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.