A few weeks ago we were privileged enough to have the opportunity to travel to Dolise, the third biggest city in the Republic of Congo, and the site of the Mercy Ships Food for Life Agricultural Program. Dolisie is about 160 km from Pointe Noire which took us about 4 hours. The road is amazing once you get out of Pointe Noire and onto the tollway which has no toll yet - 4 lane wide smoth, new tarmac. In fact some was so new it was still hot and steaming! We were blessed to be able to travel in two Mercy Ships Toyota Land Cruisers.
|Harry asleep on Dad's lap in the back.|
|Tammy and her amazing small group - Kat and Sarah Kate|
|Look carefully on the trunk - there are about 10 live chickens (roosters) tied on!|
We checked into our hotel first to find that the rooms in one of the hotels we had booked had been given to someone else as Rwanda were playing Congo in football in Dolisie that weekend. However some swift work by Eliphaz and Josh found us enough suitable rooms in another hotel. Once checked in we headed out to the agriculture site.
|Jack with a big storm coming our way|
The Food For Life Agricultural program teaches, trains and equips individuals in holistic agriculture techniques. Also potential food crops and animal projects can be experimented with, tested and identified as viable food sources. In Congo there are about 26 participants from all over the country. They will hopefully take the knowledge they have gained through the training back to their local communities to train others to make better use of their farmland.
|Eliphaz explaining the compost producing they are teaching|
Honestly, I questioned where this program fitted with Mercy Ships core activity of running hospital ships. However having witnessed first hand the great work Eliphaz and Josh are doing backed by Ken Wineback and Charlie back in Texas, I am convinced it is a great program.
They use all locally available seeds and equipment and set up control crops using traditional methods then various techniques on other crops to experiment and demonstrate what is more and less effective. Having studied agriculture at school, it was very similar to what our agriculture teacher had us do so that we could learn by our own small scale mistakes what worked and what enhanced our quality and quantity of yield. As an engineer I really appreciated the scientific approach they took offering not one but many alternative methods and techniques that the students could take away with them to their own communities.
|Cutting of Moringa tree|
|Mick checking out the watermelons.|
|Mark and Harry with Eliphaz.|
|Banana seedling bed|
As well as the growing of crops, they were breeding rabbits, teaching the students the best ratios of males to females and how to maximize their growth. Mark and Harry only wanted to go to Dolisie to see “the bunnies” and spent almost all their time at the site with “les petits lapins”. Although both boys understood they were being raised for food, Eliphaz had also promised not to butcher or eat any whilst we were there.
|Mick showing Harry how to hold the rabbits|
|A very happy Harry|
|Mademoiselle Yolande with Mark and Harry holding baby rabbits.|
|Harry with a rabbit - he soon learned to pick them up!|
The students were also being taught how to value add to their crops manufacturing ginger syrup, soy milk and yoghurt. So after a tour of the facilities we all had a chance to join the students in various activities for a few hours, carting water, planting, watering and preparing soy milk and ginger syrup.
|Kat, Sarah Kate and Tammy|
|Josh, Nikki, Kathy and Tam making ginger syrup.|
|Jack helping make the ginger syrup|
|The most awesome Kat Foley.....and the Chef|
Next day we walked up the road to a great café next door to the boulangerie. Dolisie is not a tourist destination by any stretch of the imagination and by the way some of the local kids reacted I am pretty sure that Jack, Mark and Harry might well have been the first live white kids they had ever seen walking up the street – almost definitely the first Australian kids ever to have visited Dolisie! We had a fantastic breakfast of coffee, tea, pain-au-chocolat, omlettes, baguettes and ice creams.
After that we headed to the central market which was much nicer then the Grande Marche in Pointe-Noire. It was in a large three story concrete building, well laid out, clean and cool. We wandered for an hour or so, buying some beads for Mark and Harry, some avacadoes and a plastic laundry bucket, before heading back to the hotel to eat lunch, pack up and start the drive home to Pointe-Noire.
|Omelette Provencal and Cafe au lait|
|Breakfast of champions|
|These were goats, not sheep or geep|
|On the road. There were many stops for road works.|
|A fairly common site on the road - slow moving logging trucks.|
|Typical African rainstorm on the way home!|