Day 8: Monday
TASO (The AIDS Support Organization) an organization that provides services to individuals afflicted with HIV/AIDS. It is primarily funded by foundational donors like the Civil Society Fund, PEPFA, and CDC. One of the women we have met, Mirrium Mandu, is HIV positive and goes to TASO for clinic days. Mirrium explained that TASO serves dry tea on Clinic Days (Tues & Thurs), Mirrium had the idea to approach TASO about providing amaranth to their customers instead. Many of TASO’s clients, especially children, suffer from malnourishment. It is not uncommon for AIDS patients to experience reduced appetite – especially if they have sores of the mouth – but amaranth is very easy to digest and its high fiber content even aids in digestion.
I urged Mirrium to set up a meeting with TASO because I was excited about the initiative and I was also hoping that by having an opportunity to talk to a decision-maker at TASO, I would be able to apply a lot to my own research agenda. Mirrium came back and told us that Monday would be the best day for meetings because most of the staff is available. So this morning, Cindy, Innocent, and I accompanied Mirrium to the offices with hopes of meeting decision-makers but no official appointment.
Our goal was to make an offer to provide TASO with enough porridge to serve their patients for two weeks of clinic days. Then, if they receive a positive response from their clients, they will have the option to sign a contract with Mannu.
We got to TASO around 7:30AM because we wanted to catch these people before they began their meetings, but the place was pretty dead. The few people we ran into seemed to indicate that nobody would be around today and that we would have to make an appointment with the Secretary to come again on another day. The Secretary was not there yet, so we decided to sit and wait. Eventually, however, two men walked by and introduced themselves as TASO Counselors. We began telling them about Amaranth, and they both showed a high level of interest and excitement. They told us that TASO is always interested in supporting innovative approaches to nutrition. After meeting with them for an hour or so, they wanted to introduce us to the Site Manager – the decision-maker – and doctor.
These meetings were very successful as we identified a number of opportunities to collaborate with TASO.
1. We learned that TASO used to serve porridge (maize/soy mixture purchased from World Food Program) to clients on their clinic days (Tues & Thurs). This was during a time of famine, so the porridge was provided for free for a finite period of time.
We told TASO about the free demonstrations we are planning for tomorrow, and one of the counselors exclaimed, “When are you coming to try here?!” Everyone we met with agreed that nutrition coincides with the services and drugs that TASO provides its patients. With Innocent’s extensive knowledge of the benefits of Amaranth Grain, TASO was able to understand how this porridge product could be a very good investment.
The only reservation TASO has on this front is that Mannu is not at the capacity level (200-300 clients per clinic day) that they need to be in order to provide TASO with a steady supply of porridge. If TASO accepts our 2-week offer, patients will probably like the product and expect it to continue being served. Cindy promised that we would be able to meet the need because we already have an inventory of flour.
The Manager asked that we set up a training day next week for all of the counselors; he wants the counselors to fully understand the health benefits of amaranth and anything else that might be important before they begin serving it. Innocent will lead this tasting and training session next Tuesday.
2. We also learned that TASO supports clients in income-generating enterprises; they do not want to give handouts, but rather to develop skill. TASO will either present good ideas to clients or they will try as hard as possible to support ideas generated by their clients.
We introduced the few entrepreneurial initiatives that we foresee coming to Mbale involving farming, milling, and popping amaranth, and had a positive response from TASO. This organization will be a good long-term partner for allowing HIV/AIDS individuals benefit from “God’s Gift Grain.”
After a very productive meeting, Cindy and I returned to the Hotel around noon and had lunch, but then it began raining. My plans to head into town for interviews were spoiled, but I was able to take advantage of the day and catch up on my weekend blogging, type up a lot of my notes, as well as fit in a highly-needed nap.