Family finds hope in gift of goats

Patricia Mudenda sits on a hand-fashioned wooden stool outside her home in Moyo, Zambia, with her 9-year-old granddaughter, Rosemary.

The evening sun streams through the trees and the field of sunflowers behind them. Turkeys stroll around, and every so often, one will make what sounds like a heavy sigh and then puff up, showing off its beautiful plumage.

A few feet away, Rosemary’s grandfather, Danford, works on a bicycle while his solar-powered radio plays in the background.

For now, Rosemary stirs the family’s corn porridge—called nshima in Zambia—in a shiny metal pot over an open fire. As it thickens, Patricia takes over with her work-strengthened arms.

At the age of 44, Patricia is relatively unaccustomed to metal pots. She used to have to make cooking pots from mud and bake them to harden. Her son, Justine—Rosemary’s father—remembers these pots being very ugly.

But their ugliness wasn’t the worst thing. When Patricia made nshima for her family in those clay pots, the force she used to stir the porridge as it thickened would shatter the vessels, sending the nshima pouring to the ground. If it was somewhat solid, she would salvage what she could from the dirt—they couldn’t waste a morsel.

Rosemary doesn’t have to worry about broken clay pots and wasted food. Now, her family can afford the metal pots—in fact, they have a special pot perfect for her petite size. Nshima is one of Rosemary’s favorite foods and a dish that she especially enjoys cooking for her family.

Making nshima is good practice for Rosemary because she harbors an unusual dream for a child from rural Zambia: She wants to be a chef.

“I love it because of the tea. I want to be drinking tea,” she says, explaining the allure of her dream career in the kitchen. She imagines that’s what chefs do—drink tea, wash dishes, and serve people. “The other thing is because I love cooking for other people.”

Patricia and Danford, 54, delight in nurturing Rosemary’s dream, but they realize its irony. They used to struggle to feed their family, and now their granddaughter wants to spend her day surrounded by food, cooking meals for others.

Not too long ago, anything about this evening’s scene would’ve been beyond their imagination.

Poverty of the Mind

Poverty takes more than a physical toll. “When you become poor, even your thoughts become poor. You fail to differentiate between where you are and where you need to be,” says Patricia.

The family belongs to the Tonga tribe, which highly values animals. Animals provide families with currency and power. Without them, a person might go to community meetings and try to participate, but they have no say in managing community affairs.

Both Patricia and Danford came from poor families in Moyo, a rural community in southern Zambia. After they wed in 1987, their poverty continued. Patricia remembers when neighbors would see her family coming and say, “Look at that thing.” They were hardly considered humans.

“We hoped through hard work to transform our children’s lives, but things never worked out as we thought,” says Patricia.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. Danford picked up any day labor he could find. He used a worn blacksmith forge to create hoes and axes. He worked for a small salary at a hammer mill, where the community grinds grain. He tried shoe repair. He even invested in a broken-down sewing machine, which he fixed, then used to repair people’s clothing.

Sewing didn’t start out as a moneymaking venture. He only wanted to preserve the dignity of his own children and try to keep them properly clothed. Their clothes were so worn.

Hunger Drives a Family into ‘Slavery’

Sometimes during drought, Danford crossed distant mountains if he heard about an area with food. He’d take any day job for a tiny bit of maize to feed his children.

When Patricia wasn’t walking a couple of hours to gather water, she helped out with the family income. She went into the bush to dig wild roots for use in a local fermented drink. The roots were about six to eight inches in diameter, and sometimes she had to dig as deep as her waist in order to get them out. For three roots, she would only get a plate of corn. “It was so hard,” she says.

“We were being forced to borrow,” says Danford, and that was just to have any food. The debt kept them enslaved in poverty, he says.

The family farmed a small plot of maize and had about six-tenths of an acre to grow sugarcane to sell. The maize they produced barely filled a small oxcart halfway to the top.

Rosemary’s father, Justine, saw poverty derail his future. As his hunger grew, he avoided school. “It was hard to even think of going to school when your stomach is empty,” he says. “When you are seated, you feel your stomach aching and roaring. It was very, very hard because in such a situation, you can’t go to class and start learning.”

The hunger, plus his parents’ inability to consistently pay his school fees, took their toll. Justine dropped out of school after sixth grade. Danford himself had dropped out of school in seventh grade because his parents saw little value in education. Danford and Patricia knew education was important, but their poverty didn’t allow them to provide it to their children.  

‘Here Comes the Freedom’

The family seemed destined to continue along the path of generational poverty, but in 2011, World Vision came to Moyo.

The community helped World Vision identify families who faced the greatest need, and through World Vision’s Gift Catalog, staff provided those families with the gift of five goats.

Before families in Moyo received goats, World Vision trained them on how to care for the animals, like teaching how to build goat pens off the ground so the animals’ waste fell below, keeping the goats clean and healthy.

Danford and Patricia’s family were chosen to receive goats. Danford says, “When I received the goats, I told myself, ‘Here comes the freedom.’” He knew he wouldn’t have to borrow and place himself in anyone’s debt anymore: “This is the end of the suffering that my family has been going through.”

Patricia breaks it down to the basics. “Goats actually change everything,” she says.  “Goats give health to a family. Goats give education to a family. Goats bring food to a family.”

The changes started quickly for Patricia and Danford’s family.

Right away, Rosemary, who was only a little girl when the goats arrived, benefited from drinking goat’s milk, which provided nutritional support so she could be healthy, not hungry.

“The milk does not just [improve] the nutritional status of these children, but actually it brings joy to the children, especially during the milking process,” Danford says. “[There’s] lots of laughing and engagement that goes on as they’re doing the milking.”

Rosemary loves to mix goat’s milk with maize to make porridge—and it’s helping her grow up healthy and strong so she can go to school. As she grows, the number of goats will also grow, so there will be plenty to support her educational needs.

“Without the goats, it was going to be very difficult for the family to help Rosemary,” says Princess Kasamba Moyo, one of World Vision’s community development workers in the area.

Sponsorship at Work

Soon after the first goat delivery, World Vision began sponsorship in Moyo in 2012. Rosemary’s aunt, Loveness, was sponsored that year, and Rosemary was sponsored in 2014.

World Vision sponsorship benefits children by helping families lift the whole community out of poverty. “World Vision has brought a lot of change in our community,” says Danford.

World Vision staff partnered with community leaders to determine how to best meet people’s needs. Combined with the effects the goats had on individual families, sponsorship has greatly improved life in Moyo.

“I used to spend much of the day getting water,” says Patricia. She even remembers times when she carried water on her head, a baby on her back, and a baby in her womb.  Now, mechanized boreholes powered by solar panels pump water to multiple taps in the village—Patricia and Danford have one just a few steps from their front door. Rosemary won’t ever have to walk those long distances to collect water, and she’s growing up healthier because she has clean water readily available.

To improve access to healthcare, a nearby clinic is being converted to a hospital so that people won’t have to travel for hours by bus to the nearest one. World Vision also partnered with the Zambian government to distribute mosquito bed nets to families in Moyo. And to further reduce the risk of malaria, there are education efforts around cleaning up garbage and covering standing water to eliminate mosquitoes.

In 2014, Danford received hygiene and sanitation training. Now he embraces his responsibility as a hygiene promoter, and his household acts as a model for the community. Patricia says her family is much healthier since he brought his healthy message home.

He visits neighbors’ houses and encourages them to dig rubbish pits and keep the area around their homes clean. He teaches them the importance of a dish rack off the ground and a tippy tap (a foot-controlled bottle of water used for handwashing), and he gives instructions on how to build a pit latrine to prevent the spread of disease.

A Family in Transition

As Danford and Patricia’s goats began multiplying, opportunities opened to them. They sold some goats to buy better seeds and fertilizer for their maize fields. They also diversified their crops to include cotton.

Goat sales brought in money to hire workers in their sugarcane fields. They’ve expanded their fields to nearly 5 acres, and they hope to increase to almost 7.5 acres this coming year.

Sugarcane sales allowed them to replace their old mud hut with a new home topped with a tin roof and walled with more durable cement. Those sales have also yielded enough money to expand their livestock to include chickens, ducks, turkeys, and even cows.

And the oxcart that they used to struggle to fill halfway—last year they filled it six times with the maize they grew. They still have dried maize left over from that crop, and they have a full field they’ve yet to harvest this year.

Last December, Danford planted sunflowers, not only for their beauty but also for sunflower seed oil. They’ll use some of the oil themselves, but they’ll sell most of it. For a family who couldn’t afford salt, cooking with oil is a luxury beyond anything they could’ve dreamed.

World Vision also offered training in bicycle repair—another opportunity that Danford snatched up. He’s added that as a moneymaking opportunity, but mostly as another way to support his community.

The goats act as a bank for the family. It’s money in reserve when they need it—like last year, when Danford tripped over a branch and broke his leg. He needed extensive treatment, but thanks to the goats, they had “savings.” Patricia sold a goat to get money for hospital fees.

She knows that without the goats, she never could’ve afforded that treatment, and he might not be walking at all. They would have plunged deeper into poverty. Instead, it’s just an inconvenience.

A Different Life for Rosemary

Rosemary now sits in her second-grade classroom, her school uniform clean and tidy. Her hand flies up eagerly to answer the teacher’s questions. She’s ready with a smile for her classmates and friends.

World Vision helps parents understand the importance of education. Once they’re not in survival mode, they’re more open—and better able—to send their children to school.

Rosemary doesn’t hear her stomach grumbling like her father did. She’s one of the top students in her class and especially enjoys science and math. And after classes, she still has energy left over for a game of netball and time on the teeter-totter with Tassy, one of her closest friends.

When she gets home from school, Rosemary usually helps her stepmother, Tiness, or Patricia without having to be asked. Sometimes she goes to the sugarcane field to work alongside Danford.

Rosemary loves wandering through the flower fields and popping a few sunflower seeds in her mouth, but the goats remain one of the most special parts of her life. She herds them just after the morning dew has dried, and she’s most often the one who does the milking.

Generosity Born From Want

Though the family no longer struggles to eat, clothe themselves, or pursue education, they don’t forget about the poverty of mind.

One day after church, the family was resting in their yard in the shade beneath the trees when another family stopped by to visit. It was more than a social call.

Drought is sweeping across southern Africa, hitting southern Zambia particularly hard—which spelled disaster for the visitors’ crops. This was a family that used to avoid and sometimes mock Patricia and Danford for their poverty. Now they were the ones who were hungry.

Because Patricia and Danford had diversified and no longer depended solely on their own maize fields to feed their family, they have plenty of food even in drought conditions. So Patricia told her children and grandchildren to get food for the visitors.

“I used to be one of those who wished and longed to have what I have [now],” she says. “God wanted to teach me something, which now has enabled me to feel and understand how they would feel if I treated them the same way they treated me. I would not allow myself to make them feel the pain that I felt in the past because of the way they treated me.”

She uses this opportunity to teach her children and grandchildren the value of sharing. They demonstrated this also by participating in World Vision’s Pass It On program, which empowers families who received goats through the Gift Catalog to pass on the gift of goats to another family in need. (Go to wvmag.org/passiton to read more.)

“Our children and grandchildren are now able to dream more and more because there is a lot of hope in what World Vision has done for us,” says Danford. “My faith has grown so much that I am always made to continue to pray and worship God because he has done it for us through World Vision.”

A Witness to the World

Rosemary doesn’t know the hunger and hardship that her family did. She knows only the prosperity. She knows about plenty. She knows about learning. She knows about sharing. And she knows she’s free to follow her dream of being a chef.

As she sits stirring the pot over a fire, her young aunts, who are close to her age, sit on the ground playing a game called nsolo in Tonga, their local language. They move stones around 24 hand-dug holes.

Infectious giggles regularly punctuate the air at Patricia and Danford’s home these days, which is now a gathering place for many of the village’s children.

Patricia’s voice rises in song as she stirs the nshima, and Rosemary’s softer voice joins in:  

Tanta malundu
a Leza.
Nyika ibone.

It’s an African hymn, which translates to:

Climb the stairs so the world can know that you are a child of God.
Climb the stairs carrying your cross to show the world that you are a child of God.

Or in other words: Walk in the steps of the Lord to stand as a witness to the whole world.

This family’s present circumstances of plenty and generosity—replacing their history of need—stands as a witness. And it all started with the gift of five goats.