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Chief Musa didn’t like animals messing up his village. “They compete with the farmers for their crops, they mess up the village. I don’t want them here.”

But that was before he met Rashid Sesay, Country Director for Heifer International in Sierra Leone. Rashid explained how Heifer emphasizes zero grazing, where animals inhabit pens that are safe, well ventilated and beneficial for the animals. Farmers bring fresh, nutritious food and water to the animals, and still allow them to get plenty of exercise outside the pen (without running rampant over Chief Musa’s nice, clean village).

Six months after goats were placed in Siama village, Rashid visited Chief Musa again. He found that the chief himself had been converted and kept goats of his own—in pens, of course. “I trust you; you are my best friend now,” the chief told Rashid.

It’s a simple thing, really, but this illustration demonstrates a much larger and more complex concept: working locally. Heifer realizes that it’s important to get the buy-in of a community before we go to work. In fact, we only go where we’re invited. And we insist that the communities themselves set goals and procedures. From there, we help the communities facilitate development themselves (there are a whole lot more of them than there are of us, after all).

And that’s really one of the great beauties of the Heifer model; we don’t just drop off a bag of rice or a few goats and leave a community to fend for itself. We give communities the training and the tools to bring themselves up out of poverty. We don’t just ask communities what they think; we involve them and make them part of the process—and the solution. The result is that people take ownership and pride in what they’re doing, and are able finally to feed themselves and restore their own human dignity.

Just ask Chief Musa.

Bill Fitzgerald is Heifer International's creative director. You can read his previous posts about project visits in Sierra Leone here. 


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