Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gardens Part II - Irrigated

Saul the agriculture extension agent gave us a tour of his gardens. Huge beautiful fields of cabbages, with tomatoes and peppers along the edges. Even a small patch of rice. Banana trees and breadfruit trees. And a couple of huge trees that survived the deforestation. It was impressive.

Then we went to his garden that has irrigation canals. It was like a botanical garden. Different varieties of bananas. Coffee trees. Cocoa trees! - the orange things in the picture are the cocoa pods. I suggested that Saul open a restaurant overlooking the gardens, and give tours. It’d be a perfect place to relax and enjoy the beauty and food of Haiti.

This final photo shows corn being irrigated, right next to coconut tree. I don’t know if it is as productive as the same sized Kansas corn field, but they also aren’t trying to grow the corn just to feed cows like they do here in the US. That Saul can grow his own rice is a huge deal. The Haitian rice farmers are driven out of business by the importation of American rice (cheaper due to subsidies). Thus

people lose jobs and can’t feed themselves, and the money goes to the US.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Hillside gardens

My last Saturday morning in Haiti my guide took me on a hike to the large cave that’s 2.5 miles from UCI, which isn’t that far, but the 730 ft rise in elevation in ½ mile is tough. We had made this arrangement before I got sick that week, and since I had been there last year, I knew what a steep hike it was, so the day of the hike I said I’d like to go to the smaller, closer cave instead. He said yes. Knowing that my guide says yes when he doesn’t always understand, I reiterated – The small cave. He said yes. I reiterated – The cave that is close. He said yes. Well, we ended up going to that far cave which turned into a 5.5 hour hike! The route didn’t seem like the way to the small cave. The stream crossing confirmed that we were indeed going to the farther cave. Oh well – that’s where I originally wanted to go and I was feeling a bit better. Only I didn’t have enough water for that long of a hike and ran out before we were heading back.

The way there seems very long because of the steep climb, it took us about 3 hours. My guide said he can make it in an hour. We were birding along the way, I was taking pictures, and I wasn’t used to this kind of climb. Last year he and his sister did the hike in flip flops. The same bottles of reddish Corona beer were there, along with the cat skull and chicken bones. We heard the bats fluttering around this time, didn’t hear them last year.

The gardens along the way were amazing. Not that they were large and productive, but that anyone could garden on a steep rocky hillside. There were small plots of corn. Gourds, pigeon peas, and banana trees were tucked away everywhere. On rocky terraces (mesiks, see picture) people planted manioc, potatoes, beans. We saw older men and women out there harvesting their vegetables. They must be in super shape! The hut in the photo is a little garden plot.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Use of water quality test kits in Haitian ecology conference

At both ecology conferences I taught about bacteria using the portable microbiology labs that Dr. Bob Metcalf of California State University developed for use in Africa. The kits detect both coliform bacteria that usually occur in the environment and do not cause human health risks, and a type of coliform called E. coli that come from human and livestock kaka (the universal term for poop).  One type of E. coli makes us sick, but even the presence of non-harmful E. coli indicates that our kaka is in the water and probably other things such as cholera and dysentery that makes us sick. Contaminated water needs to be boiled before drinking. It seems that people already treat their water, so I presented this as a way to track down sources of contamination. The coliform bacteria in the water sample will grow as red spots on the petri plates and make the water in the tubes turn yellow. If these coliform are E. coli from kaka, they will be blue on the plates and fluoresce when a black light is shone of the tubes. The tubes and plates need to be incubated for 12 hours the bacteria to grow. In lieu of an electric incubator one can incubate them against the body under the waistband.

I handed out 3 bags of 4 kits (plate + tube) to people at the first conference on the second day of the conference, then wizened up for the second conference at Riske de Cayahonde and handed them out the 1st day so that people could bring them back and I could help them interpret the results. These observations are from the 2nd conference (see pics). I showed three people how to use the kits (with the rest of the class watching), but didn’t have a spare plate to show for real how to put the water on the plates. That was a mistake – only one person got it right! I don’t know what the old man did – he had time to do only 2 of the tests and it looks like he just put a couple drops of water on the plates. The tubes were still clear which means he didn’t incubate anything. He also didn’t label anything. He later spoke up and commended the woman who did everything perfectly and said it’s a lesson in taking education seriously. The class gave her three rounds of applaud. Three people worked together on the third batch of kits. The water wasn’t distributed evenly on the plates so I don’t think they got enough water on it (1ml which is measured with the supplied pipette). But everything was labeled and incubated properly. Next time I need to color code the pairs of tubes and plates since I have difficulty reading the Haitian handwriting. Then at least I know how to pair up the tubes and plates even if I can’t figure out the writing.
Another thing that was difficult was seeing the fluorescence of the tubes with the black light. I didn’t realize that it needed to be very dark to see this. I put the tubes in a cardboard box and peeked in and could tell which tubes fluoresced, but it was too difficult to show this to the class. Next time I’ll use a black bag we can stick our heads in. (Also I didn’t try to explain fluorescence, I called it glowing).
The results are in the pictures of the white board. If the tube is clear and no bacteria grow on the plates, the water is sterile – none were like this of course. If the tube is yellow and the bacteria colonies on the plates are red, then there is coliform but not the E. coli kind. Four of the 8 water samples were like this. Two samples fluoresced but had no blue colonies, thus a moderate risk of getting sick from kaka-carried diseases. Two samples did not fluoresce but did have a couple blue colonies, also a moderate risk of getting sick from kaka carried diseases.
I will translate some of the instructions and interpretation of results into Creole for next year. People need to record the dat (date), lokasyon (location), if the tube turned jòn (yellow), if the colonies were ble (blue), and if this means a risk of maladi (illness). Non = no, wi = yes. Locations included sous (spring), gwo rivye (big river), and a ravin (ravine). Locations in the 2nd board are place names or descriptions: ti pye = little tree, not sure what the other two are. These kits are great tools for teaching about health and water quality, and I learned a lot about how to better structure the teaching to help people get better results.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Two more schools – one repeat and one new

On Thursday I taught ecology at Maranatha school which I taught in an assembly last year. This time I went to each of the 7 classes which is more affective in finding out what the kids know and drilling into them “pa krasse ze yo!” – don’t crush the eggs! The kids all remembered me from June and when asked what they do when they see bird nests all but the youngest class said they protect them. The youngest class of preschoolers didn’t know what to do, and two boys in other classes said they catch the birds. I asked why and they said to eat, but admitted they have chickens to eat too. The kids put a rope in the nests to catch the birds. We reviewed the benefits of hawks and hummingbirds, and then talked about the bats. The youngest kids didn’t know where bats come from – it’s nice to have fresh minds to teach! The older ones thought they come from old mice. At each school the kids seem to know that the bats live in caves.

The final school I taught at was the Catholic school, Ekòl Mè, which is on Hwy 3 at the east intersection to Caiman Rd.* This was my first time at the school (green uniforms) so I only taught about birds. There are 6 classrooms, one room having 2 classes in it (not uncommon). This time it was the older kids in 3 classes of 3rd – 6th grade (12 – 18 yrs old) who said they protect the nests, plus the youngest preschool class. In the middle classes the girls said they protect the birds, while the boys said they catch the birds to eat. And when asked what hawks eat they all yelled chickens! I explained that yes they eat chickens, but eat more rats and chickens, and the rats eat the chickens too.

This month I taught at 4 schools and reached 530 kids. I look forward to my next visit and seeing what the kids remember. I’ll probably teach about snakes. There are no poisonous ones in Haiti, but kids kill them because they think snakes are Satan!

*I’m glad to find out the name of the road that UCI is on – Caiman Rd. The customs guy at the airport really wanted to know the address I was staying at while in Haiti. I know I’m in Caiman the village but really doubt UCI has an address since there is no mail service.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Second ecology conference

The second ecology conference was held Tuesday and Wednesday at a church in Riske de Cayahonde, about a 20 minute drive from UCI. Louiders was in charge of handing out materials and getting everyones names. 47 people attended, along with 3 babies and a bunch of kids. It was a mix of young and old, men and women. The occupations that they listed were: farmer, gardener, commerce, mechanic, health, and student. The pastor also attended. Two kids helped me pass the life cycle models around to show each person. I was able to cover more material than the first conference at UCI last week. While people asked excellent questions and gave examples of the topics in their lives, they didn’t go on with their stories as the crowd at UCI did. So I was able to add in the hydrologic cycle and the insect life cycles and go over the ecoli tests in more detail. The pastor helped decide on 3 people who would take the ecoli kits and test different sources of water the 1st afternoon, so that we could all look at results the next day. The old man who took a kit didn’t do a very good job with the culture plates, but one of the women did an excellent job and we could tell which water source had fecal material in it. I’ll write a post on this later.

Of course everyone thought that bats came from old mice that pop out wings. And I found out why people think that if a frog pees in your eye you’ll go blind. While working in the sugar cane fields people see frogs jump off of the cane, sometimes at eye level, and they see that the frog pees when it jumps. If it goes in your eye you’ll become blind. I asked if anyone ever witnessed this, and one old man said he did. An old lady clarified that it stings but you don’t really go blind. I’m still skeptical that it actually gets in anyone eyes.

This same old lady was very doubtful that hawks are good for anything. I went over the usual information about hawks keeping the rat population under control. It’s hard to convince people this is happening when the only way they would really know this is to get rid of the hawks and watch the rats take over. All the people see are the hawks eating their chickens. I’ll have to find the article that I read that quantified the numbers. We did discuss how there are fewer wild birds for the hawks to eat and that the chickens are easy to catch. I suggested that people might have to make an effort to protect their chickens.

Overall, I found that people are very aware that more trees would be better for Haiti. I hope that education about some of the basic ecological details will encourage the younger people to seek education in this and return to their communities to take charge of restoring Haiti. Foreign aid groups can bring in all the money they want to, but if communities don’t take charge the effects won’t last long. There are many rusted foreign NGO signs (along with non-functioning pumps) and other evidence that aid organizations were here. My goal is to educate people so they can take charge and solve their problems. Thanks to everyone who subsidized the education of the conference attendees! Even $2 was too much to ask people to pay (to cover their lunch). Your funding provided lunches for the people, educational materials, books, and

notepads. Thanks to Dr. Huggins for sponsoring the ecoli kits, LeeAnn for the puppets and life cycles, my dad for the plane ticket, those who donated binoculars, those who made financial contributions, and one large donor (Tot & KT). It’s making a difference in the lives of many people.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Schools in Haiti - teaching ecology continued

On Monday I returned to Fwa Kretyen where I taught last year. In all but the youngest class (preschool 3 – 4 year olds) the kids remembered me and that I taught about hawks (malfini) in June. When I asked ‘what do the hawks eat,’ their first response was chickens, but they also said rats. I reviewed that the hawks eat many more rats than chickens and that the rats also eat the chickens. When I asked what the kids do when they see a bird nest, they all said they protected the nests! Last year the response was that they always crush the nest. I taught 7 classes, 2 were in the same room (see pics of 1st & 4th graders). Class size ranged from 16 (preschool) to 47 (3rd grade). The younger grades were the ages we would expect in the US: 1st grade = 5 – 6 yr olds; 2nd = 5 – 7. But kids in the older graders were a lot older: 5th grade = 17 – 20 and 6th grade = 16 – 18. 3rd grade had 9 – 11 yr olds and 4th grade had 10 – 14 yr olds. I heard it said that you only need a 3rd grade education to be a teacher, and that many kids don’t go to school beyond 3rd grade. I suspect the older kids had to leave school and return later when their families had more money, but I don’t know.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Teaching birds and bats in the schools – Day 1

Friday I taught at the UCI school where I taught in June. The kids remembered that the hawks eat rats and they shouldn’t crush the eggs! After reviewing the birds, I taught about bats. The older Haitians were taught in school that bats come from rats. The 1st and 2nd graders thought this. Three of the preschool classes didn’t know where bats came from, but in another preschool class one kid said they come from a tummy, and the kids reasoned that baby bats drink milk. The bat puppet was great for showing how the bats fly and that they have 5 fingers in each wing. I had to warn the kids that I was bringing out the bat and that it’s a toy. They all wanted to touch it after they got used to it, but one little girl still freaked out and cried when I pushed the bat towards her.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving from Haiti

Thursday we all took the day off to celebrate Thanksgiving. We started off the day with papaya smoothies. I didn’t realize how huge they got (see photo), since I haven’t been here for papaya season. The smoothies were good, but I like mangos better (not the ones in the US, the ones fresh off the tree here). The Mompremiers celebrated Thanksgiving with an employee appreciation day. They spent hours praying and singing, and for the meal had the usual rice and beans with red onion sauce, but with beef and cokes. The beef caused quite a stir with the dogs – the cow must have been cut up behind the kitchen (I didn’t look) because 2 neighbor dogs came over and were causing some trouble hanging out in the back. There was much discussion about eating the various parts of the cow. JeanJean showed off his ground beef.

I helped the girls make sugar cookies. Wow, you need to add a lot more flour here to get the dough just right. In the evening we had mashed potatoes and green beans, with fried sweet potatoes and bread, and the girls got to watch a video until they went to bed, so it felt was a little more like Thanksgiving. We all went back to the usual school and work schedule the next day.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Two-day ecology conference

This week I taught the first two-day ecology conference for adults at UCI in Caiman Haiti. There were about 40 men and 2 women. Most of the men were pastors, which here in Haiti are community leaders. One man came for the 1st day on the back of a motorcycle from Hinche, about 2 hours away. Each day started around 8:30am and ended around noon with lunch. I set the teaching materials on the walls around the worship center so people could try them out while we waited and during breaks. Diranot was the translator.

I followed the outline below. The participants were really into discussion and giving examples, sometimes rehashing the same concept (they need to plant more trees, how bad the land is without trees, rats are bad, etc.) without any conclusion. My goal was to convey the science behind the environmental degradation, and I often suggested that some Haitians need to step forward and begin making the changes they want to see in their environment. In lieu of the government stepping in and making laws, I think more education will motivate people to take action.

Day 1 – Water and the landscape
1. Turbidity – what causes it in the streams and how it kills fish.
2. pH – acidic car batteries and basic soap in the rivers will kill the fish.

3. Deforestation
a. How does this affect water clarity?
b. In turn – how does it affect fish?
4. Watershed
a. Pointed to surrounding hills and ask where water goes.
b. How would it be different if trees were there?
c. What if neighbor upstream was dumping batteries in the water?
We had a discussion about livestock in the area getting sick and dying, while in another town the livestock are fenced in and water brought to them. I suggested they keep an eye out for pollution in the water that might be harming their livestock.

DRINKING WATER QUALITY - Microbiology and fecal coliform test kits. Using drinking water I demonstrated how to use the ecoli kit, and later tested the sink in the dorm bathroom and the cistern where the women do laundry. The cistern was the only one that showed a fecal coliform colony, which indicates contamination by ‘kaka,’ human or another mammal. This in turns means there’s a moderate risk of a disease like cholera or dysentery in the water. This raised a lot of questions about health and water treatment, most of which I could give only vague answers. There’s plenty of opportunity for someone to teach about this.

Day 2 – Zoology
BIRDS – Louiders talked about his job as bird guide. We talked about hawks killing the rats that kill the chickens. This caused a lot of discussion about the hawks killing chickens. I pointed out that the rats kill more chickens, we just don’t see it, and they would lose even more to rats if there were no hawks. They kept returning to this topic later when I was trying to move on about bats.

Discussion about humming birds led to a lesson in the pollinization of plants. I wanted to cover more topics about birds but time was running short since they kept bringing up the hawks and rats!

BATS – I finally managed to get through the lesson on bats. They thought that bats come from the metamorphosis of old mice – just like caterpillars, the mice go through a stage in which they grow wings. When I heard about this belief last year I thought it must be an old folktale so I asked how they learned it. They are taught it in school! So this will be my focus when I teach in the schools starting on Friday. There is also a fear of bats from their association with voodoo (not sure what their role is in voodoo, something about spirits taking the form of bats). And they thought bats are ugly so I went over the functions of the features on the bats’ faces.

Thanks to everyone who provided the materials I used for teaching – they were put to good use, and I’ll leave it here in a tub for others to use.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Water quality education

This blog will serve as a place to keep track of water quality teaching and testing resources geared toward Haiti. I will teach adult ecology conferences this November. If you have any suggestions please leave a comment!


I would like a portable watershed model (can fit in my backpack) to demonstrate water running downhill, washing away soil if there is no ground cover, etc. Something like these large models: http://www.enviroscapes.com/. Let me know if you know of a place to purchase these, or if you are creative and want to make and donate one. A poster would also serve the purpose of illustrating what to consider in the watershed (riparian veg, cows in the stream, erosion, etc.)

I made this out of a foam modeling clay from the craft store. It’s not waterproof though, but metal beads get the point across about water flowing to the lowest points. One half is a forested watershed, and half is deforested.

Water quality

It was during a water quality lesson at my first conference in 2009 that I realized how much understanding science empowers people. As I was describing how the high pH of laundry soap changes the pH of the river water the women wash in which could kill the fish, a man announced he thought it was voodoo causing their environmental oppression, and he was excited to learn there is a reason that they can do something about. Here I’ll compile resources for teaching about water quality.

World Water Monitoring Day kits – very simple kits to teach and test temperature, DO, pH, and turbidity. http://www.worldwatermonitoringday.org/ See my previous post about this kit.

Portable Microbiology Laboratory (PML) – I’ll try this out for the first time in Nov. http://solarcooking.wikia.com/wiki/Portable_Microbiology_Laboratory

Related materials from the developer of the PML.



Water quality groups or resources in Haiti – I’ll keep adding to this list as I come across groups or resources

CARE - We place special focus on working alongside poor women because, equipped with the proper resources, women have the power to help whole families and entire communities escape poverty.

Haiti Outreach - Our work to date has been in the three major areas of clean water, education, and economic development.

Heifer International - also offers youth and adult workshops at their US ranches.

Living Water International - They also offer training in the US in hygiene and well drilling - http://www.water.cc/take-action/training/

Pure Water for the World - is a non-profit (501c3) that works to prevent children from suffering from water-borne diseases that cause pain as a result of improper hygiene habits and consuming contaminated water.

Samaritan's Purse - For over 40 years, Samaritan's Purse has done our utmost to follow Christ's command by going to the aid of the world's poor, sick, and suffering.

SOIL - Sanitation and latrines. Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting soil resources, empowering communities and transforming wastes into resources in Haiti.

Water Missions International - uses low-maintenance, appropriate water technologies for drinking water treatment and distribution, wastewater management, and storm water control.

water.org - Water.org is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization committed to providing safe drinking water and sanitation to people in developing countries.

Clorination options - Five options for household chlorination are available in Haiti: Gadyen Dlo, Dlo Lavi, Klorfasil, Aquatabs, and household bleach.

Potters for Peace - is not directly involved in relief efforts on the ground in Haiti because we have not been approached by any Haitian organizations. What we are doing is working on a project with a local organization (I.D.E.A.C.) in the Dominican Republic that is helping a local filter producer to re-tool and increase production. Through these efforts they will soon be able to expand their distribution to Haiti.