COPPERBELT PROVINCE, Zambia — Mercy Mwananyanda cradles her infant daughter in the late-morning shade in front of her thatch-roof home in northern Zambia. She and her husband, Humphrey, now support five children, including two AIDS orphans, on what they can grow on their small farm.
It isn’t enough. For more than eight months out of the year— all but the rainy season from February to early May—they do not have enough to eat.
“The way we are living, we are in financial trouble a lot,” Humphrey Mwananyanda said. The worry lines on his face and the tension in his rough, ropy hands tell more about his family’s difficulties than comes out in polite conversation.
“Our income depends on seasonal gardening,” he said. “Most of that is to sustain the family; there’s not much left to sell.” They eat all of the maize produced on the farm. They try to sell tomatoes and cabbages, he said, but their yearly income generally amounts to only $40 to $60. Neighbors grow the same crops and create competition, so even the vegetable market is becoming undependable.
Most of the year, “We only manage one meal a day, maybe two,” he said. “At times they are not proper meals; at times we are scrounging.”
Normally their main meals are nshima, a maize porridge, and vegetables, Mercy added. “Protein is very minimal. From August, after our stores are depleted, it becomes very critical with only one meal a day. We have very little to eat.”
The Mwananyandas are members of Kamisenga, a new Heifer self-help group in its first few weeks of training. Though they aren’t sure when they’ll receive their first dairy cow, the promise of the good yet to come sleepily stirs in Mercy’s arms.
In the first week of Heifer training, they learned about Heifer founder Dan West and his original gift cows named Faith, Hope and Charity. It seemed right to name their new daughter Hope, her mother said.
“You have no idea what it will mean to us to soon have milk all year round,” Mercy Mwananyanda said. “If we have milk, we can sustain the family first. If we have more we can give to others in need and have some to sell.”
They are counting on the cows to provide nutrition, enough income so their children, including the orphans, can go to school and to also meet family health needs.
“With this offer from Heifer, I’ve got some hope, some vision,” Humphrey Mwananyanda said. “My prime hope is that I will sustain my family well and never go back to the past.”
A NEW START
Decades of rust and shards of long-dimmed bulbs cling to a line of street lamps along the road from the highway that leads to the Mwananyandas’ home and once continued to a bustling mine. Dust long ago reclaimed the road, but chunks of pavement still jut upwards to bounce the bicycle tires of villagers on their way to the town of Mpatamatu.
Both the road and the local economy were once well maintained from the profits of government-run copper mines. Niceties like electricity for streetlights along paved rural roads are now a distant memory. The mines were privatized in 1991. Though output and profitability of mining eventually increased, many were laid off during the transition and price fluctuations, never to work in mining again.
“I worked for 24 years in the mine, from 1979 to 2003,” said Banda Zed Allison, now a Heifer dairy farmer. “I was pruned—laid off. The bosses were cruel; they did not take into account how much time we had put in or what it meant to our families to lose our livelihood.”
A Chinese company now operates the mine in the town of Luanshya where he used to work. He spent the little he got as compensation for the layoff to buy farmland. The first three years were difficult, he said. “All the money was expended for the land. I had nowhere to get any money.”
Like many small-scale farmers here, Allison was able to produce only enough for his family to eat one or two servings a day of nshima, and a few vegetables.
“People just became very poor,” said Petronella Halwiindi, Heifer Zambia’s director of programs. “They were not saving when the government owned the mines because they thought the government would always be there. It created a dependency.”
Heifer’s development model is well suited to help Zambians move past that dependency. Trainings build community unity and values, gender equity and empowerment, knowledge and skills in animal care and agriculture. Yet the sum of what Heifer provides is more than a list of trainings and animal inputs. It’s a path to personal and community transformation, to self-sufficiency.
“Heifer believes people have something to contribute to their own well-being,” Halwiindi said.
ANIMALS ARE FOREVER
“Understand that people working in the mines had everything provided for them—houses, furniture, roads, electricity, food, everything,” Halwiindi said. “When the mining money went away, the schooling stopped. Health care stopped.”
Many of the men gave up, others got sick or depressed and some of them died. Suicide was not uncommon. “It seemed the women tended to be a bit more resilient,” she said. “They began to cultivate skills to go into agriculture because it was seen as the next best thing, a way to make a living.”
Knowing little or nothing of farming, they picked up hand hoes for the first time to plant maize and cassava where there once was only tall grass and forest.
It’s a hard way to make a living when you start with so little. Cecilia and Henry Mafo support seven children, including three AIDS orphans. Two of their children stopped going to secondary school this year because there wasn’t enough money to send them.
“We don’t always have enough food for the household,” Henry Mafo said. “When we’re really hard up, we just have one meal a day. Normally the shortage happens when our old stocks are finished, and we have to wait for the new harvest.”
The Mafos, like the Mwananyandas, took a few minutes’ break from the Heifer training in an open-walled community church to share their challenges and expectations for the dairy cattle project.
“The Dan West story invigorated us, it aroused something in our hearts,” said Cecilia Mafo, as chickens pecked at corn drying on a mat near her home. “I feel that I should own this animal and care for it and not let down Dan West and also honor him and do as he did to help others.”
“If other people have helped me in this way, and alleviated a lot of our problems, then I should have the same heart,” said Henry Mafo, a former miner who lost his job when the contractor he worked for moved to the Congo. “So that things should be in abundance not just for one, but for the whole community.”
Cecilia already built a bin for grass, though the cows won’t arrive until training is complete. “The cow will bring us income and happiness. Already I have an idea how to keep fodder and save for the dry season when feed is scarce,” she said. “I got the idea from the lessons and visitations. Right now they are teaching us how to make cow sheds.”
Her husband said that when he was working in the mines, “It was like I was being dragged to do that job. When I get the cattle, I will look after them properly because an animal will be mine forever. A job is temporary; it has an ending. When the animals come, I’m ready to work hard for that animal. I’m realizing I want to and look forward to caring for these animals.”
Participants are made aware that they have ownership and a responsibility to make the most of that resource that is given to them by someone whom they’ve never met, who cares about their well-being, Halwiindi said.
“The dignity is something that comes very quickly,” she said. “When people are very poor, they are rarely able to choose anything. They take whatever comes. Heifer teaches them they have power over what happens to them, that some small resource, provided by a donor, is enough for them to start making their own decisions.
“For me that is very powerful. Now they know they deserve better. It's not just about animals or nutrition; it's about the transformation from no hope to a world of possibility.”
A ROSIER OUTLOOK
Aida Mwila Lumpa, a grandmother and member of the Tigwirizane women’s dairy project near the town of Fisenge in the Copperbelt Province, would offer this advice to new Heifer families like the Mwananyandas and Mafos: you get from the project what you put into it.
She received two milking cows from Heifer in 2004. She and her husband, Musonda Lumpa, have eight children, but four of their daughters died of AIDS, leaving them to care for six grandchildren.
“We wouldn’t have managed to educate the children and grandchildren without Heifer,” Musonda said. “Heifer has been a great, great help. One not expected in life.”
Seven years after receiving her first cows, Aidanow has seven cattle and has passed on three to new members. She built the home she lives in now from milk sales alone and is slowly building a larger six-room house with a modern roof.
“I already moved up once, and now I am moving up again,” she said. She employs family members to help her with a small shop she runs from her house. She sells cell phone minutes for Airtel MTN customers in her area, as well as soap, sugar, tea and candles. ?“The cell phone business brings a regular income of 50,000 kwacha (just over $10) a month,” Lumpa said. She and her husband also have a sizable vegetable garden. They employ three workers to help with the crops full-time.
“She has changed a lot,” said Peggy Mwape, an elected government counselor who was part of the first Heifer project in this area in 2000. “Before she had these animals, she was a very miserable, desperate woman. all the time she was complaining about the four children she lost and who left her with such responsibility, she was complaining because this HIV was almost going to tear her down, tear her family down. I’ve seen her from what she was to what she is now. She has transformed, and it is because of Heifer.”
Aida is still working hard for the future. She also wants to stock her shop with more goods and has plans for more dairy cows and to expand the family garden. The manure from the cows improved the crops, and she has just started planting flowers.
“I love roses. I will plant roses in front of my new house,” she said as she shuffled a few loose bricks on the corner of the grass-covered foundation.
“The donors help us a lot in Zambia. They make us happy because they change our lives. Yes, they can give us money, but we have to work hard. If you’re not working, just folding your hands, how can a donor help you?
“With Heifer international, sooner or later they will leave us. But when they leave us they will have left something for us. We have to work hard, but the more we work hard, the more we have on our own.”
Banda Zed Allison, who became a Heifer dairy farmer in 2006 after working two decades in Zambia’s government-owned copper mines, also found he was capable of more than he once would have believed. “I was happy working in the mines, but it has been surpassed. Now I am my own boss.”
He has a bank account and dependable income on his own terms. “This time, I am not short of money,” he said.
'YOU LOOK DIFFERENT'
In Tonga, one of the common languages of Zambia, there is a word for the difference you can see after a short time in a Heifer project. It’s mwaneneya, meaning “you look dif- ferent; you’re glowing and healthy.”
“Usually the women look much older before the project,” Halwiindi said. “When you look at their skin, it warps sometimes because of certain deficiencies; they don’t have good nutrition. But after, when they’ve started drinking milk and have a source of protein and are eating more vegetables, they glow. Their skin glows.”
For the Mwananyandas’ baby, Hope, the future looks even brighter. “I think that with the kids, it’s more,” Halwiindi said. “With the kids, it’s that they get stunted and they don’t grow to the required size. But when we see them starting to have milk, having meat, eating different kinds of vegetables, the difference is really huge. Kids that were really shy and were always in the corner hungry, once they are in the project they look different. They are brighter; they go to school; they’re happy and they can play. It’s amazing. We see that change.”