Poverty, goats and resilience

What do goats have to do with poverty? To Susan Leshore and her fellow Samburans from rural Kenya, who were affected by the 2011 East African drought, goats can mean the difference between having enough food and potentially losing everything.

By Luke Sypkes, Humanitarian and Emergencies Group, Caritas Australia

Susan, like many people in rural Kenya, doesn’t know how old she is – she guesses about 50 years. She measures the past according to memories of events like ‘the big drought’ that hit in 2011, the worst in the region for 60 years.

The big drought meant little rain, failing crops and, for many, a reliance on emergency support. But for Susan and thousands of other Kenyans supported by Caritas Australia, new goats mean they can now weather droughts better. They can also look towards the future with a greater sense of hope and security.

When I spoke to Susan she told me what five new goats means to her family.

“Anything less than five goats, and you are in trouble,” she said, referring to a rule of thumb that a herd of less than five goats is not sustainable. Sitting on a small wooden stool next to her ochre coloured mud and straw home, Susan told me: “Before I was given five goats, I had nothing, we were desperate. But they have made a huge difference to our lives.”

A good-natured lifeline

Goats are hardy animals. In many parts of the world, especially in areas with harsh climates, these good-natured animals are a lifeline, a critical investment for the future. In Samburan culture goats are a symbol of wealth and power, and are considered a Samburan family’s most valued asset.

In 2012, as East Africa was gripped by severe drought, Susan and her family were identified by Caritas Australia’s partners as being among the most vulnerable in her community. Alongside 460 other families in Baragoi – a sprawling dusty village in Samburu County – Susan was chosen to receive a small herd of female goats funded through Caritas Australia’s East Africa Appeal.

Growing resilience

The goats provided to Susan were stronger and more resilient than the local variety. As they breed, they are improving the ability of the region’s herds to withstand future drought.

“We have bred these goats and now we have ten!” she said excitedly. “We milk them twice a day, either for my children to drink, or to sell at the market. We used to sell them for KSH2,000 (AU $25), but now they are worth about KSH2,500 (AU $32). Sometimes the goats get sick, but now we have money to buy veterinary medicine for them and none have died.

“We also have enough money to buy school supplies and uniforms for my three children. I now have hope for them. I want to start a small business and create a small income so my children will have a good future.”

Thanks to your support and donations to the East Africa Appeal, many communities throughout this region, like Susan’s, have received life-saving assistance and are looking forward to the future with a renewed spirit.