A widow’s hands.

Because I can’t WAIT to get started on this blog, even though my first official trip isn’t until January 22, when I leave for Guatemala, I’m writing this post from my Heifer Trial Run in Uganda, in November 2011 — which was spectacular!!)

When I first was driven up to the Kinkizi Piggery Heifer International project in Rukungiri, Uganda, I expected to be met by a family or two. Instead, we pulled into a block party – 30 or so people, dressed to the nines, were singing dancing, drumming and clapping to welcome me. Whoa.

“Who do they think I am, Hillary Clinton without the pantsuit?” I wondered guiltily.

I sat attentively with George Asilmwe, the extension coordinator for Heifer Uganda, while the women launched into another song, “We are happy to meet you, welcome …” and I was delighted to hear the singers stretch “wel-eh-come” into a three-syllable word. The choir director was as exuberant as Leonard Bernstein, and I croakily sang along. Then we got down to business as I munched on my elaborately-served refreshments of bananas, peanuts and soda pop (a rare treat in the countryside).

The chairperson, members of the executive committee and zone leaders (all elected from the community, by the community) greeted me and thanked me for coming. They lauded the benefits they had gained from this Heifer project, which started in 2007 and includes 50 families (it’s now been “weaned” as they say in Heifer language). Then they asked me to speak – which was not something George had prepared me for. But gamely, I talked about my joy in being there and my desire to hear the families’ stories and to share them with my readers. (I didn’t mention a blog since I figured they would think it was some kind of water problem or rodent).

A clean pig is a happy pig!

Then off we went on the home visits. Everyone walks everywhere in Uganda, so as we walked (with 35 people clustered around me and children peeking shyly up at me from behind their mothers’ skirts), I asked the kind of stupid questions only a Westerner would. Were pigs better than cows? (Yes, for a small household. And sows are better than cows because they won’t mate again once they’re pregnant …good to know!) Why do you build a shed? (They used to tether their pigs but the Heifer trainings taught them to build a shed instead – so the pigs won’t root around and destroy their banana plantations and they can be kept clean, healthy and unsmelly.) Keeping the pigs in a shed also allows the farmers to collect the manure easily, and use it to fertilize crops, like coffee, corn and beans that can be planted under the banana trees and earn the families added income. In fact, the manure is almost as valuable as the animal itself.

Sam's son on the family's flourishing banana plantation -- thanks, manure!!

Before an animal is ever given away, Heifer trainings also encourage the families to build pit latrines, create a nearby “safe station” for hand-washing, and build a utensil rack to keep pots and pans off the ground. This radically cuts down on disease and germs.

Hands-free washing station - so clever!

Extension leaders also teach every household to build an energy cooking stove out of clay, that will use half as much wood (which also means half the hauling, chopping and deforestation), and cook faster as well. And then there are plentiful lessons in animal husbandry, teaching people when the pigs are ready to breed (at 3 months) the gestation period (3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days–now that’s precision birthing!), and when they can be separated from their mother and sold (1 ½ months). I was taking notes as fast as my chubby hands could write – but it wasn’t until we went to the second house that the transformative impact that Heifer has had on these families really sunk in.

Ruth Kamugisha is a widow. A few years ago, she received one sow from a family who was Passing on the Gift and that pig had 11 piglets (one of whom she Passed Along to another poor family), then her pig had 12 more piglets, then 14 more piglets. With that abundance, Ruth was off and running. She sold most of the piglets, and using that money, she was able to pay the school fees for her children, the oldest of whom is now a teacher. Because of what she learned of animal husbandry from the Heifer training, Ruth was able to cross-breed her stock, and raise her animals in a healthy way – without them smelling or fouling her house. “I am very happy to have a clean home,” she says, and I look around to see that her house is plain but spotless indeed.

““Heifer redeemed us from poverty,” Ruth says, sitting ramrod straight in an immaculate white blouse and neat black skirt. “Because of Heifer’s gift, I have money to buy mattresses for my children to sleep on, and blankets to keep them warm. That was a dream for me,” Ruth says. “I bought these chairs, too,” she says proudly of the plain wooden seats beneath us, “and I am saving up to buy cushions.”

I can’t help thinking of Lulu’s pre-college trip to Bed Bath & Beyond where we dropped $200 in an hour on containers to hold the tons of stuff that we were lugging up to NYC … and contrasting that to Ruth’s painstaking labor to save enough shillings to buy a $3 cushion for her chair, in her tiny house with its new roof of tight iron sheets, that she also proudly bought with the money from her Heifer pigs.

“I am full of praises for Heifer,” she says with a big smile that fades into sorrow as she explains, “I lost my husband and that keeps me alone. But my other two daughters are finishing school,” she perks up, thinking of the future, “and the secret has been the piglet I was given by Heifer.”

As we walk to the next house, I want to give Ruth a hug – so I do. Of all the women dancing when our car pulled up, Ruth was the most extravagant, joyful dancer – whirling and turning and stomping her feet. She has a hard life but she is strong, capable and accomplished…and thanks to Heifer, she has hope for the future.

I’m full of her praises, too.

Categories: Animals, Heifer International, Photography, Poverty, Travel, Uganda | Tags: , , , , , , , | 41 Comments

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41 thoughts on “A widow’s hands.

  1. Congratulations on your new adventure Betty. I’m glad you wrote an extra post for us.
    I loved so many of the lines eg
    “Who do they think I am, Hillary Clinton without the pantsuit?”
    I didn’t mention a blog since I figured they would think it was some kind of water problem or rodent.

    • Rosie — I wish you could have been there! These women were AMAZING! (And it’s not just one extra post, because I have LOTS of stories from Heifer Uganda that I’m dying to share — so it’s a whole baker’s dozen of countries for 2012 … yay!!) Thanks for your great initiation of my first real post… you were my FIRST comment!

  2. I’m always humbled by how grateful poor Africans are for the little they have. And also how happy they are despite all their hardships.

    Great photos! And I love your new choice of theme. It’s a great one to document your travels. You asked for my input, but really you do very well on your own.

    • Lisa! Your blog (http://notesfromafrica.wordpress.com) paints an amazing picture of your life in South Africa, so I’m really delighted that you like my photos .. and I agree, it IS deeply touching to see the gratitude and resilience and joyfulness of the African people when they are enabled to make a living, send their children to school and reap some of the rewards of their tireless labor.
      SO happy that you like my theme, too, as you were my total Guiding Light in sifting through them all — I ditched Elemin after a few weeks of trying to pretend that I’m a sophisticated minimalist and just went for the textural, scrapbook-y theme, and then configured it to my liking! You really inspired me and I even did a tiny bit of CSS – wow! Technology breakthrough!! Cheers, Lisa & thanks for your great counsel!!

  3. Hi there Betty
    Very best of fortune for 2012 and with your exciting new venture.I’ve enjoyed contributing to the 365 blog and I think you have another great idea here … especially as it’s to help so many folk globally.
    I’ve only been to one place on your list and that’s Armenia.I was in the capital Yerevan way back in 2001. It was quite a surreal experience all in all …I remember having my hair cut in KGB Headquarters… a long story so don’t get me started. It was a nice place (Yerevan) but a wee bit scarey while I was there( A guard dog chewed my passport for starters)and they seemed to assassinate their leading politicians on a fairly regular basis.I know that Armenia has a very friendly relationship with the USA so you should be made very welcome.(Heck…it’s almost spelt the same!!)
    All the best

    • Kris — Of COURSE I’m going to ask you about the KGB haircut, are you kidding? I want to know the WHOLE long story!! You are so funny – Armenia is the place that nobody’s been, so of course, it’s the country you’ve visited. I try to read up and learn about every country before I visit, so I have some kind of perspective, but maybe I should just check in with you on Armenia, because I didn’t even know the capital was Yerevan! See, this is why I’m so totally jazzed about this project — because there’s so much I don’t know about the world and really WANT to!
      I have so appreciated your comments on 365 (as you always have a unique perspective and always make me laugh!) and can’t wait to see what you have to say about 12 x 12!!

  4. This new series of posts is wonderful: as an education, as a travelogue and as an inspiration. Your photos of the people are lovely, and I could almost hear them singing their welcome to you.

    I look forward to the next in the series.


    • Dear Ronnie — I was going to include the video of them singing because it’s SO great, but my camerawork was so jerky it probably would have given everybody motion sickness. My favorite thing is the way they pronounce “Heifer” — it’s like “Hay-Eh-Fer” and of course, “way-el-come”… so charming and how about those beautiful faces?? Stay tuned — there’s more Heifer Uganda to come… Thanks for commenting!!

  5. Betty, I am so excited about what you are doing. And I am thrilled to be along for the ride! May your boundless spirit of giving, as well as your adventures, never cease.

    • Dearest Renee — Well, I am taking YOU along with me because your blog (www.lifeintheboomerlane.com) makes me laugh,
      makes me think, and always delights .. so it’s a mutual admiration society, to be sure!! Thanks for the sweet thoughts…

  6. Meredith

    Women are truly the backbone of any society! the way you highlight the work being done by the sponsors and the families involved is so eye-opening. Hope this blog gets high visibility and lots of feedback.

    • Thanks for the insight & enthusiasm, Meredith — and you are so right about women being the foundation of society. When you help women, invariably you help the entire community, and Heifer has been doing that in a really unique, focused way for years. I can’t wait to tell you more!!

  7. Betty – I so enjoyed reading about Ruth and her life! What an adventure waits for you! Thanks for stopping by my blog and the video about the “Underheard” made me cry. ~Sherry~

    • Sherry, your blog (travelspirit333.wordpress.com ) is so beautiful, I’m really happy you like my blog, too! Ruth was an incredible woman and her story really has stayed with me. I can never reconcile why some people’s lives are so hard, and some of our lives are so abundant, but it makes me want to at least be aware of people like those in “Underheard” (see my facebook page) — and do something to bring attention (including my own) to ways in which we can help. Really appreciate the comment!!

  8. I left a comment over at your other blog, but since you are going to Haiti in February, I thought you might appreciate this post I did from there last year. It’s called “Haiti Needs to be HGTV’ed.”


    I’m excited to follow your project!


  9. I’m so looking forward to following this journey! 🙂 What a beautiful story!

  10. Susan


    Heifer should be very happy to have you – this is a really wonderful post, and makes me want to save up to give an Ark – and the pictures are wonderful, and I echo your first commenter – loved those two lines as well.

    All the best! So excited to learn more and have more to read!

    • Thanks, Susan — and YOU are such a wonderful giver, I know that if want an Ark, you’ll make it happen!! I can’t wait for you to follow this whole year with me — you have such great insights, and I always look forward to hearing from you!! So sorry about the “319” fake post…
      damn you, wordpress ghosts in the machine!!!

  11. Betty: Thank you for sharing so many particulars about the pigs–I found it all very interesting. And, of course, the widow’s story is very moving. It is mind-blowing to think that one little pig could help do all that for her family.

    • Isn’t it wild? I just loved the pig information I learned… and the piglets are pretty cute, too! It is mind-blowing how one little pig (and a whole lot of good, solid Heifer trainings!!) can be so transformative and set people on a path of accomplishment and independence.

  12. Thanks for sharing Ruth’s story Betty.

    I registered for email deliveries here so I don’t snooze and miss any of your perspective.

    • Thanks, SD — just hope you didn’t get that mysterious “319” message to nowhere … have no idea how that happened!! Really appreciate the subscribing!!

  13. Betty, I look forward to travelling the world with you this year. You rock — even when not wearing a pant suit

    • As the wife of the president of a university I have to report that I am the not-so-proud owner of multiple pants suits … but
      when I’m traveling, they do not go with me. I’m definitely slogging through the mud and meeting the piggies and cows in my guerrilla wear: cargo pants, t-shirts and flip-flops (and jewelry, of course!!) … SO happy you’re in on the journey, Sybil!!

  14. Thanks Betty for sharing what your experiences were like during your visit to Uganda. One thing to note is that empowering women economically here in Uganda is most critical in terms of getting assured of sustainability.

    Thanks, Dan Bazira — Heifer Uganda Staff.

    • I completely agree, Dan — and I saw that in action in the four projects I visited in Uganda. When women are able to earn an income, achieve food security and establish leadership in their communities, great things happen!! Thanks for all you did to make my trip to Uganda wonderful!!

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