Building Capacity : Mbale, Uganda

Uganda: Located in eastern Africa west of Kenya; size: slightly smaller than Oregon (241,038 sq km); population: 33.4 m; natural resources: copper, cobalt, hydropower, limestone, salt, arable land, gold; economy: agriculture 23.6%, industry 24.5%, services 51.9%; GDP $41.7 billion; main exports: coffee, fish, fish products, tea, cotton, flowers, horticultural products, gold; poverty: 35% live below poverty line; HIV/AIDS: 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS (*150,000 are children) and 1.2 million AIDS orphans (*children under age 17 who have lost one or both parents) Mbale:Population 89,100; Region: Bagisu tribe. Language: Ugandans speak a number of languages throughout the country. English is the official language and Lugisu is the local language of Mbale: Mulembe (Hello); Oreenna (How are you?); Bulayi (Fine); Kama – kwa (Any news?, a routine greeting); Kasila (No news)

HIV/AIDS: Between 1992 and 1997, the HIV infection rate fell by some 60 percent in the arc of territory along the northern and western shores of Lake Victoria…It was not attributed to a pill or a vaccine or any particular public health program, but to a social movement…

When it comes to fighting AIDS, our greatest mistake may have been to overlook the fact that, in spite of everything, African people often know best how to solve their own problems.

From the moment you are exposed to the HIV virus to when the infection can be detected with a test takes about three months. For three months I lived with the possibility that I had HIV… Every morning on the way to the lab, I passed a clinic where HIV-positive patients lined up on benches on a porch, waiting to see the doctor. He weighed them, took a blood sample, and sent them home. Sometimes a man or a woman had to be carried up the steps from the road, thin and weak, with arms swinging like a marionette’s. I wondered how the others who were not yet sick dealt with this. They said nothing and looked away. AIDS can be a lonely disease. You die slowly, in great pain, and many people are frightened of you. I realized now that as I passed them, I could almost see across the distance of continents and race. Very briefly, I thought I saw AIDS their way.

The Invisible Cure, Helen Epstein

2006: Kelly Flamos & Julian Harris, former fellows at The AIDS Support Organization (TASO [the largest indigenous HIV/AIDS NGO in Africa]) from George Washington University start “The Poultry Project” in collaboration with TASO to address the persistent poverty and malnutrition plaguing HIV/AIDS-affected children. Read the entire 2006 proposal here. Poultry farming was chosen as a simple solution, as it provides nutrition, income and acts as a renewable resource.  20 families were selected as beneficiaries through a selection process conducted by TASO Counselors and each received training, 4 hens + 1 rooster, supplemental feed, supplies for a simple bird housing structure and a bicycle in order to start small-scale poultry holdings. (Monitoring and monthly reports included.)

2007: The Poultry Project team returned to Uganda to work with a Farm Africa veterinarian on inoculating and distributing healthy chickens to the participants.

2008: 6 new families were added to the project and the Poultry Project implemented a bank account and savings program for participants.

2010: The Poultry Project worked with fellows from George Washington University to complete a thorough evaluation of the project to identity program strengths, weaknesses, impact, and recommendations for future work. Here’s what they found:

Participants reported loss of birds including chicks, cocks and hens due to:

1. Predators + 2. Lack of sufficient shelter

2011: The next phase of the Poultry Project will address these issues providing participants with the training, materials and support to build chicken coops for their projects.


The Coop design is derived from the idea of an exchange:

Man provides chicken with shelter

Chicken provides man with eggs

The Coop: The coop design is influenced by Uganda’s temperate climate, ease of construction, local material palette, transportation considerations and functionality; it was derived to be a tangible representation of the exchange between man and bird.

The project team is scheduled to leave May 1. Blogging begins April 29:

4.29.2011 : Early this morning riots broke out in the capital city Kampala. Other regions, including Mbale, have reported demonstrations that have been met with the force of the military and police. The Daily Monitor, a Ugandan news website had this to say specifically about Mbale:

11:50 EAT: The military and police are firing live ammunition and tear gas as they engage demonstrators in the eastern Uganda town of Mbale, more than 300 kiloemetres away from Kampala City. Shops have been locked, demonstrators are fighting back with stones, bonfires have been lit in some streets. Our bureau chief, David Mafabi, reports that the demonstrations started when civilians angered by what they say was the inhumane and violent manner in which opposition leader, Dr Kizza Besigye was arrested on Thursday started making themselves heard on Republic Street. When the police and army moved in, chaos erupted.

The Poultry Project team is corresponding closely with TASO in Mbale to understand exactly what is going on. The project is scheduled to proceed as planned, however could be delayed or canceled if the demonstrations are not contained within the next 24 hours.

5.4.2011 : The Poultry Project did proceed with the project and made it safely to Mbale yesterday at 4pm EAT (Eastern African Time).

The Team: Joe Pavlick (Co-founder & director), Emily Flamos (Co-founder & director), Emily Axtman (designer) & Khushbu Patel (volunteer); Kelly Flamos (Co-founder & director) and Kevin Kopanski (Photographer) to join the team May 15th.

The journey: The road from Raleigh, NC to Mbale, Uganda was long and confusingly tiresome, but highlighted with decent Turkish Airline’s food (hummus, cheese & unlimited mini-wine bottles) and an incredible ride with TASO from the hotel we stayed at in Entebbe to Mbale: our (my) first look into African culture and life.


Ride from Entebbe to Mbale: Kampala                                         The Source of the Nile River: Jinja

5.3.2011 : Material hunting + boda bodas (day 1): After a first short night of sleep, we met up with Peter Welhike at TASO, the Poultry Project’s manager in Mbale, Uganda. We started our search for local materials, using boda bodas (small motorcycle taxis) to travel around Mbale to various material stores + yards. We were able to identify all the necessary materials and buy what we needed for the demonstration coop for a kick-off workshop 3 days away.

Boda bodas in Mbale’s city center!

Building in Uganda: The building process for Ugandans is amazingly different from building in the US: material-wise, process, detailing, tools, etc. I had the opportunity to visit a concrete manufacturing site and was amazed by the process of these hard working people.

Concrete mixing Ugandan style

The Panga : Pangas are by far the most incredible tool I’ve ever seen: These long metal knife-like tools are extremely multi-functional and a staple tool to every Ugandan. Pangas are used to cut bananas, cut sugar cane, cut down a trees, dig holes for houses, cut the grass, cut banana stems for cows to eat, ect. The usefulness is wide ranged— a Mbale local and TASO employee, David, who helped build the first coop in the past days, totally blew us away with his precision and efficiency using the panga.

Watch his incredible Ugandan craft

5.4.2011 : Demo Coop building (day 2): Frank, Joe, Peter, TASO member, Emily and Khushbu building the first coop panel at TASO’s campus.

5.8.2011 : Mbale Workshop 1
(day 6): The Poultry Project’s first workshop was held today at TASO to introduce 10 new participants to the project, consult with the 5 regional chairpersons about the demonstration coop + distribute the first 7 bikes.

PS: Donate to the Poultry Project today— they are an amazing organization well invested in a community and a sustainable project.

New participants meet with the Poultry Project’s veterinarian to learn about chicken maintenance, health and disease-prevention.

Lunch: A huge mound of matooke (plantain like bananas boiled and mashed) with a groundnut sauce (peanuts), mupunga (rice) and sukuma- weak and enyama (beef) is a typical Ugandan meal. Drink: beer in Uganda- top pick: Nile Special; but all beers here are fairly similar in taste: The Nile, Club, Bell, Nile Gold (all lagers) and there’s a dark beer I have yet to try: Castle milk-stout (risky?) made in Jinja.

Below: Workshop participants eat a traditional lunch at TASO.

The final demonstration coop in the rain.

Coop recipients check out the coop and try out the roof / egg retrieval door.

The 5 regional chairpersons met separately as a group to go over the coop design and provided the following feedback:

A way to secure the roof/egg retrieval door from potential theft.

Individual nesting baskets inside sheltered coop area.

Husks or coffee bags to be used as material for nesting.

Steven, one of the regional chairpersons for Mbale had this to say about the design: (coming tomorrow!)

5.9.2011 : Material Pick-up (day 7): TASO aided the team in a huge material pick-up today that included buying materials for 18 coops. Driving around Mbale to local suppliers, all materials were found and bought:

324 wooden poles; 27 kilos of 3″ nails; 9 kilos of 1.5″ nails; 18 kilos of roofing nails; 36 kilos of binding wire; 54 bundles of papyrus; 18 bundles of rope; 18 padlocks; 18 latches; 90 hinges; 100 kilos of cement

5.10.2011 : Kachumbala (Bukedea district) Workshop (1): 
About 22 kilometers north of Mbale, the first on-site workshop was held with two existing Poultry Project participants and 3 new. The workshop was held at the late Angura James house, a previous participant who passed away at the age of 6 to AIDS:

Typical construction in distant regional locations like Kachumbala consist of huts, like the ones seen above, made of bricks and thatch and larger gable-roofed structures such as the one seen to the left, but with the same locally-made bricks.

Charles, James’ brother, gave me a brick-making tutorial:

1. Walking out to the clay pile 2. Removing the dried leaves that keep the clay moist and mixing water with the clay 3. Using form-work to mold the clay 4. The finished product – guess which one the American did 5. The final final product.

Watch Charles making bricks here.

The coop took about 4 hours to build. The people I had the opportunity to work with today provided answers to unknown questions I had before collaborating with the Poultry Project on this project. It’s ignorant to think that these families don’t have the ability to build what they need; they do though need the resources and training to better their livelihoods. I don’t think today was so much about my design skills impacting a community with a design, rather it was about providing a community with a platform to build a tool that can and with time will assist them with a project that has a social and economic impact on their lives. Today was about a cultural exchange between two very different cultures that is irreplaceable; an exchange that was enabled through design.

3 year old Bridgett posing for a coop shot at Sandra’s house in Nabumali, Bungokho County, in Mbale district.

Nabumali (Mbale District) Workshop (2): The second on-site build workshop was held at Mutonyi Sandra’s house, a 12-year-old HIV+, vibrant and sweet kid who lost both parents to AIDS and is now living with her aunt and uncle. 2 other participants joined the build; everyone was involved: the women, children and the team all took part in the construction.

5.12.2011 : Political Tension & Material drop-off : Uganda’s Backcountry

Today Ugandan President Museveni was sworn in for a fourth term as president at the Kololo Airstrip in Kampala, extending his rule to 30 years. On this same day, opposition leader Kizza Besigye was scheduled to make his way back into the country after the April 28th events which left Besigye temporarily blind.

Dropping off materials in Sironko at Yekosophat’s. The Poultry Project team collected the necessary materials for a total of 10 coops and delivered them to Sironko and Bukedea.

Sironko District Workshop (3): The third build workshop was held in Sironko, at an amazingly green and lush paradisian site. Sophie, a Poultry Project participant, who has worked hard to make her Poultry Project a huge success, is mother to Eric:

Eric dressed button-up with his new coop.

Some villages kids joined us for the build. They love the mystique of the camera:

5.16.2011 : Bukedea District Workshop (5) : Over the weekend the rest of the team arrived:

Kevin Kopanski (Photographer) and Kelly Flamos (Co-founder & director)

The Coop 5 build was held in Bukedea at Steven’s house, father of project participant Akido Betty. Steven is a true success story of the Poultry Project. He has been able to grow his project to around 60 chickens and has used the project to buy goats, cows and other livestock. Steven plans to build more coops for his growing project with the left over materials.

6.6.2011 How it all works:

What I learned: Design can expand beyond the boundaries of the built environment to include the design of a process and a system. In this case, Architecture became more than our movement within the physical built environment; it expanded to include the design of a holistic system of and for one’s livelihood. The chicken coops that were built over the course of the project, to me, stand as a tangible product representative of a system designed to provide the necessary resources for the participants to bring themselves out of poverty… and the actual architecture was one small piece of a huge puzzle.

4 thoughts on “Building Capacity : Mbale, Uganda

  1. Looks great. Like the materials and rope traingulation. Thanks for sharing their feedback. It is interesting to see how it re-shapes design as it should.

  2. Really enjoyed reading the blog and seeing some of what you’re seeing. Keep the news coming, and stay safe and learn lots.

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