Lifestyles

Going ape over Congo chicken project

Otoko, a baby bonobo, takes a nap in the arms of its mother. - Photos courtesy Kirsty Graham
Otoko, a baby bonobo, takes a nap in the arms of its mother.
— image credit: Photos courtesy Kirsty Graham

Campbell River’s Kirsty Graham is currently in the Democratic Republic of Congo studying bonobos (chimpanzees). Graham’s task is to film mother and baby bonobos as they communicate using gestures.

 

Kirsty Graham

Special to the Mirror

 

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has had a violent, tumultuous history – from Leopold’s brutal colonisation to the civil war under Mobutu.

The eastern provinces are still shaking with conflict, and the country’s infrastructure is far from recovery after the exodus of foreign investors. When I decided to travel to the DRC as a field assistant, many people warned me not to go, and I don’t know if my mother will be fully comfortable with my decision until I make it safely back home. I assured everyone that the field station would be isolated; just a few researchers and trackers following bonobos (chimpanzees) deep in the jungle.

In fact, while the region is unbelievably isolated, the station is on the main dirt path that connects village after village. Far from the middle-of-nowhere station that I expected, there is always something going on. At first it was overwhelming; the missionary legacy has left many people expecting wealthy foreigners to bring supplies and money. If it had not been for an invitation from my new friend Gilbert, I might still feel powerless.

At the end of my first week, I agreed to go with Gilbert to an “ADEWA” meeting. I didn’t fully understand what the meeting was going to be about, but Gilbert’s enthusiasm convinced me to accompany him.

ADEWA (l’Association du Development de Wamba) started as a bit of a joke. After the war, the new government promised development and increased standards of living across the country, but when they failed to deliver, Wamba’s local leaders figured that they could do a better job. For almost nine years, ADEWA has been creating agricultural projects, assisting with the construction of a healthcare centre, and most recently introducing solar panels for radio communication and rechargeable batteries.

Gilbert explained, “when the missionaries came here they brought a lot of money, and it helped us a lot. But then during the war, they had to leave and a lot of projects collapsed. If we want projects to last forever then first we need volonté (willpower). Now the villagers participate in projects and know that they will be rewarded later on.”

ADEWA is an officially recognised non-governmental organisation. Its mandates are to educate community members, to protect the forest and bonobos, to improve agriculture to lift the population out of poverty, to offer employment through micro-projects, to provide members with access to loans of up to $5, and to evenly distribute the earnings of all projects. The council holds four meetings every year, but each project holds weekly meetings and the members frequently arrange larger meetings to discuss important issues. Everyone is welcome to become a member, and they are encouraging more women to join by allotting an even number of positions to men and women for each project.

At the end of this inspiring meeting, ADEWA presented me with a chicken. The chicken represents one of the most successful projects started several years ago. Now ADEWA have so many chickens that they are building new enclosures in two more villages.

While ADEWA don’t want their decisions to be run by outsiders, they readily accept financial assistance. When I told my mother Carol about this meeting, we were both fired up with a desire to help a grassroots cause. She came up with the brilliant idea to make ADEWA chicken Christmas ornaments to sell as a fundraiser.

These little chickens will be on sale at the Willows Market, so if you are looking for a special gift this holiday season please swing by.

A little money in Canada goes a long way in the Congo!

 

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