Saturday, December 12, 2009

Goats and New Shoes in Bwiza

Early Christmas presents are delivered from the US Embassy and the Bwiza Villagers have acquired goats.

Karl Deringer and Eddie visited Bwiza early in December, bringing new shoes for the villagers, and pencils, hats and small stuffed animals for the children.

Everybody turned out for this exciting event. Just look at the children's faces to see how much it means to have your own pencil.

And the specially requested running shoes by this young lady, so that she can participate in sports at school.

There were also wool beanies and toys sent by the embassy staff in Kigali.

Suddenly there are goats! Where did they come from?

Karl was thrilled to learn that the people of the village had made a decision to purchase goats with money that the dance troupe had earned by dancing at an event in the American Embassy in Kigali. This decision was based on an assessment that goats are the most practical animals for this environment.
Chickens were considered but they have to be fed grain which must be purchased regularly. Similarly, rabbits need extra feed to supplement grass, which would also need to be purchased. Goats, however can scavenge and eat almost anything. Each goat provides a lot of meat and the market for sales of kids and goat meat is very strong. Goats generally bear young twice a year and usually have two kids at each birthing, so the population will grow and most of the male kids will be sold.
The villagers are well versed in how to care for goats and one man in the village specializes in making ropes for tethers from sisal. He can make a 10 foot rope in about 30 minutes starting with the sisal leaves and ending with a strong elegant rope.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Surface Well for Bwiza

This month, Bwiza is getting a new well, thanks to the hard work of the villagers and the wonderful technical support and effort of volunteer Robb Lowy from Spokane, Washington USA and the UJAMA organization there .

The well project started in July 2008 with mapping and survey work and the design of a surface well improvement that would protect the fragile water supply and make it easier for people to fill their jerry cans with water. By July 2009, under the direction of volunteers John Mellott and John Didicher from Atlanta, Georgia USA, a hand-dug well was completed. At a depth of about 8 feet, it proved that water was present even at the height of the dry season. Located down hill from the spring from which villagers currently collect water, it was a great beginning.

This month, Robb returned to Bwiza and continued the next phase of construction. He and the men dug a new surface well slightly downhill from the one dug in July, which will be converted into a cistern to improve water-holding capacity during the dry season.

Then, rocks and dirt were sifted through a wire screen to prepare uniform gravel to surround the well intake.

Next, the pieces had to be assembled and a conduit run to the location downhill for a water collection and storage tank.

Rocks were carefully laid over the conduit and finally steps could be taken to connect the storage tank. The men of the village worked hard and enthusiastically to complete the first steps.

The work is still going on but soon we will see the results and Bwiza can celebrate another huge improvement in the daily life of everyone.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Help Support PSA!

GoodSearch: You Search...We Give!

Pygmy Survival Alliance is now participating in Good Search, enabling you to support the work we do just by searching the internet! is a new Yahoo-powered search engine that donates half its advertising revenue, about a penny per search, to the charities its users designate. Use it just as you would any search engine, get quality search results from Yahoo, and watch the donations add up!

You can also help by making purchases through, an online shopping mall which donates up to 37 percent of each purchase to your favorite cause! Hundreds of great stores including Amazon, Target, Gap, Best Buy, ebay, Macy's and Barnes & Noble have teamed up with GoodShop and every time you place an order, you’ll be supporting PSA.

Just go to and be sure to enter Pygmy Survival Alliance as the charity you want to support. You can also download a toolbar application that will save your Good Search organization preference and allow you to search from your web browser without visiting first.

Let the searching begin!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Minority Rights Group International, in association with UNICEF, recently published its annual State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 report, with a special focus on Education. MRG found that 101 million of children who are out of school worldwide come from minority or indigenous groups. The group argues for the need to protect and promote the right to education for all people, and highlights the varied and significant challenges facing minority and indigenous populations in individual nations. The report has been heralded as the first comprehensive study of the state of education for minorities and indigenous populations around the globe.

The Batwa pygmies of the Great Lakes region figure prominently throughout the report. In Rwanda, the MRG argues that the Rwandan government's current refusal to recognize different ethnic identities, while understandable in light of the country's past, leads to "ongoing exclusion" of the historically marginalized Batwa. According to the report, Rwanda currently boasts the highest primary net enrollment ratio in the region (92% in 2004), yet the government's education strategies fail to mention the Batwa. As a result, Batwa children, in addition to facing ample discrimination, are not receiving education that properly addresses the needs inherited from their inequality.

The members of COPHAD's pilot village have long cited discrimination as a deterrent to accessing education, health care, and other government services. When a family works hard to purchase the uniform and shoes necessary to send a child to school, it would be nice to know that this child will receive the best possible education. Hopefully, the report by the MRG is a step towards greater awareness and consideration of the educational needs of the Batwa, whose future rests on the prosperity and enrichment of its children.

Interested to learn more? Read MRG's 2008 publication, The Right to Learn: Batwa Education in the Great Lakes Region of Africa (Click 'download' on the sidebar).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

An Emergency Evacuation

Sometimes fate intervenes in miraculous ways. In late July the COPHAD project received a distinguished visitor - US Deputy Chief of Mission in Rwanda, Anne Casper. While her visit started much like any other, on this day, Anne and her husband Carl (see photo above) were to become bonded to the village in ways I am sure they did not expect. As they descended the hills of the village, word reached our visitors that a young woman was experiencing distress during labor. Quick to react, Anne, Carl, Karl, and Eddy rushed to investigate. Anne and Carl were instrumental, indeed responsible, for the safe transport of the mother to a local health center, and eventually hospital, where she received the Cesarean section necessary to save both their lives. The couple offered not only their bare strength (Carl!) and an embassy vehicle to carry the mother quickly and safely, but also provided financial support and influence necessary to secure a bed in the hospital for mother and child. The effect of this relatively unplanned visit was to transform the lives of mother, child, family, and by extension, community. The photo of the healthy mother and baby below is evidence enough.

We were pleased to hear that Anne and Carl's contributions were officially recognized back in the United States. On August 7, Senator Isakson of Georgia commended the couple for their role in ensuring the health and safety of mother and child. The Senator expressed pride and gratitude for "Americans like you who are dedicated to your profession and the principals of our American overseas mission -- to help others in need".

Each day this work presents new challenges...let's take a moment to soak up its rewards.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Challenges to Maternal and Infant Health

Maternal and child health has been a strong focus of COPHAD since the onset of our efforts. Encouraging good birthing practices, promoting antenatal care, and fostering safe motherhood are all part of our strategy to decrease maternal and infant mortality and enable healthy childhoods.

In recent weeks, we witnessed firsthand the many barriers to healthy delivery still faced by women in Bwiza. On separate occasions, three women went into labor. Our team was present when the first of these women delivered. What we witnessed was both tragic and telling. After a prolonged labor, the mother began to deliver in a banana grove below the village. Without medical care, the mother had spent several days in distress and eventually delivered a stillborn baby in an unsanitary and unforgiving environment. Despite our efforts at resuscitation, the child could not be saved.

Yet, on two other occasions, we are happy to report the safe delivery of two babies and the continued health of two happy mothers. What was the difference you may ask? These two women gave birth at hospitals. These deliveries were made possible through the coordinated efforts and resources (transportation, money, etc.) of the community, Pygmy Survival Alliance, and others (including the use of a US embassy vehicle, which is a whole other story). Lack of transportation and financial means are just two of the barriers the individuals in this community face when seeking care.

Imagine you are a mother who has gone into labor and begun to feel distress. Your next step is to walk several hours down a bumpy road to the health center, where you will most likely be referred to a hospital even further away. If you are lucky enough to get transport to the hospital, you will then be told to pay six days stay upfront, all the while wondering how you are going to feed yourself and your family during your stay. Add to these challenges the deep-rooted discrimination and stigmatization you as a member of the Community of Potters have previously experienced at these locations. You can begin to see just how frightening and challenging it must be to ensure your child is born in a hospital.

We know that innovative, sustainable solutions must be found to ensure that once a woman is in labor, it will be possible for her to reach a health center or hospital and receive proper care. Encouraging safe birthing practices will not be enough. Interventions must be created that reflect the complex nature of the existing barriers to care.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Volcanoes National Park

Not all Community of Potters villages are alike. We recently traveled to Rwanda's Northern province to visit a COP village located near Volcanoes National Park. The park originally gained recognition as the site of famous naturalist Dian Fossey's work with the mountain gorillas. The park has been designated as a sanctuary for the gorillas and heralded for its role in saving these animals from the brink of extinction.

While much attention has been paid to the survival of the gorillas, very little consideration has been paid to the plight of the pygmies displaced by this ecological project. Beginning in the 1970s, pygmy communities living within the forests surrounding the volcanoes were pushed out of their homes to make way for a gorilla habitat. Forced to resettle elsewhere, the survival of the pygmies, whom were dependent on a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, has itself been threatened.

One pygmy community we visited continues to live just outside the boundaries of the park, within site of their former home. The families here live sandwiched between the volcano on one side and someone else's arable farm land on the other. With no land of their own to speak of (imagine, the village comprises only the immediate area surrounding the huts in the photo above), the individuals of this community are battling both extreme poverty and discrimination. After ten years in this location, the living conditions remain very poor for these families. Their homes are often rudimentary and offer little to no protection from the wet, cold conditions existing in this region. Economic opportunities are scarce and families subsist on very little.

It is devastating to think that despite thousands of visitors to Volcanoes National Park each year, the existence and conditions of villages such as this remain overlooked. It is time the pygmies have a national and international advocacy campaign of their own.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Maternal and Child Health

In January, students from the University of Washington conducted household surveys to establish baseline statistics on the overall health and well-being of the Community of Potters living in Bwiza. Back in the States, we were struck by the data they obtained. An exceedingly high number of child deaths were reported, that suggest a rate of child mortality between three to four times the national average for Rwanda.

A new project, led by volunteer Kate Doyle, is aimed at not only corroborating the data obtained in January, but also identifying the causes of morbidity and mortality for these children. Kate and Edith Musabwa, a Rwandan public health student, are utilizing the World Health Organization’s standard Verbal Autopsy Questionnaire to interview mothers in the village. By eliciting the signs and symptoms experienced by children prior to death, it will be possible for the project’s doctors to arrive at the underlying causes of death.

In the process of these interviews we are also obtaining a lot of important information on how women in the village perceive of health and illness and the health-seeking or –demoting behaviors they engage in. Together, this information will enable us to identify possible areas for intervention and design new tools for health education that can reduce the occurrence of needless child deaths.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bwiza Barbeque

Last Friday, history was made in Bwiza! In celebration of the dedication and hard-work witnessed on the terrace project, a barbeque was thrown for all of the families in the village.

At the suggestion of the villagers, a cow capable of feeding more than 140 people (who some came to call "Jason") was purchased for 90,000 Rwandan francs. As soon as money had passed hands, everyone got down to business. First, our team doctor-turned-veterinarian examined the cow and declared him to be fit and healthy. Then, a small group of men gathered to kill, skin, and butcher the cow as we looked on with interest.

A real division of labor was noticed throughout the day. While the women danced, sang, and arranged for cooking, the men were busy preparing and distributing the meat. Each family received equal portions of the different parts of the cow to prepare at their home. By mid-afternoon, we were enjoying our brochettes (prepared on a small fire and served on newly made brochette sticks) and the villagers were returning home to prepare a feast of their own.

The event was a joyous occasion for everyone involved and will no doubt be remembered for a very long time. For us it was also a great learning experience, and possibly the freshest meal we have been served yet!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Moto, anyone?

Question: What's the fastest way to get through rush hour traffic in Kigali?

Answer: A moto!

Motos are fast, relatively cheap and exhilarating to ride. Yes, they can be dangerous as they weave down the center strip of the street dodging minibuses that are clogged with commuters and dump trucks that belch diesel fumes. Yes, they can be really scary the first time or two. But look at the front of the moto drivers on the left and on the right of this photo and what do you see? Each is carrying a helmet for the passenger. Passengers ride behind the driver, gripping handle grips on the saddle, protected by a helmet and full face guard and by the physical mass of the driver himself. Quite simply, these guys are professionals. (Neither I nor anyone I know know has ever seen a female moto driver.) Motos would be totally at home on the post-apocalyptic set of the movie "Mad Max" and for less than a dollar they'll take you half-way across the city. They seem to operate with the fuel gauge perpetually on "E"; but somehow they make an irreplaceable contribution to the transportation network of Kigali.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words...

Or possibly more.

Another new initiative is afoot with our latest team of volunteers. As part of our outreach work, we are conducting household surveys of families of Community of Potters living in neighboring districts. As part of this process, volunteers Bill and Noël have come up with a creative way of thanking families for speaking with them.

After each survey, a household is given a photo of their family standing in front of their home. This is made possible through the use of a compact, lightweight, battery-operated Canon photo printer. We are able to take and print a digital photo in the field in less than two minutes! In the photo above you can see Bill with the printer, demonstrating how it works to some of the kids.

The photos have become extremely popular, with everyone asking for a printed copy of their own. Aside from the inherent personal value of owning a photo of one’s family, the photos are sometimes the only glimpse of oneself that these individuals have had in a very long time. This simple, relatively inexpensive process has proven to be of immeasurable value for everyone involved.

A Community Effort

A unique new project is underway in Bwiza village. Early last week our volunteer Engineering team, comprised of John Didicher, Noel Relyea, and Bill Wood, devised a terracing plan for the steep, rocky, and under-utilized slopes of Bwiza. By carving out terraces on the hillsides and supplementing them with manure, the villagers will be able to grow food for their families and also prevent erosion in the long-term.

The project was presented by our field manager, Eddy Rwagasore, as a means through which we can help the village to help themselves. Very quickly, a special committee of eager and excited residents was assembled to lead in the effort. To get started, we supplied hoes, shovels, and picks to aid in the construction. We are also providing the worker’s families with food that will not only maintain their strength, but also offset any potential loss of income during the construction process.

The terrace building has been a great collaborative effort, with men, women and children working daily toward the goal of creating a sustainable source of food in the village. In just a few short days, seven terraces have been erected on the slopes of Bwiza, with the promise of more to come. With each day we look forward to seeing the progress that has been made while we were away!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Photographic Evidence: Peanut Butter as Medicine!

This picture shows the blond hair of one of the boys in Bwiza village when we visited in January 2009. The color change of the hair is the result of chronic protein-calorie malnutririon, also known as "kwashiorkor". As one of 3 boys in this family, this little guy was not getting the nutrition he needed to grow and develop normally. He was quiet, reserved to the point of lethargy and not playful. The mother reported having eaten no sources of protein in the last week.

This next picture shows the same boy on the left, riding on the back of his older brother 6 months later. Notice his hair is back to a nearly-normal shade of black. His activity is improved, he is more playful, and he is often asking for food. By all accounts he is acting a lot more like a "normal" kid. What made the difference? Just one teaspoonful of peanut butter a day. We have been providing the family a minimal nutritional suplement prepared in our field managers' own kitchen using peanut butter rolled in powdered infant formula. Like magic, a small boost in calories and protein each day has changed this boy's health, improved his development and provided a foundation for an improved ability to fight infection and resist disease. Peanut butter as medicine? See the evidence for yourself!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Welcome back Ka-day!

Over in Rwanda, the "r" sound and the "l" sound in English often get mixed-up. So my name becomes "Ka-day" instead of "Karl". That's what they said when we came back to the village of Bwiza this time. When I walk past the little kids, the say "Ka-day". When the women dance and then bow and give me a hug, they say "Ka-day". I'm getting used to it. But the vitality of the people is always amazing. This time we returned to the village, the men danced, the women danced, and everyone sang and clapped their hands. The series of hugs and greetings were wonderful and great fun. Our team knew it had to rise to the occasion, and it did: we responded with a rousing round of "Row, row, row your boat.", which resulted in an enthusiastic wave of applause and a tumult of satisfaction. When I asked the villagers why these American volunteers had come to help, they knew right away, "Love", came the group reply. "Wow", I thought, they really get it. And the volunteers here on our team do too. It is a great team and we are here for a month to work on the COPHAD project with the Community of Potters of Rwanda, (formerly known as the Batwa pygmies). Stay tuned for more over the next few weeks as we relate the news from Kigali, and Bwiza, Rwanda...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

When we first arrived back in Bwiza on this trip, we received a royal welcome. We heard the flute song long before we arrived at the main town square, The singing and shouts announced our arrival. As soon as we stepped into the clearing, we were swarmed by well wishers who reached out to shake our hands and hug us in greeting, saying "Amakuru" and "Yego, Yego": "Hello" and "Yes, yes ". They greeted each of us and swirled about in the traditional dance form with arms outstretched and faces raised. It was as though we were their own flesh and blood, as if they were welcoming us home agian.

A few days later, I was walking in the village to assist our survey teams when I came upon the man in the photo in front of his hut of sticks and leaves. He was using the blade of a hoe to scrape the green, exterior leafy material from what appeared to be a stack of leaves from a yucca plant. After discarding the green matter, he smoothed and straightened the remaining white fibers. Then he took three strands of the fibers and wrapped them in his left hand. Only then did I notice that his thumb was contracted by a deep scar which had obviously deeply cut his hand long ago, severing his flexor tendon in the process. Quickly he began to braid the strands and before long, he had made a sturdy rope of about eight feet in length. One end was braided into a loop which could easily be slipped over the other free end to make a sturdy and adjustable noose, perfect for controlling a runaway goat. For his craftsmanship, he asked 200 Rwandan francs-about 40 cents. Now I'm looking for a goat.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Karl and now our son Derek are in Rwanda. Just before Karl left for Rwanda, he got a generous donation from one of our patients who saved her pennies in order to help the Abatwa. She touched our hearts because it was truly a sacrifice for her to give any money. It made us so grateful to all of you who have helped make this possible.

Karl sends this message:
"The photo shows a Bwiza child with severe malnutrition that makes his hair look very light in color. We are trying to figure out how to provide supplemental feeding but are not sure how to get food to the infant, since what we provide may be eaten by the family members, because they may only eat a meal twice a week! The other photo shows how the plastic tarps that we have distributed have been used to provide a better roof for the huts. The last photo shows our village health worker, Eddy, standing by a newly-built latrine that was built by villagers from local materials using the tools we provided, which cost about $16--another low cost, high impact intervention. We are conducting a program evaluation and a village health survey this week."