GARDEN AND GOAT
Sharada Devi, 48 years old and a mother of eight children, felt lost and alone in her home village of Tarwara in the state of Bihar. As a member of the lowest caste, she simply didn’t have options in her life, so she worked as a laborer in another, richer farmer ‘s field. Her husband, Gulma Sada, 53, had to leave her and her children to find work in the faraway town of Punjab . Sharada Devi was only earning 100 rupees a day, the equivalent of $1.50. Even with what her husband was able to earn in the city, there was not enough . The whole family only ate once a day.
“I had no clue at that time exactly what I should do,” Sharada Devi said . Two years ago, Heifer started a project in her area offering goats and training. When Heifer partners came to Tarwara and explained the project, Sharada Devi realized she had a chance to change things. She joined and focused her energy on raising goats.
While she had a couple of goats before, the gift of good quality goats and the all-important training on the care of their goats changed everything. Sharada Devi increased the size of her herd and the quality of the animals, building momentum. Today she earns around 15,000 rupees a month, or $224.46. This eclipsed what her husband was making in Punjab, so he was able to come home to his family and join in the new business. “He will stay,” said Sharada Devi.
Now the family eats breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the quality of food they eat is better than ever. Sharada Devi received the seeds and training necessary to grow a kitchen garden for the family, and now they eat vegetables almost every day. They can even afford meat about once a week. Beforehand, their one meal a day consisted mostly of rice or an Indian style of flatbread called chapatti. Sharada Devi’s favorite food now is fried okra spiced with turmeric, onion, garlic, green pepper, cardamom and a pinch of salt.
The family members aren’t the only ones getting three square meals a day. “Whenever I eat, I go to give the goats food,” Sharada Devi said. The training Sharada Devi received taught her how to grow her own fodder, best practices on how much to feed and water her goats, how to take care of their health and hygiene, and how to house them in a clean shed. She learned everything that makes for happy, healthy goats, which will ultimately be all the more profitable for her.
Now that her husband is back for good and has taken Heifer’s gender equity training, the goat business and their home life are both mutual endeavors. “When I am cooking, I ask him to feed and water the goats sometimes. If I have to buy something from the market, I ask him to go and buy it.” Before, Sharada Devi shouldered the full workload of the home in addition to her farming labors.
The new perspective is already being passed down to the next generation . Now, Sharada Devi said, “I am treating equally my daughters and sons. Before my focus was only on boys . [Now], if I buy a goat for my boy, I buy a goat for my daughter also. I send both my sons and daughters to school.”
The annual floods still threaten Sharada Devi ‘s newfound success. That’s why her training included disaster preparedness . The flood waters come up to Sharada Devi’s door almost every year. “[When it floods], I am not able to sleep at night ,’ she said. She has learned how to make temporary rafts from banana trees and how to construct high bamboo shelters for the family and their animals. They learned how to save food ahead of time so they can still eat when the farmland is flooded and it is too dangerous to leave their home.
Most important, Sharada Devi said, “I learned how to protect myself and my family.”