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Changing lives, one cow at a time

By André Forget on May, 29 2017

When Harima Mkitage's family received a cow four years ago, her parents used some of the money the cow brought in to pay her school fees. Now, she wants to become a livestock specialist. Photo: André Forget

Mkumba, Tanzania
Seventeen-year-old Harima Mkitage runs her hand gently down the back of Liviki, a doe-eyed Friesian cow chewing indolently on the fresh grass while a calf pulls at its teat. Harima smiles shyly and exchanges a few quiet words in Swahili with the man leaning against the railing of the cow pen. He is asking her what she wants to do when she finishes school.

“Harima wants to be a livestock officer,” he tells me. “She is living at boarding school, but when she comes back she learns how to care for the cows.”

Harima’s shyness does not extend to the cow, which she handles with a quiet confidence born, presumably, of deep familiarity. Liviki’s second calf begins nudging at her, and Harima firmly guides the animals to a more open section of the pen.

It is, perhaps, fitting that Harima is considering a career working with cows; it was cows—these cows, in fact—that made it possible for her to pursue an education in the first place.

On the other side of the cow pen, a cluster of Canadians take pictures and listen as Harima’s parents, Hasan Mkitage and Nuru Salumu, talk through an interpreter about how the cow they had received in 2013, as part of a development program supported by the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), has affected their lives.

The Canadians are representatives from PWRDF, the relief and development arm of the Anglican Church of Canada. They are visiting this village in southern Tanzania’s Lindi region as part of a weeklong visit to learn more about All Mothers and Children Count (AMCC), a $17.69-million PWRDF program to increase health and nutrition for mothers and young children in Eastern Africa.

Hasan Mkitage, Nuru Salumu and their son Jamali beside their cattle pen. Photo: André Forget

Mkitage and Salumu did not receive their cow through AMCC, but through a smaller PWRDF initiative known locally as CHIP, or the Community Health Improvement Program, which ended earlier this year. But because CHIP served as a model for AMCC (which has only just entered its second year of operation), the visitors are being introduced to some of its beneficiaries to get a sense of what the AMCC might accomplish by the time it wraps up in 2020.

Looking happy but distinctly overwhelmed by the attention, Mkitage and Salumu are telling the visitors that they got lucky; Liviki has recently given birth to twins, which they will soon be able to sell.  

A calf can fetch $1 million Tanzanian shillings, or roughly US$450—a lot of money in a country where, according to the United Nations Human Development Report, 46.6% of the population live on less than US$2 a day. It is clear that by the standards of rural southern Tanzania, Mkitage and Salumu are thriving; not only can they afford school fees for their three children, they have installed a hutch on the other side of the yard and purchased dairy goats. They’ve also been able to plaster the interior of the house and put in a new concrete floor.

It’s a kind of prosperity that they say they would never have expected to achieve before receiving the cow. They explain to the delegates that they are, in turn, trying to share this prosperity with less fortunate members of the village—every day, they deliver a free litre of milk to an older villager who cannot afford to buy it.

Most of Liviki's milk is sold to the Mkitages' neighbours, but some is given to older villagers for free. Photo: André Forget 

Paying it forward is built into the program in more practical ways as well.

Every family that received a cow was obligated to give the first female calf to the next household on the waiting list, a practice known as sabili. Mkitage and Salumu have already fulfilled this obligation.

Sabili is overseen by the project’s monitoring and evaluation officer, Dismas Menchi—who, this morning, is also serving as the translator through whom I speak with Harima.

Recipients are chosen by the village council based on need, and their place on the list is determined by drawing lots.

I ask Menchi how long it would take before every household in the village had a cow, and he says a few words to one of the villagers, and pauses to calculate.

Mkumba has around 2,500, people, he explains, or about 200 households. The program is in its third cycle already. (The first cohort of 15 recipients have fulfilled their sabili obligations, as has the second cohort; there are now 38 cows in the village.) Menchi estimates it will only be a matter of years before every household in the village had a cow of its own. 


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The changes extend beyond the Mkitage compound, according to Joachim Sapuli, who worked as a livestock officer in Mkumba for the CHIP program for five years, and now provides advice and support to the villagers on matters related to livestock health.

“The economic level has changed, and I can say it has changed abruptly after this project,” says Sapuli.

Many of the houses we passed driving in are still traditional wattle-and-daub style huts, with a thick thatch of dried grasses for a roof. But in Mkumba (though not only in Mkumba), these huts are being replaced by sturdier houses, made of brick and roofed with corrugated galvanized steel.

“There are a few things [people] will invest in immediately when they have extra income,” Zaida Bastos tells me when I ask her about it later. “[First], education, pay the school fees for the children…second is the ability to buy [medicine], third is improvement of the household—so buy a roof, increase the size, build a new house.”

Bastos is director of PWRDF’s development partnership program and one of the staff members travelling with the delegation, and she has been visiting southern Tanzania since she first started working for PWRDF in 1997. In that time, she says, she has seen some remarkable changes.

“For people that travel to Masasi for the first time, they see a very poor country. For me, who has been travelling to Masasi for so long, one of the things that I look for as a sign, is the housing,” she says. “I’m very glad to see so many houses that are built in brick, that have roofs that don’t leak…this is a change!”​




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By André Forget| May, 29 2017

About the Author

André Forget

André Forget

André Forget joined the Anglican Journal in 2014 as staff writer and social media lead. He also serves as managing editor of Whether Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The Dalhousie Review, The Winnipeg Review, and the Town Crier.

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