Raising Chickens, Empowering Youth
- The Caribbean, Eastern Caribbean
In the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Peace Corps Volunteer Brian Lewandowski works with local sixth-graders to construct a chicken coop and begin a student-operated poultry business.
Hi, I'm Brian Lewandowski. I served in Peace Corps as a Business Development Volunteer in the Caribbean islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I worked with my local community to develop training and sustainable business opportunities for youth and adults. Of all of the projects I was involved in, one of my favorite and most memorable experiences was working with local sixth-graders to begin a small-scale poultry business at their school.
The Barrouallie Government School (BGS) Chicken Coop Project was designed to provide an interesting and different way of learning for students, and to bring together fathers of students in the community to increase engagement in their kid's education. In addition, the project purpose was to train students in an applicable skill, raising chickens for meat, while teaching business principles and encouraging responsibility.
The school principal rallied fathers from the school to invest time. The Central Leeward Child Development Project, the Chamber of Commerce, and local businesses and citizens donated funds and materials for the chicken coop, feeders, watering cans, initial batch of chickens, and feed. The principal also enlisted the sixth-grade teacher, working with at-risk students, to incorporate the poultry project into classroom curriculum.
Students were actively engaged in project planning, construction, education, rearing, slaughtering, cleaning, and sales. In the classroom, students assisted in coop design by measuring the building footprint, block wall height and length, roof height, and other components. This diagram shows the final design of the chicken coop.
The chicken coop was constructed on a Saturday. Preston, who was on security detail at the school in the evenings and on weekends, lent his construction expertise, and met students on site to construct the coop. Students mixed the cement, aligned blocks, unrolled chicken wire, and hoisted galvanized roofing, using shovels, tape measures, hammers, and other tools.
Mr. Chambers, the teacher, brought in two knowledgeable farmers to discuss handling, feeding, cleaning, and providing warmth for the birds. During the growing period, students were assigned a rotating cleaning, watering, and feeding schedule. They would clean the pen daily, removing waste from inside, and trash from outside the chicken coop. In the classroom, students were tracking the weight of the chickens.
After eight weeks, the time came to slaughter the chickens we had raised. This was such a normal part of life in the community that kids, for the most part, were eager to help. After slaughtering the chickens, students also assisted with the de-feathering and gutting process in preparation to sell the chicken meat.
Chickens were placed in bags, weighed, labeled, and stored in a freezer. Students assisted in the pricing of the birds, multiplying the price and the weight. In addition, students were charged with selling birds to people in the community. In the classroom, students were introduced to an income statement that reported their earnings and associated costs. Proceeds were used to purchase future flocks of chickens, and to produce a celebration party for students.
This project was designed, funded, and implemented by the community. The project has continued on and off since we left, but can be fully sustainable. Income-generating projects are important in this community, and throughout St. Vincent, because of the perceived lack of opportunities for students in rural areas following their formalized education. For the students, I believe this project was empowering because it showed them firsthand what they can accomplish. Whether it be this project, or transferred to some other situation in life, they have knowledge and skills that can be transformed into something rewarding. For me, it was rewarding to witness the enthusiasm of the students, observe their learning in action, and see the project come to fruition.