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NAJERA, Uganda—When Margaret Magembe found out that her daughter and grandson were infected with AIDS, the 43-year-old widow considered taking her own life.

Instead, after receiving counseling from The AIDS Support Organization, a Ugandan government agency, she enrolled her daughter Rose and grandson Derrick in a free health care program. Because she had no livestock, she was given powdered milk while she nursed Rose and Derrick.

Rose died in 1999, leaving Derrick and two other children in Margaret’s care. Confronted with these new obligations and no additional resources, Margaret had a difficult time making ends meet until she became part of a Heifer International group.

Because she was caring for small children and could not easily leave home for training, Heifer staff members conducted the group’s classes in sustainable agriculture and livestock management at her house and in 2001 Margaret completed her preparations and received a Heifer cow.

A soft-spoken woman, she greets visitors with great courtesy and dignity. Asked if she could have provided for the orphans without the gift of a cow, Margaret grimaces and shakes her head no. “I don’t know what would have happened to the children,” she says.

Derrick died after his mother. Margaret, now 48, continues to care for his brother, Andrew Lutalo, 9, and his sister, Ruth Nabuma, 11, as well as a cousin, 9-month-old Grace. Margaret’s son Ronald Batwelinde, 16, helps with daily chores.

Cow Gift Helping Lives

Her day is a long one — she works from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and much of her labor is devoted to caring for her Heifer cow. She starts by cleaning its shed, then cuts fodder and does the morning milking. Her cow gives about 17 liters of milk each day, and Margaret is able to sell more than half for about 20 cents per liter.

Heifer - Cow Gift Helping Lives “This cow has helped us with our school fees and has provided us with milk for good tea,” says Ronald, who delivers the milk to a nearby cooler on his way to school each morning.

It has also helped fertilize our crops and I now have a better understanding of agricultural activities. If we did not have the Heifer cow, we would definitely not be in school today. Ronald, Uganda

Income derived from the cow also has enabled Margaret to add a fourth room to her mud-brick house. She has electricity for lights, and piped water is on the way .

Though she is weary, Margaret considers the orphans a source of encouragement, rather than a burden. “When I look at them, I feel stronger,” she says. “My only wish is that these children get a good education because they don’t have parents to look after them.”

Cow Gift Helping Lives

Ronald, who helped care for his sister Rose as she lay dying, encourages his fellow students to refrain from risky sexual behaviors and dreams of becoming a doctor. “I want to help sick people,” he says. “I want to help people avoid HIV.”