Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!

by Corals for Conservation
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!
Happy Chickens for Fiji Food & Climate Emergency!

BULA FROM FIJI! 

Here in Fiji, at the Happy Chicken farm (www.teiteifiji.org), we can finally travel to outer islands, and all internal borders have been open since late last year, and commercial flights started in December!  So we are now able to open up our training workshops again.  We had a soils workshop in December, and we will soon have Happy Chicken workshops again!  We teach not only methods of raising chickens using natural foodstuffs, but also are encouraging small home businesses for women and youth farmers, to help provide sustainable income to island villagers. With that in mind, we applied a few months ago to the Austrailan Direct  Aid program for funds to purchase 60 small 48-egg incubators to set up these small businesses, and we just found out last week that out applicatation was successful! 

Of course, now we need to select the farmers producing enough of the the happy chicken eggs, and especially disadvantaged women and families.  In Fiji the official government poverty level cut off is $7,000 FJD ($3,500 US dollars) income for a family of six- PER YEAR (you read that correctly- not per month).  Fortunately nearly everyone has a garden and coconut trees and access to fishing and wild foods.  In 2019, 30% of the population of Fiji lived below the poverty level!  With the closure of the tourism industry, the biggest employer for the past two years, the number of poor families has soared.  Add to that the recent food price increases, and it is becoming even more difficult for poor families to survive. 

A small hatchery business can mean a lot to a family.  Chicks are in high demand, and can be sold for 3 FJD each, ($1.50 USD), and the infertile eggs can be candled at 5 days and removed from the machine, and they are still good to eat!   So this can result in an income every 3 weeks of about $130. FJD, or $65. USD, which may not sound like a lot to you or me, but it means that over a thousand US dollars income per year, increasing a poor family's income by at least 20%!  This can make a huge difference to a struggling family.

Happy Chicken Facebook, Fijian Ministry of Agriculture, and "Coconut Wireless" will spread word of free incubators for women who complete training.     

Once the funds are in the bank, we will purchase the incubators in stock and put more on order when they sell out.  The program will be announced via the Happy Chicken Facebook page, and through the Ministry of Agriculture, and the word will spread through the coconut wireless!   We will need to conduct workshops at the farm for those eligible, and that is what your donations on GlobalGiving will fund- plus transport for those who come by bus.  The women and youth will be trained in all aspects of small scale chicken production and the operation of the incubators, and then they will be given the machines! 

Global Wheat Shortages Loom--Local Chicken Feed Prices Likely to Soar

We are concerned that the global shortage of wheat will result in a big increase in local chicken feed prices,  as the feeds sold are made from 95% imported wheat.  So we include production of local feeds, and we will continue with our coconut rehabilitaion and moringa seedling distribution programs (Google Moringa!).  Stay updated for the results in our next report!     

GlobalGiving is givng a 50% bonus on your donations of up to $50--starts Monday April 4th and goes through Friday April 8th.  Your little donations sustain our livelihoods chicken & egg program: providing protein source and income!  Thank you everyone.

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Ten year old Kritik with his his free chicks
Ten year old Kritik with his his free chicks

While the Rampant Covid-19 Outbreak in Fiji is now abating, with no flights in or out for over 600 days, the first plane from the USA arrived on Friday!  With tourism stopped for so long, the economy is in shambles and thousands of former workers are unemployed.  Portable Incubators help women and youth farmers address food insecurity in their immediate and extended families

Praveena, the wife of Pranil, hatched out her first hatch on the incubator we donated in September.  This young couple with two children are organic veggie and egg farmers.  They lost virtually all of their customers when the hotels closed.  We provided the roosters that crossed with their brown layers, so the cross is an excellent egg laying breed.  We have started up two other small businesses by donating small incubators, and have encouraged another dozen or more farmers to purchase 48-egg incubators from a local source for $80.USD each, as they have mature happy chickens laying now, and as we did not have the funds for donating more. Several have called in excitement to announce the hatching of their first chicks. We have applied for a grant to purchase 60 of these machines to give out to the best women farmers, if the grant goes through.  In the meantime, your gifts make our gifts possible!  

In the present economic crisis, the demand for chicks is far too high, and we sell the chicks at cost or below cost at the gate and over the farm fence, everyone wearing masks.  Several others have called me in excitement that their chicks are hatching now!  I can now visualize a time when the demand for chicks can be met from the small farmers, and I can then focus on breeding and improving the chickens to provide improved broodstock for the farmers, who then focus on production of the thousands of chicks required to meet the local demand.

Once we have the resources for more incubators, we plan to give them out based on identifying those who are most successful, and who can post photos of their healthy and happy chickens on the Happy Chicken facebook page, to get more sharing going.  It is encouraging to see the impact of the work.

Local Farmers Eat the Biggest Birds Contrary to Best Breeding Practices: The remedy--One-day Workshops Coming Soon  The problem with local chickens is that the farmers have a practice of eating the biggest and best, and saving the small scrawny roosters for breeding - reverse selection - so we will be conducting one-day workshops for all those who will receive the incubators.  Presently, I give every buyer some tips over the fence on how to select the breeder roosters, how the females can lay for three years, how they often go broody towards the end of lay, what moulting involves, ect. 

Pandemic Drives Need for Returning to Farming:

Farming in Fiji has gotten a BIG push from the pandemic, as since tourism died, there is no alternative but to return to farming.  Thus, young hotel workers are now farming for the first time in their lives, helped by their own aging parents and grandparents.  The average farmer in Fiji makes under $10,000 USD/year, and the official poverty line is $3,500 per year for a family of five.  Most of what people eat they raise themselves.  

We are surrounded by hard-working people who are in need regardless of their daily struggles.  Chickens add protein and diversification to the small incomes of farmers.  In spite of finanical poverty and simple lives, there is a high level of happiness.  Joy abounds when people work together and share surplus resources with their neighbors.

Promoting Sustainable, Permaculture Farm Practices:  Sharing Methods for Success

Our philosophy involves intercropping corn with cassava as a free short-term crop, and to plant coconuts on all East-West boundaries.  That way the main crops won't be shaded.  The banana and fruit trees complete the understory in that hedge.  Also, moringa trees, with their high protein leaves for human and animal feed thrive.  These are all wonderful feed resources for chickens.  But deeds speak louder than words, so we have demonstrated these methods here on our farm, and many are emulating the models.  In 2021-21, we gave out over 4,000 coconut seedlings to our happy chicken farmers.

40,000 Chicks Distributed and Looking forward to 2022:

Much has been accomplished, with over 40,000 chicks distributed throughout Fiji.  25 dozen were produced weekly from June through October.  Now, as summer arrives in the Southern hemisphere, those numbers drop to 12 dozen per week.  Our focus has changed to helping women farmers and youth who wish to start their own small hatchery businesses.  This will allow us to put more effort into improving the breeds, and on encouraging the diversification of what is available locally.

Loloma levu, and thanks for helping us accomplish these victories!  Many lives have been touched.  As the new year dawns, may you and your families all stay safe, should the new variant come into your country,

Austin

  

The happy hens are beautiful
The happy hens are beautiful
Praveena and helpers with their first hatch
Praveena and helpers with their first hatch
Chicks and children both give hope for the future
Chicks and children both give hope for the future
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My best Happy Chicken helper Kiki on a rainy day
My best Happy Chicken helper Kiki on a rainy day

Even While the Delta Variant Ravages Fiji, Happy Chicken Eggs Bring Hope & Help Neighbors

After a full year for our island nation of Fiji being Covid-19 free, a massive outbreak of the Delta variant of COVID-19 hit us in April, killing several hundred people so far, including three pregnant mothers, an 11-month old, and multiple teen-aged youths, with over a thousand new infections reported every day.  The government has reacted with a mass vaccination program and by implementing a system of regional lockdown zones to slow the spread.  The main island is sealed off from the rest of the country, and that has thankfully confined it for now, and the severely impacted capital city, Suva, has been shut off from the rest of the island as well.  Fiji has limited hospital beds and supplies to confront the emergency, thus Fiji's healthcare system is now being overwhelmed.   

The tourism industry, Fiji's biggest employer has been completely closed for over a year now, resulting in massive unemployment, and shipping and local distribution of food supplies has been disrupted.  The next scheduled passenger flights into and out of the country are in November.  Rural families have turned to farming and fishing to meet their needs, while urban dwellers are in serious condition, as food is becoming hard to find for many families. Unable to return to their traditional villages, these unfortunate families are trapped in the urban area due to the lock down.

Our neighborhood and the Happy Chicken farm were also locked down due to a local outbreak. When the first major cluster hit our province,  Isimeli, one of our Happy Chicken farmers, was infected and isolated thankfully he has since recovered.  With our hatchery hatching about 20 dozen chicks per week, we could not distribute the chicks for over two weeks, so rather than setting the eggs in the incubators, we closed the hatchery and gave eggs to neighbors who have children, receiving abundant vegetables as gifts of appreciation.  We were also stuck holding several hundred chicks, which we had to raise up.  We have distributed many to families in the immediate neighborhood as four-week olds, and we selected the biggest chickens and are now raising over a hundred as new breeding stock for the farm.

Last week, the local check point and road blocks into Nadi and Lautoka have all been lifted, in spite of the continuing cases, and so we have been able to reopen the hatchery again.  We have been selling eggs and chicks at cost and giving extras as gifts over the fence to those who can come by their own means.  We are staying cautious, waiting for our second jabs to take effect, especially since we have a new grandbaby and her 8-year old brother, plus a 5-year-old, 2-year-old, and 15-year-old living here who are too young for the vaccinations.  Several staff members and family have moved to the farm during the danger period, staying in our former homestay cottage: for a total of seven adults and five children. The children are enjoying helping with the chickens and playing together in our secure and happy bubble.  We don't expect schools to reopen until after the new year.   

 I decided not to go to town at all for chicks sales and so I called two people from Nadi who had wanted six dozen each, and the rest local people nearby, and I gave away two dozen to very poor people--22 dozen this week.  I also sold one dozen new ducklings to neighbors- two ducklings for $5 USD.     

I have saved a dozen chicks to give to Charley, who lives about a mile away from us.  He has a disfiguring skin condition, and is also quite poor.  He LOVES chickens and has raised them in the past.  I have saved out some of the more interesting ones for him. 
11 new cases today, and not linked to any known cases, all cases in the past week have been in the Suva metropolitan area.  But many swabs are now being processed, a backlog due to the CDC here getting two positive cases among the staff.   WILL THIS NEVER END?  
I set some blue and green eggs in a small incubator the week after the crisis started, and they started hatching today- I will raise those up to increase the diversity in the eggs colors, as the people here love that, and we are the only source of those colors.  Big chickens that are beautiful and that lay lots of beautiful eggs is the goal. 
We have had some unseasonably heavy rain, and lately I've had to cover the chicks at bedtime since the temperature dips to 55 degrees overnight.  
 
Here's a Page out of How to Intercrop Corn with Cassava like the "Three Sisters" Native American Way
In some areas of the world, corn is being planted after slash and burn methods, and the ground does not hold water and is turned into a hard pan akin to concrete.  In these situations, it is not corn that is the villain, it is the horrible and unsustainable methods they are using.  The native Americans never would grow corn that way, they would intercrop with climbing beans and wandering squash in between the rows - the "three sisters".   And they would not burn the residue, but leave it to decay into soil.   
Here at the farm, we intercrop the corn with cassava which is perfect, as the cassava is not harmed but the corn likes it, as the cassava shades the soil and so there are no weeds, so it grows better in cassava, which is a 12 month crop, while corns is picked at 3 months, so it really increases the amount of food produced per acre with minimal increase in labor.  With all the indigenous people growing cassava (manioka, youka, tapioka) if they also intercropped corn we could have as much as 20% more food here in Fiji.  Great for the chickens and also people.  I have started making hominy out of our dried corn grown on the farm, and experimenting with cooking it different ways so that we can teach others.    I want to order some new open pollinated varieties for the farmers here.  We had blue corn at one point and it was super but we lost it after a three year drought and a horse which ate our plot planted as seed corn.  
School Canceled, So Grandson is Home Helping with the Chickens and Farm
Well, my young grandson Kiki is happy because they cancelled school for another month, and he can stay home and help with the chickens. Sadly, there were 11 new Covid cases yesterday.  They cancelled the two cargo flights yesterday- one from NZ and one to Vanuatu.  We gave away 5 laying hens to a neighbor family with two small children who had lost all their income- the father was a cook in a resort, and the grandfather worked for us as a carpenter, but he is quite sick- had an operation right before the new outbreak.  The son has planted a big crop so they will be okay once that comes in-in a few months.   We also gave away six 5 week old chicks to a poor family- disabled father and elderly mother and the wife and nephew.  Also, lots of eggs are going out.  
I am growing up the 100 or so 5 week old chicks to be used to select new breeding roosters and hens from.  I already gave away 40 or so of the smaller ones to needy families, keeping the bigger ones and I will do more sorting and elimination and donations as they grow, selecting for size and ability to thrive.  They are in mobile pens that I move every morning and afternoon over the grass and so they are eating lots of good greens- they will strip it down to the dirt if I leave it for two long.
I also am eliminating the laying hens that are smallish, and any hens that have stopped laying (which can be determined by the pelvic bones), will become dinner for the farm, or sold or given locally. 
I plan to go through today and select 16 of the very biggest hens and to pair them with my biggest two roosters, and to start collecting those eggs for hatching, trying to re-constitute the Kabir breed of chickens, which no one can get and I am the only one who has it in Fiji- most of my chickens are mixed Kabir.  
I also have some very pretty amazing feather patterned hens that I will make another flock with, and put the prettiest rooster with and hatch those out. 
Oh what fun, and Kiki helps me a lot. Meet Kiki (Keith) doing string figures. https://keithdotfun.wordpress.com/2021/05/23/string-figures/
Loloma,
Austin
Organic chicken farmer's first hatch
Organic chicken farmer's first hatch
Neighbor Praveena with first hatchlings
Neighbor Praveena with first hatchlings
Downy soft ducklings in basket
Downy soft ducklings in basket
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Seriana and Philipe from Navua
Seriana and Philipe from Navua

 

Fiji has just come out of the wettest wet season in a decade or more, due to  very wet "La Nina" conditions.  Our summer is in December through March, and this year the ocean became quite warm. We were extremely worried about the corals bleaching and dying, but Mother Nature turned on her "fan" and generated four cyclones, which cooled the waters off. The winds were quite destructive and frequent flooding occurred in the country.  The cyclones mostly affected the country 150 km north of us here at the farm.  But due to  all the rain, our pens became horribly muddy in spite of digging new drains.  The chickens and those tending them were miserable, and some of the chickens got sick in the unsanitary conditions.  Fortunately, a simple solution was developed and help was in sight.

In January our Happy Chickens project received a grant from the New Zealand government to purchase a wood chipper, and this seems to have solved nearly 100% of our chicken disease problems. The powerful wood chipping machine was an answer to our prayers! 

We have been busy mulching Chinese Jung Chao cane grass "mushroom grass", recently introduced to Fiji for growing mushrooms in, plus leguminous tree branches.  We do clean the houses regularly and use the dry composted manure for the farm's gardens and crops, but cleaning was not enough.  So we put a thick layer of fresh compost  over the chicken yard and any muddy places, and also a heavy layer in each of the seven hen houses. This prevented the hens from making dust baths in the dried up dusty compost inside the houses- it forces them to do their dust bathing in clean dirt far outside of their houses and yards.  Pathogens could be carried by chickens reveling in impromptu dust baths--that behavior has been stopped with the benefit of a disease free environment. 

The chickens also enjoy eating some of the chopped mulch, which is high in protein and sugars.  The freshly chopped China grass gets surprising hot within a few hours after chopping, not like other things we chop up.  Another grass crop is growing now, and we will be able to redo this every other month, after removing the well-rotted layer for use in the gardens. 

Fiji is going through a difficult period, with 40% losing their jobs due to the closure of all international tourism. With no unemployment benefits, poverty has become much worse in the country.  Happy Chickens offers an alternative to hunger; we continue to hatch about 15 dozen chicks per week, and we continue to give chickens to needy families. 

For the less needy, those who are not destitute and who still have an income through sales of farm produce, we continue to sell chicks at below production cost. The official government poverty line in Fiji is determined by when a family makes less than $3,500. USD per YEAR (not a typo).  So nearly everyone we deal with is struggling.  At $15. USD per dozen, we are able to sell all 15 dozen from the farm each week, which gives some contact time to do a tour of the chicken houses and to share knowledge on tips for success.  We often throw in some free chicks, especially for those who come far on foot or horseback, or if they come to buy half a dozen because that is all they can afford.  For people who were selected for a recent US Embassy funded livelihoods training here at the farm, we have given or will shortly give 2-3 dozen larger chicks each.  Many of these chickens we have raised up for six to eight weeks before distribution.  Photos are below.  

Here's a month's activity at Happy Chicken permaculture farm: 

1. A six-day hands-on workshop sponsored by the US Embassy as a livelihoods training for village women. 

2.  Delivery of two dozen two-week old chicks as a gift to a struggling older retired couple in Navua.

3.  36 half-sized chickens to six poor coastal families in Naidiri Village (5 hens and a rooster each), plus seven of these larger chickens were sent to a family in Naitasiri province, and eight were given to three neighbor children being raised by their elderly grandparents- they arrived on horseback and they caught two buckets of baby crabs in the stream for our fish pond in "payment"- but it was good fun!

There's never a dull moment living with Happy Chickens:  from mulching cane grass for therapeutic chicken baths and bedding, to enjoying a week of knowledge exchange with key villagers who will return to share best practices, supporting struggling elders with a much-appreciated gift of chicks, supplying pint-sized chicks to poor coastal families who in-turn share, watching kids catch buckets of baby crabs by our fish pond...it's all so meaningful and spells survival to so many here in Fiji.  

A heartfelt thanks goes out to all of you who continue to build this project, allowing us to expand the numbers helped, and to be resilient and find solutions to climate change challenges!

Austin Bowden-Kirby

Sharing our joy:  We've welcomed my newest grandchild, Joycelee, who will grow up with her older brother Kiki, mingling with the chickens and loving the healthy environment.

 

  

US Embassy funded Livelihoods Workshop
US Embassy funded Livelihoods Workshop
Wilma and Torika receiving their chickens
Wilma and Torika receiving their chickens
Each sack has 2-3 chickens!
Each sack has 2-3 chickens!
Mesake with one of his new half sized chickens
Mesake with one of his new half sized chickens
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rocks prevent tipping & chicks from drowning
rocks prevent tipping & chicks from drowning

Because of patrons responding to #GivingTuesday, and with the sizable bonuses awarded by GlobalGiving, an urgent program to both protect endangered coral reefs and also to provide a necessary addition to scarce chicken feed was launched.

2020 continues to be a year of crisis all over the world.  Fiji’s border is sealed, and tourism, our largest industry, has closed down.  Tens of thousands of families have lost their primary source of income.  Families are struggling to make ends meet and to feed their children.  Shipping into the country has also been disrupted, impacting the commercial poultry industry, as shipments of baby chicks and fertile eggs from New Zealand stopped for several months, and now have resumed at a lower level, so prices for eggs and chicken in the stores have gone up, at a time when people have less money to spend.  We have responded by doubling the size of our breeding flocks, with the goal of producing 300 chicks per week, to meet the increased demand from the many small family farmers and those newly unemployed who have turned to farming.  However, the cost of chicken feed has also increased by 12%, affecting our base costs of production.  These problems of shipping during the pandemic are stretching the supply chain thin.  A simple thing like procuring chicken feed has become a complex exercise in spending more money and more time searching for an increasingly scarce commodity.  Fortunately, coconut trees planted in years past are now producing and so the chickens are fed coconuts in addition to their forging. We have also in recent months helped plant 5,000 coconuts in surrounding communities, and have provided fencing to protect them from stray cows, horses, and goats.

While in the past chicks were provided as a donation to families in greatest need, the majority of chicks in recent months were sold at cost of production to poor family farmers, with the goal of these farmers hatching chicks of their own and becoming self-sufficient, and spreading prosperity in the wider community.  We have also begun lending out small incubators to the best farmers. One small farmer has proven particularly exceptional, and so we have given him the machine.  We also gave nine roosters to a commercial egg producer and he paid us back in fertile eggs- a cross between our super roosters and his imported super layers.   

While these efforts in self sufficiency for small farmers continue, the New Zealand Government recently awarded us a grant to purchase a wood chipper, and so we plan to begin worm farming as a way of lowering feed costs, while producing valuable potting soil.  The wood chips and dry compost will also be used as litter in the hen houses and under the roosts, providing a cleaner environment for the happy chickens, especially needed now, as it is the rainy season.   

We also are sourcing another free source of chicken feed, harvested from the ocean- the crown of thorns starfish (COTS).  This is part of our coral reef conservation project, where we are funding the removal of a horrific plague of these venomous animals, which eat nothing but live corals, digesting the coral tissues and leaving behind the white skeletons. The COTS removal program is an emergency response leading up to a severe hot water coral bleaching event, which is predicted to hit our reefs from February until April.  Each adult COTS kills a saucer-sized bit of coral every day, and can live for years. Conservatively estimated, removing a single COTS saves 250 corals per year.  Last week we collected 450 COTS from Votua village, for use as chicken feed, paying a bounty of 25 cents USD for each.  Our goal is to remove at least ten thousand in the next six months, at a cost of US $2,500, saving over 2.5 million corals, providing a high protein, high calcium chicken food, and providing a much-needed cash income to the villagers.  We are encouraging the Fiji Government and other NGOs to support this effort for other communities during this coral bleaching crisis, in order to save the bleaching-resistant corals that do survive, helping the coral reefs adapt to the increasing temperatures caused by climate change.  

The villagers know how dangerous the toxic starfish are, as the local name is “Vula Walu” or “eight months”, as that is how long a COTS wound can last before healing.  So the program is helping make the waters safer for children to swim in again.  Each COTS has over a dozen arms covered in venomous spines.  The fishers load them into their canoes or used kayaks, bought from the closed resorts, and then spread them out on the shore to dry, until we come to collect them.  Their sharp thorns fortunately become dull on drying. They also lose their poisonous power, and so they can be more easily handled and ready to be eaten by the hungry chickens, eager for a nutrient rich natural supplement.  Dried COTS, stacked up like pancakes, are smashed before feeding to the chickens.  If they are not yet dry when we bring them in, we lay them out on the hill to dry at the farm.  

A gift of $25 towards this effort will remove 100 COTS, thereby saving 25,000 corals, while translating into joy for cash strapped families, and savings on happy chickens poultry feed, passed on to the farmers.  We will also begin offering baby chicks for trading in-kind for dried COTS, as a way of coastal communities becoming more more self-sufficient. 

U.S. donors, because of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed last spring by Congress, you may make up to a $300 cash donation to your favorite non-profit, and claim as a tax deduction next year, even if you don't itemize.  The IRS is encouraging citizens to utilize this special provision to benefit charities worldwide.

We're preparing for Yasa, a hurricane thought to arrive here in Fiji as a Category 4 within two days.  Yasa, in Fijian means sandalwood, and we grow some here at our permaculture farm. 

Godspeed to one and all during the holidays, Austin

Apakuki and Natanieli are excited about the catch!
Apakuki and Natanieli are excited about the catch!
Chickens enjoy picking coconut out of the shell
Chickens enjoy picking coconut out of the shell
Village Children Planting Hybrid Coconuts
Village Children Planting Hybrid Coconuts
Chicks one week apart in age
Chicks one week apart in age
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Organization Information

Corals for Conservation

Location: Samabula - Fiji
Website:
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Project Leader:
Austin Bowden-Kerby
Samabula, Fiji
$40,117 raised of $55,500 goal
 
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