AUGUSTA – Bill Reid remembers the scene vividly: A man from the nearby lepers’ village emerged from the jungle and begged in the street of the African city where Reid worked as a Peace Corps adviser.

Taking pity, Reid flipped a paper cedi, then worth about $15 in Ghana. Overcome with tears of thanks, the afflicted man then begged, “Help my village.”

Now, 27 years after completing his two-year Peace Corps stint, the retired Mainer plans to return to the western African country to fulfill the begging leper’s request. Reid also has other items on his agenda.

With his own money, he plans to build a poultry house in a village occupied by people with Hansen’s disease, or leprosy, three miles outside of Kumasi, the city of about 1 million where he was based in 1975-76.

Reid will buy the villagers’ first flock, teach them how to care for the birds and help them manage their farm as a business. He would like to see the village raise more of its own food and become more self sufficient.

Working with the Hansen’s disease center in the Ghanaian capital, Reid is trying to make available a medicine called dapsone which prevents the disease from becoming contagious. He said he will provide the seed money.

If charity or foundation money becomes available, Reid would like to build more poultry houses and see that more dapsone is delivered to other lepers’ villages in Ghana.

“My original idea was one poultry house, one village,” said Reid, who is 65. “I’ve begun to expand my horizons.”

He hopes his Hansen’s Disease Poultry Project can someday spread to villages all over Africa. He also dreams of a Hansen’s disease laboratory.

“And maybe someday, somebody will use the word cure,” he said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Hansen’s disease permanently disables 1 million to 2 million people worldwide, but it is especially troublesome in the tropics.

Hansen’s disease is a chronic infectious disease usually affecting the skin and nerves near the skin. It can manifest itself with skin nodules and rashes. Those affected have long been shunned and in many places restricted to villages. Such is the case in Africa, Reid said.

Reid has been organizing his plans since last November, when his wife died. He plans to leave in October for Africa, where his connections go back a generation and have roots in his lifelong knowledge of poultry.

A Calais native, Reid started in the poultry business at the bottom, working in his youth as an egg picker. He rose to Pittsfield farm manager for Maplewood Poultry in 1970, overseeing two buildings housing 60,000 birds each.

At the time, the poultry industry was vibrant in Maine. Belfast, with four plants, had the capacity to process 1 million birds a day and proclaimed itself the “Broiler Capital of the U.S.”

But Maine’s poultry industry went South, literally, and by 1974 Maplewood was in bankruptcy and Reid was out of a job.

Reid’s first interest in Peace Corps work was sparked by an article in a Maine newspaper, which reported that beef cattle being fed to people in Ghana had become infected by tsetse flies. He decided the time was right to export his knowledge about poultry to Ghana and was trained as a volunteer.

Few people came in for help when Reid first set up shop in Kumasi as the Peace Corps’ technical adviser. One of his first clients was a lawyer in the city who raised poultry. The lawyer’s flock improved, and soon Reid got busier.

“The lawyer put the word out on the street that the American knows what he’s talking about and he won’t take a dish,” the local word for payment, said Reid.

As more farmers switched from beef to poultry, Reid became well-respected and was often invited into Ghanaians’ homes.

His acceptance into the Ashanti Regional Poultry Farmers’ Association was an extraordinary honor because the group’s bylaws limit membership to natives of the region who own at least 500 birds. Some farmers traveled up to 40 miles to speak in support of Reid’s membership.

A Waterville Sentinel article described how Reid made an average of four visits a day to farms that housed anywhere from 10 to 40,000 birds. He documented and catalogued his visits so he could measure each farmer’s progress.

The Peace Corp promoted his work, and he received a letter of thanks from then-U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie, D-Maine.

After his stint was completed, Reid returned to Maine. He became financially secure through real estate and the stock market, remarried and spent a lot of time traveling, he said.

But the memory of the Kumasi beggar stuck. So in 1993, he traveled to Carville, La., where he completed the U.S. Public Health Service’s training course on Hansen’s disease to learn how those affected can be treated.


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