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Heifer International aquculture project participant Nicholas Mwakabelele and his family in Tanzania Nicholas Mwakabelele and his family. Tanzania is the first country in Africa to offer Heifer International fish-farming projects. Nicholas built his ponds in 2003 and quickly saw the benefits of raising Nile tilapia.

Photos by Dave Anderson

In so many of the stories I hear about the people we serve through Heifer International there's a common thread. These are people with great ingenuity, compassion and determination, and what they need most is a hand up...some help getting started on their path to self reliance. When Heifer provides these families with animals and proper training, they are able to take that and create something beautiful that enriches their lives and the lives of those around them for generations.

Today is Father's Day, and I can't help but think of the story of one dad who did just that...starting with a pond and a few tiny fish hatchlings provided by Heifer. What follows is an excerpt from a story Donna Stokes wrote about him for Heifer's World Ark magazine in 2010.

Heifer project participant with Nile tilapia fingerlings in Tanzania Nicholas Mwakabele built his ponds in 2003 and quickly saw the benefits of raising Nile tilapia. His family ate well and grew healthier, and soon neighbors heard of his project and came around to check it out. He trained fellow villages on fish farming and gave away countless fingerlings. He began to earn a profit, despite all the fish he gave away, and started making bricks to build a new house as his business and recognition grew.

One of those villagers is Wailos, whose last name, Nzalayalyuma, translates to "I'm feeling hungry" in Swahili. Wailos is blind. He stopped Nicholas on the bridge to beg for a meal. "I told Nicholas, 'I'm hearing stories you are raising fish. I'm begging for some few fish for a meal today,'" Wailos said.

But Nicholas had a better idea. Instead, he helped Wailos build his own fish pond and then donated fish fingerlings to him so he could grow his own and never be hungry again. The two continue to work side by side as fish farmers in the community.

Yet not everyone was pleased. The government water authority heard about Nicholas and  his ponds and came stomping up, saw the pooled water and demanded he stop.

"I was arrested and thrown in jail," Mwakabele said. "They said I was wasting the water. But it was their ignorance. I told them that I was not using the water in a bad way, but instead was conserving it.

"I told them, go ahead, put me in jail, but I will not stop the fish farming because I am not wasting water."

He sat in jail for several days, then was sentenced to community service, as if giving away tens of thousands of fish fingerlings and training his neighbors in a sustainable business was not service enough.

Heifer's Country Director Peter Mwakabwale came to his rescue, educating the government on the conservation benefits of the project. Within a year, the same district officials who tossed him in jail built him a fish pond worth $5,000 on his land.

Nicholas Mwakabele was also honored by Tanzania's Uhuru Torch Team, who traveled to his farm to give him the award. A huge national honor, the Uhuru (or Independence) torch, is brought out every year on the anniversary of Tanzanian independence (December 9, 1961) to celebrate those who shed light over the country and bring unity among all its people.

We've created a fun and easy way to give a Father's Day gift that supports Heifer's work to help dads like Nicholas. Why not give a last-minute Father's Day gift that's both unique and meaningful?

Read the full story here in Heifer’s World Ark magazine.

Heifer project participants harvest Nile tilapia Nicholas (right) harvests Nile tilapia with help from local farmers and relatives in Mambi village, Tanzania.

Wailos, who is blind, dug this fish pond with his own hands under guidance from neighbor and fellow fish farmer Nicholas. Wailos, who is blind, dug this fish pond with his own hands under guidance from neighbor and fellow fish farmer Nicholas.



Casey Neese