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Monthly Archives: February 2009


Farming Techniques That Will Feed a Family

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Female farmers in Rwanda and Sudan will learn about what kind of seeds to use, how to farm without chemicals and when to harvest
Female farmers in Rwanda and Sudan will learn about what kind of seeds to use, how to farm without chemicals and when to harvest

The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that poor countries will spend up to one hundred seventy billion dollars this year to import food.  This is an increase of forty percent from last year.  The United Nations agency says the rising price of food over the past year is a serious problem because most hungry people also live in poverty.

A humanitarian organization based in Washington, D.C. has a new anti-hunger project.  Women for Women International is teaching poor women in Sudan and Rwanda a new food production system called commercial integrated farming.  The women are trained to grow crops that not only feed their families, but also earn them a profit.

Pat Morris is program director at Women for Women International. The group launched its commercial integrated farming program in Rwanda.  Female farmers receive information about what kind of seeds to use, how to farm without chemicals and when to harvest.  The program also provides business skills training.  Mizz Morris says women being trained in Rwanda could more than triple the amount of money they earn from farming.

With integrated farming, the women raise animals and different crops on one piece of land.  Animal waste provides fertilizer. Some of the crops can be used as animal feed.  In Rwanda, the women have been able to grow traditional crops like bananas and sorghum grain along side higher-value crops, such as pineapples.  A hectare of farmland in Rwanda used to earn about four hundred twenty dollars a year.  But a family using integrated farming techniques on the same piece of land can earn as much as three thousand five hundred dollars a year.

Women for Women International works with local community partners to design and carry out its integrated farming program.  Grace Fisiy is an agricultural business expert working in Rwanda and Sudan. She says the local media in both countries have helped educate people about integrated farming.

Women for Women International plans to train at least three thousand women in Sudan and Rwanda.  Mizz Fisiy hopes the program will expand to other countries as well. 

And that’s the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jill Moss. You can learn about the efforts of other groups working in developing countries at

By |February 7th, 2009|Fairy Tales|0 Comments

Simple Technologies with High Aims

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has educated many exceptional minds, including twenty-six Nobel Prize winners.

Participants in the 2008 International Development Design Summit
Participants in the 2008 International Development Design Summit

Recently an event took place at M.I.T. to try to think of exceptional ideas for simple, low-cost devices to help the developing world. Sixty people from more than twenty countries took part in the International Development Design Summit.

For a month this summer, they worked with volunteers from M.I.T., Olin College and a group of companies and other schools.

They were divided into ten teams. As the M.I.T. News Office reported, most of the people had never met before. Some spoke no English. But each team had to invent a device to solve a different problem and build a working version.

One team designed a way for people to charge batteries while pumping water with a treadle pump. People would be producing electricity while doing their usual daily work. Farmers in many developing countries use treadle pumps to irrigate their fields.

The energy stored in the batteries would be used to power electric lights at night.

Another team developed a system for making connecting blocks of earth to build walls and buildings. Some of the bricks were designed like the Lego blocks that children use.

Another device breaks up charcoal produced from burned corncobs. The carbon particles can then be pressed into small blocks and used as fuel for cooking. The M.I.T. report said this process would avoid the releases of dangerous carbon-monoxide gas produced when corncobs are burned whole.

One team redesigned a bicycle so it could be used to crush millet, an important grain in Africa and Asia. 

Another team designed a rope-and-pulley system to transport goods up a hill from a small village factory in India to a road. From there the goods could be loaded onto trucks.

And another team created a way to help babies born too early in villages far from hospitals. The team developed a simple incubator to keep them warm. The device is designed to be easily built and repaired with materials available locally.

The International Development Design Summit was the idea of Amy Smith. She teaches mechanical engineering at M.I.T. This was the second year of the conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Plans call for the third one to take place next year in Ghana.

And that’s the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jill Moss. Our reports are online at

By |February 7th, 2009|Fairy Tales|0 Comments

Working With Clay: A How-to Guide

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

ClayClay is found almost everywhere in the world. It is formed by the action of wind and water on rocks over thousands of years. The rocks change in both chemical and physical ways. Chemically, elements like potassium and aluminum are added and taken away. Physically, the rocks break down into smaller and smaller pieces. After a long time, some of the rock changes to clay.

Clay is important because it is used around the world to make containers of all kinds. Potters add water to soften the clay. This makes it easier to form into shapes by hand or by machine. Then it is fired in an extremely hot stove. The result is a container with a hard surface that will last for many years.

In many countries, clay was formed from volcanoes. This kind of clay usually contains many minerals. So the fires to make containers from volcanic clay must be hotter than those used for non-volcanic clay. The fires may be as hot as one thousand four hundred degrees Celsius.

It is also important to dry the clay containers slowly. This means that the highest temperature should not be reached too fast.

You can add materials to clay to gain desired results. For example, you can add sand to prevent tiny breaks or lines from forming in the finished product. But you should not use sand from the coasts of oceans. Instead, you should use sand from rivers or from other areas of land that are not near the sea.

You can usually find good clay in low areas of islands or land, especially if volcanoes helped form the land. Clay often exists in fields covered with some water. The clay will be found about one meter below the ground. River banks often also have clay about one meter or less under the surface.

You can recognize clay because it is very shiny when it is wet. You can also perform a test. Take some of the material and add enough water to it to make it seem like you are making bread. Then press it in your hand until it is about the size of an egg. It is probably clay if it holds together instead of falling apart when you stop pressing.

And that’s the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Gary Garriott. Guides to working with clay and other materials can be found on the EnterpriseWorks/VITA list of publications. These publications can be ordered for a charge. The list is at Transcripts and MP3 archives of our reports are at

By |February 6th, 2009|Mosaic|0 Comments

Saving Reindeer — and a Community — in Mongolia

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

In far northern Mongolia, the survival of the smallest ethnic group in the country depends on reindeer.

Morgan Keay, right, with members of the Tsaatan community in Mongolia
Morgan Keay, right, with members of the Tsaatan community in Mongolia

An American named Morgan Keay visited the Tsaatan community when she was studying in Mongolia in two thousand two. Leaders told her that the animals were not healthy and the number of reindeer was getting too small to support the community.

When she left, the chief gave her his grandfather’s smoking pipe. That way she would remember the Tsaatan and try to help them. The Tsaatan have about five hundred members. About half are reindeer herders up in the Taiga mountains. The other half live in a town.

Back in the United States, Morgan Keay and a friend who had also studied in Mongolia started an organization. They named it Itgel — the Mongolian word for hope.

The Itgel Foundation has helped bring foreign scientists to Mongolia to research and treat reindeer diseases. Itgel also helped Tsaatan workers build a community and visitor center. The building includes guest rooms for tourists.

The Tsaatan not only work as guides, they now provide all services for travelers. The community works in partnership with international tour operators. Those tour operators had formerly been in control of the services.

Tsaatan volunteers and members of the Itgel Foundation in front of the community and visitor center
Tsaatan volunteers and members of the Itgel Foundation in front of the community and visitor center

People in the community designed the center, which they also own and manage. Before the visitor center was built, families earned an average of one hundred dollars a year. Now Morgan Keay says the average is three to four times that. Money also goes into a community fund.

Four years ago the Tsaatan had fewer than five hundred reindeer. Now Morgan Keay says the herd has just reached nine hundred.

Last year, the Tsaatan learned that the government of Mongolia planned to spend one and a half million dollars on their community. But no one had talked to the Tsaatan about the plans. The Itgel Foundation organized a meeting between community members and government representatives.

Morgan Keay says the Tsaatan are becoming economically independent for the first time. The Mongolian government is now considering a development plan written by the community. The plan deals with education, health, the environment and economics.

And that’s the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Karen Leggett. For pictures, transcripts and MP3 archives of our reports, go to

By |February 5th, 2009|News|0 Comments

Cooking Meals With the Sun

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Millions of people around the world cook their food over a smoky fire every day. It is often difficult to find wood for the fire. People who do not have wood must spend large amounts of money on cooking fuel. However, there is a much easier way to cook food using energy from the sun.

An example of a panel solar cooker
A panel solar cooker

Solar cookers, or ovens, have been used for centuries. A Swiss scientist made the first solar oven in seventeen sixty-seven. Today, people are using solar cookers in many countries around the world. People use solar ovens to cook food and to heat drinking water to kill bacteria and other harmful organisms.

There are three kinds of solar ovens. The first is a box cooker. It is designed with a special wall that shines or reflects sunlight into the box. Heat gets trapped under a piece of glass or plastic covering the top of the cooker. A box oven is effective for slow cooking of large amounts of food.

The second kind of solar oven is a panel cooker. It includes several flat walls, or panels, that directly reflect the sun’s light onto the food. The food is inside a separate container of plastic or glass that traps heat energy. People can build panel cookers quickly and with very few supplies. They do not cost much. In Kenya, for example, panel cookers are being manufactured for just two dollars.

The third kind of solar oven is a parabolic cooker. It has rounded walls that aim sunlight directly into the bottom of the oven. Food cooks quickly in parabolic ovens. However, these cookers are hard to make. They must be re-aimed often to follow the sun. Parabolic cookers can also cause burns and eye injuries if they are not used correctly.

You can make solar ovens from boxes or heavy paper. They will not catch fire. Paper burns at two hundred thirty-two degrees Celsius. A solar cooker never gets that hot. Solar ovens cook food at low temperatures over long periods of time. This permits people to leave food to cook while they do other things.

You can learn more about solar cooking at Or write to Solar Cookers International. The postal address is nineteen nineteen Twenty-first Street, Sacramento, California, nine-five-eight-one-one, USA.

And that’s the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jill Moss. Transcripts and audio archives of our reports are at

By |February 4th, 2009|Report|0 Comments

For Rural Poor in India, a Better Rat Trap Makes a Big Difference

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

A better rat trap has led to a better life for the Irula tribe in Tamil Nadu state in southeastern India. 

The improved rat trap has a 95 percent success rate
The improved design has a 95 percent success rate

The Irulas are one of the lowest groups in the Hindu social order. They live in rural poverty. Many work as rat catchers in farm fields. Farmers pay them a few cents for each rat they kill.


The traditional way they catch rats is to light a fire in a clay pot. They blow air through a small hole in the bottom to send smoke into the underground spaces where rats live.

Then, for food, the catchers dig out the rats and any grain stored in their burrows. But often the rats escape, and the rat catchers get burned on their lips and hands. Many also suffer lung and heart disease from breathing the smoke.

Several years ago, the director of the Center for the Development of Disadvantaged People in Chennai looked for a better way. Sethu Sethunarayanan worked with a mechanical engineer to design a steel trap.

With the new trap, the rat catcher still forces smoke into the burrow. But the trap is attached to an air pump operated by hand. The catcher no longer needs to blow into the trap. And the pump has a wooden handle to prevent burns to the hands.

The Irulas asked for and received almost one hundred thousand dollars from the World Bank. They used the money to establish a factory to build the traps. It employs fifty women. The traps are sold for about twenty-five dollars each.

Rats can destroy twenty-five percent of a crop. The improved rat trap has saved tons of grain.

With the clay pots, rat catchers succeed only forty percent of the time. Some catchers could not earn enough money to feed their families. The steel trap succeeds ninety-five percent of the time.

An expert on international business visited Tamil Nadu and wrote a case study about the tribal rat catchers. Siri Terjesen from Texas Christian University is now a visiting assistant professor at Indiana University. Her report appeared last November in the journal Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice.

India has about three million Irulas. Ninety-nine percent cannot read or write. But now, with the better rat trap, they are earning more money. More are getting health care. And other Indians may think better of them for using modern technology. But more importantly, Siri Terjesen says many Irula children now go to school instead of catching rats.

And that’s the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jerilyn Watson.

By |February 3rd, 2009|Report|0 Comments

Success Story Against Guinea Worm

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Guinea worm disease usually does not kill, but it is extremely painful. It prevents people from caring for their farms, their homes and sometimes even themselves.

Guinea worms can grow up to one meter long
Guinea worms can grow up to one meter long

In nineteen eighty-six, an estimated three and one-half million people in Africa and Asia suffered from Guinea worm disease. There were cases in more than twenty countries.

Today, Guinea worm still exists. But in two thousand seven, fewer than ten thousand cases were reported in five countries.

International organizations made the difference. They worked to increase activism and donations to the Global Dracunculiasis Eradication Campaign. That is the technical name for Guinea worm disease. Local governments provided support for services.

The Carter Center in the United States led the efforts. The World Health Organization and UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, also played central parts. So did the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The C.D.C. says Guinea worm no longer strikes in Asia. Most remaining cases are in Sudan and Ghana. The other countries affected are Mali, Niger and Nigeria. All five are working to stop the disease.

The disease affects poor communities that do not have safe water to drink.

Guinea worms are parasites — organisms that live in other organisms. The parasites enter the body when a person drinks water containing water fleas infected with Guinea worm larvae, the young form of the worm. “Water fleas” are not insects but copepods, a crustacean like lobsters and crabs but extremely small.

Almost a year passes without signs of the disease. But during that time the worm develops inside the person’s body. Some reach lengths of one meter.

Then the worm makes its way toward the skin surface. A blister forms, usually on the legs or feet.

The person suffers greatly when the worm cuts through the skin and leaves the body. And it is not unusual for an infected person to have more than one Guinea worm.

The international campaign has worked to help communities improve their supplies of drinking water. For example, villagers have been taught ways to keep water clean and to take steps like running water through cloth to reduce the risk of infection.

There is no vaccine against Guinea worm and no totally effective treatment. But the disease can be managed to reduce pain and infection.

And that’s the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jerilyn Watson.

By |February 2nd, 2009|Mosaic|0 Comments

Pedal-Powered Computers for Rural Villages

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

A nonprofit group in San Francisco, California, is trying to take bicycle-powered computers to rural villages around the world. The computer was developed with villagers in Laos.

The group is the Jhai Foundation. Jhai, j-h-a-i, is a word in the Lao language that means “hearts and minds working together.”

Lee Thorn shows schoolgirls how to use a pedal-powered computer near Vientiane, Laos
Lee Thorn shows schoolgirls how to use a pedal-powered computer near Vientiane, Laos

Lee Thorn is the chairman. He says there are tens of thousands of dead computers in rural villages. He says villages often receive computers that they do not know how to use or how to keep working.

So Lee Thorn worked with another Lee — Lee Felsenstein, an early developer of personal computers. The result is the Jhai PC. The small computer costs about two hundred dollars. It does not use much electricity. The battery that powers it is recharged when a person pedals a bicycle.

Memory-storage devices called flash drives are connected to the computer to hold information. The Jhai PC has a steel cover designed to resist water and weather. The foundation says the computer is built to work for ten years.

In addition to Laos, the group is in contact with villages in Vietnam, India, Ghana and other countries.

The foundation offers to help villagers learn to make the computers themselves with local materials. The group looks for a business person in each village who will create a ten-year business plan. The plan must include hiring people in the village. It also must include maintaining the computers and paying for electricity and a connection to the Internet.

The Jhai Foundation provides business and computer training. It also provides classes for teachers on ways to use computers in school. The group has received awards from the United Nations.

The group also works with villagers on other ways to improve their lives. Fifty-one villages in Laos are in a coffee farmers cooperative. The foundation is helping the farmers sell their coffee in the United States.

Lee Thorn started the foundation ten years ago after visiting Laos to begin a process of reconciliation. He calls it the opposite of war. He was in the United States Navy during the Vietnam war. On an aircraft carrier he loaded planes with bombs to drop on neighboring Laos. Later he and Lee Felsenstein were active in the antiwar movement.

And that’s the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Karen Leggett.

By |February 1st, 2009|Mosaic|0 Comments
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