HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis

 
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- Philippson Family Foundation visits APOPO Headquarters in Tanzania - Surprise your friends and family with a HeroRAT for the Holidays! - UK Supporters could help APOPO win a prize of £1000 this December! - Endeavor Explorers Scout Troop supports HeroRATs as chosen charity - Meet our Lab Technician, Solomon Mickson

Dear Friends and Supporters,

I hope this holiday season finds you warm and well. For us at APOPO, it’s a great time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished this year and look forward to the future. We are pleased to announce that in the month of November ten rats completed their final tests in landmine training. This brings our numbers to 59 rats trained for landmine detection this year (through November)!

Last month, we were honored to host the Philippson family in Tanzania and are excited to have the opportunity to further work with them on developing our projects and potential. Their foundation has been instrumental in helping APOPO develop strategy and capacity and we are grateful for their guidance and support.

‘Tis the holiday season and many are looking for creative and alternative gifts to share with loved ones and friends. You can share your passion for the work of our Herorats by adopting a HeroRAT for your friends or family this season. (There is also an interesting opportunity for our UK supporters who were considering making a donation this month, see more below). Your support and enthusiasm mean a great deal to our work and each of us. We know that the economic climate has many a bit worried this holiday. If you are in a position to give gifts, please consider supporting a HeroRAT for nephews, nieces, friends and/or loved ones. If that is not a possibility please know that spreading the word about our work is also a great way to contribute and much appreciated as well.

Finally, meet one of our TB laboratory technicians, Solomon Mickson, for a chance to meet one of APOPO’s up-and-coming employees! Thank you for your constant support and being part of our growth over this exciting year. We wish you a happy holiday season and a new year of joy! Warm Wishes,

The HeroRAT team

Philippson Family Foundation visits APOPO Headquarters in Tanzania This November, APOPO was delighted to receive a visit from the Philippson family, represented by Marie and Alain, their daughter Françoise and their grand children. The Philippson Family Foundation has helped APOPO tremendously in the last two years, through a capacity building grant, which focused largely on strategic planning. The mission of the Marie and Alain Philippson Foundation is to support social entrepreneurs, strengthen their organizations and help them enhance their social impact. To achieve its goal, the Foundation has adopted a committed partner approach. The Foundation provides financial support and tailored advice to the organizations of it’s choosing to help develop leadership and the capacity to create change. The visit in Tanzania was a wonderful experience, both for the Philippson Family and for APOPO staff and management. We deeply appreciate the opportunity to meet APOPO supporters such as the Philippson Family face-to-face, and look forward to seeing them again and meeting new supporters in the future.

Surprise your friends and family with a HeroRAT for the Holidays! Looking for a great alternative gift this holiday season? Here are the top five reasons to adopt a HeroRAT for your friends and family:

1. It’s fun, a creative surprise (who would ever suspect a rat for the holidays!), and it’s educational too! 2. We will send a personalized email to your lucky gift recipient announcing the gift from you and including a certificate of adoption, letter from your chosen HeroRAT, and a picture of your hero! 3. Gift recipients can keep up-to-date on their rat’s progress and accomplishments and share them with friends (which means you’ll get to share in their joy as well). 4. Supporting our shared adoption program means you help several of our furry friends make their way in the world of TNT or TB detection. Your contributions help support the training, vet check-ups, diet and loving care our HeroRATs receive. 5. Finally, it’s only 5 euros per month (roughly $7.50) to help us eradicate the dangers posed by landmines and curb the spread of Tuberculosis!

You can get more information on giving the gift of a HeroRAT here, or feel free to send us an email at herorats@herorat.org. You can also get more information on tax-affective giving here. Just don’t wait too long as all orders for HeroRATS must be in by December 22nd to be delivered via email before December 25th.

UK Supporters could help APOPO win a prize of £1000 this December! GlobalGiving.co.uk is offering the opportunity for projects that raise £2000 or more this December via the UK Global Giving site the chance for a bonus prize and prominent marketing. The additional outreach would help us introduce APOPO to more people in the UK who are not yet familiar with our work. Plus, we will be in the running for a bonus prize of £1000! If you are a supporter in the UK and were considering making a donation to APOPO this holiday season, please think about doing so via the GlobalGiving.co.uk and your money could potentially go even farther, which would help Apopo achieve that much more. GlobalGiving.co.uk, is an internationally recognized marketplace for philanthropy that connects individual donors to the causes they care about. Your contribution to this special campaign has the opportunity to make an even bigger impact on saving lives and limbs in Tanzania, Mozambique and beyond!

Endeavor Explorers Scout Troop supports HeroRATs as chosen charity The HeroRAT program is excited to announce our newest partnership with Endeavor Explorers Scout Troop from Sutton Coldfield, UK! The Endeavor Explorers, a troop of about 50 scouts, have elected the HeroRATs as their chosen charity and have undertaken some major awareness and fundraising projects on behalf of the rats! These creative kids, together with their leaders John and Jo Garvey and Tim Taylor, have so far raised over £540 for the HeroRAT cause with concerts, bag packing and coffee mornings. Here, Sam, Jack, Lydia, Sarah, and Will pose for a picture after selling coffee for our cause. The HeroRAT team is honored to be their chosen charity and grateful for all of our supporters contributions and dedication!

Meet our Lab Technician, Solomon Mickson Solomon Mickson is a laboratory technician who joined APOPO just over a year ago. He is passionate about improving healthcare for all Tanzanians and excited to work for an organization that addresses a major disease. Originally from Mbeya, his father was a tailor and his mother worked at home on the large family farm, along with his five brothers and one sister. In 1999, Solomon attended college at the Institute of Technology in Dar es Salaam and, after working as a laboratory technician in a match factory for three years, came to study, with the help of his older brothers, at Sokoine University of Agriculture. Here he received his B.S. in Biotechnology and Laboratory Science, before starting work at APOPO. His goal is to help improve Tanzanians’ access to medical care and treatment, which is why he chose to work in APOPO’s tuberculosis lab. In the future, he hopes to get a Masters degree and further his knowledge base. On a more personal side, Solomon hopes to marry soon and eventually have two boys and one girl. Down the road, he would like to have a farm and raise cows, just like his family back in Mbeya.

- Thank you for your support in Google’s Race to Save the World! - APOPO granted HIV clearance to study relationship with TB - Interview with Field Manager Mark Shukuru - Founder Bart Weetjens speaker at Lisbon Forum on Social Entrepreneurship - Twelve new HeroRATS! Reflections on our breeding program - Support APOPO’s work: Adopt a HeroRAT!

Dear Supporter, I hope this newsletter finds you happy and in good health. Thank you for voting for us and the landmine issue in the Google 10100 Race! We are grateful for your support and for sharing this incredible opportunity with your friends. The polls closed at the end of the day on October 8th, and we will let you know when we hear back from Google. Again, many thanks for your participation, support, and enthusiasm!

Last month, 20 rats passed their final tests in landmine detection and 50 patients were detected by our TB detection rats after being missed by microscopy! APOPO is proud to announce that the Tanzanian National Institute for Medical Research has granted us permission to access the HIV status of the patients we screen for TB. We requested this authorization to look into TB/HIV co-infection, and see if our rats can play a role in early detection of these patients, which is crucial! This will allow us to take great leaps toward detecting TB in co-infected patients, and we hope to play a role in early detection and save more lives with this knowledge. Take a look at our interview with Field Manager and Trainer Mark Shukuru and read the article on our breeding program for more information on where our HeroRATs come from! Again, we thank you for your constant and continued support!

Warm wishes,

The HeroRAT Team

Thank you for your support in Google’s 10100 Project to Save the World!

Exciting news: out of 154,000 organizations Google selected APOPO’s HeroRATs as one of only 67 finalists in their 10100 Project to save the world! Last week, supporters had the option to vote for “landmine removal” at Google’s site and vote for supporting APOPO! With your votes we hope to win this competition and dramatically increase the scope of our work and the number of lives we touch. Thank you for your dedication and for voting for our HeroRATs!

APOPO granted HIV clearance to study relationship with TB

APOPO is pleased to announce that the Tanzanian National Institute for Medical Research has approved our request to study the HIV/TB co-infection rates in the (anonymous) patients we currently screen for Tuberculosis. Early detection and treatment of Tuberculosis is essential, but it is especially pressing for people infected with HIV. HIV patients are more likely to develop TB than other people and in sub-Saharan Africa, and TB kills more people who are HIV-positive than any other disease! Furthermore, HIV and TB are common co-infections and patients cannot start the drugs for TB and HIV at the same time. If we can detect these patients earlier, they have the possibility of starting the course of drugs to treat the TB, before they begin their HIV treatment regimen.

Our initial research goal is to determine whether our HeroRATs are more sensitive than microscopy in detecting TB in HIV-positive patients. Subsequently, we intend to fine-tune our assessment procedures to maximize the likelihood of detecting TB early in HIV-positive patients. Early detection will maximize the probability of effectively treating TB in this highly vulnerable segment of the population and will thereby reduce the likelihood that they will succumb to the joint burden of two highly infectious diseases.

Interview with Field Manager Mark Shukuru

Mark is a long time employee of APOPO and has been working for us since 2002. He grew up near Sokoine University in a village called Magadu. Mark’s family are subsistence farmers; they have cultivated crops on the slopes of the Uluguru mountains for generations. Mark grows maize and bananas and raises chickens. He is married and has one daughter, and his mother still lives nearby. His mother tongue is Kiluguru, the main language around Morogoro, and he also learned Swahili in primary school, English and a bit of French in secondary school. Others from his village were already employed at APOPO, so when we started planning to expand the landmine training field in 2002, Mark heard about the opportunity and joined the team to help survey the field.

These days Mark does much more than tend the field. He is responsible for its maintenance including keeping it well marked, free of debris and cutting the vegetation. Each morning before dawn he comes to the office to prepare the rats for the field and once there he trains eight landmine rats along with his partner Claude. Later in the day, back at the office, he assists with the training of REST rats in the square cage set-up and maintains the database, entering training and test results.

When Mark first heard about APOPO, he thought it was impossible that people could be training rats to detect landmines! He was very surprised when he found out it was true! He’s glad that many people in Europe and America are starting to hear about the HeroRATs and he hopes this will happen more in Africa where people have less access to the internet. Perhaps more local people will be interested in visiting APOPO and learning about our work. Mark is excited about all of APOPO’s growth and hopes it will continue so that we can save even more people. Furthermore, he really enjoys working here because everyone is close. He says iIf you need help or have a problem, you always get an answer right away. He thinks he’ll be with APOPO forever.

Founder Bart Weetjens speaks at Lisbon Forum on Social Entrepreneurship Bart Weetjens, APOPO’s founder, was an honorary speaker at the Lisbon School of Business Forum on Social Entrepreneurship on September 11, 2009. He had the honor of speaking before 30 MBA Students, press and academics at the University of Lisbon in Portugal about social enterprise. Typically, the Lisbon MBA attracts students with several years of professional experience in various industries, who then re-invent their careers. This is the perfect time to be exposed to social enterprise, the rewards of a socially-oriented business and the challenges, which are in many ways similar to those of any business. Bart shared his experiences with APOPO, and encouraged the students to dare to dream, and take the risks to make their dreams a reality.

Twelve new HeroRATS! – Reflections on our breeding program APOPO has been breeding Gambian Pouched rats since 1998, when our first pups were born. Since then, our breeding program has overcome many challenges and gone through a lot of change! This month we are glad to report that twelve baby rats were born in our captive breeding program!

APOPO’s initial attempts at breeding and training Gambian Pouched rats began in Belgium in 1998. Bart and Christophe were sent 10 rats from a colleague at Sokoine Univeristy of Agriculture’s Pest Control Center. These rats were caught in the wild in Tanzania and sent to Belgium. Within a year, APOPO had its first captive-born, and hence trainable, rats. These two rats, Onzo and Louise, as well as six more born later that year, began their initial training to prove the concept that giant African pouched rats can discriminate explosive scents.

In 2000, when APOPO moved to Morogoro, Tanzania we brought with us captive, Belgium-born rats and set up an indoor breeding facility. We trapped more wild rats from nearby farms, orchards, and the river and paired these rats, one male and one female per cage. These initial attempts at breeding were somewhat successful, but we felt we could do better.

In 2006, we built outdoor breeding cages to allow the rats to live a more natural environment. These large cages with dirt floors and filled with natural materials allow the rats to play and exercise, as well as to burrow as they do in the wild. Furthermore, we began feeding our breeding rats more maize and wheat, similar to what they were taking from farms in the wild. In each breeding cage we put one established male and two female rats. Every month, HeroRAT caretakers Mama Lucy, Asnati and Albert dig out their burrows and check for pups. Then they move the mother and her litter inside and put another female back in the breeding cage in her place. Depending on the pups’ ages, they stay with their mother for further nursing or begin their training once they have opened their eyes.

Since instituting these changes in 2006, APOPO’s breeding program has seen a significant spike in the number of offspring. Our mothers are producing several healthy pups every month for our landmine and TB detection programs. Our breeding success contributes to the sustainability of our program and allows us to increase the number of HeroRATs capable of saving lives.

Support APOPO's Work: Adopt a HeroRAT! APOPO’s staff and HeroRATS are working hard to save lives and limbs from disaster and disease. Please help us eradicate the dangers posed by landmines and curb the spread of Tuberculosis by making a donation or by adopting a HeroRAT.

Dear Friend,

I need your help today to vote for the HeroRATs in Google’s Project 10100 by October 8th and help us win Google’s Race to Save the World together!

Exciting news: out of 154,000 organizations Google has selected APOPO’s HeroRATs as one of only 67 finalists in their 10100 Project to save the world! We need your vote to win this competition. Please VOTE TODAY for landmine removal and HeroRAT could win millions in support!

Winning this competition would dramatically increase the scope of our work and the number of lives we touch. We have proven our ability to more cost-effectively clear landmines and detect TB than any other available technology. In Mozambique our work has returned land to 1,074 families and helped heal numerous communities scarred by war. In Tanzania, our HeroRATs have increased TB detection rates in four urban hospitals by 31%, and prevented 8,655 healthy people from contracting TB!

Your vote could make the difference! It's rare in todays world of large-scale challenges, we have the opportunity to affect real change from our computers. We actually have that chance this week. We have the technology and potential to change the world and I hope you will help by VOTING HERE today for landmine removal!

I deeply appreciate your support and enthusiasm for our HeroRATs!

With heartfelt thanks,

Bart Weetjens Founder of APOPO

P.S. We will need all the votes we can get! Please share this incredible opportunity with all your friends! Check it out at www.Project10tothe100.com/vote!

Links:

- APOPO clears land in Mozambique, giving village of 10,000 access to electricity - Professor Alan Poling joins the APOPO team - APOPO showcases HeroRAT’s ability at Nane-Nane public agricultural fairs - Meet the Board: Josse Van Steinbergen - Special thanks to APOPO TB project volunteer: Wit Davis - Welcome to new HeroRAT volunteer: Kara Schnoes - Support APOPO’s work: Adopt a HeroRAT!

Dear APOPO supporter, I hope this newsletter finds you well. Much has happened this last month including new ideas and people to contribute to our organization. We are looking forward to upcoming changes and growth! Furthermore, this month, 5 rats passed their final tests in landmine detection and 24 patients were detected by our rats after being missed by microscopy in Tuberculosis detection. In this addition of our newsletter, we have some great news from Mozambique! Our work has made it possible to bring electricity to a village of 10,000 people. The public utility company in Mozambique had given up crossing this dangerous minefield, but our HeroRATs and skilled personnel removed 32 dangerous mines to bring light to the village!

We also have some exciting new talent on board! Professor Alan Poling will be joining the APOPO team to improve many of our training and research techniques. Wit Davis, who will be returning home this month, has helped clarify many of our research needs and aided in assessing the accuracy of our Tuberculosis rats. Kara Schnoes has joined us to work in communications on the HeroRAT campaign as well as for our upcoming new websites, and in this issue, you can learn more about long-standing board member Josse Van Steinbergen.

Finally, we had some fun this last month at the annual local Nane-Nane celebration! Our HeroRATs stole the show with their demonstrations and we were able to build our relationship with the community both here in Morogoro and in Dodoma.

In the coming months we hope to announce many more new and exciting initiatives here at APOPO. Again, we thank you for your continued support!

Warm wishes,

The APOPO Team

APOPO clears land in Mozambique giving 10,000 person village access to electricity

APOPO has recently completed clearance of a small minefield at Pfukwe in the district of Mabalane. This was a high priority task, necessary for EDM, the National Electricity Company, to start work connecting the town of Mabalane into the National Grid. The presence of the minefield was causing a significant hazard to the workers and preventing the work from taking place. A survey of the minefield was conducted to establish the extent of the mined area, and in the process revealed the tragedies which had befallen local inhabitants over the years. Within the area, lay scattered skeletal remains of both humans and animals – unsuspecting victims to these deadly legacies of conflict.

APOPO cleared approximately 5000 square meters (100m x 50m) of land, and within this area found 32 anti-personnel mines, of type Gyata and PMN (see picture for example). These are both anti-personnel blast mines, with a high explosive content to weight ratio, causing either immediate death or severe traumatic amputation of a limb, which frequently becomes fatal. Work on the electricity pylons has now resumed and Mabalane should be on the National Electrical Grid within a few months. This work was made possible through the continued support of our donors for 2009; namely the Belgian Government, the Flemish Government and the UNDP.

Professor Alan Poling joins the APOPO team

APOPO is excited to announce the arrival of psychopharmacologist and behavior analyst Alan Poling of Western Michigan University. Professor Poling has published 11 books and more than 250 articles. His work has appeared in 40 different professional journals. He will be working with the APOPO team over the next year to increase our research capacity and to further streamline our training processes. We are happy to have him and look forward to his important contributions! Welcome to the team Alan!

APOPO showcases HeroRAT’s ability at Nane-Nane

Nane-Nane (eight-eight) is a national Tanzanian holiday that happens every year on August 8th. It is meant to celebrate the land and agriculture, but particularly the people who cultivate it. In every city it is a joyous public event in which farmers and craftspeople show-off their finest products in the markets and at the local fair.

This year, APOPO staff Mark, Steven and Majenda set up booths at Nane-Nane fairs both in Morogoro and in Dodoma to exhibit what our HeroRATs can do! It was a great success, attracting crowds of interested on-lookers and demonstrating a unique take on a common farm pest. These exhibitions are an important part of APOPO’s mission to create ownership and awareness within the greater community. Through efforts like these, APOPO continues to be successful at drawing local support and interest!

Meet the Board: Josse Van Steinbergen

Josse Van Steinbergen, studied law and sociology at the University of Louvain and also received his Ph. D in the field of social law. He was a professor of social legislation and policy at the University of Antwerp and lectured at the faculty of law, social sciences, applied economics, and medicine. Josse was also involved in the organization of the law faculty of the University of Rwanda and since 1994 has organized several projects of social policy in South Africa and Mozambique in partnership with colleagues from other universities.

Since 1989, Josse has been the president of Levanto, a social enterprise which attempts to provide employment to long-term unemployed people in the Antwerp region. He is involved in many other social organizations in the field of care, employment, culture and social inclusion and currently, serves as the President of an advisory board on local social policy for the city of Antwerp.

Mic Billet, the chair of the APOPO Board, asked Josse to become a member of the Board the moment APOPO was founded. Josse’s experience as the rector of Antwerp University connected him to a large academic, social and political network in Belgium and his experience with other non-governmental organizations, universities, and relationships with a number of African countries made and continues to make him a great asset to the Board.

“From the very beginning I was enthusiastic about the idea to save lives and physical integrity with the help of biologic sensors and today I am even more convinced of the needs and possibilities of APOPO. From our beginnings as a small initiative of some students and professors, we are now in the process of becoming an international and professional humanitarian social profit organization. It is a real honor to participate in our development and to seek other applications of our technology,” said Josse.

Special thanks to volunteer Wit Davis

Witkind (Wit) Davis has been volunteering for APOPO for the last 3 months as part of her Masters of Public Health coursework in Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, USA. Prior to APOPO Wit worked for the International Fund for Animal Welfare responding to international disasters and overseeing scientific documentation and policy development. Wit holds a Masters of Science from the Tufts University of School of Veterinary Medicine and a Bachelors of Science from Bates College and maintains a long-standing commitment to identifying ways where animals and people can improve each other’s health and welfare.

We are grateful for her help over the past several months. Wit has been instrumental in the development of the TB research plan, helping to identify long term research objectives. Furthermore, she made significant progress in analyzing much of the rat’s performance and accuracy as individuals and as groups to optimize APOPO’s success. She has helped us revise our database making it more user-friendly and contributed to our goal of being published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal! Thanks for all your excellent work, Wit! We will wish you all the best in your continued studies and you are welcome back any time!

Welcome to new HeroRAT volunteer Kara Schnoes

Kara Schnoes is delighted to have joined the APOPO team to contribute to the HeroRAT program and improve fundraising and communications for APOPO. She is grateful to be a part of such an exciting and growing organization! Kara graduated from Wesleyan University in 2007 with a degree in Sociology and Environmental Studies and in 2005, she studied abroad in Tanzania. She is happy to have returned to one of her favorite places and is excited to help better the HeroRAT cause!

Support APOPO's Work: Adopt a HeroRAT!

APOPO’s staff and HeroRATS are working hard to save lives and limbs from disaster and disease. Please help us eradicate the dangers posed by landmines and curb the spread of Tuberculosis by making a donation or by adopting a HeroRAT. You can make an online donation through PayPal here or visit Herorat.org to adopt one of our HeroRATS.

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We are deeply grateful for your support. If you have any comments or suggestions about the newsletter and how we can improve they are most welcome. Please send to herorats@herorat.org. Thank you!

Disclaimer:The HeroRAT brand (website and associated communications) is a brand of APOPO and is designed to connect the public to the staff, stories, and heart of APOPO. More in depth information about the organization, the science behind rat detection technology, publications, etc can be found on the APOPO website.

Alexis Nadin is a student at American University and former intern at GlobalGiving. This summer, she is travelling through Africa and visiting a number of GlobalGiving projects. Alexis visited this project on June 8, 2009. She writes:

“Hi, my name’s Rosie, I’m a HeroRAT. They tell me I’m saving lives by sniffing out landmines, which is all well and good, but I’m just in it for the bananas. Ever since I was little they have been teaching me how to find landmines and how to tell the people where they are. It’s a pretty good gig; I scratch myself and I get some food. Soon I get to go to Mozambique where I’ll get to find real mines. There, because of rats like me, 200,000 square meters of land are cleared of mines per day! That returns the land to the people for personal and commercial use.”

Our visit to HeroRAT was nothing short of remarkable. Through conditioning (think Pavlov and his dogs), this project trains giant African Pouch Rats to smell for landmines, and more recently, Tuberculosis (TB)! During our visit, we were stunned to see this theory we had learned in high school psychology put to use; as rats sniffed unmarked pieces of land, scratched themselves and indicated that a landmine was buried there. Time and time again, the trainers confirmed that the rats had found a real bomb. Equally impressive were the TB detecting rats which were able to sort through 70 saliva samples (what doctors use to test for TB) in 10 minutes, a task that would take doctors three and a half days. These rats have even found 353 cases of TB that doctors originally missed. This means that those patients can receive treatment for this disease, which can be fatal if undetected.

While at first thought, rats seem like an unlikely solution to landmine and TB detection, but we came to appreciate the simple logic of this project. African Pouch Rats, which are local, and thus carry the appropriate anti-bodies for local diseases, are easy to come by, and have an impeccable sense of smell. Further, unlike dogs, which are expensive to impart and care for, rats are cheap (they cost 25% less than any other intervention) and too light to set off mines.

By the end of our visit, not only were we amazed by the ingenuity of this project (and the fact that it works!) but we were jealous of the rats, who are well loved by their trainers, receive plenty of play time, and get to snack all day long!

Alexis said she would tell her friends this project is: Incredible: You need to see this!

GlobalGiving is committed to incorporating many viewpoints on our 600+ projects. We feel that more information, especially from eyewitnesses helps donors like you continue to support organizations doing great work in the community.

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Funded

Thanks to 4,673 donors like you, a total of $250,162 was raised for this project on GlobalGiving. Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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Organization

APOPO vzw

Morogoro, Tanzania, Tanzania, United Republic of
http://www.apopo.org

Project Leader

Paul Delbar

Public Fundraising Manager
Sokoine University, Morogoro Tanzania, United Republic of

Where is this project located?

Map of HeroRATs: Sniffing Out Landmines and Tuberculosis