APOPO vzw

APOPO's mission is to develop detection rats technology to provide solutions for global problems and inspire positive social change. APOPO's vision is to solve pressing humanitarian challenges with detection rats technology. Our core values are: Quality - Demonstrating and promoting high standards in research, design, training and implementation of detection rats technology. Social Transformation - Developing skills, creating jobs, improving socio-economic and environmental conditions, releasing land for development, and combating public health issues. Innovation - Pioneering creative research and innovative solutions within a participatory learning culture. Diversity - Embracing diversity...
Aug 2, 2011

HeroRAT Newsletter - July 2011

TB Detection Program progress
 
Our Tuberculosis Detection Center here in Tanzania continues to make great progress – proving that our HeroRATs’ skill at saving lives is nothing to sniff at. Last month, our rats discovered 42 new TB-positive patients who had been incorrectly identified as TB-negative using standard microscopy. To date, our HeroRATs have helped to diagnose over 2,209 TB-positive patients who were previously missed by microscopy – potentially preventing at least 22,000 new infections!
 
The results of APOPO’s TB research throughout 2010 were recently published in the Pan African Medical Journal, in an article titled “Using giant African pouched rats to detect tuberculosis in human sputum samples: 2010 findings”. You can read it here.
 
In an exciting technological acquisition, the TB detection center recently began working with a new automated line cage. The principle of detecting tuberculosis is the same – our HeroRATs run along the length of the cage, sniffing patients’ sputum samples placed underneath each of ten holes, and indicating if they smell TB by holding their noses in the sample hole and scratching at the surface.
 
What makes this new cage different is that an invisible laser runs along beneath the holes, into which a rat must keep its nose for a predetermined amount of time. If successful, the cage automatically sounds a ‘click’ and releases a food reward for the rat. The new design will eliminate the possibility of human influence or error measuring the rats’ indications, and five young rats have already begun to train inside the automated line cage.
 
We hope the winning combination of our rats and this new technology will help us in the fight to reduce the spread of this deadly disease!

APOPO nominated for a Katerva Award
 
The APOPO team is proud to announce that our work has been nominated for a Katerva Award! Katerva, a charity organization registered in the United Kingdom, focuses on creating solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing society by showcasing some of the world’s most innovative organizations – and through building a community of social change advocates. Katerva’s annual awards provide recognition to what they deem “the very best sustainability initiatives on the planet.”
 
APOPO joins a diverse group of organizations and initiatives that have been nominated for an award in one of Katerva’s 10 categories, which include Behavioral Change, Economy, Energy & Power, Food Security, Protected Areas, Gender Equality, Human Development, Materials & Resources, Transportation, and Urban Design. A winner will be selected in each of the 10 categories, and a grand prize winner will be announced at a gala event in New York City’s Lincoln Center on 7 December, 2011.
 
The judging process is rigorous: after being nominated, each nominee must pass through six evaluation phases, during which a team of researchers and experts will determine the feasibility, scalability, originality, and impact of the organization and their work. Ultimately, Katerva seeks to “shine a global spotlight on the ideas and innovations by which we will live sustainably within the planet and help them grow and refine themselves.”
 
We’re excited to be included among such an extraordinary group of nominees – you can learn more about them, and about Katerva, at www.katerva.org. Wish us luck as we move forward in the judging phases!

TIB MOLBIOL sponsors eight new HeroRATs
 
APOPO and the HeroRATs would like to give a giant welcome and very special thank you to our newest corporate sponsor, TIB MOLBIOL! The Berlin-based company has generously offered to sponsor the training of eight new HeroRATs. Thanks to their support, the nine-month training journey of these eight young heroes will be fully covered. This includes expenses such as food and housing, veterinary care, transport, trainer’s salary, and beyond. With TIB MOLBIOL taking care of these important costs, APOPO has more funds to devote to our operational programs in landmine andtuberculosis detection – programs that these eight young rats will soon be a part of!
 
If your organization would like to learn more about supporting a HeroRAT throughout its entire training (and earning the exclusive opportunity to name your own rat!), please visit the Corporate Sponsorship page of our website.

TMAC visits APOPO-PRO operations in Trat

Between 20 - 22 July, TMAC (Thailand Mine Action Center) invited representatives from the Thai Government, as well as other guests and media, to visit APOPO-PRO’s field operations in the province of Trat. APOPO-PRO – a partnership between APOPO and the Thai NGO, Peace Road Organization – launched a non-technical and technical survey in Trat at the end of June, with the goal of completing a resurvey of 81 Suspected Hazardous Areas (SHAs). This will be followed by a resurvey of 29 SHAs in the neighboring province of Chantaburi. The surveys aim to accurately determine how much land needs to be cleared of mines, and which areas are actually already mine-free and can be released to the public.
 
Over the course of two days, APOPO-PRO and TMAC welcomed representatives from several departments of the Thai Government, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and were also joined by members of the Thai press, PRO’s Board, and local organizations TDA (Thai Civilian Deminer Association) and MOM (Mekong Organization for Mankind). APOPO-PRO presented and demonstrated both their survey and Land Release methodology, including a new system for land classification. There was a broad consensus about the utility of APOPO-PRO’s approach to Thailand’s extensive landmine problem along its border with Cambodia.
 
APOPO hopes to expand its mine action program in the region in 2012, provided sufficient funding is secured. This expansion would include both survey and clearance activities in Thailand and Cambodia. 
HeroRAT team handover

In June, we welcomed a new volunteer, Jessica Silber (pictured), to the HeroRAT team to take up the role of Communications Coordinator and assist in the management of our Adopt-a-Rat program. Here’s what Jess had to say upon arrival at APOPO:
 
“I’m excited to join APOPO as the new Communications Coordinator, and I’m thrilled to be involved in this important work! I graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2010 with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science, a background in communications, and an interest in international development. APOPO is a truly innovative and exciting organization to be a part of, and I’m looking forward to building even more public support for the HeroRATs.”
 
APOPO wishes to express our gratitude to outgoing Communications Coordinator, Felicia Byrne, who has been an integral part of the HeroRAT team for the past year. During her time at APOPO, Felicia helped tremendously in streamlining the procedures of our Adopt-a-Rat program, expanding our supporter base, and keeping the public up-to-date on everyday HeroRAT happenings. We will miss her around HQ but wish her every success in the next chapter of her career. Asante sana and kwaheri, Felicia!

***

At the end of another month, we are pleased to report that our  Mozambique Mine Action team has now cleared more than 423,106 square meters of land this year! These latest clearance figures bring us to a grand total of 2.5 million square meters of suspected minefields, cleared and returned the local population in Mozambique.

 
Thank you for following our life-saving efforts, and we hope you enjoy the month ahead!

Warm regards,

The HeroRAT team

Links:

Jul 11, 2011

HeroRAT Newsletter - June 2011

 

Launch of our new website

The HeroRATs have a new home online! We recently merged our two websites (APOPO.org and HeroRAT.org) to become one because APOPO trains HeroRATs to save lives. We are one team, working together to inspire positive social change – so we belong together on one website! 

Here we hope you will find everything you need to know about APOPO and the HeroRATs, and how you can take action to help us in our life-saving mission. If you have any questions or feedback about the new site, please feel free to contact the team at HeroRAT headquarters via email:herorats@apopo.org

Enjoy exploring our new site: www.apopo.org!

APOPO honored with a visit of royalty
 
On June 5, APOPO was delighted to welcome Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid of Belgium to our headquarters in Morogoro, Tanzania, followed by our Mine Action Program in Mozambique. Princess Astrid became the Honorary President of APOPO in 2009 and has supported APOPO’s endeavours towards a better future for communities affected by landmines and tuberculosis.
 
The Princess made an early-morning visit to our landmine detection training field, and was intrigued to watch the simple, yet effective methods APOPO uses to transform African giant pouched rats into life-saving HeroRATs. While there, Princess Astrid met one of our HeroRATs in training, patting its fur and feeding it a banana reward for its landmine-sniffing success.
 
Her Royal Highness also spent time at APOPO’s Tuberculosis Detection Center, taking a tour through the laboratory and watching in fascination as our TB detection rats sniffed rows of sputum samples and correctly identified those that were TB-positive. Throughout the day, APOPO staff members were excited to have the opportunity to meet the Princess, and share their experiences and work with her. Before leaving Tanzania to go to our program in Mozambique, Her Royal Highness was also invited to visit State House to meet with His Excellency, Dr Jakaya Kikwete, President of Tanzania.
 
Following her arrival in Mozambique, Princess Astrid took her first steps in the real minefields at APOPO’s operations in the Gaza Province, to see our Mine Action team at work. Although a bit nervous, Princess Astrid was reassured by our experienced team of humanitarian de-miners. In addition to trying on the heavy de-mining protective wear, the Princess was impressed by finally seeing APOPO’s trained HeroRATs using their skills in the real minefields. 
 
Her Royal Highness’s visit to our programs further confirmed her commitment to APOPO’s life-saving mission. Reflecting on her trip, Princess Astrid said: “My visit to Morogoro and Chokwe was in many ways an unforgettable experience. It even helped me to overcome my fear of rats, because they are obviously man’s best friend when it comes to saving lives from anti-personnel mines or tuberculosis.”
 
APOPO is grateful to Her Royal Highness and all of the delegation, for taking the time to understand and raise awareness of the issues behind this vital and life-saving work.

Mozambique Mine Action update 
Our Mozambique Mine Action team continues to achieve great results, as our HeroRATs spend their days diligently sniffing out landmines and explosives. Now halfway through 2011, we can report that APOPO’s team has uncovered 395 landmines since the beginning of the year – and released over 356,507 square meters of mine-free land! That brings the grand total to over 2.4 million square meters released as a result of our mine action efforts.
 
In order to increase this productivity even more, 20 fresh graduates from our HeroRAT training program arrived in Mozambique this month, and are now acclimatizing as they gear up for the ultimate test – external accreditation as official Mine Detection Rats with the National Institute of Demining (IND).

HeroRAT Trainer Profile: Fidelis
 
All of APOPO’s trainers bring enthusiasm and unique perspectives to their jobs, and Fidelis is no exception: before joining APOPO in 2010, he spent four years working with the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), previously located here in Morogoro. Like APOPO, NPA worked with trained animals to locate explosives as part of a Remote Scent Tracing research program – but in their case, they used dogs. As a trainer for the NPA, Fidelis became well acquainted not only with the humanitarian issue of landmine removal, but also with training animals to achieve that goal.
 
When the NPA closed its doors in Morogoro in 2010 (don’t worry, the dogs were safely escorted to the police department in Dar es Salaam), the doors at APOPO opened for Fidelis. He began working that same year as a trainer for our HeroRATs. 
 
Fidelis admits that there are a lot of differences between working with dogs and rats - and that each species has its challenges. “Dogs are big – it’s very physical work. It’s more relaxed working with rats, and their behavior is quite different,” he explains. Still, Fidelis doesn’t prefer one species to the other. Instead, he believes that having experience with both animals is what makes him a good trainer. “With both species, you have problems that you need to find and manage,” he explains. “When you can do that, you can call yourself a good trainer.”
 
As a trainer, his versatility doesn’t stop at the species he’s able to care for – Fidelis also splits his time between our landmine detection rats and TB detection rats. He’s happy with both aspects of the work, he says, because either way, “we are working to serve people and to prolong life – and that is a good thing.”
 
Fidelis’ humanitarian background as an animal trainer makes him a great member of the team here at APOPO, and he’s glad to bring his expertise to the table. As he says, “To train animals to do what you want is brilliant – and with the rats, anything is possible!”

On the Up team profiles APOPO’s founder

On June 15th, APOPO and the HeroRATs welcomed intrepid social entrepreneurs, Rob and Nikki Wilson, to our headquarters in Tanzania. The couple is making their way up the east coast of Africa, from Cape Town to Cairo, on a fascinating journey they’re calling “ On the Up.”

Their ultimate goal is to profile some of Africa’s most inspiring social entrepreneurs, whom they plan to feature in a forthcoming book aimed at the next generation of aspiring young change makers. Naturally, they couldn’t pass up a chance to speak with our founder Bart Weetjens, to meet our HeroRATs, and see them in action!
 
Check out On the Up’s interview with Bart, or read the blog post on their visit to APOPO, Giant Rats to the Rescue.
 
To follow Rob and Nikki’s adventures, and read about the amazing people (and rats!) they are meeting along the way, visit their website or join their Facebook following.

Thailand Mine Action update

APOPO’s newly established project in Thailand, conducting non-technical and technical survey along the border to Cambodia, is already making a significant contribution. The Thailand Mine Action Centre (TMAC) is very concerned about the country’s exaggerated mine problem due to inflated survey information and has thus invited APOPO to assist with the development of their Land Release methodology and relevant National Mine Action Standard (NMAS).

APOPO is providing support to Norwegian People’s AID (NPA) who has been assisting TMAC with the development of further NMAS. In May, APOPO conducted a four-day training workshop on ‘Land Release’ for TMAC staff, Humanitarian Mine Action Units (HMAUs) and other NGO partners. The event was hosted by TMAC at their premises in Bangkok, and was conducted in parallel to APOPO’s training of its own staff prior to the deployment of survey teams into the field for operations.

APOPO has entered a partnership with a local NGO in Thailand, Peace Road Organisation (PRO). Together, APOPO and PRO have recruited 23 local staff and will have three Non-Technical Survey teams and two Technical Survey teams operational from June 2011, following the four-week training program. Practical training will continue out in the field, and the teams’ progress will be monitored throughout the duration of operations.

For more information on our Thailand Mine Action Program, please contact APOPO’s Head of Mine Action, Håvard Bach.
 
GlobalGiving helps our heroes for Father’s Day 
Our project on GlobalGiving has received a much-needed boost in funds for the HeroRATs, in the few days leading up to Father’s Day in the US and UK on 19th June. The incredible team at GlobalGiving featured our heroes in a special edition of their newsletter, suggesting people “Honor Dad: Feed a Rat” instead of buying gifts. As a result, over $15,000 USD was donated via GlobalGiving in dads’ honor!
 
This is a real testament to the power of the GlobalGiving community, inspiring social change by providing support to the featured projects & their innovative solutions to global problems. Thank you, GlobalGiving!

***

On behalf of APOPO and the HeroRATs, we appreciate your continued interest and support of our work, as we strive to save more lives and limbs!

Links:

Jun 15, 2011

HeroRAT Newsletter - May 2011

Give a rat. Help save lives.

Looking for a unique gift for your dad this Father’s Day? Support our HeroRAT project on GlobalGiving, or give a rat and help save lives!

Make your contribution in honor of your father, and watch as his face lights up when he realizes that together, you've helped provide banana treats for one of our life-saving, bomb-sniffing heroes in Mozambique, or tuberculosis screening for villagers in Tanzania.

Alternatively, you can surprise your father and Adopt-a-Rat as a gift for him. Not only will he receive an adoption certificate and updates on the life-saving work of his expertly trained rat, but he will also have the satisfaction of knowing he raised his child to care about the well-being of those around the world.

Through your support, our HeroRATs will be able to continue saving people from becoming landmine victims and reducing the spread of tuberculosis. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

For more reasons on why to give a rat, take a look at the Support HeroRATs section of our website or read Nick Kristof’s Father’s Day article from last year in the New York Times, "Dad will really like this".

Make a donation in your Dad's honor to the HeroRAT project on GlobalGiving or click here to give a HeroRAT adoption today!

 

Tuberculosis program sniffing successes

In Tanzania, our HeroRAT team at the Tuberculosis (TB) detection center has been busy sniffing away to save lives.  In the first three months of 2011, we have already found 91 TB-positive patients, bringing our total to over 2,000 patients that were initially missed by microscopy at local hospitals.

As a result of these tireless efforts, more patients can begin their life-saving treatment sooner, thus significantly reducing the spread of TB.  In fact, using projections from the World Health Organization, we have helped to prevent at least 20,000 new cases of TB to date!  In a country where about half of all active TB cases go undetected, these findings make a huge difference in reducing the spread of this deadly disease.

 

20 new HeroRATs embark on their first mine-sniffing mission

On May 18th we said farewell to 20 new graduates of our HeroRAT landmine detection training program, who embarked on their first life-saving mission in the Gaza Province of Mozambique.  There was a flurry of activity at APOPO’s headquarters in Tanzania on the morning of departure: making transport arrangements, providing in-flight entertainment (peanuts in a small container, just waiting to drop down!) and settling the rats into their first-class transport cages.

Before they left us, our future heroes feasted on tomato, apples, peanuts and small fish, along with plenty of water.  We then proudly waved them off on the first leg (or paw) of their journey to Dar es Salaam to meet the connecting flight to Maputo, Mozambique.  The rats were accompanied by some of their human colleagues, to make sure they arrived at the airport in peak condition and ready for their new adventure: saving lives!  We wish the new graduates well in their work in the real minefields, and trust our Mozambique Mine Action team will take good care of them as they settle into their new homes. 


UK reception for ASHOKA Fellow Bart Weetjens

ASHOKA UK hosted a reception in London for our founder and ASHOKA Fellow, Bart Weetjens, on May 11th.  Although none of our four-legged heroes could be present for the event (they were busy saving lives), Bart represented them well, sharing his experiences with an intimate audience of dedicated HeroRAT supporters and members of ASHOKA’s network.

ASHOKA’s Communications Director, Julie Whittaker, noted, “Bart captivated his packed audience about his work with HeroRATS and their contribution in clearing mines and detecting TB.  His enthusiasm left many of the audience inspired to offer help to ASHOKA or directly to HeroRATs.”

Dr Sima Barmania was among those who attended the reception, and followed up with a blog post, ‘HeroRATs – No Ordinary Rat’, on The Independent's website. She wrote: “Quite sheepishly, I admit that until recently the triumph of the HeroRAT had managed to escape my attention. I suspect my lack of knowledge of these furry labourers was partly due to my self-confessed rat prejudice.”

It’s a common perception, held by many who stumble across APOPO’s work for the first time, before they learn the facts behind the fiction (and discover that our rats are in fact lovely and sociable creatures!)  Bart’s talk aimed to challenge these preconceptions about rats, inviting the audience to look beyond the surface to the social problems that exist which his “heroes” are helping to solve.

And as Dr Sima Barmania’s blog post concludes, it appears at least some perceptions were changed: “Given the affection Bart has for his workers, it is hard to not find the HeroRAT endearing; admittedly, it may be a while before I can have a face to face interaction with a rodent but perhaps I could be convinced to adopt a HeroRAT.”

The APOPO team wishes to thank Jenny Prosser and the team at ASHOKA UK for organizing the night, which was a fantastic opportunity for people to hear first-hand the story of how our HeroRATs came into being. 

 

Hot off the presses: APOPO's 2010 Annual Report
 
If you are interested in what APOPO accomplished in 2010, curious about how far we have come, or wondering what the future might hold for detection rats technology – download your copy of APOPO’s 2010 Annual Report!

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