Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Feeding the Hungry Scientifically with Aquaponics

Over 80% of the population in Burkina relies on farming to provide food for their families. The growing season is about three months long and if the rains start too late or too early this can devastate crops and leave families short on food.

The main component of most people's diets is a starch and a sauce. Very little protein is eaten because it very expensive. Protein will usually come from dried fish ground up and added to sauce, beans and a peanut based sauce. Because of the lack of protein many children are malnourished and wounds have a difficult time healing.

With these facts in mind we were very excited when we caught up with a friend in the U.S. who has an aquaponics farm. We took this idea back with us in hopes that this could be something used here in Burkina to extend the growing season and to make a plentiful protein source. Aquaponics is a system where water from tanks is pumped through tubes and back into the tanks. In the tubes are plants that grow in a medium that uses no soil. In the tanks are fish. The fish fertilize the water, the plants soak up the nutrients and clean the water and the filtered water goes back into the tanks.

We knew that this was going to be an experiment and that we would be learning along the way. We had many things to take into consideration as the nearest Home Depot for us in on another continent thousands of miles away. What energy source are we going to use to pump the water? What medium are we going to use to grow our plants? How are we going to construct our tanks? What are we going to feed our fish? How are we going to keep the right balance of Ph, ammonia, nitrates, nitrites...well, you get the idea.

Checking on plant growth
Trip to catch starter fish

So every day we feel like we are in science class and every day we learn something new. We are using solar power and car batteries to pump our water. We are seeking out the man who sells coconuts so we can get the husks to try as a growing medium. We are saving egg shells to help regulate the Ph. We have started a worm farm to feed the fish. We are figuring out the best way to construct a tank for holding water. We currently have cement, but that messes with the alkaline so we have painted the inside of a tank to see how that works. In the village we are thinking of something totally different for holding water...maybe animal skins or holes lines with plastic sheeting.

Worm Bed...Fish Food!
Painted tank in front. Unpainted in back.

In the end we hope to have a system that is inexpensive, uses all materials found in a village and runs using wind power. We have a long way to get from here to there but we are driven by the fact that this could be a life changing thing for the people here.

What might we learn tomorrow?

A Place for Women

This country can be a very harsh place for women. From the time girls are young they are put to work, often not having the opportunity to go to school. If girls do enroll in school, they often do not make it past a 6th grade level. Culturally, girls here are very timid and submissive. They would never think to say "no" to a man who tries to take advantage of them. If they become pregnant they have now embarrassed the family and are very often sent away from home and are not allowed to return. When a woman marries and has children, those children become the property of the father. If the father dies, his family can come and take the children if they choose and certainly they can take all of her belongings. If the woman remarries it is likely that this new husband will not accept her children and she will be forced to leave them with relatives or abandon them completely. Many times women will choose not to remarry because of this. Without remarrying a woman can find herself in a very uncomfortable situation. The family of her husband has an obligation to at the very least give her and her children a place to stay, but they often make her life miserable and do not help her in any other way. She usually cannot go back to her parents home because they cannot afford to help her and her children. Sometimes a family member will take her in, but will not accept the children. We have seen mothers leave their children in orphanages or in foster homes or on the streets because they are desperate and cannot care for them. Then there are women banished from their village, accused of witchcraft. This happens when misfortune or deaths occur and village elders need someone to blame and banish a women to "get rid of the problem". We see this usually with older widows, but sometimes with young mothers whose husband have left for neighboring countries looking for work.

Our hearts have been touched by the many stories of the vulnerable and disadvantaged women who we have met. There have been many women who have stayed in our clinic at the orphanage for a few days to a few months while social services seeks out their families and tries to find a place for them. We saw a need for a facility to help women in these situations. A facility that could be a place of refuge and a place of learning, where they could gain skills and be empowered to care for themselves and their children. Most importantly a place that would share with these women that their strength, refuge and hope comes from God. Out of this was born the idea for the Sheltering Wings Women's Crisis Center named "Village of Hope".

While sharing women's stories and the vision for this center, God moved in miraculous ways. We received funding for building facilities, for purchasing equipment for the technical center and for monthly operating expenses. People have partnered with us to change the lives of women and rewrite their futures.

The start of the wall being constructed. Now 95% complete.

Walls going up inside old classrooms to make bedrooms.
Murals being painted at entrance.

We have put up a wall, are renovating rooms, and have equipment on order. We are putting together a team of teachers and mentors and we are excited to see how God will use this place.