From the Editor
I was overwhelmed by grief and helplessness when I arrived at the home of the pig farmer with whom I was pictured in the September 2006 issue of the Journal of Swine Health and Production.1 As I walked into the farm compound, I was faced with a newly dug grave. The mum, who was pictured in the pink dress, told me that her 19-year-old son was buried there beside her home. He had died on December 26, the day after Christmas. As she held my hand and recounted the story, tears streamed down her face. Just 8 months before, she and I had laughed together about our youngest children being 18 years old. We felt an affinity – two mothers, a continent, a culture, and a language apart, brought together because of pigs and connected because of our very special last-born sons. Life for subsistence farmers in rural Western Kenya is so very hard.
I hope you will indulge me one more time as I share the story of my research and outreach work in Western Kenya.1,2 So much has happened in 1 year. I was encouraged by some AASV members at the meeting in Orlando to share the progress of the work with the rest of the membership in this editorial. It is timely because the manuscript by Mutua et al on Taenia solium is published in this issue.3
Dr Florence Mutua is the PhD student with whom I am doing the research work in Western Kenya. Dr Mutua’s PhD is a follow-up to her previous work, in which she found that pigs in Western Kenya were positive for cysts due to Cysticercus cellulosae. Her preliminary work spanned the whole of the Western Kenya province. Through that work, she was able to identify the counties with a high proportion of pig farmers. The International Livestock Research Institute, with whom Dr Mutua and I are working, has mapped the levels of poverty by region in Kenya.
The purpose of our current research work is to improve the health and livelihood of the subsistence pig farmers in the Busia and Kakemega districts of Western Kenya. The locations for our project were selected because of the high prevalence of both poverty and pig farming.
Our research methods include farm visits with farmer questionnaires, clinical examination of the pigs, and educational workshops. Farmers’ problems with their pig-rearing enterprises are very similar to those of producers in North America. Their pigs annoyed the neighbors, farmers did not get enough money when they sold their pigs, pig feed was too expensive, and it was difficult to get their sows bred. We attempted to address some of these issues by encouraging farmers to keep their pigs tethered and by providing a workshop on pig breeding management. I learned how to examine pigs’ tongues for C cellulosae cysts, and, unfortunately, found positive pigs. Local livestock officials and veterinary and public health officers were not aware of the link between T solium and epilepsy in people, nor did they understand the life cycle of this parasite.2 Dr Mutua and I put on 1-day workshops to train these officials about T solium prevention and pig management and care. Then we facilitated farmer training workshops that were taught by these local officials. The farmers were told about the link between hygiene, tapeworm, and epilepsy. They were encouraged to keep their pigs tied and away from human waste. We taught farmers how to measure the length and the girth of the pigs and to use a mathematical equation to estimate a pig’s weight.1 When we returned to the area 5 months later, almost half of the farmers were using this system to record their pigs’ growth on a monthly basis. In some villages, co-operatives were established so that farmers who could use the mathematical equation assisted others to estimate their pigs’ weights. I was amazed to see the uptake of this new technology. Hopefully, this knowledge will increase the income to the farmers when they sell their pigs.
Educating children through outreach
In February 2006, as I traveled from farm to farm conducting the research, I was struck by the number of children at each home, including school-aged children who were not attending school. Approximately half of the children are AIDS orphans. They are living with aunts, uncles, grandmothers, siblings, and neighbors. The foster parents are poor subsistence farmers who live on less than $1 per day. They are generous, caring, hard-working people who provide a home for the AIDS orphans, but do not have the money to properly feed and clothe them. They certainly cannot afford the pen, pencil, and uniform for school. If you made $250 per year and had 10 children in your care, would you spend $7.50 so each child could have a new pen each semester? You certainly would not have the $100 available for school uniforms. Although children are allowed to go to school without a uniform, often they wear ragged, torn clothing. A school uniform helps them to fit in and feel a sense of pride in their education.
One couple I visited in February had a sow, five piglets, and 12 children. They had one mud hut, no running water, no electricity, and no functional outhouse. I wondered who would get tapeworm and who would develop epilepsy. Four of the children were attending school, but five other school-aged children were staying at home. Although I visited many families in February 2006, it was this one in particular that haunted me when I returned to Canada. We have so much and they have so little. If half of the children do not learn to read and write, add and subtract, where will this community be when they are the adults leading the community? I believed that I could rally sufficient support to buy pens and pencils and uniforms to send these children to school. I was not sure how to go about raising money, so I just started telling friends and family by e-mail, letters, and conversations. When I returned to Kenya in June, I was prepared to raise $15,000 over a 6-year period. This was sufficient for pens, pencils, and uniforms for 165 children a year for 6 years. There was also $4,000 to support a local business endeavor to ensure that the project was sustainable when our funding ended.
In June 2006, Dr Mutua facilitated a meeting between me and the school principal, parent-teacher council executive, and local assistant chief. I discussed my concerns about the children not attending school and told them I was willing to raise money to pay for pens, pencils, and uniforms. The meeting was very formal and rather strained. I cannot imagine what these people must have thought – certainly they must have doubted that I would carry through with the project. The principal said he was grateful for my concern and appreciated all of the help I could muster, but said what they really needed was a lunch program. Hungry children cannot learn. The foster parents cannot afford to feed the children. A lunch program would help the children and ensure that they attended school regularly. I admit that I felt deflated. My goal of $15,000 was totally inadequate. I was not really sure I could raise that sum, let alone what would be needed for a lunch program.
My inclination was to hand out some pens and pencils and walk away. But I didn’t. Instead, the Children of Bukati project was born. Its purpose is to enable AIDS orphans in a community of 1500 families to attend the Bukati Primary School. We engaged a group of volunteers, identified a treasurer, and established a system for charitable donations. A similar team was established in Kenya. The bank account used for this project requires three signatures and photo-identification of all three people for all withdrawals. We have an auditable record of accounting and have received receipts for every purchase. In June 2006, 212 AIDS orphans were attending school. We measured them for uniforms and distributed pens and pencils. We also carried 150 kg of used library books to begin the community’s first library.
There was a feeling of excitement and hope in the air when I visited the Bukati Primary School in February 2007. Two hundred and twelve children were wearing new school uniforms, dressed to feel like they belonged at the school. Teams of people were building a school kitchen and putting up a building for a corn grist mill. The building materials and labor were donated by the members of the local Butula community. The community was rallying around this project through the donation of time and building supplies and by sending their children to school.
We also launched the sustainable component of the project. We purchased a 10-horsepower diesel engine to grind corn for ugali, the staple food of these people. The community members will pay money to the school to have their corn ground. This money will help to sustain the lunch and uniform program in 6 years time, when our funding ends. The school also purchased a boar. The school will receive one weaned pig for every litter that is born to a sow bred to the boar. Waste corn from the grist mill will provide food for the boar.
In January 2007, 109 new AIDS orphans began attending the school, in direct response to the project. Almost half of these children (48%) are girls. The children are all ages and attend classes from kindergarten to grade 8. Some are starting school for the first time, others are returning after having missed a year or more. There are now 319 AIDS orphans supported by the project, and the school has 712 pupils.
It will cost $160 to provide school lunches, a uniform, pens, and pencils for one child for 1 year. Our goal is to raise at least $360,000 over 6 years. We have raised $30,000 from personal donations. Most of the money has come from individuals moved to donate. However, the project has engaged the interest and passion of many young people. Some of the money has come from elementary school children, veterinary students, and graduate students holding fund-raising events. This past weekend, a 7-year old girl gave me a jar containing $56.03 – mostly in pennies! She had been collecting money since November.
In February 2007, we started the school lunch program. So far, it is running only 2 days per week, but as we raise more money, we hope to increase this to 3 or more days. There is inequity in this world. You and I will not erase this inequity. However, we each can play a small part to promote change. This program is empowering these children through education to make a better life for themselves and their community. If you want to know more about the Children of Bukati project, don’t hesitate to contact me by e-mail or telephone.
1. Dewey C. Malaria and typhoid impact field research in western Kenya [editorial]. J Swine Health Prod. 2006;14:238.
2. Dewey C. Leaving the ivory tower [editorial].
J Swine Health Prod. 2006;14:125.
3. Mutua FK, Randolph TF, Arimi SM, Kitala PM, Githigia SM, Willingham AL, Njeruh FM. Palpable lingual cysts, a possible indicator of porcine cysticercosis, in Teso district, Western Kenya. J Swine Health Prod. 2007;15:206–212.