Heifer International cultivates women leaders
Dorothy Nabanja is one of the first Heifer beneficiaries of Heifer in
Lugazi Diocese Heifer
Project in Mukono District in central Uganda. She is about 50 years old,
carries a serious
expression, and has the sturdy arms of a young man, strengthened by hard
work on her farm.
Like many Heifer beneficiaries, Dorothy was living in extreme poverty
before Heifer came into
her life. She lived on a ¼ acre plot of unworkable land, owned
no livestock, and barely survived
as a local brewer. In 1994, her husband abandoned her and their son, and
looked even grimmer. She and her son became malnourished, and had no means
their situation. Her experiences have made her somewhat guarded, and slow
to smile and open
In October 2002, Dorothy received a Heifer dairy cow. She named her cow
her mother. In comparison to other cows, Maria is extremely timid and
scurries away at the
sight of strangers. However, with Dorothy, Maria is calm and comfortable
Dorothy’s appreciation of Maria is obvious in her affectionate pat
and loving, maternal gaze.
So far Maria has calved three times, and is once again pregnant. Two of
were bulls, which Dorothy sold, and one was a female, which was passed-on
to another villager,
as per her agreement with Heifer. Dorothy hopes the next calf is a female,
which she would
keep for herself to maintain the steady income of milk. Maria is currently
producing 17 liters of
milk per day, much of which Dorothy sells (for $0.22 per liter).
With the profits from the bull-calves and milk, Dorothy has been able
to expand her land
from ¼ acre to 1 acre. From the compost created from Maria’s
manure and newly acquired
knowledge from Heifer training, Dorothy’s once unproductive soil
has become workable. She
currently grows bananas, vanilla, and passion fruit, and looks forward
to introducing more fruits
and vegetables to her grandchildren’s diet. Whereas she was previously
now appears healthy and at peace.
She was also able to build a brick pigpen and started a pig-breeding enterprise.
has so far sold ten pigs for 300,000 Ugandan shillings ($165). She has
hired four men from her
village to help double the size of her one-room home.
When asked about her dreams, Dorothy responds, “I don’t believe
in dreams. Only
action.” Because of poverty, her son was only able to complete six
years of schooling.
However, now she is supporting her three grandchildren’s education.
Her goal is to send them
to university as well.
Along with her cow, Dorothy also received extensive training from Heifer
protection, animal management, gender issues, leadership skills, and record
receiving training, Dorothy excitedly told her neighbors about the program
and everything she
had learned, enticing them to join the project. Since then, she has become
a mentor, leader,
and role-model in her community. Eventually, many of the women beneficiaries
“The Heifer Project Committee,” an unofficial village council.
Together they own a plot of land
that is next to Dorothy’s (profits benefit the village as a whole),
and they plan to build an official
office. Along with brainstorming ways to improve their way of life in
the village, the women
carefully monitor the progress of the animals involved in the Heifer Project.
In fact, one man
had taken such poor care of his cow, that the committee confiscated it.
For the next month
Dorothy is in charge of nursing the emaciated cow back to health, until
it is passed on to another
One of Heifer International’s goals is to promote gender equity.
With their superhuman
work ethic, African women carry the continent on their shoulders, but
receive very little respect
for doing so. Many times a widow’s property will be confiscated
by her in-laws or a husband will
take the livestock with him when he leaves his wife. Many young women
even marry into
polygamy in order to survive. For these reasons, Heifer
Project Uganda targets women such as
Dorothy Nabanja, and provides them with the knowledge to become economically
During Heifer training, gender issues and leadership skills are prioritized
discussion topics. It is
with these tools that the women of Dorothy’s community have formed
the “Heifer Project
Committee” and now hold a position of authority.
Since Heifer, Dorothy has attained self-sufficiency, become a mentor,
even somewhat of a celebrity, since she frequently receives foreign visitors
that come to monitor
and appreciate her progress (the evidence is her thick “Visitors
Book”). “Poverty is history,” is
how Dorothy describes her new life; she can purchase anything she needs,
and has no problem
sending her grandchildren to private school. She is glad that she does
not need assistance
from anyone and does not mind not having a husband. With the help of one
cow, Dorothy has
transformed from a poor, abandoned woman to an empowered and respected
Dorothy and Maria pose together. Dorothy carries her Visitor’s
Dorothy displays the pigpen she was able to build with the profits from