What Can a Rabbit Do?

The World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO)  have both identified malnutrition as a major factor in preventing the Ugandan people from moving out of poverty and into more substantial development. According to the WFP:

One in three Ugandan children suffer from stunting, a lifelong condition that results when children miss out on critical nutrients such as proteins, vitamins and minerals while in the womb or in the first five years of life. People affected by stunting are more likely to suffer from illnesses, drop out of school, be less productive at work and live shorter lives.

When one visits Uganda’s rural areas, you see hills rolling in lush greens – cassava, maize, sweet potatoes, and other grains and vegetables growing – but this oasis of vegetation does not prevent malnutrition by itself. It is the right combination of foods and healthy activities, including intensive breast feeding, which can prevent malnutrition from occurring in a child’s early years.

Uganda “spends [millions] per year treating cases of diarrhoea, anaemia and respiratory infections linked to malnutrition” (WFP), while also losing revenue as the citizens underperform in school and at work due to stunted childhoods. Western Uganda is suffering from malnutrition even more so. There, 44% of children are affected by malnutrition. Proper prevention of the causes of malnutrition would have immense positive impact on Ugandan families and the country as a whole. So, KIHEFO is tackling the problem.

So, what can a rabbit do (to solve malnutrition)?

Actually, quite a lot!

Rabbits feed families. Farmers gather inedible material like weeds, grass, and vegetable scraps to use as food for rabbits, which are a great source of protein and nutrients.

Rabbits breed quickly. If properly cared for, a female can produce a litter of half a dozen rabbits each month.

Rabbits produce fertilizer.  Rabbit droppings can be collected easily and used as an organic fertilizer to improve soil quality and overall yields.

Rabbits generate revenue. In the market, a rabbit can be sold for 15,000 Ugandan Shillings (equivalent of $6 US Dollars) which helps generate small income for poor households.

For these reasons, rabbits can be the vehicle to solving the problem of malnutrition in Uganda (and other countries). Rabbits can improve people’s diets and current farmland, but also provide the income to source other necessary components of a proper diet.

KIHEFO has researched using rabbits as a solution to malnutrition over the past few years, which led to the constructed of the Kigezi Rabbit Breeding, Training, and Processing Center outside of Kabale.

Inside you will find an assortment of cages. They are filled with five breeds of rabbits, to ensure diversity in future generations. Males and females are further separated, to allow for proper growth.

Cages are simply designed, made of wood and wire mesh. A door is needed to feed the rabbits and then remove the bunnies once they have matured.

Managed by Alphonse, a staff member of KIHEFO, the Center acts as not only the distribution hub for future clients. It also provides education through example. Outside is a small plot of kale that provides the food for the rabbits of the Center. Having everything locally available means that the Center is self-sustaining and requires low resources to operate.

In addition to setting up the infrastructure and initial supply of rabbits, KIHEFO is also conducting nutrition surveys in the outlying rural communities, identifying the most vulnerable populations – those dealing with disease and large numbers of children, many orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The villages of Rubira and Kicumbi have already seen the advantages of this program, with both families and communities starting their own rabbit breeding facilities. These are smaller in scale, but have the ability to grow.

If you want to support KIHEFO’s Rabbit Breeding Center and those families most in need, please let me know.


Investing in Education: School Uniforms

This INVESTING IN EDUCATION series of blog posts will follow a set of charitable initiatives to help rural Ghanaian children attend and excel at school, removing some of the barriers that may keep them in a cycle of poverty. I want to extent a high level of thanks to everyone who contributed funds and time to make these activities happen.

After hearing the story of a young man who made the trip from his village of Gbodda to the district capital of Bole with nothing to show for his work, I knew I needed to help.

To help his family earn some money, this 12-year-old boy brought a bag of charcoal from his home to the district capital on market day — Friday. The cost to get there was 1 cedi. After an entire day of waiting for a buyer and negotiating back and forth, he was able to sell it for 2 cedis. After a short time, he realized his horrible fate.

He had spent 1 cedi already, had earned 2, so had made a profit of 1 cedi. But still needed to make the right back home, which would cost him his entire earnings for the day. He was about to head home, after a day of anguish in the market, and have nothing to show for it. No food for his family, no money for his efforts.

After realizing the situation, he was devastated and headed to the nearest NGO for help — IBIS. There he told his story and asked for assistance. He had told the story of his family. His mother had left him, his father was an alcoholic, and his siblings were mainly raised by their grandmother. He has 2 younger brothers and a younger sister.

The family was not earning enough to eat on a regular basis and the father was drinking away any money that was coming in. The grandmother would make pottery and sell to earn a living. The children would do some work, here and there, to also earn funds for buying food.  Sadly, they were not on course to earn an education.

To help them out, the intern at IBIS gave them a short term remedy by providing them with a bag of rice. This would mean a source of food for a few months. The family’s jubilation can not be described adequately.

The other thing missing was the clothing required to attend school. Each school has its own colors and its required that children wear the appropriate clothes to illustrate what school they attend. In smaller, poorer villages, there is usually only one school, but this requirement still stands.

Obviously, if a family can’t afford to eat, they won’t have the funds to afford new clothes. So, with a little help from the Budget Officer of the Education Department, we planned to purchase 4 school uniforms (3 shirts, 3 short trousers, and 1 dress), along with 4 pairs of shoes for this family.

The day we handed out the items was the first day I had met the children. It always surprises me to hear stories of hard working children and then realize how young they truly are!

First we met the younger 3 and then the oldest boy came later. By the look of it, these kids had only one outfit. The clothes were ripped and the shoes were close to being unwearable. Although we couldn’t talk directly to them, the buzz of what they were about to receive was definitely understood by all.

We had gathered everyone up and headed next door to the school to meet the chief. After an explanation of the mission that day and the story of the young man, the chief gave his thanks and assurances that he personally would watch over the food that was given. Sadly, it was pointed out that the father had attempted to sell the rice to earn money for alcohol. He was stopped in time fortunately and will be monitored for any other attempts.

The chief was handed the clothing and then tried to dress the children, which was very comical to watch. One of his opinion leaders was also there to help. In the end, it was a great day. Although a new set of clothes and some shoes won’t bring immediate wealth to their family or food in their bowls, it will give them the opportunity to gain an education and maybe improve their fortunes. We can hope for that at least.

The next step is to replicate this act of donating a school uniform and a pair of shoes to another 50 children. There is no shortage of kids with this need, but due to a variety of conditions, Sumpuoryiri D/A Primary School was chosen to be the recipient of this good will.

From IBIS:

“The other school we will visit is Sumpuoryiri D/A Primary School, which is one of the many schools in Tinga. IBIS has a lot of CEP-learners (Complimentary Educational Programme) who gets transferred into this school. But often the learners can’t afford the school uniforms, which in some cases leads to drop out and in other cases to poor attendance. The reason as to why it affects the attendance, is that the children will be asked to help generate an income for their families. Especially in Tinga the children are sent to the mining areas to carry rocks, sell food, do laundry, wash rocks and basically they do all the minor jobs that no adult would want to do. In average the earn 3-6 cedis a day doing this. But they also have to buy food out of that money so the reality is that after 8 hours of carrying rocks a child has earned just under one dollar. Or in other words the child has to carry rocks for two months in order to pay for a school uniform. Another unfortunate aspect of the activities (galamsey) in the mining areas are a high rise in the number of children with tuberculosis and teenage pregnancies. The tuberculosis is the result of the dust they inhale while carrying rocks. 

“The children often sleep outside or in tents with ‘relatives’ and the girls are thereby vulnerable to men who befriends them by offering small food or other things and then demands sex in exchange. It might sound amazing that giving a girl a school uniform can prevent her from getting pregnant at 13 or 14 but the fact is that it actually can make a difference. Teenage pregnancies in Tinga accounts for 24,6% of the dropout from school. A girl is not allowed to go to school if she is pregnant. She is allowed however to return after giving birth, but most girls end up never returning to school. 

“All of these factors are unfortunately only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to barriers to children’s education in the Northern region of Ghana.”

After receiving a list of needy children from the primary school headmistress, it was off to Wa to start the process of tailoring so many uniforms. The headmistress had done a great job, by providing all the measurements and shoe sizes. 22 girls and 28 boys, ranging from KG to P6, will be the recipients of this generosity.

Everything is in motion now. All I need to do is pick up the uniforms, get into a vehicle, and deliver some good will to a lot of smart kids.


A Town Without Law and a Government That’s Slow to Act

Kui (pronounced kwee) is the name of a small town in the middle of Bole district, just east of Tinga. In the past, it would have been home to a few hundred farmers and it would have been nothing to write home about. But in the last five years, it has exploded in population and has become a focal point on the debate around Galamsey.

Galamsey is the act of gold mining (in this case, illegally), which can be either be done at surface or underground. It has become rampant in the district. Towns like Cloth and others to the south are also becoming quite well know for similar work and will soon be of a similar fate as Kui.

The journey to Kui starts at Tinga. It is one of the larger towns in Bole district with over 10,000 people within its limits. The dirt road leading to Kui is treacherous  Not only for the poor quality that can lead to accidents or break downs, but also for routine armed robbery. Luckily, I did not encounter either fate.

Long before you reach this hub of illegal mining, you will find other villages with their own little operation. Anywhere there is water and enough people to do the work, you can mine. Most operations have pumps to pull water from local streams and machines to separate the gold deposits from the sand, as seen below.

The town itself is sprawling. The main streets have shops just like any other town, but the ‘houses’ you find behind them are far different than any you would find near a main road. They are made from the most basic of materials. Four posts and some black plastic is all that’s used to make a room for oneself. There is an ocean of these structures, repeating again and again, as far as the eye can see. You may find a few wooden homes also scattered about; these are the property of the mine operators.

Traveling along the dirt roads that branch out of town, you will see many, many operations running and many sites that were are temporarily abandoned until water comes back. It is difficult to find the population of this area, but I’ve heard estimates from five to seven to 10 thousand. I think the middle number is probably a good average. During the rainy season, when water is more readily available, I’m the numbers will climb higher than what I’ve seen.

Due to limited time, I was unable to understand the complete working of a surface mine, but one can see from the photos that there aren’t too many steps involved. You simply excavate the soil by hand, have women carry it to the machines, and let them find the gold. Inside the machine you have a filter to catch large deposits. Then on the outflow, you have blue carpet-like fabric to catch any smaller pieces.

One of the major issues facing galamsey is the use of child labor. Women are tasked with doing the heavy work and sadly, girls in their early teens are forced into this type of work to provide for their family back home. Most workers, both old and young, male and female, have come from far. They come from other regions – Wa, Kumasi, or Bolgatanga – or even from other countries – Ivory Coast, Burkina, Mali – to this land of easy money. For 8 hours of work, men can earn 10 cedis per day, while women can make six. One can only hope that these figures are accurate, as they were sourced from an owner. Most likely, child labor will come at a discount.

I visited one mine owner who was happy to show me his bounty. The amount of gold he handed to me, wrapped tightly in an ordinary black, plastic bag is not quite a day’s result. To estimate his revenue was slightly taxing. A “blade” (or a straight razor blade) worth of gold would be 0.8 grams and would fetch GHC 60.50. As he stated that his operation would produce more the one blade per day, it would be safe to assume that each mine owner is generating a substantial salary for themselves.

The second form of mining I visited involves underground excavation. I visited two separate operations. The first was very basic, involving a few men and a pit about 20 feet (6 meters) deep. They used a rope and holes cut into the slippery, mud walls to reach the bottom. The bottom was difficult to see and was only truly understand when a worker flashed his light upwards. I was strictly forbidden from going down, although my curious nature wanted to try.

The next underground mine I visited was far more industrial. There was far more workers, plenty of holes, and pumps for draining water. As the hole seen below was said to be four poles deep (using electrical poles, as a measuring stick), it could easily be operating below the water table. The men would drain the work zone, arrive at the base, and then travel horizontally, chipping at the bedrock, lifting these chippings to surface level, and then using additional machines to remove any gold. Although there is a ladder to maneuver downwards, it still takes each worker three minutes to reach the base.

The town itself is starting to become more of a community than just another transient location, abandoned when there is no more work. They have constructed the first mosque. And some shops are starting to change the materials they build with, from wood to cement blocks. Although people work tirelessly, they are given Monday off to rest and rejoice.

One component of life here that I could only confirm from reading between the lines is prostitution and more worryingly, child prostitution. In the bars, you will find men and women joking in a way not normally seen in other towns. They will ask about what type of business the women are in and some will reply that they “sell tea”. When preparing to depart, a man might point at a women in the distance and say something like “would you like to meet her”, followed by laughing with his friends. In this land without law, prostitution is a naturally fit, but when children are involved it shouldn’t be tolerated. Just as people from afar come for the quick money, parents send their children here or children even come by their own will, encouraged by their so-called guardians, not knowing the horrible fate that they will meet.

Although there isn’t any government infrastructure in place yet, private enterprise has been able to fill the void somewhat. There are two private schools (like the one to the right of the photo below, next to its affiliated church), three private health clinics, and six private boreholes (which provide sachet water for purchase). These services are easily less than what a fully functional town demands and they are also at a cost that some residents may be unable to purchase.

Things are at least looking a little brighter for Kui. The Annual Action Plan (AAP) for 2013 lists a CHPS (Community-based Health Planning and Services) Compound designated for the town. Unfortunately, this is just a plan, which may or may not happen due to funding. In the end, we can be guaranteed of one thing – the present.

Little access to education, little access to health care, limited water, no sanitation, unsafe working conditions, no law enforcement, and everything else that coincides with an overabundance of wealth for a few, but no social services for the many.

Local and national governments need to investigate these areas, rather than complain about the terrible journey the road creates. These are places of immense sadness, which is only made worse when ignored by the public officials charged with protecting basic human rights. Let’s hope they open their eyes.