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Nov 15, 2010

October 2010 Newsletter

A HeroRAT shows off his skills to school kids
A HeroRAT shows off his skills to school kids

Latest results from the field and TB lab     

It has been a productive year for APOPO’s HeroRAT teams so far.  Our Mine Action team in Mozambique continues to reduce the impact of landmines in the Gaza Province.  Since the start of our operations, we have helped to return 1,951,917 square meters of land to the population in Mozambique!  In 2010 alone, our HeroRAT team has found 817 mines, 350 unexploded ordnance, and 6,216 small arms and ammunitions.
At our Tuberculosis (TB) detection center in September, our HeroRAT team discovered a total of 69 TB-positive patients, bringing our total to over 1,500 patients that were previously missed by microscopy at local hospitals. 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. For every patient with active TB that our HeroRATs help diagnose, we help prevent an additional 10-15 people from contracting it annually!
We are extremely proud of both of our HeroRAT teams in Mozambique and Tanzania for their life saving contributions to the communities we serve.  Keep up the great work!
Heading off to Mozambique
In the next few weeks, one of our experienced Tanzanian trainers, Shafii, will embark on his first humanitarian demining assignment to the Gaza Provincein Mozambique.  While there, he will be working with our HeroRATs, including some of those he trained from socialization right through to their internal accreditation in Tanzania.  He will also be exchanging some valuable skills with his colleagues in our Mozambique Mine Action team.
Before Shafii can enter the real minefield as an official humanitarian deminer, he will first need to pass an accreditation test with the National Institute of Demining (IND) in Mozambique.  Although Shafii went to Mozambique in 2006 with APOPO, he was primarily involved with training and did not get to experience working with the HeroRATs in the minefields. 
This time around, he is very excited for the chance to put all his hard work training mine detection HeroRATs into practice!  “I want to go to Mozambique so that I can get an experience in the real landmine field…in the real landmine field, I will be a full trainer.”  For our Tanzanian staff, this is an incredible opportunity to see first-hand how important their everyday work at our training base is and the benefits it brings to mine-affected areas.
In order to prepare himself for the challenges ahead, Shafii has been trying to learn a bit of Portuguese, the language spoken in Mozambique, as well as talking with other trainers who have recently returned from six months working in our Mine Action Program. 
Shafii will not be making the journey alone.  He will be traveling with eight new HeroRAT graduates including his very own rat, Santola.  The new recruits will also have to pass an accreditation test in Mozambique, in order to be recognized as official MDRs (Mine Detection Rats). 
Shafii enjoys working with the rats and is looking forward to seeing them in action. “I am trusting the rats.  I believe they are doing a good job.”
We wish Shafii and his eight furry colleagues a safe journey!
Back to school at HeroRAT Headquarters
We are proud to announce APOPO is now offering free English language classes to our staff at our Tanzanian headquarters for those interested in learning a new language or brushing up on old skills. A basic knowledge of the English language is essential for our trainers who are deployed to mine action programs abroad, as it helps makes the transition into a new country easier where the native language is not Swahili. 
The English language program has been set up by our Communications Coordinator, Felicia Byrne, who prepared an optional placement test to separate the staff into three levels: Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced. With the help of a local language teacher, Fred Chiwanga, the three classes have now been running for one month and cover a range of topics such as pronunciation, conversation skills, reading, and grammar.  
So far, the response has been very positive with some of our staff choosing to attend two classes in one day! It has been wonderful to see the staff's excitement and enthusiasm for learning. We look forward to watching (and hearing!) their skills develop over the coming months. 

The holidays are on their way!
Don't forget!  The holidays are just around the corner.  Our HeroRATs make great presents through our Adopt-A-Rat program.  For more information please go here.
As always, many thanks for your continued support of APOPO and our HeroRATs! 
Warm regards,
The HeroRATs Team


Oct 12, 2010

August 2010 Newsletter

Curious kids meet a HeroRAT in Mozambique
Curious kids meet a HeroRAT in Mozambique

Latest results from the lab and field

To date, our tuberculosis (TB) detection HeroRATs have identified more than 1,438 people with TB that were originally missed by microscopy in the hospitals! Samples from these patients were reconfirmed under microscopy by APOPO’s laboratory technicians, and the hospitals were notified of the missed positive cases.

If these 1,438 patients were left untreated with active TB for a year, they could have spread the disease to an additional 21,570 healthy people (and those 21,570 people could spread it even further). We are thrilled with the great work done by our team, in helping the hospitals we support to increase their TB detection rates by more than 40 percent!

Meanwhile, across the border in Mozambique, APOPO's Mine Action team is working hard to reduce the impact of landmines in the Gaza Province. APOPO and the HeroRAT team have helped to return 1,741,954 square meters of land to the population in Mozambique since the start of our operations!

So far in 2010, our HeroRAT team has found 596 mines, 308 unexploded ordnance, and 6,205 small arms and ammunitions. With the recent boost of 20 extra staff to the Mozambique team, we are well on track to complete clearance of the Gaza Province before our 2014 deadline.

COSTECH Award for detection rats technology

APOPO and SUA (Sokoine University of Agriculture, where we are based) have received the fantastic news that our HeroRATs have been honored with a TASTA – Tanzanian Award for Scientific and Technological Achievement.

In most of Tanzania, rats have long been considered a pest – so this is indeed an achievement! APOPO has until now received much of its recognition on a global platform; we are very excited to receive this accolade for our detection rats technology on our home soil!

The award from COSTECH (Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology) recognized our HeroRATs as a local ‘innovation’, with visible socioeconomic impact. The Tanzanian Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Hon. Professor Peter Mahmoud Msolla handed over the Award to the Vice Chancellor of SUA, Professor G.C. Monela.

General Assembly with HRH Princess Astrid of Belgium

The annual APOPO Board meeting and General Assembly took place in Belgium last month, and we were honored by the presence of APOPO’s Honorary Chairperson, Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid of Belgium. HRH Princess Astrid became Honorary Chairperson of APOPO in 2009, supporting our endeavor towards a landmine-free future for vulnerable communities.

The General Assembly met to review APOPO’s results and outcomes of 2009, followed by an overview of future plans for demining activities and our three year tuberculosis research objectives. Two new members of the General Assembly were welcomed on board – Professor Herwig Leirs, Dean of Sciences at the University of Antwerp, and Professor Bob Colebunders of the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp.

We also welcomed a number of our major funders for the first time: the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was represented by Ambassador Luc Teirlinck and Mr Paul Ghysbrecht; the Flemish Government was represented by Mrs K. Vandepladutze of Flanders International Cooperation Agency; and the Province of Antwerp was represented by Mrs I. Verhaert, a member of the Provincial Government.

APOPO appreciates the efforts of all involved in helping our organization to further develop our capacities to reduce the impact of global problems such as landmines and tuberculosis.

Flora Family Foundation visits APOPO headquarters

In June, APOPO and the HeroRATs were excited to welcome Flora Family Foundation President, Steve Toben, and his family for their first visit to our headquarters in Morogoro, Tanzania.

The Flora Family Foundation supports public benefit organizations working throughout the world in education, health, arts and culture, the environment, global security, civic engagement, and the advancement of women. In 2009, the Flora Family Foundation awarded APOPO with a general support grant over a two-year period.

The Toben family came a long way to see our heroes and their human counterparts at work, and we are grateful for their interest and dedication in supporting APOPO’s work. After an initial introduction and overview of our facilities, we got down to business…holding and petting the HeroRATs!

APOPO is honored to partner with the Flora Family Foundation in working towards bridging the gap between rich and poor, utilizing local resources and empowering communities to help solve local and global problems.

Nane Nane Agricultural Festival

During the first week of August, we joined the whole of Tanzania in celebrating Nane Nane, a huge annual agricultural festival. Nane Nane literally translates to ‘Eight Eight’ and it takes place each year on the eighth day of the eighth month. As Morogoro is Tanzania’s agricultural capital, there is always a large arena set up with a variety of exhibits including produce, livestock, sugar, and NGOs from the region who are working on farming and conservation practices.

This year, Sokoine Univeristy of Agriculture (SUA), our partner institution, invited us to set up a display in their designated area to showcase our landmine detection rats. Two of our experienced HeroRAT trainers, Mark and Shirima, set up a mock landmine field with small TNT-filled tea eggs where APOPO demonstrated the HeroRATs’ ability to sniff out the scent of landmines. Over the week, we welcomed many visitors, including families, government officials, and the South Korean Ambassador. Our heroes definitely loved all of the attention (and earned some extra banana rewards)!

Creative ways to support HeroRATs

HeroRATs love weddings!
In June, we were delighted to receive word from soon-to-be-wed Simon Stumpf and Ashely Kiehnau (pictured left) of Washington, D.C., USA, that instead of receiving wedding gifts, they would be directing their friends and family to HeroRATs! Simon and Ashely are committed to a life of service, and the couple recently moved to Nairobi, Kenya, to strengthen the Ashoka East Africa office. A huge thanks goes out to Simon and Ashely for choosing HeroRATs to be a part of their special day, and raising awareness of our cause. So, if you have a special celebration coming up, and you have enough plates, cloth napkins and cutlery sets to last you a lifetime – why not think about suggesting a worthwhile cause for your friends to support in your honor?

HeroRATs are the life of the party!
HeroRATs love to party, especially when they are the center of attention! We are very grateful to Karen Riccio, Allan Debelak, Margie Frazier, and Dave Lippert, from Colombus, Ohio, USA, who threw a HeroRAT beer-tasting fundraising party. In addition to gathering together with friends to enjoy good beer and food, their guests each contributed to a collective donation that was generously given to APOPO. We are extremely appreciative of their efforts in fundraising to support our heroes in their life-saving work.

Want to help raise awareness & funds to support our heroes in their life-saving work? Get started with the Get Involved page of our website, or write to us and pitch your ideas!

Parry Gripp gives a cheer for us!

There is a new song circling the globe, and it is about HeroRATs! Singer-songwriter Parry Gripp chose our rats as the inspiration and subject matter for his highly addictive song, “Hero Rats”. His song has already attracted over 63,000 views on YouTube! Be sure to listen to the catchy tune, if you haven't already done so. You can also download the song as an MP3 at Parry Gripp's website. Happy listening!

As always, thank you for your ongoing support of APOPO and the HeroRATs!

The HeroRATs team


Oct 12, 2010

September 2010 Newsletter

HeroRAT trainer Niko with Green Apple
HeroRAT trainer Niko with Green Apple

HeroRATs making headlines: CNN World & Inside Africa

On 8 September, our HeroRATs were on display on computer screens around the world, when Eliott C. McLaughlin’s article ‘Giant rats put noses to work on Africa’s landmine epidemic’ was published online and became the lead story on the CNN homepage shortly after.

In researching our story, Eliott took the time to speak with HeroRAT Training Supervisor Niko Mushi (pictured left), Founder Bart Weetjens, and Havard Bach, Head of Operations for Mine Action & Human Security. The result was
an engaging story that highlighted what our HeroRATs can do, and the experiences of humans working alongside them.

"I was amazed that rats could do such a thing," Niko said, explaining his initial doubts about the rats’ abilities to pinpoint the exact location of landmines. Bart provided his personal account of the early stages in getting APOPO off
the ground, while Havard contributed to the factual content of the article with his many years of experience and knowledge of the landmine problem.

The article made it to the Top 5 most popular stories for the day on CNN, and has attracted over 10,400 recommendations on Facebook. There was also a steady stream of comments, blogs and tweets to follow, from people who read our story and felt compelled to share it further. The response was so wonderful that Inside Africa decided to include a news report on HeroRATs in their weekly program.

On behalf of the HeroRATs, thank you to everyone who put time and effort into telling, reading, or sharing our story. We are so grateful for your belief in our life-saving work.

WEF Annual Meeting of the New Champions in China

As part of the “Summer Davos” series in Asia, the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions took place in Tianjin, People’s Republic of China, from 13-15 September. The theme of the meeting was ‘Driving Growth through Sustainability’ and many of Schwab Foundation’s social entrepreneurs, including APOPO’s Founder, Bart Weetjens, took part in the sessions. Bart was honored with an invitation to participate in a special task force on social investment, in an effort to have more social entrepreneurs playing key roles within the WEF community.

The sessions also involved many of the Young Global Leaders network, and members of the Global Young Academy, a dynamic network of young researchers and scientists that APOPO’s Analytical Chemist, Dr Negussie Beyene, is part of. These communities will play important roles in future collaborative action on a number of topics raised during the meetings.

Webcasts from the event can be viewed here, or for more details on the positive outcomes of these sessions, check out the WEF blog from Schwab Foundation’s Head and Senior Director, Mirjam Schöning, 'Accomplishing Great Things Together'.

Lightning-quick HeroRATs are the talk of the town

Muhimbili Medical Research Centre held an Open Day recently to mark the 30th anniversary of the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), one of APOPO’s research partners. Our tuberculosis (TB) detecting HeroRATs were delighted to be among those invited, and gave a demonstration of their sniffing skills for a captive audience.

Maureen Jubitana, APOPO’s TB detection training supervisor, was there to answer many of the questions asked about APOPO’s work, along with two of our HeroRAT trainers Said and Rajabu who showed exactly what their young charges are capable of! Georgies Mgode, a researcher who is working with APOPO to find the specific compound in tuberculosis that our rats are identifying, was also there to explain the progress of APOPO’s experiments and research findings to date.

The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare Director of Preventive Services, Dr Donan Mmbando, was impressed with the research and work being done to curb the spread of TB in Tanzania.

New experiments are being commenced at APOPO’s TB detection center, which will directly compare the rats to more traditional screening methods. The result of this will be a detailed comparison of the costs involved, the efficiency and effectiveness of the rats as a diagnostic tool. This next important stage of our research will provide useful information in planning a pilot implementation program for communities affected by TB.

Leaving the world a better place

This month, we welcomed Patrice Macar and Dirk Vercoutter of to our headquarters in Tanzania, to see firsthand the impact of APOPO’s work, as an organization they support. is a campaign that was launched in Belgium by 70 social organizations aiming to provide people with more information about the possibility of including worthwhile non-profit causes in their wills. As emphasized on the website, ‘even if you are not there, your influence continues. More than you imagine.’

The team at aims to offer personal advice and equip people with the knowledge needed to make informed, important, and often very difficult decisions, about how they choose to leave this world. For more information about the service they provide, and a full list of the many worthwhile causes they support, please visit the website.

APOPO would like to sincerely thank Patrice and Dirk for taking the time to visit our project in Morogoro during their recent stay in Tanzania, and gain a greater understanding of our HeroRATs’ work and the communities it benefits.

Supporter spotlight: Stephen Eddy & the Exmoor Zoo crew

It’s not often that we hear from African giant pouched rats in other parts of the world, but HeroRAT supporter Stephen Eddy and the crew at the Exmoor Zoo are educating the UK public about our sniffing successes. They recently held their own ‘Rat Week’ and also attended the London Championship show, where they had a stall sharing information about APOPO and the HeroRATs. Stephen and the team took along the zoo’s Gambian pouched rats to show people the species we train here in Tanzania to become landmine or TB detection heroes.

Throughout the day, Stephen spoke to many people who were familiar with APOPO’s work or had adopted one of our HeroRATs, but also a number of newcomers who were curious to find out more about what we do. He thought the rats might be exhausted from all the excitement of the day, but he said: ‘true to form, when we got back at 10pm the rats were not tired. The little sods were bright eyed, awake and full of beans wanting their hours of exercise.’ We
think that perhaps, after all this talk of HeroRATs, they were just keen to sniff out some TNT like their hero relatives in Africa...

The HeroRAT team is grateful for Stephen and his team’s dedication and support of our cause, educating their communities about our HeroRATs’ potential!

Finally, our team of heroes (rats and humans alike) in APOPO's Mozambique Mine Action Programme is making great progress towards our goal of a mine-impact free Gaza Province. So far this year, they have already cleared 564,910 square meters of land!

Thanks so much for your continued belief in our HeroRATs' work, and enjoy the month ahead!

Warm regards,
The HeroRATs team


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