Regine Ndjiwo, 55, and Justine Passo, 50, are members of Heifer projects in the western region of Cameroon, a little over nine miles from Heifer’s office in Bamenda. They are part of GIC APEB (Groupe d’Initiative Commune d’Apiculture et Eleveurs de Bamepah) created in Bamepah Village.
Regine is a mother of eight, while Justine is a mother of nine. Their education ended at primary school. They have been subsistence farmers all their lives, using indigenous methods of farming and rearing pigs.
In this village, poverty is life. The literacy rate is far below average and most families are farmers. The main agricultural activity is mixed crop-livestock farming and, in this area, there is typically very little production or surplus for eating or selling for profit, making poor farmers more vulnerable.
But livestock, especially with pigs and poultry, is often a huge asset. Normally managed in the families by women, livestock is a key source of livelihoods among farm families, which provides food for household consumption, as well as sources of income, and meets other socio-cultural needs.
“I understand the value and importance of education, but a few years back it was hard to send all my kids to school and provide all their textbooks,” Regine says. She adds, “Raising eight kids is not an easy task, especially when the finances I have are inadequate.”
Before receiving Heifer’s gifts, her monthly income was less than 25.000 FCFA, or about $50, so feeding her kids, clothing them, paying medical bills, and even taking care of her own needs was quite a challenge. “There were days when I did not have enough money to buy cooking oil to prepare our meals. Bamepah village can be very cold sometimes and buying warm clothes for me and my kids was difficult, too,” she shares. As a farmer, her household ate what she got from the ground and only rarely did they produce any excess for selling. This meant that any extra food was a luxury.
“When you lack money, basic training and skills, life is difficult for the whole family,” Justine says. “The word that best describes our living conditions before would be ‘difficult’ to say the least; but that was before we encountered Heifer and benefited from Heifer Cameroon’s trainings and other support.”
Regine and Justine received support from Heifer Cameroon in 2011. Through a series of agricultural and social trainings, the women received pigsty construction materials, bean and corn seeds, and four piglets in December 2012.
Regine and Justine both share that Heifer and all the assistance they received marked a turning point in their lives and careers as farmers. They were trained in pig farming, beekeeping, sheep rearing and other small business ventures.
Regine says most farmers in the GIC APEB had no idea about raised floor pigsties, treating and vaccinating a pig, washing a pig and formulating their feed from different ingredients and proportions. “All these modern and innovative techniques of pig farming that we use now were taught to us by Heifer.”
Becoming emotional, Regine shares, “Before, we were in the dark; now we have seen the light.” She adds that her pigs are healthier and bigger. Their weight has increased from 132 pounds to 242 pounds, so they sell better.
“We make more money than before,” Regine says. “Our annual family income increased from 427,000 FCFA (about $854) to about 1,393,000 FCFA (about $2,786) just from crops and livestock sales.”
This increase in income has triggered other changes in their households, as well. “Much has changed” is the statement both women use to describe their lives and families now. Regine and Justine say they are both able to provide their families with a new variety of meals, enriched with animal and plant protein. Before, they only had protein about once a week. Now they can also provide warm clothing for their kids.
The women have also reinvested and begun saving for the first time in their lives. And Justine is determined to send her kids to school to the highest level possible.
Buy beyond the technical pig training and improved nutritional aspect of the project, the women are expanding other areas of their lives. “Personally, beyond just learning about pig rearing, I learned about reproductive health, HIV and AIDS, and gender equity issues. These are the things about which I’m excited to pass on knowledge and skills to my kids and other community members.”
Self-esteem is another great new concept that Regine and Justine have embraced. Regine says the skills they learned and the knowledge they’ve acquired have made them the “go-to women” in the Bamepah village for pig rearing. Not only have the women of Bamepah appreciated what Regine and Justine do as farmers, intern students from the Regional College of Agriculture and veterinary schools also visit their farms.
Six months after receiving the pigs, Regine and Justine are Passing on the Gift® of four piglets to two other needy families to improve their livelihood and ensure the project’s sustainability.
Justine and Regine are filled with joy as they tell their stories. To them, what is most meaningful is that Heifer Cameroon hasn’t just given them pigs and trainings and taught them how to make money, but they’ve empowered them as women. Now they and their families are healthier and happier—and joyfully committed to reaching beyond their homes and helping other community members attain the same goals and prosperity.
Story and photos courtesy of Heifer Cameroon