Here in Burkina Faso our AMURT team is moving ever forward, despite the security challenges we are now facing in the Sahel Region. The conflict in Mali is beginning to affect our project areas there, which is forcing us to keep a lower profile while we wait for the situation to improve. However, the conflict is not interfering with the development of our master unit - Ananda Viirata. This year has been focused much on developing agroecological aspects. In addition to producing organic vegetables and fruits, we've also planted over 20,000 new trees, with many more growing nicely in our nursery.
This upcoming year, we are initiating a master unit based program that aims to 1. assist area farmers to maximize production on their landholdings, 2. cooperatively produce and process moringa and other locally grown items, 3. make moringa powder available as a nutritional supplement to vulnerable populations (pregnant women and young children). For more information, click on the Ananda Moringa image.
For this program, we are seeking $33,000 to construct agro-processing facilities on Ananda Viirata (our Bissiri community center). This facility will not only serve as the basis for our new program, but will bring us closer to realizing our vision of local self-reliance. This last month, we have distributed
over 15,000 moringa trees to area farmers, with an aim to begin large-scale processing of moringa by next summer. Our goal is to finish construction by Spring 2013.
Prout Lessons from Development Work in West Africa
by Dada Daneshananda
In June 2000 I arrived in West Africa to coordinate AMURT development projects. These last twelve years have been an incredible adventure for me, giving me the special privilege to work closely with the people in villages in Ghana, Burkina Faso and Nigeria. I am very grateful for having had this opportunity to expand my mind and open my heart to the beauty of the human spirit that, in spite of the continuous struggle for survival, shines brightly in the African village.
Lesson 1: Seva Clinic–The community must initiate and own their projects
In February 2002, a group of community leaders in the Mafi-Zongo District of Ghana requested us to help them start a primary health clinic. We called a big meeting in April, and 150 women and men from ten villages attended. The discussion was long and lively with many different opinions about where to locate the clinic and how it should be managed. We made it clear from the beginning that the community would own and manage the clinic, not AMURT.
"Even with good intentions, clever planning and enough funding, if the communities are not empowered from the beginning, we are not likely to achieve true development and the projects will not last."
At the end of the meeting, the communities agreed to complete a half-constructed building in the village of Seva, to send candidates to be health-care workers to the Domeabra AMURTEL clinic for training, and to obtain official permission from the government health department to open the clinic. Everyone agreed to finish all this by September.
It was not until April 2003 that the building was completed, all affairs with the health department were sorted out, and the local health-care workers were ready. We spent April arranging furniture, equipment, supplies and medicines. The clinic opened quietly on May 1, 2003. From the first month, the clinic has been financially self-sufficient in operating expenses and staff salaries. AMURT has played a supporting role to help improve the facilities and services available to the community.
AMURT helped train women health promoters and Traditional Birth Attendants to educate and assist births in the villages. The women named themselves Kekeli Women. Kekeli means "brightness" or "light". In 2012 we started a new program for teenagers called Kekeli Girls. In Burkina Faso, AMURT’s presence in Deou Department goes back to 1986, when we began construction of a hospital. The safe motherhood initiative there has trained midwives in 37 desert villages. Today AMURT works with the communities on surface water harvesting schemes to make it possible to grow more vegetables in the arid semi-desert region.
These projects are self-reliant and supported by the communities due to three crucial factors:
1. The community identified their own needs and priorities.
2. They took the initiative and made the commitment to make it a reality.
3. And crucially, the community provided the leadership.
In my experience these are the most important factors for a successful community development project. Even with good intentions, clever planning and enough funding, if the communities are not empowered from the beginning, we are not likely to achieve true development and the projects will not last.
AMURT is a partner and a catalyst. Relief workers can play an important role, but we must never consider ourselves to be more important than the community. If we do, we will create financial and psychological dependency. We will perpetuate the debilitating neo-colonial attitude which is exactly what we wish to break down. If we are not careful, our presence could even cause more harm than good.
Lesson 2: Mafi-Zongo Water Project–Set aside western notions of timelines and efficiency
In Ghana we helped start a big water project in Mafi-Zongo. The sources of drinking water the people were using were not safe, were often shared by animals and they dried up in the dry season, forcing the women and girls to trek long distances to fetch water. A local assembly member from Mafi-Zongo invited AMURT to come in. A medium-sized reservoir was planned with a slow sand filtration system to purify the water. This simple technology is affordable to maintain, and the people can learn to operate it themselves. It is also ecologically sound, because it doesn’t deplete the underground water reserves, which are already scarce in this part of Ghana.
The design called for a reservoir to be constructed on top of Kpokope Hill, from where the treated water would flow by gravity to all the villages. The hill is very steep and to bring cement and other construction materials up was a huge logistical challenge. We called a meeting with representatives from all the communities and explained the situation. The communities agreed to collect the sand, transport it to the foot of the mountain and carry it up the hill in three weeks.
It took three months, with men and women from a dozen communities working hard, to bring enough sand to the foot of the mountain. Then we called an emergency day of communal labor for all the communities. That day the hill was alive and swarming with dozens of men, women and children, carrying pans of sand, making the difficult climb to the top.
This delay would have been avoided if we had bought the sand and paid workers to carry it up. But that would have been a mistake. Community development projects are not about meeting deadlines of international donors, but about bringing the whole community along together.
After that the people of each community dug the trenches and laid the pipes connecting them to the dam. In total, a network of 61 kilometers of pipes was laid that now provides safe drinking water to 10,000 people in 30 villages.
AMURT was first invited to Mafi-Zongo in 1993. The work started in 1994. It was not until 2005 that the first ten villages got piped water, and it was not until 2011, 18 years after it began, that the project was completed. The sense of pride and accomplishment felt throughout the villages when the project was completed created a sense of ownership and tied the populations of the 30 villages together. That pride and unity remains today and has been essential to the sustainability of the project. In African villages, people are not bound by clocks and calendars. They are patient, because they perceive time as moving in cycles. Time is vast, like the sky. People have enough time. Westerners, on the other hand, see time as linear. We are always in a hurry, we lose patience and lament if we "lose time". We could learn a lot from African villagers.
Lesson 3: Ebonyi Maternal Health Program–The emergence of new leadership Nigeria has the ninth-highest maternal death rate in the world. In 2010 AMURT chose to work in Ebonyi state, the poorest and least developed state in southern Nigeria. In partnership with the communities, local NGOs and the government, we have set up three primary health care centers with outreach programs to serve the people of Ekumenyi, in the Abakaliki Local Government Area, where the maternal mortality rate is double that of Nigeria’s national rate. Our special focus is to reduce infant and maternal mortality, saving lives. We also work with water sanitation and hygiene committees elected by each village, to drill and manage boreholes.
We needed a baseline survey at the beginning. We trained a dozen health workers to go from compound to compound. They registered 5,000 women of child-bearing age, 15-49, in 36 villages. We were shocked by the results, because the surveys reported there had been 31 maternal deaths in the last three years. We decided to verify each one. The unenviable task fell to Paulinus, an unemployed health worker from one of the villages in the project area. Visiting the different compounds and asking about the mother who had died in childbirth, he met suspicion, and at times hostility. One man who had lost his young wife threatened Paulinus with a machete! Often his questions brought anguish. The father-in-law of a woman who died started weeping openly, and as a result all the men, women and children also started weeping. Paulinus verified all the heartbreaking details of 31 maternal deaths from 2009 to 2011 from a population of just over 20,000.
Our outreach health education program includes home visits to all pregnant women in the area. Only by maintaining staff on duty 24 hours a day in the clinics, can the maternal health program work. All the planning and investment would come to naught if we had failed to recruit dedicated staff from the nearby communities. They communicate well with the people, and so there is a high level of trust and understanding. As the women’s confidence in the health centers grows, the numbers coming for prenatal care and delivery is steadily increasing. The health centers are owned and managed by the local committees, and the com- munities feel that the health care centers are their own.
Blessing was only 17 when she first volunteered on immunization days at her local health post. Since then she has trained and worked at a number of clinics and health centers. Because she came from a poor family, she never had the chance to go to nursing school. When the AMURT clinic at Offia Oji opened, Blessing was 23, but the government health department did not pick her to work there. Still, she came and worked as a volunteer.
It was impossible not to notice Blessing’s dedication. She has helped at the clinic almost every day, always volunteering for weekend and holiday shifts. Of the 150 deliveries at the clinic, she has assisted in more than 100. In community meetings, local traditional leaders and the women leaders sing her praises. It’s moving to see how this young woman, without formal education or position, has earned such respect through her dedication, sacrifice and positive attitude.
The success of the maternal health program can be directly traced to the emergence of new local leaders, such as Paulinus and Blessing. In West Africa I have found that genuine leaders, who have the welfare of their people at heart, can be found in every village. They are like scattered jewels. Our challenge is to invite these dynamic people to come forward and take charge. Community development projects are opportunities to serve for those who truly have the welfare of their people at heart. The best hope for the future of the neglected communities lies with the new leadership. They are more important than us, more important than any money or technology or clever concepts we have to offer.
Lesson 4: Thinking in terms of all-round growth
Community development is the micro-view of PROUT and can play an important role in social change. By working at the grassroots level, from the bottom up, keeping PROUT’s key principles at the front, work for the poor takes on a revolutionary character. In one’s spiritual life, a meditation mantra leads to self-realization and helps to morally guide our choices. In a similar way, I believe that before undertaking any new project, we should think Proutistically and decide whether or not this action will promote the good and happiness of all.
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Longevity magazine of South Africa published an article on Ananda Marga and Dada Shiilabhadrananda in its June issue.
Ghana and Burkina Faso
Our TBAs (Traditional Birth Attendants) currently cover 33 villages. AMURT has distributed 1 ton of millet in the flood-affected area of Bangeldaye. A watershed management program was initiated to collect surface water and keep the rainwater from running off without penetrating the soil by means of small check dams and other rainwater harvesting methods such as creating barriers to retain water around trees.
At the Bissari master unit, the transition into organic farming is proceeding smoothly as the farmers have clearly understood the benefit of it. We have a donkey and a few goats and are working to acquire some cows in order to produce our own manure. A beekeeping project has been started to introduce beekeeping to the community.
Our clinic in the Bissiri Master Unit, near Ouagadougou is growing. We hired a second nurse and have nearly completed a new room for the increasing number of patients during the rainy season (which is the big malaria season too). We are also building a simple toilet and bathroom facility. One of the nurses is now living in the MU itself. This allows the patients to get care during the night. We have been able to dig a borehole. The regular supply of drinkable water in quantity is a very great improvement.
We now are making our own bread, thanks to a very simple traditional mud brick oven. The bread is nice and our trainer, a French baker and friend, had the community taste its very first bits of pizza! Now the bread is made every day, small bread that the community can afford. There was no local bread available until now and everyone enjoys it.
Three health centers have been opened in Ebonyi State of Nigeria: Ephenium Health Center, Omege Health Center, and Offia Oji Health Center .In Abakaliki Local Government Area in Ebonyi State, AMURT has started working on water and sanitation programs. In August we signed an MOU with the local government council to provide water through boreholes to ten new villages and to rehabilitate broken boreholes in four more villages. AMURT is carrying out the program in partnership with NIWA, a local NGO.
In addition to the boreholes and repairs, AMURT has organized WASHCOMs (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Committees) in each of the communities and provided comprehensive training for them. The training includes water management, repair and maintenance of the boreholes, human rights, conflict resolution, leadership and HIV/AIDS awareness.
The villagers also learned livelihood skills like soap making, pomade making and bead jewelry production. They were also taught how to make Tippy Tap, a unique way to facilitate hand washing, pioneered in India. Seven of the ten boreholes have been installed. The remaining three were delayed due to inaccessible roads. With the beginning of the dry season these villages are now accessible and will be completed in the next weeks.
Ananda Marga Academy, a school for poor children in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, reached the national competition of Kenya Music Festival.
In July, we organized a cultural program and invited the parents and guardians to see the performance of their children. The result was amazing. Even parents, guardians and visitors started dancing. Cameramen from national TV channels K-24, KBC and NTV were there.
AMURT (Ananda Marga Univesal Relief Team) has being carrying out a drought disaster relief operation in Kenya known as Samburo Community Assistance Project (SCAP). This video documents some aspects of the operation:
Our first distribution was in Swari on October 13, 2011, a community in the Nariminimo location in Samburu East District. The village relief committee had selected the neediest from various vulnerable groups such as, but not limited to, pregnant and lactating mothers, orphans, the very sick, the disabled, the elderly and economically impoverished. In all, the beneficiaries were 90 households selected from a total of 694 people living in the village.
Our community mobilizers and local volunteers together with our core program staff handled the distribution fairly, courteous and efficiently. In fact, we received many positive comments about our entire process as compared with other NGOs and the government.
We distributed 950 kg of beans, 875 kg of Unimix, 90 liters of oil and 45 kg of salt for an average of about 21 kgs for each of the beneficiary households. As supplementary food this can have a substantial positive impact on these families over the course of a month.
At the same time a free medical camp was conducted with the local government nurse and one of our clinical officers. They saw in total 76 patients. Common ailments were eye infections, arthritis, skin rashes and respiratory illnesse,s but they also saw three cases of malnutrition and one case of suspected cancer. In fact, even with the government clinic in the village the medical need was great. We can only imagine what we will encounter once going deeper in to the hinterland.
Amongst the patients was a mother with her four-week old baby. When asked what the name of the baby was the mother replied that they had not given it a name yet. The mother then asked the name of one of our program officers that was assisting in the mobile clinic. Her name is Susan. The mother then declared the baby’s name Susan! This incident illustrates the excitement and gratitude the community felt for the food and medicine they received which was more than they had ever received during the drought at any one time.
We found the village relief committee to be responsible and helpful, the community patient and disciplined. It was a joy to serve them and we look forward to being part of making a difference in their lives in the months to come.
We have another six villages lined up for distribution next week. With the second batch of community mobilizers starting their work this week, even more will be added to the distribution schedule in the following weeks. In total our target is to distribute 25 tons of supplementary food in 20 villages over the next month. We will also conduct medical camps in those villages and plan to screen over 1,000 patients. Additionally, we plan to disinfect and treat more than 30 water tanks and water points throughout the district.
Our principle partners in this intervention are the village relief committees, the Government of Kenya, The Samburu East Women's Empowerment Forum and Kindernothilfe (Germany).
Two Medical camps were recently conducted at Mountain View Estate and Kangemi High School, both in Nairobi, with the help of the Divinity Foundation and Dada Diiptimayananda. More than 480 patients and students were treated.
Meanwhile, Dada Jayamaungalananda conducts a food distribution and medical camp for 1800 people every Saturday in Mombasa, Kenya, which is highly appreciated by the local people and the local government.
Youth Hip Hop training in Kenya:
The Kekeli women in Ghana:
The Neohumanist school in Lome, Togo:
And the Neohumanist school in Ejura, rural Ghana:
Abha Light Goes to Democratic Republic of Congo
Dust is what we encountered when Abha Light student, Ringa, and I arrived in Congo (Zaire) in August for a three-week visit. There's only 3 months of dry season in the forested green rolling mountains of eastern Congo and we arrived when the untarmacked rocky roads were nothing but rivers of dust. Soon, we were told, this would all turn to mud once the rains started, but for now, earth-reddened dust was everywhere and in everything.
Cibimbi is a tiny village in Nyangezi district, about 25 km south of Bukavu on the border with Rwanda. Short as the distance is, however, it takes 2 hours to reach it in a lorry winding on the unpaved roads through the mountains. It seems that previous regimes and present government don't give much attention to development in far away eastern Congo. In fact Nairobi, Kenya to the east is closer to Bukavu than Congo's own capital, Kinshasha to the west. So this part of Africa is somewhat behind in development compared to modern Nairobi.
How we came to Cibimbi is through an introduction to a very excellent family there. Some years back my brother-colleague in Ananda Marga, Dada Jinanananda, gave me an introduction to his brother who was visiting Nairobi at the time. Since then his brother and his brother's son, Cito, have been my friends.
Cito came to Nairobi a few years back to study at a local university. After his studies, he volunteered with Abha Light for a few months for community development. Inspired, he decided that homeopathy and natural medicine were what the people of Cibimbi needed. Cito then organized a programme for us. His father's own community development
project "VETO" was our host site.
So in August 2010, Ringa and I travelled 36 hours by bus to Congo. We held marathon classes to a group of 13 village youth in order to train them as homeopathic community health workers. We also held a clinic and saw the villagers.
Julius Ringa is currently a student at Abha Light College. Julius was introduced to homeopathy some years back with a homeopath visiting from Canada (unconnected to ALF) He's been conducting for 5 years free clinics and "first aid" homeopathy in Nairobi with Dr Jim. It was when he wanted to learn more that he joined Abha Light for further training. He's just about to graduate our training later this year. I felt since he was himself previously trained in "first aid" homeopathy, he would be ideal to bring along as co-trainer.
We saw about 120 patients. Most of them came to us suffering diseases that the doctors could no longer help. There were many suffering recurring malaria and the lingering effects of quinine overdosing. Plus there was an abundance of epileptic cases, most of them started in infancy during a bout of fever or malaria. As to be expected, many were wary of our little white pills, but as patients got cured and word got around, the attitude changed and we were beginning to be flooded by the third week.
Mass distribution of de-wormer for the children
We also decided to do a little promotion in the community. It was announced at the church on Sunday that we would be distributing dewormer to all children who came with their parents. Ringa quickly wrote a little jingle in Swahili: "Oh my tummy hurts! But the doctor told me to wash my hands after toilet and before I eat. I won't put dirty fingers in my mouth. Then I'm going to have a strong tummy with good health." We all then lined up like a chorus line and performed with children's hand gestures for the children as they arrived from church.
We mass-distributed the free de-wormer medicines. Over two hundred parents came with their children (over 1000 children) to receive deworming medicines. We lined up the kids in queues and popped little white homeopathic "candies" into their mouths one after another. This was followed by giving the parents tablets and instructions to take home. By the end of the week we were already getting positive reports of its effects.
Training and promotion of homeopathy
Our activities didn't stop there. We visited the midwives' group and gave 15 midwives a short class on the benefits of homeopathy in midwifery. We went to the two clinics in the village and talked with the doctors and nurses there. All showed interest to learn homeopathy. In fact, we signed the 3 doctors and several nurses from the clinics up for the course.
So with our intention to train the village's doctors, nurses, midwives and community health workers, maybe this will be the first fully homeopathic village in Africa by the time we finish our 2-year plan for training!
Would you like to come with us?
Our plan is to return to Congo every 2-3 months for two weeks training. In between, the homeopathic students will study through distance courses.
Homeopaths are needed and welcome to volunteer with us. French and Swahili are the languages of communication, with a few people speaking English. English speakers can manage with local interpreters. We need the help of volunteers for this new project.
Concerns about security
Although Congo has a history of civil war, that is now over. I found it very peaceful and secure. The village is quiet and the villagers keep their environment very clean. The mountains and rolling hills are forested and the air is very pure. It's a wonderful environment to visit and volunteer.
Abha Light Foundation in Nairobi has made a big difference
to many lives in Kenya through homeopathic clinics and a school:
ALF started in 1998 and so much has been accomplished these last 10 years. We continue growing. We have done a lot of work this year to establish our HQ as a place of learning and healing.
Alternative health care is needed more now than ever. We are implementing solutions to affordable, sustainable health care on an ongoing basis: village clinics, medicines, training of economically-constrained Kenyans, textbooks and resources for the students and college library, maintaining our free charity HIV clinics for HIV orphans and People Living Positively, and malaria prevention for families in high-risk areas.
Abha Light College of Natural Medicine is part of the Abha Light Foundation and represents an extended family of teachers, students, graduate practitioners, satellite clinics, supporters and friends. ALF is one of the oldest permanent projects of "pioneering" homeopathy in Africa. ALCNM grew from community classes in the slums in 2000. On the face of it, we are a very small, struggling school and, along with the rest of the ALF, ever on the brink of financial disaster. Often, we feel it's only through Cosmic Grace that we manage to pull through each month. But we ever remain vibrant and inspired by the work of bringing homeopathy to the people and by the daily miracles of homeopathy we witness in our work.
We offer diplomas in homeopathy, reflexology, herbal medicine and naturopathy (Indian tradition). Thanks to our patron, Dr. Robin Murphy, we are affiliated and get advisory support from the Centre of Homeopathic Education (UK). They have approved our course and have authorized us to offer a CHE diploma. On the Naturopathy side, we offer a Diploma from the All-India Natural Life Association.
We now conduct a 2½ year course. Our average class size, each year, is about 10 students, with ages ranging from 18-60. Up until now, we've trained about 60 Kenyans and 1 Ugandan, primarily in homeopathy. Some students have specialized in other fields such as Naturopathy, Traditional Herbal Medicine or Reflexology. Most students are from the villages or urban slums and their course is subsidized by sponsorships, but there are a growing number of middle and upper economic class students taking interest in the course. After training, we encourage them to return to their communities. This is necessary in order to establish homeopathy as a medicine accessible to everyone, rather than remaining elite in the cities. We also have a few distance students learning homeopathy from other parts of Africa.
The school can't be separated from ALF as a whole. The college's former students are now experienced homeopaths and run their own clinics. In turn they host students who come for their practical internships. ALF raises funds, as needed, to support graduate students in opening their first clinics. ALF subsidizes these low-cost clinics with free medicines. Otherwise the clinics and practitioners are independent and autonomous, working together only on special projects as a loosely affiliated group.
The work of ALF itself goes beyond the College and we are involved in many activities. We are, time to time, approached to offer homeopathy and health-care services by special-interest donors who support certain groups or projects, for example, an HIV self-support group or an orphanage. In that case, any ALF-affiliated homeopath may be asked to take charge of it. Right now, we are involved with two orphanages and one HIV-support group in this way.
Over the years we have partnered with other local and international groups to provide healthcare services in their projects. One of our oldest partnerships is with a Catholic medical mission. Corboni Sisters provides services to HIV infected persons in one of Nairobi’s largest slums. The project opened a "natural" section in 2005 with our help and we provided a homeopath and advice on their natural protocols for HIV (see ALFs book Great Health, Naturally!). Now, three of the Corboni's nurses are trained in homeopathy and are fully in control of that section of the Corboni project.
ALF has established a pharmacy in order to be able to directly supply homeopathy to homeopaths and the public. We have developed certain complex products that are reaching the public, and help provide a small income for the Foundation. Connecting our pharmacy with the clinics, we are interested in research of various kinds.