Teaching a Nation to Fish: The Story of Emanu

“Only the Dying Ones Attended Hospital”

When Dr. Emanu Georwell was working at the Tororo District General Hospital, one in three children he saw were malnourished.  The reason was lack of protein.  There was an effective treatment: peanut butter and fish meal.  He would prescribe it and the children would get better.

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Women’s Clinic at the Tororo General Hospital in southeast Uganda

One day a woman from his home village of Majanji came to the hospital.  Both the woman and her daughter were extremely malnourished.   He had not been back to Majanji in some time, but the state of the woman and her daughter concerned him enough that he decided to make a visit.

It was then that he realized the true scope of the problem.  “[T]housands of children and mothers were malnourished in the communities,” he later wrote, “and only the dying ones attended hospital.  Other dying ones who could not afford transport died at home.”

As a doctor, he knew that adding fish to the diet was an effective treatment.  So he went out in search of fish.  He went to nearby fishing site, but there were no fish.  Due to overfishing born of desperation, Uganda’s plentiful lakes were no longer able to provide for the people.  The fish meal he was prescribing in the hospital was shipped in by USAID, an American aid organization.

“I Said Enough was Enough”

Uganda has ideal terrain for fresh-water fishing; a full 18% of the country is covered by lakes.  Majanji itself was once a fishing village.  From a medical perspective, increasing fish in the diet would solve the malnourishment problem.  It would also create local jobs.

Emanu had a choice.  It would have been understandable had he thought, “Look, this is a horrible problem, but it’s one I can’t solve.  I’m a doctor.  I don’t know anything about fish farming.  I can treat the children that come into the hospital.  I can save those lives and that is very important.  As for the larger problem of food access, it’s just too big for me.  It’s not something I can change.”

Emanu Georwell holding a 2Kg of 8 months

Emanu posing with a fish raised by his company.

But, of course, this is not what he said.  Emanu decided to pursue his vision, not only to do good, but to make the greatest possible positive impact.

In 2013, Emanu decided “enough was enough.” He quit his job at the hospital.  Since then, he wrote, “I dedicated my life to help recreate a fishing industry in Uganda, and to resupply the country with fish to save millions of lives.”  The Geossy fish-farming company was born.

“The World Needs Lots of Determination, Passion, and Persistence”

In the last 12 months Geossy raised 200 tons of fish and supplied 500 fish vendors, boosting their income, and reaching thousands of families in Eastern Uganda.  All of this with no outside funding.  “Lives are saved, mothers earn money, children are healthy, the lake is free from illegal fishing pressure,” writes Emanu. “This is my motivator to pursue this vision ’til I see millions of lives impacted in Uganda.”

A fisherman feeding Majanji Busia- trained by Geossy Team

A man feeding fish in bamboo enclosures near Majanji, the village that first inspired Emanu to start Geossy.

“Changing the world needs lots of determination, passion and persistence,” writes Geossy. “We will always find hurdles in our way.  Determination will get us through.”

There is nothing special about Emanu’s skills or knowledge.  His hospital was full of doctors who saw malnourished children.  There were certainly other people in Uganda who knew more about raising fish than he did.  What makes Emanu different is that he took action.  This is something all of us can do.  

Hatchery Modified from a dilapidated swimming pool

Emanu beside a hatchery made out of an old converted swimming pool.

There are many problems in our world today, from environmental destruction to sex trafficking, from political corruption to drug dependency.  Fortunately, there are also many of us.  If all 7 billion of us made our maximum positive impact on the world, we could solve these problems.

Wherever your passion is, the world needs you to begin.

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Photos: hospital image courtesy of Wired International; all other images courtesy of Emanu Georwell