Greetings from Africa!
I’m Aaron Williams and I work for Universal Outreach Foundation as the beekeeper training manager and also as a beekeeping extension worker. Being with Universal Outreach means a great deal to me because of the passion I have for the work I do; most especially gives me an opportunity to share my knowledge with my fellow Liberians.
Right now I’m in Egypt participating in a project analysis course. This opportunity was made possible thanks to funding from the Egyptian government and the Universal Outreach community (thank you!). I look forward to returning home later this month so I can use my new skills to impact the lives of the Liberian people.
The project analysis course is helping me better understand the value and impact of project design. I see this being advantageous as beekeeping grows in Liberia and we look to a future where Liberia is the hub of beekeeping in West Africa. With project analysis I’ll be able to design and evaluate the best way for the Association of Beekeepers in Liberia (ABEL) to invest its time and resources. When Universal Outreach encouraged us to start this association it was because they knew that in the long term it is ABEL that will be the voice of beekeepers in the country and I want to ensure we are progressive.
Egypt has also opened my eyes to what is truly possible in the field of agriculture. Egypt is a desert country, but they are producing crops and exporting. Liberia has land that is rich in organic matter, but because of the limited knowledge of the average Liberian farmer agriculture is still at a subsistence level. In Egypt, I’ve learned ideas like grafting citruses (bees love the citrus tree flower), field layout for irrigation and the usage and preparation of organic fertilizer. These are all helpful ideas that I look forward to sharing with farmers in Liberia.
I could say so much more about my program, but I’d like to conclude by thanking the UOF family for their continuous support to the development of Liberia. Thank you for supporting the development of the honey industry over the past six years—you have done very well for us. If you came here to meet the beekeepers you would feel proud. I look forward to us working together to support small-scale farmers with the new techniques I’ve acquired in Egypt. Where there is food there is also good health and joy!
Aaron B. Williams
A few months ago I wanted to get some fresh beekeeping photos, so I tagged along with the beekeepers while they harvested honey in Nimba County. We ended up in a village that was gifted hives from another organization, but didn’t get any beekeeping training to help guide them. I have to commend the people I met for their courage, but courage wasn’t going to translate into cash unless this group learned how to manage bees and harvest honey properly themselves.
When they asked if Universal Outreach could give them some tips, we were happy to oblige because WE CAN. This is an example of the benefits of having an extension team that travels the country ready to support beekeepers. They have the time to meet with people like this who are willing and able, and very cost effective for us to support. This kind of program flexibility in a budding honey industry is incredibly valuable as it allows us to respond to real needs in a timely manner.
One month later, two Universal Outreach beekeeping trainers hosted a workshop with this enthusiastic group to ensure their future as beekeepers. Now instead of getting crushed, bees are now being gently brushed out of the way when frames go back into the hives, instead of getting stung, beekeepers are properly dressed to protect themselves from aggressive bees, and instead of harvesting everything in the comb, honey is now selectively chosen so only the quality capped honey is harvested. This group is set up for a bright future in beekeeping and I’m glad we were able to help.
Landis Wyatt, Communications Manager for Universal Outreach
In December 2016, we asked the Universal Outreach community to give the gift of beekeeping. Three months later and the our beekeeping team was on the road to south-east Liberia to train a community to beekeep. Enjoy this story from Cecil Wilson, Universal Outreach’s Country Coordinator and head of the Beekeeping Extension Team, as he tells you about his journey into south-east Liberia and meeting some of Liberia’s infamous honey hunters.
“When we arrived in the village, community members lingered close by with great expectation. They’ve heard about improved beekeeping practices and many times both government and NGO’s have promised to train them, but never have those promises materialized. This community is noted for having the most fruitful and brave honey hunters in Liberia.
When they were told that the Universal Outreach would help them with training and starter kits, it seems like one of the many promises they received in the past. Now the vehicles were coming into their village full of beekeeping supplies. At this point it seems like a dream to them. Some skeptical people thought that we had come to draw honey from their rich forest where thousands of Kola trees mingle with other forest trees, for our personal gain, but soon enough we knew they would realize our team was set to deliver a beekeeping program unlike any other they have ever seen and dispel their concerns about potential ulterior motives behind our presence.
The training goal was to construct sixty beehives for twenty participants, supply them with hive management knowledge, honey extraction equipment and also a year of intensive extension support for as long as they remain committed to beekeeping’s best practices. They are also going to receive top dollar for their honey when harvest comes.
On the first day of the workshop, the venue was stormed with more then forty people seeking to be admitted into the training hall, but—as the nature of our program is—knowledge is available for those who see the value, so we allow all interested persons to sit and drink from the facilitators. The Universal Outreach facilitators have been trained to help people seeking to jump out of poverty and move up the economic ladder to a life where they have a better influence over the direction their children’s lives take. Up until this point this community generates its income from farming, a little hunting and honey hunting.
Precisely forty-two people went through the training, but at the end only the targeted twenty persons received beehives. The other inputs such as beekeeping suits and harvest equipment will be shared on an “as per needed “basis. They were also told that the extra people who were allowed to sit in on the workshop will receive our extension support if they take the initiative to build their own hives.
This was also the first workshop in which participants elected a person who did not receive beehives to be their chairperson. To our surprise he went on to start the construction of sixty hives in the month following the training—a sign of true resilience!
It is our hope that these people, with their great knowledge of their Kola forest and existing experience with bees, will create the best possible environment for the bees; become the bee’s champion and not its enemy; and become productive honey producers and conservationists.” – Cecil S. Wilson
When we moved to the Kendeja neighbourhood five years ago, I must admit I was slightly concerned about it. Up to this point we’d always lived in apartments above someone else’s house. This living arrangement instigated my habit of socializing with the household below me, but not mingling too far beyond that.
Then we moved to Kendeja where we were no longer tenants, but the leaseholders of our own property. The buffers between us and everyone around us disappeared, leaving this quasi-extrovert—with a strong need for a quiet home life— feeling exposed.
To the left of our property was a ramshackle house pieced together from scraps of tin and wood. On our right was a well-built concrete house leased by a missionary who shared his home with a few Liberian families. Directly across from us was a quiet, walled, unoccupied property, and adjacent to that was an open lot with an unfinished home and a small provisional shop located at the front of it.
This wall-less property was a hub for the community. There was, and still is, a constant flow of people coming and going. Since they used their front yard for cooking, washing and generally hanging out, it was easy to get a sense of their daily routines.
Initially I wanted to keep my distance for fear of being deemed the bleeding heart NGO household where our neighbours would come knocking for every need that arose (yes, I realize how presumptuous this sounds). I’d heard stories like this from other people living in private houses—versus the large apartment blocks with security guards that many ex-pats prefer—where a steady stream of neighbours made requests at all hours. I didn’t want that to be me.
What I didn’t realize was the people that told me those stories had cultivated that reality and my experience was going to be completely different.
It took me awhile to figure the neighbourhood out. Between the years of long hours with the well program, time spent out of town at the school in Royesville, and finally Ebola, I didn’t have much time for chit-chat with the neighbours.
When we came back after an extended period away due to the Ebola crisis, I suddenly became very popular with the four foot and under crew. At first I assumed that they finally appreciated how amazing I am, but I quickly realized that wasn’t the case. I was simply a form of entertainment for all the kids who were bored silly from being out of school for so long.
With Ebola still in the country, the small mob that used me as the finish line for the “Landis Race” was not an ideal scenario. I quickly established a hands off policy, but I would show the occasional bit of affection by patting kids on the top of their heads. I know that’s not truly hands off, but it felt safer than having small children wrap themselves around my legs. Soon everyone in my crew would approach me with a slight tilt to their head as they prepared themselves for my pat.
It took five years, but I finally feel like I’m a part of my community. The kids across the alley, who still chat with me every day, have completely captured my heart. Abraham is the responsible one, Joseph likes to be loud, Princess is funny, Ma J is a fashionista, Moses is always helpful and Chantal still cries every time she sees me.
I’ve gotten to know their parents as well, and although my conversations with the adults are more limited, I feel trusted and accepted by them. I can go to them for advice on breaking a fever, cooking cassava or any of the many things I’m not very talented at.
After all that initial worry, it’s me that ended up knocking on their door and I’m grateful that they welcomed me in.