Lovisa’s story: How 1 goat pulled an HIV+ family out of poverty

As part of our ONE Limited Edition Goat partnership with Heifer International, we are sharing stories about families who have directly benefitted from the gift of a goat. This story was written by Christian DeVries and photographed by Russ Powell.

Lovisa Wamukota has been forever changed by HIV/AIDS – although she does not have the disease herself. The 70-year-old widow is the sole caregiver for 12 of her grandchildren. The children, ages 5 through 18, were orphaned by the deadly virus and are themselves all HIV-positive.

NACWOLA Mbale Women's Goat Project - HIV/AIDS  (21-0632-80)

The Wamukota family lives in Uganda where HIV/AIDS has orphaned approximately 1 million children. Only 4 of Lovisa’s own 9 children survive today.

To support her large family, Lovisa did basic agricultural work for others and sold some of her own crops, but it was never enough. She was never sure where their next meal would come from and she desperately wanted to send her grandchildren to school.

“Life was hard. I struggled to find enough food,” she said. “I could work very hard, but the production was not enough. My parents told me, ‘You need an education so you can read life’s signposts so you won’t get lost.’”

The choice was between eating and buying books. However, the Wamukota family’s life began to change on August 3, 2007, when they received a Saanen dairy goat from Heifer International.

Tereza the goat has since kidded six times and each birth has been twins. The gift of one goat to Lovisa has multiplied into 18 goats.

Currently, the family is milking 4 does and receive an average of 2 liters per goat. From this 8 liters, 2 liters are used for home consumption and 6 liters are sold. Selling for $0.42 a liter, the Wamujota family earns $2.54 a day and $928 in a year. To put this in perspective, a person living in extreme poverty earns about $1.25 a day – so these goats have effectively pulled Lovisa and her family out of this category.

NACWOLA Mbale Women's Goat Project - HIV/AIDS  (21-0632-80)

More food to eat and fresh milk to drink has also helped the Wamukota family recover from many of their health problems. “I have noticed a very great change, Lovisa said. “Without this milk some of the children would be dead now. It is the difference life and death.”

A proper diet with good nutrition helps boost the body’s immune system and in turn increases the effectiveness of HIV medications. Thankfully, all of Lovisa’s grandchildren are now on antiretroviral (ARV) medication.

In her opinion, Lovisa says the biggest impact of this project is that she is now able to send all of her grandchildren to school. She sells milk to buy school supplies and uniforms and she sells goats to pay school fees.

With four children in secondary school, Lovisa pays $153 per child each year, for a total of $610 every year. For the five children in primary school, she spends an additional $127 per year.

The Heifer trainings Lovisa received proved important as she expanded her herd. She has participated in several trainings including goat management, disease control, housing, feed, collecting and managing manure, fodder, environmental conservation, and milking and handling.

Lovisa is happy because she knows that her grandchildren will have a skill that they can rely on if school isn’t for them or if they can’t find work after school.

Additionally, the manure from so many goats has dramatically improved Lovisa’s crop production. Before the project she was harvesting 200 kg of maize from 1 acre. Now she gets 800 kg or more per acre and her banana plantation has seen similar improvements. “Ever since I started using the manure I haven’t been able to lift up the (plantain) bunches because they are too heavy!”

“Heifer is special, because it gets the donations and delivers it to the families. They have people who check to make sure it arrived to the intended beneficiary,” Lovisa said. “I trust Heifer because they promised me a goat and they fulfilled their promise.”

This simple promise has reduced hunger, improved health, and given 12 children a future that just 4 years ago seemed impossible.

“I am grateful to God that I am alive,” Lovisa said. “Many have died, but I am glad I have been alive to see this change.”

Impact a family like Lovisa’s by giving a goat now.