Meet Mandira Bote of Sarlahi, Nepal. She and others in her community near the Bagmati River belong to a marginalized, nearly extinct caste of landless fishermen. Before Heifer came into the community in late 2006, the women there suffered greatly. This photo of her was taken at the beginning of the project by Heifer's partner, the Bagmati Welfare Society of Nepal. Make a note of what's missing or hiding: No goats, no smile, and just the tiniest hint of the confidence, determination and lifelong dream of learning that had yet to be realized.
The women in the Heifer group talked about how before they started the values training and joined the self-help group, their husbands drank away their earnings, forcing them to work crushing stones in a quarry to provide food for their families. Their huts were very small and leaked when it rained. They had tried to raise animals, but didn't know how, and their hard-earned money was lost when the animals died without the proper care.
Now I'd like you to meet the Mandira Bote of February 2011, several years into a Heifer goat project. She stands boldly in front of a community meeting, with visitors from Heifer headquarters in attendance, and beams with pride when it is announced she is the very first woman of her village to finish high school.
"Now with the goat project, I finally have the resources to educate my children and myself," Bote said. "I'm very proud and happy to be the first here to finish high school. Now I want to go to college; I have always wanted to. I would like to be a teacher."
After the meeting, she leads us to the construction site of her new brick home, being built directly in front of her old hut. She cradles a goat, but explains that it isn't just the animals and income from them that transformed her. It was also the values training that helped her and her fellow members see that they were strong enough and smart enough to achieve their dreams.
She holds the hand of her son, Sanam Bote, age 7, and talks excitedly about her plans for her own future as well as her children's. Daughter Basha, now just over 1 year old, will have every opportunity, she promises.
"I am more determined to send her to college than my son," she said. "Daughters are always looked down upon, seen as lesser than sons. I want to give my daughter the same chance as the boys."
Photos by Geoff Oliver Bugbee