Women own less than one percent of the land in developing countries, yet are responsible for producing 80 percent of the food. Bringing women together is where strength lies. Heifer empowers women around the world because a family can lift themselves out of hunger and poverty easier when men and women learn to share their roles and responsibilities.
Women, like Sunaina Devi in India, know this firsthand.
Five years ago, Sunaina and her family were living day to day. Her husband, Laxmi Thakur, worked as a carpenter, but his small income could not provide the familys basic needs. Sunaina leased a young goat each year fattening it until she could sell it at a local market. She then split the profit with the goats owner. They found themselves falling further and further behind and eventually turned to a local money lender with an interest rate of 20 percent to cover the bare necessities.
Everything changed when Sunaina joined the Rani Womens Group.
She was intimidated by having to complete a year of extensive training before receiving any livestock from Heifer. I had never gone to school or been trained to do anything, she said. I felt as if I had no knowledge, and I was afraid I would not be smart enough to understand what Heifer needed to teach me.
Sunaina finished her training and was the first woman in her village to receive livestock and seedlings from Heifer. She received three goats, a breeding buck, seven chickens, seedlings for vegetables and two fruit trees. Her familys income and health slowly improved.
A clever business woman, she now owns a small plot of land where she grows vegetables for her family and they sell the surplus at a local market. Three of their chickens consistently lay an egg each day and they sell about 15 eggs each month. She hopes to start selling tamarind and lemons from her fruit trees soon. With part of their income, she bought a water buffalo calf to start an income-producing milking business.
She is amazed by the health benefits of an improved diet and better sanitation. Four years ago, her son Mukesh, now 23, was too sick to work. Now he has steady work and contributes to the familys income. Her grandson, Adkit, 6, suffered from chronic upper respiratory problems. At the time, she could not pay for his medical care and turned to the local money lenders. She was discouraged because the medical care did little to help and her husbands salary was needed to pay back their debt. Now Adkit is much healthier and doesnt need continual medical care. Sunaina is now confident their income will cover any medical costs that arise. And if a medical bill exceeds her ability to pay, she has a backup planthe other members of the Rani Womens Group.
Photo by Russell Powell, courtesy of Heifer International
Part of the success of Heifers work relies upon Heifers 12 Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development®. Sunainas favorite cornerstone is Sharing and Caring. This brings women together, and that is where our strength lies, with each other, she said. The Rani Womens Group demonstrates Sharing and Caring through their cooperative fund. This financial safety net allows members to contribute money regularly knowing if a need arises they can borrow from this fund instead of the money lenders. This is a sense of pride and relief for these women.
Sunaina, always an optimist, flashes a brilliant smile when asked if she is surprised by her accomplishments. She never dreamed her family could be in such a fortunate position. Her daughters are growing up in a different village from when she was a child. The women have status and make important decisions that affect their families and their community. My husband has always treated me with respect, but now there is something added, she said. Before, he made all the decisions about the family, including how money was to be spent. Now, we talk together about family matters and make joint decisions.