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If anyone deserves a comfortable bed at the end of a long day, it’s Elizabeth Ngon Diouf, a single mother of six. But until recently she had no bed at all.

A widow, Diouf lives in Fandene, Senegal, a small village close to the town of Thies. She used to care for other people’s pigs to make a living, but the work never produced enough money, even when her husband was alive and working as a farmer and traditional healer. Money became even tighter when her husband fell ill and required medical care. She tried working as a housekeeper but still couldn’t get ahead.

Poverty pushed against Diouf every day, forcing her to feed millet to her daughter and five sons because she couldn’t afford rice. The family had no bathroom, so they had to find privacy in the bushes. Her daughter was sent home from sixth grade when she couldn’t pay her fees. Not being able to buy healthy food was particularly hard on her son Prosper Faye, who was often sick and needed to be hospitalized about five times a year.

“Hardship was our friend, we had no asset and our children were sleeping on the floor. I approached someone to make mattress from grass, which cost 1,250 FCFA (USD 3), but he refused because he was not sure I would pay him, as I had no means,” Diouf said. “I was washing my children’s dresses in the night for them to put it on the following day.”

The poverty that cleaved to the family let up a bit when Diouf joined a Heifer-sponsored self-help group in 2010. The family received a boar, three sows and a modern pigpen. The pigs reproduced rapidly, and selling the piglets meant that Diouf could pay her husband’s medical bills and buy health insurance for herself and her children. When her husband died, the insurance helped offset the outstanding medical bills.

Income from the pigs pays school fees and buys new clothes for the children. Most importantly, the money paid for significant upgrades to the family’s home. Money from selling the boar paid for a comfy bed and mattress.

“Another very important change in our life is that we have built a new ventilated improved pit toilet and we no longer defecate in the bush,” Diouf said. “This has restored our lost dignity. I no longer go to Thies to do domestic work, as was the case before; and this has improved our self-esteem.”


Austin Bailey

Austin Bailey is a writer and editor for Heifer's World Ark magazine.