“November 16th, 2011, will never be erased from my memory because a dark cloud hung over my life, and I was shaken to the core. This was the same day my fellow group members were celebrating the arrival of 40 dairy heifers we had been waiting on for more than four years,” said Lilian Kantolo, a member of the Kamisenga dairy cooperative.
“On this fateful day, my husband took his last breath in the early hours of the morning. I was shocked because he was not sick the previous day. He had just gone out to meet his friends at a nearby drinking place. This was a normal socializing spot in the community, and most men, after a hard day’s work, went there to have fun,” Kantalo continued.
“The tragedy hit me so hard that everything in my life came to a standstill. This was just a dream, I thought, and when I wake up I will have to tell the story to my husband about my silly dream! Alas, I was not dreaming because everything was real and tangible. How can this happen to a 35-year-old young woman with five children? I cried for many days and could not imagine what life without my husband would be like. He made me proud, and I was the envy of most women in the village because he was such a handsome, loving, caring and hard-working husband. We had big dreams, especially that we were about to receive a dairy animal from Heifer International. I was just imagining how wonderful it was going to be; better housing, no more painstaking activities at the garden, paying children’s school fees on time. All those dreams lost in just a moment,” Kantolo said, holding back tears.
The Kamisenga group received the animals, and the Kantolo family was given a pregnant heifer. The animal was kept at a neighbor’s place until all the traditional rites were completed.
All seemed to have been working well, especially with the overwhelming support the family received from Kamisenga. They made her burden lighter by taking responsibility for all the funeral arrangements. Something like this had never happened before in this community. Once the family was left alone, though, reality set in when her husband’s elder brother took over as administrator of estates.
“This man I had only met twice since I got married aggrieved me more. Earlier on before the burial, he was very quiet and calm. I thought he was a gentleman, until he was given a platform to speak, then all hell broke loose,” Kantolo explained. It was also learned that her husband’s relatives withdrew all the money from the family account, amounting to 3,220,000 Zambian kwachas or $644.
Her husband’s brother came to her and said with a certain level of authority in the tonga language, “Bina Jimmy tulayinka antomwe ku musanza,” which translates to, “Mother to Jimmy, we will have to go to Southern Province together.” Kantolo recounted, “At this point, I felt the pain of losing my husband all over again. To add insult to injury, he demanded the dairy animal Heifer had given to the family, which I thought would be a source of hope.”
The Club leadership heard about this and intervened. The group assured Kantolo that the animal would be given to her family as soon as they returned from the Southern Province. After completing the traditional rites, the family returned to Kamisenga and found their animal waiting for them. After three months, their heifer calved a healthy female calf to the joy of the family.
Through the encouragement she draws from the project, Kantolo has started adjusting to her new life. She is able to pay school fees for her children using income from the milk she sells, and the family enjoys drinking milk every day. 13-year-old Jimmy, her first-born son, runs the errands for the family like his late dad. He delivers 1.5 gallons of milk daily to the Milk Collection Center (MCC).
Three-year-old Ming Xing slept soundly as we visited with his grandparents, Peng Guowen and Liu Haiying, in their home in Yan’gebo Township, China. Ming Xing’s parents follow the common practice of seeking work in larger cities, in this case Beijing, to help support the family.
Weichang County is the poorest area of Hebei Province, with annual average income of less than $185 USD. Project participants here are receiving beef heifers and training in community development, vegetable production, and soil management and conservation.
Earlier in the day, Peng Guowen received a cow during a handover ceremony with Heifer International and Elanco. "We raised cattle before, but not for long,” he said.
The fragile environment here at the headwaters of the Luanhe River provides a significant challenge for farmers, with six months of snow cover annually. Additionally, there are 90-100 frost-free days with a yearly average temperature of minus five degrees Celsius. Sand blowing in from the Mongolian desert contributes to a lack of vegetation. The Chinese government is investing in numerous tree planting initiatives to lessen degradation of the grassland.
Peng Guowen has purchased four cows in addition to the cow he has received from Heifer. He is building the shelter that will be crucial for the animals’ well-being when the long winter returns. Feeding animals in the cowshed versus grazing has a secondary benefit of protecting the fragile grasslands. Peng Guowen also will plant grass in early June and is growing corn to help feed his cows.
Peng Guowen’s goal is to “enlarge the number of cattle,” to further expand the income potential for his family. Toward the end of the visit, we asked what the gift of a cow would mean for his grandson.
His response? “Happiness.”
Increased income -- The production of milk and dairy products along with vegetable crops has become a major source of income for the families. Poultry farming and mobile petty shops are also additional income generating sources for some groups.
Engagement in collective income generating activities has enabled groups to multiply their group funds, which are loaned to needy members at a low interest rate.
Having access to a regular income has enabled families to enroll their children in school and tend to their health care needs. With surplus income in hand, many families have improved their houses and bought assets such as land to expand production activities.
Improved nutrition, hygiene and sanitation -- Hygiene and sanitation of project families has improved through the construction of 31 concrete toilets and 20 improved stoves in family homes. The supply of clean drinking water and a sewage system are all contributing to a decrease in health risks and disease.
CAHWs (Community Animal Health Workers) are very active in the communities providing their services. Through frequent visits they ensure that animal sheds, feeds and health care are given proper and timely attention.
Families are consuming nutritious, healthy and balanced meals. Their diets include fresh vegetables produced in their kitchen gardens and milk. Special priority is given to infants, adolescent girls and pregnant mothers in view of their nutritional requirements.