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Editor's note: Last Saturday was World AIDS Day. Today we share with you another story of how Heifer's work goes a long way to benefit families affected by HIV/AIDS. Original story by Christian DeVries.

Women's Goat Project Addresses HIV/AIDS in Mbale, Uganda

During the past few years we have witnessed many great breakthroughs in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Awareness campaigns have been launched, dozens of new medicines were approved, and in Thailand in 2009 a clinical trial provided the first clear evidence of a vaccine for humans.

Sub-Saharan Africa has been one of the hardest hit areas. “More than 68 percent (approximately 22.5 million people) of those infected are in sub-Saharan Africa.”

One country that has made a lot of progress through stakeholder cooperation, effective awareness campaigns, and free access to antiretroviral treatment (ARVs) is Uganda. In the late 1980s Uganda’s urban infection rate was around 29 percent, with a countrywide rate of 15 percent. Today the prevalence rate has dropped to 6.5 percent.

“Although the country has been able to dramatically reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS among the population, the pandemic has caused the death of large numbers of young adults and orphaned approximately 1 million children.” An additional 1.2 million people are living with HIV in Uganda.

Mrs. Lovisa Wamukota (70) lives in Wokukiri village, in Mbale district, in Uganda’s Eastern region. Although she is not HIV positive, her life has been forever changed by this terrible disease.

Lovisa is the sole caregiver for 12 of her grandchildren between 5-18 years old. These children were orphaned by this deadly virus and unfortunately they are all HIV positive. I had the opportunity to meet four of the children: two boys, Simon Wamukota Waswa (15) and his twin brother, Fred Wamukota Kato (15); and two girls, Tereza Wabuyaka (10) and Gladys Wakoli (5). Lovisa’s husband, Mr. Justin Wamukota, passed away at 75-years-old. Together they had nine children; four are still alive and the other five have died.

Life was unimaginably difficult for a widowed elderly woman trying to care for so many young children. She did basic agricultural work for others and sold some of her own crops, but it was never enough. She was never sure where their next meal would come from. “Life was hard. I struggled to find enough food to feed the orphans,” said Lovisa. “I could work very hard, but the production was not enough.”

She desperately wanted to send her grandchildren to school. “It helps a child to learn to look after themselves when they grow up,” said Lovisa. “My parents told me, ‘You need an education so you can read life’s signposts so you won’t get lost.’” However, it was a choice between eating and buying books. “I did not have enough money to send the children to school,” Lovisa said. Whenever she was able to scrap some money together it was spent to meet her family’s basic immediate needs.

The Wamukota family’s life began to change on August 3, 2007, when Lovisa received a Saanen dairy goat from Heifer International. Tereza immediately fell in love with the pure white goat, so Lovisa named the goat “Tereza” also. “She always goes and plays with her goat. She feeds it and cares for it. She will go and get water for her when there is no water,” said Lovisa. “She produces good milk,” said Tereza. “It gives me energy to sweep the house.” “I also drink the milk and get energy,” said Lovisa.

Milk also gives Tereza the energy to play her favorite sport, netball, a fast-paced game similar to basketball. She plays netball at Wochili Primary School where she is in Primary grade 3. Her favorite subject in school is English.

Tereza (the goat) is a fantastic mother. She has kidded six times and each birth has been twins. The gift of one goat to Lovisa has multiplied into 18 goats. Lovisa also received a mineral block and tick medications as part of this project.

The trainings she received provided to be important as she expanded her herd. She has participated in several trainings, including: goat management, disease control, housing, feed, collect and manage manure, fodder, environmental conservation (energy saving stove), milking and handling, and Heifer’s Cornerstones.

Her favorite Cornerstone is Full Participation because, “This Cornerstone encourages people to come together and when we are together I don’t feel lonely,” said Lovisa. “As a family, Full Participation encourages collective action. We do our work together.” She added, “When we are together, we learn from each other and the children learn from me. This will help them sustain their lives.” Lovisa is happy because she knows that her grandchildren will have a skill that they can rely on if school isn’t for them or if they can’t find work after school.

Currently they are milking four does and receive an average of 2 liters per goat. From this 8 liters, 2 liters are used for home consumption and 6 liters are sold. Each liter sells for $0.42, so they earn $2.54 per day or $928 per year.

The manure from so many goats has dramatically improved Lovisa’s crop production. Before the project she was harvesting 200 kg of maize from 1 acre. Now she gets 800 kg or more per acre. Her banana plantation has seen similar improvements. “Ever since I started using the manure I haven’t been able to lift up the bunches because they are too heavy,” said Lovisa.

More food to eat and fresh milk to drink has helped the Wamukota family recover from many of their health problems. “I have noticed a very great change. Without this milk some of the children would be dead now. It is the difference life and death,” said Lovisa. Tereza was the sickest of all the children. Not only is she HIV positive, but her parents died when she was only nine-months-old.

A proper diet with good nutrition helps boost the body’s immune system and in turn increases the effectiveness of HIV medications. Thankfully, all of her grandchildren are now on antiretroviral (ARV) medication. Once a month, Lovisa or one of the older children travels to Mbale to pick up the medicines.

In Lovisa's opinion, the biggest impact of this project is she now sends all of the children to school. She sells milk to buy school supplies: uniforms, pens, etc., and she sells goats to pay school fees for the children in secondary school. With four children in secondary school, Lovisa pays $153 per year per child,  for a total of $610 per year. For the five children in primary school, she spends an additional $127 per year.

Lovisa is certain that without Heifer’s assistance she would never have been able to spend $737 to send her grandchildren to school. “I am grateful to God that I am alive,” she said. “Many have died, but I am glad I have been alive to see this change.”

Many other families have benefited from this project. Heifer provided 180 families with good dairy goats. An additional 450 families have now received pass on animals. “We thank Heifer Project for working with us and giving us these goats,” said Martha Nekesa (42), another Heifer recipient and Chairwoman of Lovisa’s group.

“Heifer is special, because it gets the donations and delivers it to the families. They have people who check to make sure it arrived to the intended beneficiary,” said Lovisa. “I trust Heifer because they promised me a goat and they fulfilled their promise.”

This simple promise has reduced hunger, improved health, and given 12 children a future that just four years ago seemed impossible. Heifer will continue to fulfill its promises, but we need your help. No donation is too small. Remember that even a small promise has the power to change someone’s life.

Author

Erin Snow

Erin Snow joined Heifer International in 2007 after earning a degree in Mass Communication from UALR. She lives in Sherwood with her husband and daughter. Passionate about cultivating positive and healthy relationships with her family, friends and the planet, Erin enjoys yoga, meditation, music, creative writing and travel.