On a cool morning, I rode my motorcycle down a small road into the countryside to visit Ut Thi Ky, a project participant of Heifer Vietnam’s Improving Livelihoods in the Poorest District of Soc Trang Province project. Her family lives in the Thuan Hoa commune in the Chau Thanh district.
When I arrived, Ut was cutting grass, as usual, to feed her cows.
Before joining the Heifer project, her family of six, including her husband Kim Chuol, 54, her son Kim Chenl, 22, her daughter-in-law Thach Thi Huyen, 20, and her two grandchildren put all of their effort into rice farming, but with unstable market prices, they earned very little income. They worked as hired laborers in order to save enough to buy a heifer, but after a short time, due to their lack of animal husbandry techniques, the heifer became sick and was sold to cover the costs of family necessities.
When the project started in 2012, Ut happily joined a self-help group (SHG). Heifer Vietnam gave her family a heifer, grass for planting, $50 for building a heifer shed and technical skills training, all of which have led to self-reliance. These gifts were her family’s dream. They worked harder and applied what they learned from project trainings to raising their heifer, which gave birth to a calf that they were able to raise and pass on to another family.
Now, Ut and her family have two heifers, and they have given birth to two calves. Her family was honorably selected to implement an Australian grass growing model. In addition, they also plant other grasses and nutritious trees for cow feed to ensure there is always sufficient nutrition available for their cows.
When Ut reminisced on the early days of joining the project she felt moved.
“On the day [Heifer International] distributed heifers to project participants, I was very happy to receive it,” Ut said. “I cannot forget that feeling: I said to myself that I would try my hardest to take good care of the heifer so that I could pass on the gifts and help another family to be as happy as me.”
When the project partners organized an exchange visit to another Heifer project in Tra Vinh province, Ut’s husband Chuol went along to learn more about husbandry techniques. When he returned he shared his ideas for expanding the family’s cow farm. Recently, Ut visited a dairy cooperative in My Tu district and became interested in raising dairy cows. The family plans to raise dairy cows to increase their income potential.
When I asked Ut which of Heifer’s 12 Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development she liked best, she said Sharing and Caring.
“Before we joined the SHG, my husband was drunk most of the time and did nothing for the family, but, when we join the project, he spent his time taking care of our cows and had less time for drinking,” Ut said. “Thanks to the project, we became interested in saving money so that we would have a chance to change our lives and afford our kids’ school fees.”
Sharing and Caring has been applied in her family, and within SHG relationships. For example, Ut supports other SHG members by providing grass to Thach Thi Chuong and Thach Huol, who, in turn, gladly share their experience and husbandry techniques with everyone. Ut also gave up her turn to borrow money from group savings to other members who were facing challenges.
Story by Nguyen Thi Trung An, Community Facilitator, Heifer Vietnam
Translated by Tran Huu Ly, Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Heifer Vietnam