Rosalina Sarol-Sarsona is now in her 60s. In 1989, she migrated with her family and many others to the village of Sayon in Santa Josefa, Agusan del Sur, Philippines, to start a new life after severe drought and famine made living in their province nearly impossible. Nanay Rosa (nanay is Filipino for mother), as her neighbors fondly call her, is married to Jose Sarsona. They have two children: 32-year-old Josephine and 21-year-old Jamuel. The Sarsonas raised goats and farmed rice for years. And for years, they barely had enough to survive.
Rosa grew tired of the struggle and longed to increase their goat herd, believing that more goats would ease her family's strife. In reality, though, they lived hand-to-mouth, and her wish seemed like a faraway dream.
A surprise blessing
In 2009, the H.E.E.D. Foundation, Heifer Philippines’ local partner, called all Sayon residents together to tell them about a new project in their community: Resource-Based and Integrated Social Enterprise for Sustainable Development, or RISE. RISE promised to improve life for all of its participants. Believing this could be the miracle she was looking for, Rosa made sure to attend. At the meeting, she learned that her family would receive livestock from another family in the nearby village of Santa Isabel through something called Passing on the Gift® (POG). Nanay Rosa was suddenly able to see her dream of having more goats as a real possibility, and she signed up.
Once again, Rosa was working with other families toward a better existence. Together, they attended trainings that taught them how to take the very best care of their animals and crops. Then, the day everyone looked forward to finally arrived. The Sayon community welcomed their Santa Isabel neighbors for a POG ceremony, in which Santa Isabel residents, the original RISE project participants, would gift their animals’ offspring to new families. Well-prepared and excited, the POG families of Sayon welcomed their new animals and graciously thanked their generous neighbors. Rosa’s family received garden tools, chickens and a male goat. They promised to nurture their new animals, knowing that one day their offspring would become a life-changing gift for another family.
The goat that changed their lives
The Sarsonas named their goat Lito. Implementing their training in improved animal management and Heifer’s 12 Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development, they built Lito a nice shed, and Lito received vitamin and mineral supplements and an abundance of grasses and legumes every day. They added a spacious coop at the top of the Lito’s shed for the chickens.
In three months, their goat grew significantly. With just one look at Lito, it was clear to see Rosa and Jose’s excellent animal management skills. Other villagers even took notice and complimented their passion and knack for raising livestock.
Their livestock-raising activities became so successful, and enjoyable, that Jose decided to quit his job working on other people’s farms. “I enjoy livestock raising more,” he said. “It gives me a fulfillment I cannot find working as a farm laborer.” Jose’s resignation notice was met with enthusiasm he did not anticipate. His boss congratulated him on his decision and affirmed that it was the best choice. He even gave Jose a portion of his land and a female goat to thank him for his many years of service. Clearly, he had noticed Jose’s passion, too.
Give a goat and watch a family’s life get better.
And Alma makes more
Jose brought the new female goat home to his delighted family, and they named her Alma. Alma and Lito got along very well. In fact, she was pregnant within a month. Three months later, she delivered two healthy female kids. The Sarsonas became busier than ever, ensuring Lito and Alma’s little family was well cared for.
In a year’s time, Lito and Alma produced a total of six female offspring. With proper nutrition and care, they became excellent breeder goats, and the Sarsonas passed on one of the does to a second-generation POG family.
A lot of goats produce a lot of manure, which makes excellent organic fertilizer. The family used the extra manure to expand their vegetable garden and had enough left over to sell 10 bags a month.
Sure enough, Rosa’s dream was coming true. In just two years, the Sarsonas’ goat herd increased to include three does and 16 kids: 12 females and four males. When the male kids reached a good weight, at around eight months old, they were sold at the local market. Each goat earned 4,000 pesos, or about $100. Jose and Rosa invested $200 of those earnings in their daughter Josephine’s education, making it possible for her to finally complete her undergraduate studies.
By year three, they expanded the goat shed to comfortably house eight does and 16 kids. And they had $800 in savings to use for Jamuel’s college tuition.
Living the dream
Today, Nanay Rosa and Jose could not be more proud of their children. Josephine teaches high school nearby, and in March 2014, Jamuel graduated from college with a degree in accounting. Every month for four years, Josephine has been giving her parents money, which Rosa deposits into an account at the local bank. When Josephine’s contributions reached $5,000, Jose and Rosa bought a little more than 7 acres of farmland from Jose’s previous employer. “Our income from the goats is sufficient to sustain our families’ needs,” Rosa said. “I felt that we needed to save Josephine’s money so that we can invest in something worthwhile; and buying land is the best decision.”
“This project has done so much for my family,” Josephine said. “My brother and I were able to complete our education all because of Lito and Alma. We are now able to give our parents the more comfortable life they deserve. My parents were able to help our neighbors through Passing on the Gift® and by sharing goat-raising knowledge, but most of all, Nanay Rosa continues to amaze us all with her good financial management skills.”
Story and Photos by Forcep Chris Dela Torre, Program Officer
Heifer Southern Philippines
Story contributions from Karla Narcise-Rodulfo, PME Manager