Hey, friends, I'm back from Malawi!
If you've been following along on Instagram, you know that this was a pretty epic trip: there were lakes! And farms! And clinics! And one seriously pissed-off crocodile! I took over 4000 photos on this trip, and jetlag (and a nasty little cold) notwithstanding, I'm slowly going through them. So this week I'm hoping to share my favourite stories with you, starting today, with the farms of Malawi, and how they benefit from a great organization, Heifer International.
This trip to Malawi, while organized by ONE, was sponsored in large part by Heifer. I sort of have a soft spot for Heifer: for the last few years, every Christmas, my sister's family, my parents and my family have "exchanged livestock" -- we buy each other goats or pigs or cows as gifts. The animals, of course, don't come to us -- I wouldn't know one end of a farm animal from another -- but instead, they are given to small farmers in emerging markets, so that they can breed them and milk them and general improve their livelihoods through raising them. Every year, I think of a farmer somewhere in Africa or Nepal or Bangladesh receiving their animal, and going off on their merry way, to develop their farms on their own.
Turns out that my image of what Heifer does was only partially right.
They do provide animals to farmers, of course, but that's just the beginning. Heifer also has folks on the ground in each of these countries, helping these farmers maximize their profitability with their new livestock. They teach them how to keep their animals healthy, yes; but they also assist them in creating agricultural cooperatives (such as milk bulking stations, where farmers can bring their milk to a centralized location for refrigeration and storage until a milk processor can collect it to process for distribution), savings and loan organizations, teach gender equality, educate on farming practices that are kind to the environment, and assist the development of social capital: organization of communities, and passing on their gift, by ensuring that the first female born of their livestock is passed on as a gift to another member of their community.
In other words, their work is way more than just a goat.
So on this trip, we spent several days visiting farmers who had benefited from the work that Heifer has done -- indeed, several communities that had benefited from the ripple effect that comes with assisting even one farm family. We heard from farmers who proudly gave us tours of their farms, with their healthy livestock and stories of children they could finally send to school because of their profitability. We listened as women farmers described the benefits of the savings and loan associations they had created, and how supporting each other had given them confidence. We learned about milk bulking cooperatives that made it possible for dairy farmers to reduce milk spoilage, and thus maximize their profitability.
And everywhere we looked, there was so much light.
Naturally, the best parts of visiting these farms were the friends we made.
Song: Djamakoyo by Adama Yalomba. This song isn't Malawian -- the singer is from Mali -- but I love it. And for the rest of the week, I'll share some of my favourite songs from the continent of Africa.