NGC caught up with Board Member and Founder of Youth Philanthropy Worldwide, Esther Hewlett, to discuss her recent trip to Tanzania on a journey to visit our favorite creatures: Hero Rats.
NGC Asks: What did you learn specifically about the HeroRats that you found most interesting during your visit?
Esther: APOPO trains rats to save lives. I am in awe of how receptive these little creatures are to behavior training, and how eager they are to do a good job! Every rat has a name, and each one is treated as a valuable part of the APOPO team. They all go through a rigorous nine month training course to learn how to sniff out the explosives in landmines or to detect positive tuberculosis samples.
NGC Asks: Why do you think organizations like APOPO are so important in creating change?
Esther: It’s not just *what* you do that is important, but also *how* you do it.
I love the work that APOPO does: training African giant pouched rats for humanitarian purposes, including landmine removal and tuberculosis detection. But I also love the way the organization does its work — in a sustainable manner that is respectful of local knowledge, skills, and needs. The problems APOPO addresses are global. But from the rats themselves (who are indigenous to East Africa), to the highly skilled Tanzanian staff working at the headquarters in Morogoro in Tanzania, to the handlers in the mine fields in Mozambique — APOPO has local roots.
NGC: Do you have a favorite memory of your visit with APOPO?
Esther: It was very exciting to see the APOPO Research & Development training site for the CameRats, who are being trained for search and rescue operations after natural disasters. When the rat (with a little camera around her neck) scampers through the rubble and finds a “target” (i.e., the trainer), the trainer gives the rat a squirt of mashed banana from a syringe as a reward. Then the rat scampers back to home base, with the photo of the victim on the camera so the rescuers will know where to look. I got to try my hand as a trainer/target! At first I was a little nervous at the thought of a giant rat putting her paws on my leg when she found me, but I was surprised at how gentle and friendly these animals actually are. Of course I am born in the Year of the Rat in the Chinese zodiac, so that might be why I ended up getting along so well with them!