Once upon a time, Joseph Lendzemo believed a rewarding future was out of his reach. “My dream of getting a good education beyond primary school ended prematurely with the death of my father in 1983,” he shares. At that time Joseph left his small village to find hope and fortune in the big city. Before long, Joseph got sick and returned home discouraged.
The concept of working together toward the same goal has always appealed to Joseph and, with each challenge, he found inspiration in the saying, “Two is better than one.” His wife, Agnes Formoyuy, became his own working partner and a tremendous source of comfort.
In 2008, heart disease started to plague Joseph. His belly became swollen and his entire body eventually puffed up with edema. Overshadowed by physical illness and financial hardship, the couple’s wish for a decent life was fading away. “My husband was receiving medication, but he was not responding well, partly because of hunger,” Agnes says.
A glimmer of hope came in 2009 when the couple joined 21 families in their community to form the Bongaba Common Initiative Group. Bongaba means “two is better.” Members share ideas and work together to implement activities that improve life for everyone in the Bamkika community, located in Bui–a department in Cameroon’s North West Province.
One year later, the Bongaba group learned about Heifer Cameroon, which was planning the Bui-Donga Smallholder Integrated Sheep and Goat Project. The group wasted no time applying. Once their application was accepted, they went through extensive trainings and each family welcomed five new sheep.
Animal husbandry trainings taught them how to care for their animals’ health through effective hygiene, sanitation and medicine. Another course provided instructions for building sturdy sheds. They even discovered ways to successfully raise different types of livestock together. One class revealed the secret for flourishing crops: animal waste as compost. Beyond the farm, families learned about gender equity, HIV and AIDS, how to keep good business records, and how to efficiently work together as a group.
“We happily received four sheep and a ram to put our new skills to use,” Joseph shares. “We worked like bees in a social colony, keeping to the prescribed ideas, and our efforts paid off. The fact that the animals were kept in the barn made work very easy for me because of my condition.”
Just four months into the project, Joseph and Agnes’ family, which consists of two sons–9-year-old Shadrach and 5-year-old Andy, started eating better. Regular meals significantly improved their health and nutrition. “We miraculously took three good meals every day spiced with vegetables, fish and meat,” Agnes reports. “And we sold some animals to get cash.”
Discovering that good nutrition is the key to good health, they family made quality food a priority. “I was gradually regaining my health and the pains in my belly were subsiding every day, thanks to good feeding,” Joseph shares.
Their original flock of five grew to 19 sheep in three years, and they became legendary sheep farmers in Bamkika. By using what they learned, Joseph and Agnes have created a model farm. “I was composting each time I was in the gardens behind our house,” Joseph says. With each day of composting, the soil became more fertile. This cultivation paid off. For the first time in their marriage they had a remarkable harvest. Vegetable production increased from 220 pounds to more than 1,000, with 550 pounds of corn and beans up from the traditional 119. They planted more than 20 trees, which provide fodder for their sheep and produce fruit to eat and sell.
The family is diligent about keeping their home clean. “I sweep our courtyard every day before going to the farm,” Agnes says. Following their parents’ example, Shadrach and Andy keep their bedding and clothes neat and tidy.
As they gradually make their dreams come true, Joseph and Agnes continue to share animal dung, food crops and technical knowledge on modern sheep farming husbandry techniques with others in their community. In fact, they were the first family in their group to pass on the gift. Doris Lenyuy, who received 37 pounds of corn from Agnes, says Heifer Cameroon made Joseph and Agnes to true leaders in their community.
Since their annual income has jumped from around $140 to $1,300, the duo has found additional ways to generate income. They bring in an extra $4 a week by frying and selling Puff-Puff, or Cameroonian doughnuts. This means Joseph can go to the doctor for monthly checkups and their children can go to school without added stress for the family.
Devoted to each other for better or worse, Joseph and Agnes recently renewed their wedding vows in front of family and friends. “Despite my long years of suffering alone to feed my family and to care for my husband I have gained a renewed sense of hope and joy through this project,” Agnes says. “My husband loves me and shares with me. When I am away on the farm, Joseph washes dishes, cleans the house and feeds the animals.”
Joseph, now vice president of Bongaba Common Initiative Group, and Agnes plan to expand their flock and make sure their children receive the highest level of education, but Agnes has another dream. “I wish to see my husband completely healed from this ailment that has affected his stomach for years,” she shares.
Joseph adds, “Our words are inadequate to convey our appreciation to Heifer Cameroon; however, people who have been in similar challenging situations will understand.”
Give the gift of “shear” joy this Valentine’s Day.
Story and Photos by Aaron Kaah, Freelance Journalist
Edited by Erin Snow, Global Communications Manager, Heifer International