Brooke Edwards writes on Heifer’s Global Communications team, helping tell stories of triumph over hunger and poverty to inspire a new generation of Heifer supporters.
What does it look like when a woman has everything she needs to give her family a dignified life? Being able to provide for yourself and your family should be something we can all take for granted. But that’s often not the case for the world’s smallholder farmers. Although it seems paradoxical, feeding their families – let alone keeping them healthy and educated – can be a daily struggle. Heifer International sees the potential in these farmers, and through training, education and gifts of livestock, we help them unlock what’s possible.
So what does it look like when we invest in women farmers?
It looks like Rosemary in Tanzania, who began training in animal husbandry through a Heifer group in 2010 and received a heifer. Rosemary’s daughter’s malnutrition was once so severe, she was unable to stand on her own at age three. The milk from the cow provided invaluable nutrition, and the income from selling surplus milk allowed Rosemary to invest in diversifying her farm. She and her husband grow maize, groundnuts and beans and have been able to buy a plow, oxen, 20 goats and a bicycle. They are building a new house with an iron roof, and all of their children are healthy and in school.
Rosemary spent the past four years attending trainings to become her village’s community animal health worker. She says, “All of the neighbors who would chase away my children and treat us badly now come to me. They depend on me as the doctor for their animals, and I am honored to help them.”
It looks like Jane Lutong in the Philippines, who was determined not to let her lack of education or status as a widowed farmer hold her children back. In the past, Jane and her three children worked hard farming rice, keeping a small vegetable garden and as day laborers in other farmers’ fields, all for a meager $500 a year. Training in Heifer’s Cornerstones in 2011 helped Jane pull herself out of a long depression. Jane received a female pig, fruit tree seedlings and vegetable seeds. Her annual income is now nearly $5,000, and she’s putting her two youngest children through college.
A passion for leadership has emerged in Jane: she’s the bookkeeper of her local environmental improvement club, was voted to her village’s council and serves as chairwoman for the council’s committee on agriculture. Her daughter, Je-ann, said she is amazed by her mother’s journey. “Who would have thought that a quiet and reserved widow would lead a community?” Je-ann said. “More than the tangible benefits we are receiving now from the project, my mother’s personal growth is what I love the most.”
And it looks like Maximina in Peru, whose drive went well beyond the desire to help her own family. Once shy and hesitant to engage with her community, Maximina became the president of a group working to help end hunger locally. When Heifer began working in her community, Maximina formed an association to participate in the Heifer project and recruited other mothers to join. They attended training in animal breeding, honey production, agroecology and leadership. They named their honey, which they now sell in great quantities, “Delights from the Dry Forest.”
She shares, “The best thing I was able to achieve through the different businesses I’ve started was to improve the quality of life for my children. I have three children, and I’ve been able to feed them well and give them good education.” Never settling for improving only her family’s life, Maximina speaks to other communities to motivate them into action. “I like that more and more people are aware of the change they can make in their lives if they care to learn and put effort into what they do,” she says.