Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sad to say goodbye.....

Time flew... just weeks ago we made our first walk down the hill through the tea plantations, and today we made the walk back up again, hoping it won't be the last.  So many beautiful details are now imprinted in our memories and our hearts.... the melodic ring of the children replying "Jambo Sana!" when we would arrive to the village and say hello... the women's angelic voices filling the air for miles during choir practice... Chizungu's eternal smile, such an important element in a Village Chief, making it impossible not to like the guy... the games we played and the lessons we learned, the times we reached understandings without words and the tasks we accomplished... this was an experience of a lifetime and we're so thankful we got to live it!!!!!!

Special thanks to Ron Dembo, Kit Pineau and Dominique Bikaba, for inviting us to participate in their lovely project, to Joseph for being by our side every day at the village, helping us communicate with the Pygmies and teaching us his own useful techniques on the field, to  Steve for all his help, to Chizungu, the village chief, who welcomed us to work with his community, to Jacques, Ishara, Bienda, Colondua, Bisimua, Safari, Tilonge, Esta and all the other children who brightened up our days with their beautiful energy and open hearts... and finally, to all our loving DONORS!!! Your donations provided the Buyungule community with  the materials and infrastructure necessary to live a hard-working, abundant life in better conditions... ASANTE SANA!!!!! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Introducing... solar ovens, water filter and SODIS!!

Who said last days weren't productive?? Before leaving, we wanted to provide the Pygmies with some very useful tools that can greatly simplify things for them:

  1. Simple, easy-to-build solar ovens (to reduce the need for firewood and all the negative implications that come with it)
  2. Sand-gravel-charcoal water filter (to clean the water from the 20,000L pond in order to use it for washing and other uses)
  3. Solar disinfection system for water (to purify water from the 1000L tank)

We started off with the solar ovens, showing them how to build 2 different, simple models using only cardboard, aluminum, black spray paint, a piece of plastic or glass and adhesive tape. They helped us assemble both models and we provided enough materials for them to make about 10 more solar ovens. We explained that all they need is 30 minutes of strong sunlight (which we didn't get today, unfortunately...).  

They were thrilled at how simple it was and at the idea of cooking without  firewood!! Firewood requires walking long distances to collect and carry home, and is extremely uncomfortable to cook with because of the constant smoke, which is harmful to the eyes and lungs. They asked a lot of questions and even considered building some more long-lasting solar ovens out of wood.

We then demonstrated how to assemble and use a sand-gravel-charcoal filter, so they can eliminate silt from the water they collect in the new pond and use it for washing or anything else they need. The filter consists of 2 buckets placed one on top of the other. The top one has holes punched in the bottom, and inside are layers of sand, gravel and charcoal, covered with a layer of cloth. Water is slowly poured into the filter (goes through the cloth and the layers) and is collected in the lower bucket, almost fully transparent and free of silt.

Finally, we showed a simple method of purifying water using a plastic bottle and black paint (the Solar Disinfection System or SODIS). This is an effective water treatment method that consists simply in filling clean plastic bottles with water, exposing them to the sun for at least 6 hours, during which the water reaches a temperature of about 65°C (enough to kill most pathogenic contamination), resulting in water that is safe to drink.

SODIS is recommended by the World Health Organization and has been implemented successfully in many underdeveloped countries. The process is shown below:

After the three final demonstrations, it was time to say goodbye... we  once again explained the importance of maintaining everything that was put in place  and continuing the work in cycles in order to have a constant food production for the village. We stressed the importance of watering the raised beds, keeping the pond clean, keeping the  1000L tank closed and gutters free of leaves, taking care of the nursery and replanting seeds 2 weeks before harvesting the grown vegetables, etc... 

We thanked them all for allowing us to work with them and for working so well with us... we encouraged them to continue, with Jeph's help, keeping the 2 fields packed with food into the future, and applying what they learned to plant on all the other open spaces they have on site. We told them we were impressed by how fast they learned the new techniques and reminded them how LUCKY they are to live on such a FERTILE land...  there are so many places in the world where people struggle to produce food in the most difficult climates and conditions... living in Congo, all they need is to learn to love their work, and they can achieve long-lasting abundance!!

Chizungu thanked us and welcomed us to return one day, so they can greet us with vegetables from their own produce!!!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Working hard to finish well!!

Today, work was bitter-sweet... seeing so many people on the field, transplanting the last of the seedlings was truly a wonderful sight. The fact that this was our last day to plant together seemed to give us all extra energy to finish well, yet it's sad to think that soon we'll have to say goodbye to everyone, wish them the best of luck and take the last walk up the path through the tea plantations, with the children running and yelling at our sides...

The job was pleasant, planting carrots, onions, cabbage and sweet potato, emptying the seedling flats one by one and placing them back in the nursery to wait for the next germination period... Soon, the huge beds on the upper field were full, as well as a portion of the field we used for sweet potato. After we're gone, Jeph will help the Pygmies plant the last of the cabbage and tomato on the upper field as well, and intercrop the marigolds and nasturtium we recommended to prevent pests.

It's so satisfying to see things on their way, to know we all planted this together, and that in a few months the Pygmies will be reaping the benefits, harvesting thousands of vegetables and replanting more with the techniques they now know!!!

5,100 carrots
2,900 onions
2,100 cabbages
250 guides of sweet potato (will render about 5 potatoes each)
 850 tomato plants
 15 Moringa trees
50 Lab Lab Bean plants
5 Madagascar Bean plants
15 Pigeon Pea trees
10 Papaya trees
10 Maracuja vines

Monday, November 14, 2011

Let it rain!!!!!

The plan for today was to finish installing the rainwater capture system for the 1000L tank and then start planting more seedlings into the new raised beds... the sky looked gray since we arrived at the village, so we quickly got to work... Xavi brought all the necessary materials to finish the gutters on Chizungu's roof, and soon he and the guys had everything assembled...  the men  were asking questions about maintenance and everyone was happy!

Meanwhile, Mel gave the children the bisquits they had asked for... practically none of them ate their cookies on their own. They put them in their pockets and ran to share them with their families : )

Just when we were about to go plant seedlings, as if celebrating the inauguration of the new water tank, the rain decided to pour down... We'll plant the seedlings tomorrow... today, let's just LET IT RAIN!!!!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fun times at the village!!

Today was another fruitful and magical day with the Pygmies! We arrived to find the boys had built soccer goals with sticks and were having a match. 

After watching and cheering a while, Xavi got started with the men, installing gutters on Chizungu’s roof in order to capture rainwater in the 1000L tank we bought yesterday thanks to our kind donors. Meanwhile, Mel went up to the second field with Jeph and a team of more than 30 men and women, to prepare another set of beds to plant in.

Language is less of a barrier every day. We start out each morning explaining the activities for the day to Chizungu (through Jeph), and while working, simple French and hand signals are more than enough. Everyone works very well and they pick up on every task with just one demonstration. 

A factor that’s greatly influencing the general mood are the children. They have opened their hearts to us. Today, I (Mel) officially gained a small army of toddlers who followed me like magnets wherever I went; together, we improvised ways of having fun on the paths to and from the village, playing hopscotch and “Tarzan”, which consisted in them taking turns swinging from my arms. I’ve learned many of their names and recognize them as individuals, and they in turn now only call me Melanie. Jacques, Ishara, Bienda, Colondua, Safari, Bisimua, Tilonge and many others followed me to the upper field, and when they saw me working with the women, they decided to join in!! They were actually a great help, and we had fun during the activity, taking photos (their new favorite pastime), chasing each other (until they fell down laughing time and time again) and finding insects (which we would then release back to the field). When I thanked them for their excellent work and said I would bring them a prize on Monday, they were thrilled. They asked if it could be “bisquits”, and bisquits they shall get :)

I (Xavi) worked with pretty much the same group of guys that has been working with us in the last few days. We are getting to know each other, and smiles and laughs are heard while we work. It’s nice to create bonds and break cultural barriers!!

We first cut 3 corrugated iron sheets into 30cm x 3m slabs to make the gutters and proceeded to fold them onto a V shape. We then assembled the pieces with wire and attached them below the roof where we would be collecting rainwater. This was quiet a challenge as the roof is slanted; it took a while to figure out the proper inclination needed to make the water run to one side only. Usually, the inclination is 1 inch per 8 feet of roof, but this was not the case here, because of the slanted roof.

After a while, we managed to fix the gutters, through signs and laughs and the little French the Pygmies and I speak. We placed the tank under the V-shape gutter, and now all we have to do on Monday is connect the gutter properly to the tank with either recycled water bottles or a PVC T-junction.

By the end of the day, the rainwater capture system was almost fully installed and 12 very big raised beds were made. On Monday we’ll finish both tasks in order to start planting the rest of the seedlings from the flats…

We only have 4 days left with the Pygmies, just when we’re starting to bond… As always, time has passed by too quickly and we’re sad it’s almost over… :(

Friday, November 11, 2011

Delivered tank and planted a second field!

We spent the morning buying the necessary materials for the second rainwater capture system we are going to install at the village: we bought a 1000L plastic tank and hired a plumber to add a faucet at the bottom and drill a hole at the top, and we bought iron sheets to fold and use as gutters for the roof. We also bought 10 extra iron sheets that Chizungu had requested in order build himself a new office, and 3 soccer balls.

We arrived at the village and were greeted as every other day by Jacques, Ishara and all the other little children running up surrounding us, only this time instead of hearing "Muzungu, muzungu!" they were all saying "Melanie, Melanie, Xavi, Xavi!!" We gave them a soccer ball and the teenagers another one. The children ran off at full speed to play, screaming and cheering. It was a joyous occasion and everyone was smiling, watching the kids frantically run around kicking the ball back and forth. 

When we finished planting the raised beds yesterday, we had used 1 flat of cabbage seedlings, 2 flats of onion, 1 flat of tomato and 2 flats of carrots. There were a total of 5 seedling flats of each crop so it was important to find another place to plant on!! Dom helped us arrange this and Jeph took us to see the land yesterday. It was a great spot, right next to the village, so we asked Chizungu if the women could start removing the weeds and tall grass.

Before we arrived, the women had cleared a large portion of the second plot of land. Chizungu and Jeph assembled the team of men to join us and we went to the field. The ground was covered with the greenery the women had cut: perfect to use for mulch. So we left all the mulch on the ground and simply opened clearings in it, where we would plant the new seedlings. The men worked with us until the whole field was planted, chatting with us and laughing... the atmosphere has changed completely this week. We've reached an understanding and are working for a common cause, and it's easier and more fun every day!

Once we finished, we walked up to wait for the truck to deliver the materials we bought this morning. Meanwhile, we played with the kids.  First baseball with a bamboo stick and small stones, then they took turns photographing each other with our camera, we organized races, then someone put music on and they all started dancing. 

Finally, the truck arrived and we unloaded the tank and iron sheets.  The men were very happy!! We explained that tomorrow we'll install it and they thanked us and carried everything down to the village.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

P R O G R E S S !!!

Today was another deeply satisfying day!! We worked with the same team of men as yesterday, trasplanting seedlings into the rest of the raised beds.... in total so far we've planted:
2800 Carrots
2700 Onions
600 Cabbages
280 Tomatoes

Among the main crops, we've also intercropped different types of beans (for fixing nitrogen into the soil) and marigolds (to repel pests). 

Everything is looking good at the Buyungule village... tomorrow after work we're all looking forward to a soccer match!! : )