of tools, they built and refurbished 130 ponds, by hand.

Mama Dobolo lives in the community of Karawa. She also attended one of our aquaculture training seminars and received the tool subsidy. With these tools, she constructed a small fish farm. From the revenue of her first harvest of fish, a single pond, she was able to invest in a goat. Even though the goat was promptly stolen, she had enough capacity in the harvest of another pond to purchase another goat. This goat she later sold and purchased a pig, strategically building on her investment. Mama Dobolo has a new measure of hope for her family’s well-being. She had only gratitude for the efforts of World Hope in addressing the needs of Congolese families.

From here, I wanted to know what portion of household income is represented by a rural fish farm. For a family with at least three ponds, aquaculture contributes as much as 75% of that family’s livelihood. They use a portion of the harvest for their own consumption and sell the rest locally for cash that can be used to purchase health care, other food items, and pay school fees. In a report from our project manager just last week, I learned of a fish farmer who is literally putting his two daughters through college with the revenue from his ponds!
This is no small deal! It’s not just an oversized backyard mud puddle. For those who are farming fish, it’s their livelihood, it’s survival. With our assistance, they are experiencing greater prosperity and renewed hope for the well-being of their families.

FISH for HOPE will continue to contribute to families and communities through aquaculture development and support. Your help in promoting the work of World Hope Canada financially will advance the impact that we are having on poverty alleviation in the Congo.

Here’s one of the parts I love most about this project: It wasn’t all about Canadian experts who arrived on the ground and told the people what they needed in order to succeed in aquaculture. It hasn’t been the leadership of Canadian experts on the ground that has ensured the success of this project. FISH for HOPE was designed after the obvious needs of the people and is driven by nationals. Of course it may not have happened without the God-given direction on the hearts of World Hope staff and volunteers and the financial support of donors, but our Congolese partners themselves will ensure the progression of this sector and the on-going contribution that it makes to the livelihoods of their families. It’s worth investing in.

If the work of World Hope resonates with you, track us down. We’d love to tell you more about our work to save lives and bring hope, in compassion.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Women in Rural Aquaculture - Understanding Why


In Congo, as in many other developing countries, there is an emphasis on inclusion of women in development activities for their empowerment and to put money into the hands of the most responsible family member--the mom. Recognizing this trend (though not fully grasping its importance in the Congolese context) I have also promoted the involvement of women in our aquaculture support initiatives. But there are too many men doing little, waiting for viable employment and a meaningful occupation. There are men languishing about while their homes and families are neglected, waiting for economic up-turn, so that they can get a job and provide for their family...after they've purchased a new bicycle or radio, in some cases. Why place the added burden of fish farming on the already over-worked women? Why not encourage the under-employed men to take up this enterprise for the betterment of their families?


During my tour of the FISH for HOPE project in February, I met many women at each fish farming community who have taken the tools and knowledge that we've provided, and constructed, or are constructing fish ponds. I met two particularly industrious women, Maman Dobolo and Maman Marie, who have taken up fish farming for survival of their families. Maman Dobolo has already had enough revenue from her ponds to purchase two goats and has used the tools we gave for fish farming to also improve her garden. When we stopped in on Marie, she was knee-deep in muddy water, laboriously moving soil to prepare her ponds. They recognize that this enterprise can shift the balance of health and suffering. These women needed a way to feed their families and they see fish farming as the solution.

The difficulty of life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is outside the perspective for many of us living in affluence. Everything takes so much more effort and time - collecting water, gardening, preparing food, washing. And in most households these chores fall to the women and children.
But loads of men have also built ponds - in fact, more men than women. Why is it important to include women? I knew I was still missing the mark on this topic and wanted to understand the man-woman dynamic better.

Maman Corrine is the Director of Women's Ministries for the CEUM (Ubangi-Mongala church region of Equateur Province, DRC), as well as a wife and mother. Her husband died several years ago, so she knows particular hardship in providing for her family, not just the basics, but even a post-secondary education. I asked her opinion on the importance of including women in development initiatives, especially aquaculture.

She informed me of the male-dominated culture, of too much palm wine, of the man who props himself up in a chair each morning and waits for his wife to bring him his coffee and toothbrush. She told me of the gap in priorities, men valuing things that bring apparent status, over the things that bring health and well-being to their families. 


Corrine Kitwit (second from left), Dir. of Women's Ministries, alongside Pastor Dole, Coordinator of Aquaculture Devt.

However, she also told me about the shifting mindset among many men, particularly those of the Christian community. The message of gender equality is spreading through villages as a result of educational projects in the church supported by World Hope Canada. More and more men, including fish farmers, are recognizing the value of women as partners in the home, not simply laborers. The family dynamic is moving toward greater balance in the role of each member. This is good news for rural prosperity and family well-being, and it's a development theme that we can support by encouraging women to become involved in aquaculture.

Stephen Hall, Director General of Worldfish Centre says this:

"Until we achieve a transformation in values, beliefs, mindsets, attitudes, behaviors and practices, development efforts will be critically constrained. In particular, it needs to be understood that giving more opportunities to women does not mean taking away opportunities from men; empowerment benefits everyone." (full blog post, 6 March 2014).

Women don't need more to do, but they need latitude to participate in income-generating enterprises that benefit their families. Men don't just need a job, but they need to recognize the contribution that they can make to their households in partnership with their wives. Women have the best interests of their family in mind and the church is influencing men to share this value more deeply. The church is helping to transform the values, attitudes, and behaviors of Congolese men, and World Hope Canada is creating opportunities for women through aquaculture. Be a part of it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fish Farmer Profile - Marie

Imagine the matriarch of your family, sixty years old, one day announcing that your family is going to uproot, move to the outskirts of town, build a new home, and start farming. You are able to carry all of your meager possessions in a small cart to the site where you will spend the next several months building a new house and preparing the land. Fish farming is the new enterprise and the ponds will be dug manually using a few shovels, machetes, hoes, and buckets. Imagine, finally, that this is not simply a career change, but a strategy for survival.

This is absolute reality for Maman Marie in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Turning sixty years old this fall and the main provider in her family, she needed a reliable means to provide for and even feed those who are dependent on her leadership. Knowing she had to do something to slow her family's descent into more desperate poverty, and having witnessed the value that aquaculture had brought to other families, she attended one of our week-long fish farming seminars in Gemena. She immediately decided to relocate her home to another piece of property outside of town and risk the little she had on a new venture.

She started by building her new house next to the site of her planned ponds, since this is the best way to minimize poaching of the fish (something she picked up from the training). When we arrived to meet her, she was painstakingly excavating two ponds, with the help of only one other, young, male family member, using only shovels and a basin. This was the first time I had actually seen first-hand the immense effort that goes into pond construction in Equateur Province. We would hardly dream of such a laborious project in our uber-productive society with easy access to heavy equipment and financing.

Marie is in the background filling her basin with soil. She then moves this to another area of the dyke and unloads it using the shovel, as in the video below.
video

Though the options for self-employment are limited in Equateur Province, Maman Marie could have chosen to buy small merchandise for resale or raise some other livestock such as goats, hogs, or chickens. But she chose aquaculture for a few practical reasons:
  • Fish don't wander - other livestock are free to roam the neighborhood, foraging for nourishment; this reduces the need for costly feed inputs, but makes them extremely vulnerable to theft.
  • Fish are not as susceptible to disease - other livestock have been ravaged by disease in recent years; this devastates family investments and aggravates their condition of poverty.
  • Fish are calming - Marie enjoys watching and caring for fish; this is another topic altogether, but peacefulness as a matter of mental health is an important contributor to well-being in combination with what we would consider the vital elements of survival; after all, how much of our time, effort, and finances are spent on leisure and other intangible benefits to our well-being; the satisfaction that Marie takes from fish is a legitimate value.
Unfortunately, Marie wasn't part of a seminar where tool subsidies were distributed, but, tools or not, she was motivated by the training and knowledge of aquaculture. Furthermore, she has rallied others in her neighborhood to enter into fish farming or refurbish ponds that have laid inactive for many years.
Marie and Emmanuel Dole with tools for building ponds

We were able to honor her enthusiasm and motivation by equipping her with a few tools that we purchased with funds donated by the Rotary Club of Truro. The tools came from a shop that fabricates a variety of products from scrap steel using equipment supplied by World Hope Canada. Sale of the tools supports the shop in other areas of its work. ...Multiplication of our investment.

I was overwhelmed when I realized the impact that our efforts have had for Marie and her family. It has been a similar story for many. We can do so much with so little. Be a part of it.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Malaria...!

Been there, done that,...now.  As of this morning, I've recovered from my first bout with the dreaded bug.  Turns out my jet-lag was more than just a misaligned biological clock and my previous post, "Home,...safe and sound", was a bit premature.  Three days of the illness itself and then three days coming down off the remedy inflicted a severe pounding on my body, but I'm feeling mostly normal today [sigh of relief]. 

Not that I would ever go looking to be deliberately infected with a potentially crippling and possibly lethal infection, but I consider it a privilege to have had this experience.  It's one of the risks we take, it kinda comes with the territory, like they say.  I'm pleased that I can now relate to my African friends on another level. 

By no means do I seek to diminish the severity of this brutal disease.  According to the WHO, there were an estimated 627 000 deaths due to malaria in 2012, 90% of which occurred in sub-Saharan Africa.  DR Congo is in a list of six African countries where infections are most prevalent.  Globally, 77% of deaths from malaria are among children under 5 years old.  Thus, one child died from malaria almost every minute. 

So, easy for me to say that having malaria is a privilege, right?  I endured my case propped up for two nights on a comfortable bed in a modern hospital, nurses stations in both directions, private bathroom with safe running water, flushing toilet, hot shower, meals on order, and medications galore.  Contrast that with crowded, run-down hospitals without adequate supplies, no indoor plumbing, and no food service.  I'm told that the malaria cure in DR Congo costs less than $5 - many people can't afford it and the government does nothing to help (2012 Malaria Report, DR Congo). 

Therefore, part of the privilege is in my perspective, being so recently in the poorest country in the world and then promptly finding myself in the midst of North American prosperity.  I found myself in tears one night this week, thinking about the conditions that people endure,...and the affluence that we have come to expect for ourselves.  I continue to get deeper glimpses into the realities of life in Congo each time I go.  The crazy thing:  I can just hop on a plane and fly away from it all. 

I don't presume to think that we should lower our standard of living to match that of those who suffer most.  Hardly.  My biggest point is this:  I haven't decided if we have only little or absolutely nothing to complain about as Canadians.  Frankly, I have little tolerance for it these days, though it's easy to do.  Here's my philosophy lately concerning things that seem worth complaining about:  Deal with it, or do something about it. 

Complaining is infectious negativity.  Of course there's a balance in talking about the things of life that are difficult.  This can be productive and even freeing, but I think out-and-out complaining is neither.  We have SO MUCH to be thankful for.  Oh, and something else I was reminded of this week:  The most important things are not things,...they're RELATIONSHIPS.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Tandala, DR Congo

Though severely jetlagged and after a short episode of food poisoning in-country, I am home following a very successful visit to our fish farming project in DR Congo.  The impact of our support for aquaculture in Equateur Province was clear from our first interactions with leaders in the area.  The enthusiasm for aquaculture, increased productivity, and thus greater contribution it makes to lives is admittedly not just more than I expected from our work, but even more than I had hoped for.  Many new ponds have sprung up, some owned by people who have not farmed fish before now.  Other ponds that have laid idle for fifteen years have been refurbished and are now growing fish for household use and sale.  Over coming weeks, I will relay stories of individuals and groups who have benefitted from the training, tools, and encouragement offered through our work. 

Fish farmers group, Tandala, Equateur Province, DR Congo.
The fish farming group in Tandala was the first area we visited on our arrival in Equateur Province.  Anticipating our (myself and Emmanuel Dole) arrival, people had come from as far as 40 km to hear from us.  I spent part of one evening, hovered over a stainless steel bowl of fish they had brought as a gift, and some example predators (insects, frog), surrounded by fish farmers, discussing their challenges and learning from them.  They have made great advancements and are enthusiastic, but still face several obstacles in increasing pond output--the most notable being theft, unfortunately.


The next day, we walked just down the hill to visit a set of ponds owned by 100 people.  All of these individuals had received the seminar training, but only two received the $25 tool subsidy.  With $50 in tools (a mixture of 8-10 shovels, machetes, or hoes) and whatever other tools they already had among them, they constructed or refurbished 133 ponds!  I had to clarify several times to be sure something wasn't getting screwed up in translation--133 ponds! with $50 in tools!  That's crazy.

We had a meeting with this fish farming group that day to hear their challenges and bring encouragement.  It was the first time it hit me that, sure, I am part of the reason that this has happened, but it has been the leadership of Emmanuel Dole and the motivation of the fish farmers themselves that has brought this success.  I'm thrilled to be a part of a solution, but glad that I'm not the driving force.  ...They are.

Friday, February 14, 2014

DR Congo - Travel 2014

I leave tomorrow for Congo and the fish farming project in Equateur Province!  I'm eager to see Pastor Dole, our Regional Coordinator, as well as visit with fish farmers, and plan future aquaculture support objectives.

I'll be traveling with three others from World Hope Canada--Sheldon and Stephanie Gilmer, and Ralph Sikeema--with the intention of providing support and supervision to other projects in the same region.  We'll spend two days (Monday-Tuesday) in the capital, Kinshasa next week where I'm intending to visit the country office of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN.  If you're into praying, you might pray that our visit with that office would be productive in accessing FAO funding programs.  This could be a big asset in moving our work forward.

I'll be carrying with me about 75 lbs of gifts and supplies (see photo) for Emmanuel Dole and his family, as well as fish farmers.  A lot of it is practical (fish farming manuals, printer, good quality rubber boots, rain jackets), but some of it is purely fun (soccer gear, maple syrup, Jiffy Pop)--things that we enjoy here, but are difficult or impossible to find otherwise in DRC.  Many donors have contributed to this mound of goods:

Rotary Club of Truro, NS
Soccer association, Truro, NS
Ship to Shore Outfitters, Barrington Passage, NS
Wilson's Shopping Centre, Barrington Passage, NS
Barrington Area Soccer Association, Barrington Passage, NS
Several individual donors


Many thanks to the people who help to make this project meaningful and promote our efforts in improving food security in the Congo.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

AANS - 2014

I am thankful for the support provided to FISH for HOPE by the Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia (AANS) in recent years.  This relationship has provided valuable exposure and funding for my work in DR Congo.
 
Again this year, at our annual Seafarmers Conference in Halifax, the association has graciously provided a speaking slot in the busy agenda where I can update our members on what's happening in DRC, and promote ongoing humanitarian efforts through aquaculture. 

I love being part of the aquaculture community.  It's grassroots, it's farming, it's food production,...it's challenging on many levels.  In my opinion, the work in Africa and the AANS support of it is another example of our sector's commitment to responsible aquaculture.  Members of this sector are not purely inward looking, but are part of a network of aquatic producers that endeavor to make sound decisions for local and global benefit.

Thank-you, AANS.