I just returned from Uganda, where I was building chicken coops for HIV/AIDS-affected families, and I wanted to share my experience, photos and the notion that design can make a difference. Five years ago, I was in Uganda with one of Africa’s largest indigenous AIDS-service organizations, TASO. During my summer there, we visited the homes of AIDS orphans (some in the care of grandmothers; others in the care of older siblings), and the effect it had on me was profound. Compelled to do something, the Poultry Project was born. In the past five years, our organization has grown from 20 to 53 families, but the mission is still the same: provide HIV/AIDS-affected families with an opportunity to start a smallholder poultry business, selling eggs and keeping 100% of their profits. Each family receives five healthy chickens, poultry management and business training, a bicycle, banking and savings program, support, and, since our latest visit this May, a chicken coop.
This winter, we held an international Chicken Coop Design Competition to challenge folks from the design, art, architecture and farming community to create an efficient, locally sourced, modern coop. One of the winners (and a DesignCorps fellow), Emily Axtman, volunteered to travel to Uganda to design and help build coops from local materials. A team of five of us, including co-founders Joe and Emily Pavlick, a social entrepreneur and a volunteer photographer, worked with local farmers, a team of TASO teens and TASO staff to build 13 coops! We also added 29 families to the project and sourced/delivered materials for another 40 coops, which will be finished this summer by the local build team we trained while we were there.
Although I spent most of my time in Uganda in the village, building coops, delivering materials, facilitating workshops and making home visits, I did make time to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the “Pearl of Africa.” I visited the craft markets, admired the effortless style of Ugandan women, tasted fresh mangoes from the tree, indulged in sweet sesame candies, lounged on a papyrus mat in the lush landscape, and walked the people-packed streets of Mbale every chance I got.
To get involved with the Poultry Project, visit our website and email us — we love volunteers! Get a detailed description, building instruction, photos, and material list of the Poultry Project chicken coop at Emily Axtman’s blog. To make a difference through design, check out The SEED Network (Social Economic Environmental Design) and Project H Design (they’re currently running a school and design lab, Studio H, in rural North Carolina).