Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
As Brooke mentioned in her previous post I recently traveled to Swaziland to visit the Hands at Work project there. Robyn, who is a long term (7 years) volunteer from Australia, is the country representative for Swaziland and asked if I, since I am supposed to be the Income Generating Activities guru (I wish), could come along and see how the layer hens project was going. We left home at about one o'clock Sunday afternoon and reached the project around six that night. The project is much more rural than where we are now. It is about 30 minutes off of the tar road up the mountains. We stayed in a small guest house that two of Nomsa's (the project coordinator) daughters are building on their parents homestead. It is very nice considering how rural we are. There is one main room with two bedrooms set off to either side. No running water or electricity but everyday they would come and fill containers of water for us to drink and wash up, and they ran an extension cord from the main house for they lamps in the bedroom and the electric kettle.
Side note: I forgot how hard it is to bucket bath, but I'm glad I had a refresher before our upcoming trip to Zambia. No more hot showers for us for a while.
We were treated every morning to breakfast, brought out to our little house. Breakfast usually consisted of bread, eggs, and papaya which Robyn had picked up from a roadside stand along our way. I was truly amazed by the hospitality. Nomsa's daughter Glory and a few of Glory's children would bring every meal out to us and clean up after we were done. I felt bad about not helping, but they seemed very happy to help out their family. Back to the eggs, the reason I was brought along on this trip was to assess the layer hens project. Robyn and I sat with Nomsa the first morning outside the front of her house on her covered porch. While we were sitting there a boy came over with a bucket of eggs he had gathered from the chicken coop and took out a small piece of steel wool and started polishing the eggs. Robyn was surprised at this and asked what he was doing. Before he had time to answer Nomsa answered for him, "No one wants to buy dirty eggs." And so began our discussion of the eggs project.
Back in January a group called WOW (women for orphans and widows) donated money to ASB to buy hens, feed, and vaccinations to get the project started. It took some time to get everything together, but with some help from Ntombi from the Swazi Dept. of Ag. getting off-cuts from a local sawmill donated in order to build chicken coops, in late July the hens project started, 300 hens altogether. Unfortunately, a few of the volunteers didn't have their coops finished so Nomsa ended up with 120 of the hens.
After asking how much money they had made the first month they seemed unsure. So, I sat with Roster and 5 other volunteers and started asking questions to determine how much money they would be making each month. Nomsa had remarked earlier that she was getting around 105-120 eggs per day with her 120 hens. So I started with an assumption that they would average 25 eggs per day as all of the other volunteers had 30 hens. The first response I got was, "Sometimes I only get 17 or 18 eggs." So I had to readjust our starting point. I said lets say you average 20 eggs per day. The first response I got was again, "Sometimes I only get 17 or 18 eggs." After talking a little about how averages work, we moved on and I showed them at 20 eggs per day they would have 600 eggs at the end of the month. "How much do you sell your eggs for?" 1 Egg for 1 Rand (about 15 cents). I said good then you bring in 600 Rand per month. They seemed pleased.
Then we moved on to expenses. This is where the smiles soon faded. "How much for one bag of feed?"
"205 rand for one bag and they eat two bags of feed a month," was the reply. "Plus we have to pay for transport to get the feed and that is 12 rand for each bag," I was impressed that they realized the transport should be an expense. And on we went. We kept adding in more expenses, transport to sell the eggs, the volunteers get to take 12 eggs a week for the work they are doing, and so on. When we finished subtracting we were at 12 rand (about $1.50) a month. The smiles were gone. I too was disturbed. These women were working extremely hard and making 12 rand a month, and that 12 rand was going back into the project. They had hoped that next year they could buy more hens with the money made on the project. Each hen was 45 rand plus the vaccinations and the coops (which might not be donated in the future). On top of that each hen only has a productive laying life of about 16 months. So at the end of the 16 months they would have enough money to buy 4 new hens for each volunteer assuming no hens die and further decrease production. I had a hard time believing this could possibly be right. Think Jed, do some digging.
"Where do you get your feed from?"
"The local market," one woman said.
I asked if there was a cheaper place to get the feed. They said they can get it cheaper in Mbabane, but it is far away. This is the same place the local market gets it from, and they sell to the public. If they would buy their feed up front for the whole month it is 20 bags, and the feed store will ship when they ship for the local supplier 180 rand a bag. Ntombi has offered to come back and do a workshop on chickens and how they can tell which hens are laying. "The hens that don't lay eat feed, but don't give us eggs. We need to get rid of them, that will help." They started thinking of other ways to cut costs and increase production. It was awesome. As we worked out the new numbers, making a change here and there. We got a new answer for how much money they could make in a month, 242 rand for each of the volunteers with 30 hens. The smiles returned to their faces.
Food parcels are now falling by the wayside as donors are chanting their mantra of "sustainability." They don't want to sponsor food parcels for children they want to sponsor projects that produce their own food, "sustainability." I was recently on a visit to another project near us and heard an interesting comment by the coordinator there. "When you were a child did you have to work the field to eat, or did you simply rely on your parents to put food on the table?" I have since been struggling with that question. Africa breaks you; often. I understand the donors are always looking for what will happen when the funding ends. I wonder myself sometimes as well.
This is one reason why I am glad I work with the organization that I work with. The Hands at Work vision: "We envision the local church in Africa effectively caring for the dying, orphans, and widows and unified in this mission with the church OUTSIDE AFRICA." This is where we fit in. The church outside Africa partnering with local communities, coming along side them. Some have the ability and opportunity to give money, while some have the ability and the opportunity to actually come in along side them. Walking with them learning about their struggles and being inspired by the work they are doing. If you in any way feel inspired to give or to come please visit the Hands at Work website to learn more about what you can do to help.
Hope you all are well. I’ve been begging Jed to post about his trip last week to Swaziland, so stay tuned for that.
P.S. We’ve booked our tickets to Kabwe, Zambia. We’ll be working with the Hands at Work service center there from 1st October through 8th November. We’re very excited!