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Poultry for the Poor
Written by Kelly Chandler Staff Reporter
2015-05-06

Dr. Priscilla Benner, director of MAMA Project, looks at the new guinea hen enclosure outside the organization's nutrition center in Honduras with Hector Sanchez, director of MAMA Honduras.  

                They're loud, they're territorial, they don't make good mothers and they may just be the key to helping families in poverty overcome malnutrition.

                Working in Honduras since 1987, Pennsburg-based non-profit MAMA Project has identified guinea hens as the key to their newest project, which aims to put eggs in the hands of those who need them the most – children.

                Impoverished children in that country, like in many others, are at risk for conditions such as anemia, intestinal parasites, respiratory diseases, and even blindness due to a deficiency in vitamin A, said Dr. Herman Sagastume, field director for MAMA.  According to the World Health Organization, there are 300,000 to 400,000 malourished children living in Honduras.  Fifteen, it said, will die every day from a lack of food.  Most of those children are under the age of 5.

                As part of the family poultry flock initiative, MAMA, which stands for Mujeres Amigas (Women Friends) Miles Apart, will distribute young guineas to families in target communities around San Francisco de Yojoa, which have high levels of childhood malnutrition. 

                The organization, founded by Dr. Priscilla Benner, has been conducting medical, dental and construction brigades throughout the country for decades and runs a nutrition and education center in San Francisco de Yojoa, outside the second largest city in Honduras, San Pedro Sula.

                Benner said after starting with distributing the vitamin-rich "super cookie" or bar and later perfecting a micronutrient powder, much like the one used to fortify our cereal here in the US, the egg seemed like the next natural step for MAMA's work there.

                "In thinking through what we've done already done, we looked at chickens but they are very vulnerable to disease.  Guineas are really very wild and are popular all over Africa; they shouldn't be disregarded," Benner said.  "The egg is very, very important.  They are an ideal source of the nutrients children need to survive and be healthy."

                Indeed, you will be hard-pressed to find a single food more nutritionally sound.  Eggs are rich in protein, iron, vitamin A, B vitamins, amino acids, and antioxidants.

                And guinea hens are well-suited for life in rural communities.  They are highly resistant to common poultry diseases, have a diet composed mostly of insects and they even act as watchdogs and sound a loud alarm for protection and to warn of intruders.  They also require little care or feeding after two weeks of age and help control mice, rats, snakes and disease-carrying insects.

                On the down side, they aren't overly maternal.  While Benner said guineas will wonder and leave their young, called keets, in wet grasses or out in the rain, which can kill them, the keets are much hardier after the first few weeks of life.

                Benner said the program, which is still being fine-tuned, will begin with guinea eggs being delivered to the MAMA Project Nutrition Center.  There they will be incubated and hatch.  The families to receive guineas will undergo about a day and a half of training either at the center or in their communities.

                During that training, which will include watching a YouTube video produced by Benner starring her very own Buff Orbington chicken, Buffy, participants will learn the value of eggs, how to care for guinea fowl and how to train them to return to their shelter each night.    

                Each family will then build a shelter for the birds and promise to share their first offspring before getting 10 guineas for their own flock. 

                Benner said building a shelter shouldn't be a problem, despite the families having so little.   

                "They're very resourceful.  They will grab a machete, come up with the materials and go to work," she said, noting it's 'women's work' to take care of the poultry. 

                Subsequent eggs will then be placed under brooding hens which will adopt and raise guineas to increase the flock numbers.

                Community leaders in Honduras were first introduced to the concept back in October.  While the project has suffered a few setbacks, including the recent notification that Honduras' Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock won't allow MAMA to ship day-old keets to the country, Benner said she is optimistic about its success.

                The initiative is meant to complement the organization's continuing nutrition education, deworming, vitamin A distribution, promotion of home food fortification and child survival training.

                 "It's an educational process.  The secret is don't give up.  We've had to adjust before and we'll do whatever we have to do to," Benner said.  "Every person is valuable."

                For information on the family poultry flocks initiative, or to donate to its cost, please visit mamaproject.org, call (215)679-4338 or email info@mamproject.org.


 

 

 

 

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