Goat-ed into greatness.

 My first visit to a Heifer Nepal project took me way up into the hills surrounding Kathmandu – where immediately the air got sweeter and the views became more and more spectacular, with the Himalayas shimmering like a mirage in the distance.

My Heifer guide, the lovely Puja, told me that when Tibet invaded Nepal, the cavalry stayed on the hilltops as lookouts and they eventually settled there, which helps explains the Tibetan look of the Tamang people here (and my immediate attraction).

Our destination was Ramkot Village where a Heifer project had been started in 2008 through a local partner group: Women’s Feeling Unity Forum, with the adorable acronym WFUF. In Nepal, Heifer always partners with a local NGO (non-government organization) that has organized the community through a Women’s Self Help Group, proven the participants are committed and motivated, and then applied to Heifer for animals and training. Once approved, WFUF’s staff was trained and paid by Heifer to be the hands-on managers of the project in Ramkot and three other villages — and their hard work with Heifer has paid off. Even though this Ramkot Heifer project is complete (projects are active for 3 years, then go into a reporting stage for another 2), the group continues on, thanks to the efforts of some very compelling women.

Vice President Tirtha Tamang (everyone’s last name is his or her caste group) is 38, married to a farmer, with 2 sons and 1 daughter. Like two-thirds of women in Nepal, Tirtha is illiterate – but in the Heifer program, she learned to read slowly, write her name, and do basic arithmetic. From the original Heifer gift of 2 does, Tirtha has raised, bred, fed and sold dozens of goats to pay for her children’s education; now two are in college and one is entering high school.

Think of that! Instead of passing along illiteracy, she has totally rewritten the future for her children, turning goats into college degrees. And that’s not half of what Heifer has helped this community accomplish for itself!

Madame President Mithu Tamang

Under the leadership of President Mithu Tamang, Ramkot women started a group savings account in 2008 (each member contributing 100 rupees – about $1.20/month), enabling the members to borrow money for seeds, medicine, school fees, or family emergencies–like food– at minimal interest. When you’re living on $2/day income, easy access to money means a lot… and the repayment rate is 100%. The women have built a new, cement community center to host their meetings and other village events, as well as two beautiful new bamboo greenhouses for starting seeds. In fact, with the manure from their animals and Heifer trainings in raising organic produce, the women grow enough vegetables to feed their families and sell in the market. It’s a 3-hour walk to the market (each way) and they carry their produce on their backs, leaving at 2 a.m. twice a week during harvest months — but on a good day they can make 500 rupees ($7) in sales.

Tirtha & Mithu with the women’s group water harvesting cistern, new greenhouses below, and hills of pumpkins.

OR… if they sell a young male goat about 4 months old, the women can earn 12-15,000 rupees (over $100). A female goat can start having babies at 6 months, have 3 kids every pregnancy, and up to 2 pregnancies a year.

So –don’t you love Heifer math that adds up the multiplying effect of the single gift of a goat?? (And of course, all the women have passed on the gift of offspring and trainings to other village families in need.)

Heifer has been working in Nepal with women’s groups since 1993, and in less than 20 years has helped more than 60,000 families like those in Ramkot with the gift of livestock and training. That’s a great story. But as we were bouncing back down the road to Kathmandu, Puja started telling me about how Nepalese women’s groups are joining forces, forming larger cooperatives and instituting change on a whole new scale – like the $60,000 water project all the villages around Ramkot are working to build, that will allow them to double their production.

Why Women’s Self Help Groups (and co-ops) are a great idea.

That concept (and the beautiful smiles of the Tamang people) took my breath away. More on co-ops tomorrow!

Never underestimate the power of a Nepalese woman!

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Heifer International, Nepal, Photography, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

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22 thoughts on “Goat-ed into greatness.

  1. When I was in New Delhi, as part of a Habitat project, I noticed that Habitat India seems to operate similarly–partnering with other NGOs to create women’s savings groups. It really is amazing how Heifer’s program is so sustainable. Makes you wonder how many goats 1 goat can mother over the course of a lifetime.

  2. It’s so incredible the discrimination these women face … and SO inspiring how the Women’s SHG can operate to change that situation with income and independence. Goats are such a great vehicle of change!! thanks, Kathy — and Happy Friday!

    • teresa hart

      Tebet invaded Napal??? What, when? Never heard that before….Caste system, boo…But, yes women’s co-ops are amazing and being used very successfully is central and south america to market handicrafts and increase local incomes… when women get to gather, they can really get it all to gather. Such beautiful faces.


      • Tibet invaded Nepal way, way back — I think in the 1700, as part of the Sino-Nepalese war… I had no idea, either! Love your enthusiasm for women’s co-ops and I think you’ll LOVE my story on Goma .. coming soon!! Thanks Teresa…

  3. Martha Radatz

    This was a thrilling story! God bless all the Tirtha Tamangs of this world!
    A question: was her learning to read “incidental” to the project or the direct result of some literacy effort by Heifer? It made me sad to think of someone’s last name being their caste! Is there no family group name at all?

  4. Thanks, Martha — I loved Tirtha & Mithu so much; aren’t their faces amazing?? The literacy project is fundamental to Heifer’s trainings — one whole program in Nepal is called the Values Based Literacy Project, and this training allows the women to read signs, write their names, know letters and numbers, and gives them the basics. It’s unbearable to think that you couldn’t even read bus numbers or street signs to know where you are – how terrifying! I also share your horror at the caste system — writing about that soon! Really appreciate your comment, M ..

    • teresa hart

      Also so happy to know that heifer intergrates literacy programs into their work, wonderful wonder workers!!!!


  5. thesubterraneanworld

    A short visit to Nepal through you 🙂
    I enjoyed it.. Thumbs Up!

  6. Jenny Trozell

    Your pictures are amazing!

  7. Thank you so much — I love YOUR gravatar photo!!

  8. Happy trails to Cameroon tomorrow. I only wish one of my best friends growing up, who lived and worked in Africa for decades, and spent alot of time in Cameroon, was still alive to share her incredible stories of training African women to become entrepreneurs. You two would have been great friends. Gretchen started out in the Peace Corps in West Africa in the early 1970s and worked as a consultant with U.S. AID in developing worldwide native craft industries and before she died was head of training at the International Labour Organization. I remember she said Cameroon was one of her favorite places on the planet. I can’t wait to read every entry from there!

    • Oh wow, now I am SO SO excited to go… I’m sitting in the airport waiting to take off (and of course, the flight is delayed) but I can’t wait to go back to Africa. Your friend sounds marvelous and I’m always in awe of the people who worked in the Peace Corps and then just never stopped … I have a friend David who did the same, became a renowned scholar in Mali oral traditions, and has been back there hundreds of times to capture their history and cultural traditions before they vanish … I will think of you when I’m there in Cameroon, for sure!! Whooeeee!

  9. Reblogged this on houseofperusha and commented:
    Wow, Nepal is such a fascinating place to see… It’s my mission to trek along the hilltops of Himalayas.
    What line of work do you do if you don’t mind me asking?

  10. I’m inside having a late lunch, after spending most of the day playing in the dirt (gardening some call it). Slide out the laptop, as I have no cereal box to read while I eat, and BOOM you take me halfway ’round the world. Forgotten hot food chills, as I read about Heifer’s marvellous work in Nepal.

    What an amazing, small and big-at-the-same-time, world we live in Betty.

    Thanks again for sharing your voyage of discovery.

    • Hi Sybil — how funny! I completely abandoned my own gardening (didn’t even water yesterday and the plants were plenty pissed off with me) — because I was frantically trying to finish my Nepal posts before I take off tonight for Cameroon … hope you like the rest of the journey … it was pretty incredible to be there and how glorious are those people?? xooxox b

  11. The faces, always filled with hope and determination. Even the goats seem to be smiling. While the news media continue to bring us war, devastation, and pointless gossip, you always remind us that there’s another side to life, and that there really are people out there trying to make the world a better place. Thank you, Betty, for being one such person.

  12. Judy Huynh

    Hi, it’s me again, Jackson Kaguri’s friend! I’m really enjoying your posts and the wonderful photos. I do have another small correction. This time it’s about the goats. SInce the gestation period for goats is about 5 months, it’s impossible for them to kid at 6 months old. That would mean you would have to breed the kid when it was only 1 month old – way too young and too small. Here in the States, we breed goat kids at 7 or 8 months old, if they are well-grown and large enough. Some people do not breed them until they are 12 – 18 months old. It would be very unlikely that a goat would kid twice in a year. Goats give birth to one, two, or three kids most commonly, although it’s not too unusual to have quadruplets. Twins are most common, but triplets are more common that single births. I just think it’s important for people reading your blog not to think that goats will provide their owners with 6 offspring a year. They are pretty prolific, but not that prolific! I am a 4-H goat leader and fair superintendent, and we raised dairy goats for over 25 years. I think goats are wonderful animals for small farmers, but realistically, they will probably provide the owner with two or three offspring each year, which is still great!

    When you go to Vietnam, you should visit my son. He is living in Saigon right now. He is fluent in Vietnamese, and knows a lot about Heifer. If you are going to be in Saigon at all, let me know and I’ll tell him. He has lived in VN for about 6 years, so he might be able to be of some assistance to you. His father (my husband!) is Vietnamese, and we lived in VN from 1968 – 1975. I’m really looking forward to your postings from VN when you get there!

    Judy Huynh
    Heifer AVC from Michigan

    • Thanks for the clarification, Judy! I certainly didn’t mean to imply that goats can have kids when they are 1 month — everyone said they need to be 6-7 months old to get pregnant. But the people in Nepal were reporting (at least to me, if I got the translation right) that they could have 2 pregnancies a year … although I’ve subsequently read that it’s far safer and healthier for the goats to have only 1. The average number of kids they said was 2, but sometimes they were lucky and got 3. So … sorry if my math was wrong. I am happy for the correction, and always look forward to having more animal husbandry knowledge from a Heifer expert!! I’ll definitely be going to Vietnam and would love to meet your son — how incredible would that be, to have a Heifer-informed, Vietnamese speaking friend to meet! Wow!! Thanks a million for your comment & clarification and I will make the changes as soon as I get back to the USA as I’m in Cameroon now and it’s difficult to get onto wordpress!! Bon soir!� Betty


  13. Judy Huynh

    Will you be in VN in November? Eric will be home in July or August for a visit and then home for Christmas, but he will be in VN in November. Hopefully he can meet you when you’re in VN. He works in a law office in Saigon, but travels around VN quite a lot and is familiar with many areas. Actually, his birthday is tomorrow, and he will be 40!


  14. Pingback: Heifer 12 x 12 China and Nepal Round-Up | Heifer Blog

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