Imagine the matriarch of your family, sixty years old, one day announcing that your family is going to uproot, move to the outskirts of town, build a new home, and start farming. You are able to carry all of your meager possessions in a small cart to the site where you will spend the next several months building a new house and preparing the land. Fish farming is the new enterprise and the ponds will be dug manually using a few shovels, machetes, hoes, and buckets. Imagine, finally, that this is not simply a career change, but a strategy for survival.
This is absolute reality for Maman Marie in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Turning sixty years old this fall and the main provider in her family, she needed a reliable means to provide for and even feed those who are dependent on her leadership. Knowing she had to do something to slow her family’s descent into more desperate poverty, and having witnessed the value that aquaculture had brought to other families, she attended one of our week-long fish farming seminars in Gemena. She immediately decided to relocate her home to another piece of property outside of town and risk the little she had on a new venture.
She started by building her new house next to the site of her planned ponds, since this is the best way to minimize poaching of the fish (something she picked up from the training). When we arrived to meet her, she was painstakingly excavating two ponds, with the help of only one other, young, male family member, using only shovels and a basin. This was the first time I had actually seen first-hand the immense effort that goes into pond construction in Equateur Province. We would hardly dream of such a laborious project in our uber-productive society with easy access to heavy equipment and financing.
Though the options for self-employment are limited in Equateur Province, Maman Marie could have chosen to buy small merchandise for resale or raise some other livestock such as goats, hogs, or chickens. But she chose aquaculture for a few practical reasons:
- Fish don’t wander – other livestock are free to roam the neighborhood, foraging for nourishment; this reduces the need for costly feed inputs, but makes them extremely vulnerable to theft.
- Fish are not as susceptible to disease – other livestock have been ravaged by disease in recent years; this devastates family investments and aggravates their condition of poverty.
- Fish are calming – Marie enjoys watching and caring for fish; this is another topic altogether, but peacefulness as a matter of mental health is an important contributor to well-being in combination with what we would consider the vital elements of survival; after all, how much of our time, effort, and finances are spent on leisure and other intangible benefits to our well-being; the satisfaction that Marie takes from fish is a legitimate value.
Unfortunately, Marie wasn’t part of a seminar where tool subsidies were distributed, but, tools or not, she was motivated by the training and knowledge of aquaculture. Furthermore, she has rallied others in her neighborhood to enter into fish farming or refurbish ponds that have laid inactive for many years.
We were able to honor her enthusiasm and motivation by equipping her with a few tools that we purchased with funds donated by the Rotary Club of Truro. The tools came from a shop that fabricates a variety of products from scrap steel using equipment supplied by World Hope Canada. Sale of the tools supports the shop in other areas of its work. …Multiplication of our investment.
I was overwhelmed when I realized the impact that our efforts have had for Marie and her family. It has been a similar story for many. We can do so much with so little. Be a part of it.