Monday, July 21, 2008
I have wonderful news to announce, I have just accepted an amazing position with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle. http://www.gatesfoundation.org/default.htm
This is certainly a great comfort for me and Marcy as we are getting ready to tie the knot August 15th.
I feel privileged and honored to say the least in having this opportunity and I would like to thank my friends at the Orphan Foundation and Peace Corps staff and colleagues for the amazing professional development opportunities I had had through the years that have made this all possible.
Work has really picked up here in Saint Lucia with a few of my projects taking off, in particular Canabelle Soap and the Rabbit Project: Life is good.
All of our best to you,
Only Saint Lucia PCV's and Peace Corps staff have the password to upload files.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Sebastian showing us his prize rabbit breed that is extremely large, has a lovely dusky color and very soft fur.
One of his breeding females.
A few more rabbits:
He lets the rabbits out to get exercise.
The other Peace Corps volunteers and a visiting student at the rabbit farm:
Sebastian has an amazing farm by the Canaries river, him and his brothers grow everything from sweet potatoes and lettuce to sorrel the Christmas time drink for Saint Lucia. The land is lush and covered with avocados and mango trees.
Justin selecting his breeding pair or rabbits from Sebastian. I would like to point out Sebastian's amazing giving spirit, each rabbit is worth at least $50EC=$18.66 US.
Sebastian explaining the best river grass to give the rabbits:
Saint Lucia River Plant that is very good for rabbits:
Sebastian's brother explaining organic fertilizer he uses.
Some awesome Rasta art on the side of their home that the brother "cool out" in when they want to leave the village.
Did you know cats eat coconut jellies?
The four videos cover:
1. Overview of rabbit raising.
3. Rabbit Health
1. Overview of rabbit raising.
3. Rabbit Health
You can find other videos on hutch design at http://www.youtube.com/user/bigolcountry and my blog on rabbit raising and my Peace Corps experience at http://bigcountryleo.blogspot.com/.
The rabbit project is a great project to boost a disadvantage families income or provide more food for the table, a few rabbits can be maintained with vegetable scraps and local vegetation, the biggest expense is rabbit feed which must be fed to your rabbits a minimum of every other day. A natural rabbit feed recipe can be found on my blog to reduce costs to minimal levels.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
With the blog I have been leaning more towards providing less personal information. I have not really talked about the stress of planning a wedding as a completely broke Peace Corps volunteer who lives on $1700EC a month which is about $634US. That is supposed to cover all expenses including rent. I have also been suffering with my fiancee working on VISA issues even though she is dual citizenship with Saint Lucian and British Passports (immigration is scary, I feel for ANYONE who has tried to come to the US as a foreign national) while she is working in England. On top of that we have been struggling with where to live, England vs the US.
It has been a real challenge and I wish I could say more, but I really have to keep it general.
I have also found that ALL of my projects have rapidly accelerated towards the end of my service, I am thrilled but it has been difficult to juggle that with wedding planning, and job hunting.
It is no fun to plan a wedding when you have no idea where you are going to live and you are still not sure which job your going to have.
So take care everyone, once again the goal of this blog is to share this Peace Corps experience for future volunteers and the curious, if I have accomplished that I am thrilled.
All my best everyone,
Ps, trying to throw a wedding in Saint Lucia can be a challenge as a poor Peace Corps when the concept of a "pay bar" is completely foreign even if you are providing beer, in fact it would be considered a grave insult, Marcy and her family would be the talk of the village if we did so. Alcohol is a HUGE part of the culture. Were receiving an INCREDIBLE amount of help from Mrs. Edwards and our friends at the Distillery.
Thanks to the PCV's chipping in for the Steel Pan Band, to my ma ma Agatha, to my family, to Andy and Jenie, and Na Na and Aunty Bella and everyone else who is helping. Oh yes and thank you to BIG DOG Nick Klinger for his help and support and Christine Klinger and family.
Friday, July 18, 2008
It was a great conference, seeing old friends, meeting our new EC Country Director. PS Helen you did a great job with the conference.
For me it is easy to feel good about my COS with so many great projects being successful. But let us be honest, I came into a village that was ready to move forward with some highly capable and motivated community partners. No, I believe success should be measured mostly with your personal development and the relationships you have built with what was a completely alien culture that has become your own.
Pretty Rough Video of the Saint Lucia group singing the Saint Lucia National Anthem, as you can see I did not know the lyrics, shame on me. I was singing watermelon, watermelon. It also includes a partial video of us giving away awards.
Bloody Bunnies Skit:
Thursday, July 17, 2008
I spent the night outside of the village visiting another Peace Corps and came home to find my front gate left open from the neighbor children coming into my yard while I was gone. As I went to my backyard for my rabbits morning feeding I was immediately confronted with carnage.
White clumps of rabbit fur lay everywhere as I came around the corner of the house. I found myself looking at one my rabbits head laying on the ground, pieces of legs and ears scattered around.
With shock I opened the first hutch door to find that the bottom of the screen had been ripped out. My rabbits had been attacked by a neighborhood dog. The dog had come in the night, ripped at the bottom of the cage until the wire was a wide enough gap so the dog could reach in grabbing one rabbit at a time devouring them until all 4 rabbits were consumed.
The rest of my remaining rabbits were okay with the exception of my oldest large female, I could see where the dog had yanked back some of the wire to try to get her, she has an injury on her foot.
Video of my first reaction of coming home to the carnage:
I know it was a dog because the next night I was awoken at 2am from strange noises in the backyard, I looked out my window to see a large pit bull mix dog underneath the hutch trying to rip out the wire again to kill my rabbits. The dog had slipped through a hole in the neighbors wall this time. I came our of my house at 3am with my machete and flashlight with murderous intentions for this dog. The dog must have sensed the brewing violence within me because he cleared out before I made it to the backyard.
The next day I had the neighbor seal up the hole with sheet metal and I have not had any trouble since.
All I can say is it was valuable lesson and it could have been worse with me losing all my rabbits.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Sorry, I've been a bit unmindful of my offer to send you some briefing notes for your interview with the Gates Foundation. If I remember correctly, you flew out today, so hopefully this doesn't come entirely too late.
Recent history for St. Lucian agriculture has been the WTO ruling against preferential trading with the UK that occurred in 1997. Many livelihood were destroyed in St. Lucia as farmers were unfamiliar with planting other marketable crops (seeing as dasheen, breadfruit, and green figs don't sell at a high price). Many farmers moved to Martinique to work on banana farms their, which had maintain preferential trading with France, as it is a French territory. It also means that people can get paid in Euros. If I understand correctly, basically people can go and work for two weeks at a time and that's it, so it prevents massive migration, but it still common even now for people to go to Martinique to work.
In 2000, the National Fair Trade Organization started and has slowly incorporated almost all banana farmers into its auspices around the island. They export bananas to the UK (I believe exclusively, though that's not a requirement) as a fair trade brand. The premium that is paid by customers for the fair trade bananas from St. Lucia is then put into a fund for social projects, which in Dennery has included a computer lab for a primary school, support for the community centre I've worked on, an autoclave for the Dennery hospital to sterilize their medical tools, etc. Farmers are involved in making the decisions as to which projects to support. Additionally, farmers have to comply with some environmental restrictions like the reduction and limited use of pesticides, not planting next to rivers to prevent chemical runoff. And some health requirements, all farms now have pit toilets.
It's difficult to diversify crops in St. Lucia for two main reasons: first, it's expensive. To grow other crops profitably, farmers need the significant capital to pay for the sowing, harvesting, and distribution, while also daily living expenses before being able to recoup their money with successful sales (which is obviously no guarantee). Bananas provide regular income, every two weeks, while all other crops basically require waiting for several months for a payday. Also, because of the rainy and dry seasons having a greenhouse is a significant advantage in terms of avoiding some natural gluts and gaps in the market caused by weather. Setting up a greenhouse is relatively cheap, since it is pvc and plastic sheets, though the sheets ware out because of the intense sunshine and need to be replaced every few years and must be imported from Miami or somewhere else. Most farmers don't have enough saving to invest in a greenhouse. Which leads to the second reason: people are resistant to change. Much of this is clearly linked to a lack of education, whether it is in regard to farmer techniques, financial management, or understanding the market. If one farmer is successful in trying something new, others will follow. But their is significant personal financial requirements to going it alone and some social pressure to avoid any sort of public failure in small, rural communities. All of this contributes to slow changes.
Markets are available. Large luxury hotels continue to import many crops that could be grown locally, if a stable supply chain could be established. But the pushing and tugging and investment in teaching and explanation involved upfront is usually more than any one individual in the Ministry of Agriculture seems can accomplishing. As an example of group think, no risk mentality, is the regular glut of tomatoes on the market in St. Lucia. Everyone seems plant at the same time, driving down the prices of tomatoes, which is provided in a constant supply, would provide a better price to all sellers. But the coordination is extremely challenging. Even Fair Trade is often just tolerated by farmers because it's the only game in town. I've heard several farmers complain about the reduction in the use of chemicals and how that affects their yields, plus the sentiment that the leaders of fair trade are just their for themselves. It's rather astonishing.
I think you should also talk about the youth and how adverse they are to farm work, because it's seen as backwards and poor, even though if they worked wisely, one could make a very comfortable living farming.
Also, probably good to know, is that all of the major banana producing areas produced sugar cane into the 50s and 60s, when it shifted entirely to bananas. Land redistribution programs away from the large sugar estates has meant that most people have access to land, often around 3 acres. Few have more than that. In the 80s, bananas were sold very profitably and were referred to as green gold. This period is responsible for much of the deforestation that has dried up the east side of the island. People began squatting, buying, and farming on the hillsides, slashing much needed forest. The forest reserve in the center of St. Lucia was established in the 1940s, I believe, when the population of the island was only 50,000, less than one-third of what it is now. So, with the boom in population, the current forest reserve is insufficient for all of the various water needs, especially better irrigation to permit the growth of the agricultural sector.
alright bro, hope that can be of service. I'm traveling back to Goshen tomorrow, so I won't have email.
"The ideals which have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been kindness, beauty, and truth." ~Albert Einstein
Saturday, July 05, 2008
I had the pleasure of meeting Toshihara-san at the Anse La Raye Fish Fry where I was introduced to him by "BIG DOG" Nick Klinger my compadre and fellow Peace Corps chum. Nick is working in that fishing village on some great projects which include a School Saving Cooperative and an organized Fish Fry Vendors Association. (props to Nick for getting 50 very independent women to work together to help each other).
The ladies demonstrating.
Toshihara is an experienced development and capacity builder in the development world, his specialty is Fish Marketing and Development. Currently the Japanese government has agreed to install a massive fishing complex in Anse La Raye that will dramatically change and improve the lives of its residents. With all of his experience I had to invite him down to visit Anse La Raye's sister village Canaries to see the soap making process and to advise in a few critical areas we are struggling in, mainly a distribution system.
Toshihara generously agreed to visit bringing down Mr Ferrai from from the fisheries who covers the Anse La Raye and Canaries area.
We demonstrated the soap making process to both of them, having them take a hands on approach as you can see below.
Toshihara taking a hands on approach to soap making.
Mr. Ferrari cutting the soap.
The soap being poured into the new molds.
Toshihara generously agreed to keep his eye out for us as we seek to develop the co-op I was not able to get a commitment from Mr. Ferrari, it was more a "This is great project, good luck." After some pushing he did agree to keep his eyes open for us. This is not unique, honestly, it has been the approach of many of the ministries in Saint Lucia. We still have yet to have a visit from our parliamentary representative who has been in office for over a year and a half nor has anyone visited from the Ministry of Agriculture despite our pushing and phone calls, sad or as it is said here. Salop! I think it is more of a matter of finding the right ministry person who takes on Canabelle as their personal mission recognizing the incredible employment opportunity and income generating potential it has. Until then our fund raising successes to build infrastructure and capacity will remain with the generous business community on the island which includes.
Cable and Wireless
The British High Commission in Saint Lucia
Me and the ladies.
Me and Deterville the President of Canabelle Soap.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
A brand new brood of rabbits.
New Baby Bunnies.
Alternative food in the backyard.
PS when I commented on the small orange trees I am NOT suggesting you use them for feed. Basic rule of thumb, feed rabbits what horses and cows eat since their digestive requirments more closely relate to them.
With the rising costs of rabbit feed here is an easy recipe to dramatically cut back on your costs, you can easily substitute ingredients based on your area.
Rabbit Feed Recipe http://pan-am.uniserve.com/pg000062.htm original link to Pan-am.
Here's a rabbit feed to make at home, that the rabbits will really enjoy:
- 400 g Chopped alfalfa/lucerne hay or cubes, or any other grass or clover hay
- 150 g All-purpose wheat flour (white) or instant masa meal
- 100 g any other fibrous ingredient, such as bran from wheat, oat hulls, rolled oats.
- Plain or Trace Mineral salt
- optional - 1:1 mineral, vegetable oil, molasses.
Using a sawing motion with a cleaver, cut lucerne (alfalfa) hay across the stems to 1 to 2 cm length. If using alfalfa cubes, the material inside is already chopped, just soften cubes in the liquid part of the recipe.
Measure 300 ml water, to this add 45 g molasses, 2 g salt, and 8 g oil, if you are using these extra ingredients. Mix this solution thoroughly.
Put 400 g chopped hay in large bowl. While turning the hay with your hands, slowly add the liquid and 1:1 mineral, mixing thoroughly. Break up any clumps. Squeeze the hay tightly a couple times to make the liquid soak in.
Add the other fibrous ingredient to the wet hay, mixing well.
Then add the flour, in about 5 additions while mixing by hand. Mix until all the flour is invisible. Press down on the mixture, if it comes back up much, you may need maybe 50 ml more water, depends on dryness of hay.
Press the mixture into a flat glass or pottery pan. If possible, press it flat with another pan that fits in the lower pan. The final thickness should be 4 or 5 cm thick.
Place pan with hay mixture in microwave oven and bake for 2.5 minutes at power level 8 in a 700 watt oven. After backing, turn the feed out onto a rack to cool. Break into chunks to put into the cages. In hot climates, the feed can be sun-baked.
There is very little waste from this feed. This recipe makes almost 1 kg of feed, but remember that this is "wet" feed, the normal as-fed air dry weight is the sum of the ingredients less the water, about 635 g.
With average alfalfa, the results on DM would be about CP= 16.6%, TDN= 68%, Ca= 0.9%, P= 0.48%, ADF= 20%, CF= 17.9%. The flour used is (air-dry basis) CP= 13%, carbohydrates= 71%.
If you wish to have a protein supplement, substitute some soya milk for some of the water, or use some soy flour or pea flour. Pea flour also adds starch, so reduce the amount of wheat flour. Other interesting feed mixes can be made using barley flour or corn (masa) flour.
Yes, this feed is using wheat flour, which should be reserved for human consumption, but for now this is the easiest milled grain to obtain that is ground finely enough for rabbits (100% passing 0.3 mm sieve, 40% passing 0.1 mm sieve).
Don't use "whole wheat" flour, the bran has been ground too fine. You may add whole bran separately along with the white flour; bran has an appropriate particle size for the rabbit.