Geetu the Gifted Goat
The story behind "Goats Save Lives."
By Cath Taylor
Published 1 Aug 2023
If you've ever bought a charity gift in the form of an animal donated to a family living in poverty, you've probably seen the catchy tagline "Goats save lives."
In one sense, they can and do.
Receiving starter stock and training in animal husbandry is a genuine source of income generation for hundreds of thousands of people all around the world. This 'gift' can be life changing.
When everything goes according to plan, a small herd or flock can be sustained, and animal products like milk, eggs or meat can be used by families to improve their health and nutrition as well as generate sales at a common market.
But behind the concept lives a complex web of relationships and contexts that makes the process from A to B far slower and more fragile than you might expect.
Telling this story helps us appreciate the complexity of development work: how frustrating it can be, how interconnected solutions are and why we celebrate when things go well.
The complex story of Geetu the goat
Geetu lives in Nepal’s terrai region, close to the Indian border. She was ‘gifted’ to a family by a local NGO with funding from Australian supporters as part of a livelihood development project. It aims to support families to breed livestock and use the profits to improve their living standards.
In Geetu’s grandparents time, families were planting their fields in response to seasonal weather patterns that were centuries old, reliable and consistent. These days, changing climate brings torrential rain, drought, fire, flood and landslides. The water table is drying up, and Geetu’s family struggles to grow enough food to survive. Deforestation means that gathering fodder for Geetu is time consuming and can take the family far from home.
The man of Geetu’s house, Nabin, received a modest education and has been working as a primary teacher in a local government school earning about $A8000 a year. But spiralling government debt has meant teachers haven’t been paid for three months, and his brother-in-law tells Nabin that he and his wife can make more money working across the border in India picking mangoes.
The cost of living in Nepal has sky rocketed in recent times due to the global economic crisis, the long term impact of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. The price of petrol, rice and some other staples can be as high (or higher) in Nepal than here in Australia, but wages lag at around 10% of Australian earnings.
Desperate to earn some money, Nabin and his wife leave Nepal for several months, leaving behind their four children to care for the home and attend school as best they’re able. Nabin's mother shares the home with the family, but she suffers from early onset eyesight problems and is dependent on the children's help for daily tasks.
Kopisha, the family's eldest daughter, is responsible for carrying water and feeding animals – including Geetu. Although she’s bright and wants to attend university, Kopisha is missing school due to her household responsibilities. Her community also practises chaupadi, which excludes women and girls from social contact during menstruation. Kopisha spends four days each month isolated in a small hut, without electricity, relying on others to bring her food and water.
Geetu the ‘gifted’ goat is so highly valued that she shares sleeping areas with the family, and roams in the same area from which they collect water and wash. Lack of access to education about health and sanitation mean disease spreads easily, and although WASH training was provided through an NGO recently, both parents were away from the community at the time. Kopisha and her brothers are all unwell; they're not sure what's causing their illness but because they also share a community tap, there are multiple sources from which they could be picking up water borne disease.
Kopisha and the boys are determined to care for their goat, having heard that she'll produce meat and milk for them, and one day be sold at the market to provide income to buy household items like uniforms and medicine. But so far, the goat seems ill nourished and unlikely to thrive.
The day INF partners visit to offer support and further training around livelihoods and livestock, Kopisha is in isolation and the eldest son has an exam at school. Geetu has broken free from her tether and the family are not sure where she's gone - they're too ashamed to admit the problems they're having and don't attend the training. When they track Geetu down a day later, she's injured and the family have no real idea how to treat her. They consider taking her to market to sell her for whatever they can get, but they've recently sold their only transport, a motorbike, to pay for the oldest son’s school fees. With no way to transport the goat, they push on with feeding and looking after her the best they can at home. Geetu is the only one celebrating this development.
A story like Geetu's and her family is common in Nepal.
Families are resillient and invest heart and soul into new ventures. And for many, goats actually do change lives. But just as poverty is multidimensional, so are the solutions. Goats like Geetu are no silver bullet. They're one important piece of the puzzle and require a whole support network of interventions to create the lasting change.
How can we respond to this complexity?
International Nepal Fellowship works with a range of committed and skilful partners in communities in Nepal to help create lasting cycles of opportunity.
- They begin by assessing the communities strengths and needs, bringing people together from local government, other NGOs and community members to talk about how change might best be initiated.
- They survey the community to discover what the 'baseline' facilities are, and what needs are most pressing.
- They formulate plans in collaboration with local leaders, and submit those plans to funding bodies like INF Australia for approval and financial support.
Our role is to connect people with the means to provide financial support with the projects that have the best chance of success.
Be curious about the process by which change happens in developing contexts. Ask questions. Explore our projects in depth.
Be generous. Regular giving is the best means we have of providing a sustainable funding path for our partners. It allows them to plan for the long cycle of intervention needed to ensure that goats like Geetu provide genuine transformation.