“Change must be community led; community driven. It is not always about resources; it has to also include changing cultural mindsets and cultural norms.” First Lady Michelle Obama at the Bush Women’s Initiative Summit.
I could not agree more with First Lady Obama’s statement, and I’ve seen it firsthand when visiting Heifer communities around the world. Her words ring true as I reflect, in particular, on my travels this past May, when I went to Malawi with a group of bloggers and photographers with the ONE Campaign.
In the communities where Heifer works, providing resources like livestock is the catalyst for change. In many of these communities, we are challenging longstanding cultural mindsets that have impeded the progress of girls and women.
In Malawi, we met the Mtika family. After the Mtikas showed us around their farm, someone in our group asked Mr. Mtika which of Heifer’s 12 Cornerstones was the most challenging to implement. He said, “Learning how to value gender equity and respect.” And I believe him. Change is difficult, and emotional investments by women and men are crucial to creating the type of future we all desire.
We talk a lot about transformation at Heifer, and while I did not know the Mtikas before they received goats from Heifer, it was clear our work had transformed their family. Some of that transformation was obvious: they were eating three meals a day instead of only two, they had more corn to harvest and a better way to store it, and their daily diet consisted of more types of food than before.
But, like First Lady Obama said, it’s not always about the resources. The animal is the input we provide, but it’s also the catalyst that brings new accountability and inspiration. Something magical happens, and the animal becomes a sense of pride; a symbol of tremendous opportunity.
And then, through Passing on the Gift, our recipients become donors, and the cycle of dignity and hope keeps growing. Gratitude becomes generosity. Hopelessness turns to hope. And for many women and girls, it becomes the important tipping point in a future filled with new possibilities. The Mtika’s daughters go to school, and Mr. Mtika has been training his neighbors – several of them widows and single mothers – in the improved farming and animal husbandry practices he learned through the Heifer project.
It is more than a goat. It is possibility, hope and a future that means a better outcome for families and communities; most critically for women and girls.
Read more about the trip I took to Malawi, and help more families transform their futures here.
Photo credit: Karen Walrond