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March 23, 2006 Edition

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Notes from The Gambia
Tomorrow's Decisions Today

Catholic Relief Services: A little of what we do

photo of Tom Brodd

Notes from 
The Gambia 

Tom Brodd 

One of the areas that Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is working in is the development of rural farmers' business skills through what is called agro-enterprise development method.

Its aim is to help farmers learn and use business skills so they are able to gain greater income from their crops and understand the movements of the market so they can take advantage of and not be at the mercy of them. I thought today that I would give an example of the work that CRS does in this field; below is one example of how CRS tries to do this.

Pooling resources

One organization of farmers that CRS is currently working with is called Kumbo Manduar Tunda or KMT for short. This is an umbrella organization for 15 separate villages that decided to come together to pool their resources and skills to help them all develop. One area that they wish to do this is in the raising of broiler poultry from day old chicks as there is a large demand for chicken, especially at certain times of the year such as holidays.

Related articles in this week's edition:

However, the proposal that they submitted to CRS was thought to be much too ambitious, as they wanted to start their own production with first buying layers and raising chicks which they would then sell to their members for them to raise as broilers.

The cost alone was prohibitive as this type of production would be very capital intensive and the returns from the sales of the broilers could not meet the cost of equipment and the cost of training for management of such a complex system. Also within the group questions as to which village would have the hatchery and who would work there would raise many difficulties.

Sharing knowledge

CRS thought that the KMT organization could benefit from the experience of another farmer group that is already doing broiler raising but on a much more local and affordable scale. This organization is called the Rural Poultry Farmers Association (RPFA), which is in the Central River Division of the country. The RPFA is made up of 400 members in 11 zones; each zone is made up of members from three to six villages.

The RPFA members monthly make a contribution/dues to the organization. This money is then used by the organization as leverage to receive a loan from the Gambian government's Social Development Fund, with which they go to a hatchery in Senegal and buy day old chicks.

There is currently no hatchery in The Gambia. The chicks are then given out to the individual members to be raised and sold at the local markets. The other assistance that the members get is access to the proper vaccines and training on mixing up the proper feed for raising the chicks to a saleable size in around six to eight weeks.

The tricky thing was coordinating things so that representatives of the two groups could get together to exchange and discuss ideas on poultry raising. It was thought best if CRS could take the representatives of KMT to the RPFA area to meet at the villages. There they could see first hand how they went about raising and selling the chicks.

Visiting and learning

Five members were chosen by KMT. RPFA is in the middle of the Central River Division (CRD), which is about the same distance from KMT as Madison is from Chicago but the road is in very bad shape and it takes around eight hours to get there.

We were fortunate in that we used two CRS vehicles to get there because public transport can take up 12 hours. Just an aside, in Africa if you can get another ride rather than public transport, you are almost always much better off.

This was to be a farmer-to-farmer workshop because, if you are able to create one, it is one of the better ways to transfer information and knowledge as farmers are more open in asking and answering questions with other farmers. They know the restraints and opportunities that affect them and are better able to explain, and explain in a way other farmers would understand. They speak the same farming language.

The first day of the workshop we started the meeting with the RPFA members describing how they formed, how they came up with their poultry plan, how they get their loans, and all of the problems that have come up and how they addressed them. There was much give and take and good understanding between the members of the two societies.

After lunch we then went out to visit some of the RPFA villages and look firsthand at some of their poultry projects. The villages we visited were widely scattered and all of them were at the end of a dirt/sand road. But the going was not too bad as it is the dry season so the roads were passable.

In the dry season it is very dry and hot during the day. The breeze is not cool but more like the blast of hot air you get when you open up the oven, so much so, that you wish for no wind.

Your sweat dries up almost before it reaches your skin. Then there is the dust, which is very fine, almost like talcum powder, and it gets everywhere, so at the end of the day you have a red tinge all over you from the dust.

Appreciation gained

Despite these annoyances the visits to the villages was greatly appreciated by both societies. The KMT people because they were able, at first hand, to see how the chicks were raised, housed, and fed and being out in the field brought up other questions that they not thought of before. The RPFA people were also happy with the visits as it gave them a chance to show off the hard work that they had done to outsiders who could appreciate what they had accomplished.

The next day we again went out to some more villages to see some of the poultry raising, but this time we went to the villages in the morning and had a review meeting in the afternoon to answer any lingering questions or concerns.

The meeting was done, as most village meetings are done, under a shade tree with everyone sitting in a circle on wooden benches. At the end of the process everyone was happy that we had brought the two societies together and were pleased with how much information was exchanged between the two groups. Then the next day it was the long drive back to Banjul.

Having been in more than my share of meetings, to me this is the only way that they should be held - outside, under a shade tree, and, as a bonus, in Wisconsin in the winter you know everyone will keep the meeting short.

Tom Brodd of Madison is living in The Gambia, West Africa, as one of 16 participants in the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Volunteer Program, which provides U.S. Catholics with opportunities to share their skills through CRS and to live in solidarity with their brothers and sisters around the world.

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Cemetery arrangements:
Many options to weigh, consider

photo of Tom Hanlon

Decisions Today 

Tom Hanlon 

The cemetery is the final resting place of our loved one. It is to this place that we return to remember and pray for our dead. It is a sacred place. Therefore, selection of a burial site deserves some thought and planning in advance of need.

Two things usually determine where one might be buried. One is family heritage. It is not uncommon to see generations buried in a family plot or, at least, within the same cemetery. The other is the proximity of the cemetery to where we worship and live.

In the Diocese of Madison there are 107 parish cemeteries. In addition to the parish cemeteries there are four larger, diocesan cemeteries serving Catholic families. Those cemeteries are Resurrection Cemetery, Madison; Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Janesville; and Mt. Thabor and Calvary Cemeteries, Beloit.

Previous columns:

If you have not made cemetery arrangements, I encourage you to do so. Why do you need to purchase a grave before need, especially if you already know where you want to be buried? Good question. Let's look at some reasons from the perspective of the survivor.

Choosing a plot

Knowing what cemetery you want to be buried in is only the first step. Selection of a particular grave within that cemetery would still need to be done. If you do not make burial arrangements in advance of death, then someone you love will have to make them when you die.

Death does not always occur on a nice, warm, spring day. I have walked the cemetery in a foot of snow on the coldest day of the year with a widow looking to purchase a final resting place for her recently deceased husband.

That is a fact. And I can tell you that the heartache I felt for her was great. There she was, standing in a field of snow, looking for what she hoped would be a meaningful burial ground for her husband and herself. Another experience I have had was that I met with a family on Christmas Day to select graves for the burial of their loved one.

I have also noticed that certain things are important to survivors at the time of need that were not considered important before death.

The aesthetic side

In talking with families before there is an immediate need for burial property, certain aesthetic qualities, such as the location of the grave needing to be on a hill, under the oak tree, isn't much of a consideration.

However, once death occurs, emotions come into play in the decision making process. Being near a tree or close to a relative's grave can be very important to the survivor. Keep in mind that graves are not renewable resources. Once they are purchased they are taken out of inventory and that location is no longer available for sale. There are only so many hills and trees in cemeteries.

There are other reasons to make cemetery arrangements ahead of time. Cost is certainly one. Grave prices go up due to inflation.

Also, larger cemeteries, such as those owned and operated by the Diocese of Madison, offer the opportunity for families to purchase necessary items such as burial vaults, monuments, and the burial service fee in advance of need. Therefore, it is recommended that families take time to educate themselves about these various products that will be needed for burial.

Different options

Most people do not know the differences in burial vaults or types of granite for monuments. Where is the value? Why do I need this one rather than the less expensive one? Receiving information when your mind is clear and you can think to ask questions is a better position to be in than when you are emotionally distraught.

Also, larger cemeteries, like the diocesan ones, have options to choose from other than graves. Mausoleum crypts and lawn crypts are some of those options. The average person doesn't know the advantages and differences between those products and how they compare with traditional ground burial. Spending time to research your choices is to your benefit.

In the next and last article in this series on preplanning funeral and burial arrangements, I will write about cremation and the choices available to Catholics for the funeral liturgy and committal service.

Tom Hanlon has been the director for the Department of Cemeteries for the Diocese of Madison since 1995. He has had a long career in funeral service.

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