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Bolga Baskets

Always on our minds during trips to Ghana is, “How many baskets can we fit into our luggage as we return?” By purchasing baskets we help support forty women in two weaving cooperatives, one in Kongo and the other in Yakote. To make enough money for all of their children to attend school seems to be the collective goal. Though the baskets are beautiful, it’s time consuming and tedious work with a profit margin of $2-$3/day for the average weaver.

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Work in the weavers house is characterized by lots of chatting, some might say gossip, with small children playing near their mothers. It seemed obvious to me (Lisa) that some stretching would be healthy after hours of sitting on the cement floor. I’ve never heard so much groaning from a group of young women during back stretches! Yet, they begged me to come back, sometimes twice a day.

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The weavers are excellent at tightly packing the baskets into a suitcase and delivering them to our room. There are more than 20 baskets in this suitcase!

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With an HIV/AIDS infection rate among pregnant women of 2.4%, the Kongo-Logre Health Clinic now has a health worker, Olives, whose sole job is to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS by educating affected families and providing free, lifesaving antiretroviral (ARV) medications. Mother to child transmission is the leading cause of new HIV/AIDS cases in Africa. When pregnant women with HIV/AIDS disease are treated, the infection rate of newborns drops to 2% and spread of the virus in breast milk is nearly eliminated. Additionally, newborns of infected mothers are now given a dose of ARV’s soon after birth that further decreases the chance of infection.

During our recent visit, the clinic staff learned the sad news that an HIV infected mother had died. At 19 years old, she married and became pregnant. During a prenatal visit at the clinic, it was learned that she was pregnant with twins and that she had HIV disease. The mother went on ARV treatment right away and delivered healthy twins. After the twins were born they received the ARV treatment intended to further reduce the chance of infection. The babies were nursing well. Clinic staff was optimistic that mother and babies would do well.

This is where economic and social factors came into play. Only recently have ARV drugs become available in the community. Without treatment, infants of infected mothers would most often die by the age of two. Infected adults had a lifespan of 5-10 years. And the deaths were associated with prolonged illness and suffering. Combine this experience of HIV/AIDS with the scarcity of food and lack of cash in households. The result is that those likely to die who are chronically sick and suffering are a drain on the very limited family resources. Many times they do not get an equal share of food and care. In this case, the mother was not getting enough food.

First, one of the twins died of starvation, then a few weeks later the mother. When the HIV coordinator heard of the deaths, he went to the family compound with Janet, the nutrition coordinator. They found that a sympathetic woman in the household had taken on the task of nurturing the surviving, 7 week old twin. She was borrowing money from friends and family to pay the $1.50/week for formula and the baby was responding well. In general, however, everyone in the household was noticeably underweight. Janet and Olives were concerned that the family would not be able to buy the formula for long.

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Surviving twin, 18 weeks old, with his “auntie” who will take care of him.

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More than adequately dressed for a 100 degree day.

Though not one of our planned expenses, YWF purchased 10 weeks of powdered formula and some bottles for $160. In all likelihood, this is a wise investment that allows a child to survive and have a normal childhood.

With the ARV treatment now available at no cost, I anticipate more Nabdam families will be treated. However, many do not want others to know of their infection. Similar to the United States of ten or so years ago, there is a lot of misunderstanding and stigma associated with the diagnosis. In an effort to encourage treatment and decrease the transmission, it is my hope to add the HIV center to our feeding programs. If funded, YWF would buy $1,000 of beans, rice, millet, peanuts, and maize annually. Olives could give several pounds to patients when they come for a monthly supply of medications. With more people getting treatment, transmission will significantly decrease, especially mother to child transmission.

 

 

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The first set of fifty desks will be transported to Piitanga on Monday or Tuesday, February 4 or 5. They are dual desks constructed by a talented welder in Pelungu with sturdy metal frames. Yakote Women Farmers was able to raise $3,785 to furnish the new school, these desks cost $3,110. We will next have some smaller wooden tables and chairs made for the 4-5 year olds.

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On January 22 we scheduled a 9 hour layover in Accra, Ghana to meet with recent medical school graduate Richard Naab.  He has now begun 2 years of “housemanship” (intern/residence rotations in hospitals). Richard’s medical school fees were paid thanks to David’s efforts and donations by some Portland area physicians. It was delightful to talk with Richard, a very resourceful and appreciative young man with a remarkable, humanitarian outlook. Richard is wearing one of the shirts that he made and sold to help cover his food, room, equipment and other expenses while in school.

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As with any big event in Kongo, the opening of the Piitanga School begins with words from the Kongo Chief. The building has 6 roomy classrooms, an office, and a storage room. This project was done in collaboration with fellow Oregonian Seth Prickett of Framework International and builder Kofi Nkrumah of BFG Ghana. This new school will allow Piitanga area students to attend school consistently, the access to school was often blocked during the rainy season. It will also take pressure off Kongo Primary School whose enrollment has exploded to 600 students, forcing the students there to attend in 2 shifts.

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The Kongo Chief 

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David and I were presented with a thoughtful certificate outlining nearly every project we’ve worked on in the area.

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Kofi Nkrumah on the far right was the builder, he and his crew did the construction which finished on time and within budget. Kofi, Claude, Ben, and Mark did the painting complete with an Africa map on the end of the building.

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In front of the beautiful new school with the Headmistress Grace (in dark blue) and teachers.

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Several years ago the pump mechanism stopped working at the borehole for the community of Zeemboog. For a mere $515.00 Yakote Women Farmers was able to to repair the pump and restore clean water for the school and and nearby homes. This is doubly important as Zeemboog School will need clean water to begin a lunch program on February 1st.

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These men and women from Zeemboog helped carry the food sacks from the truck to the storage room located in a house near the school.

 

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Mary Rudemiller, and David Stone interview a potential scholarship student.

We entered the second half of our trip with much accomplished. David Stone along with Mary Rudemiller, the new scholarship administrator, have interviewed students for 10 days. They have a solid list of high school graduates who will receive help with college fees over the next year and a half.

 

David Stone, Mary and David Rudemiller looking African!

 

Janet provides major assistance in coordinating food availability in the Bolga market. Though 8 months pregnant, she is carrying a large water container for Piitanga School.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lisa has completed food purchases for the Nutrition Center feeding program for infants and toddlers as well as Piitanga and Zeemboug elementary school lunch programs. The cooks for all the programs have been tested (and treated if necessary) for typhoid, hepatitis, and parasites. The borehole pump mechanism has been repaired at a the new feeding site, Zeemboug Elementary. Without good access to clean water over the past few years, the rate of typhoid infection was quite high for those cooks.

In another major accomplishment, desks have been ordered for the new school building in Piitanga. A local welder is building them.This year we’ve had good help from the Nabdam School District and the Health Service in transporting the food, they will also transport the new desks to Piitanga. Donors to Yakote Women Farmers have funded all of these programs.

Standard cooking pot and ladle for the lunch programs. Cooking in these large pots is done over a wood fire.

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