Mary Kipesili is an elderly granny living in extreme poverty who care for her 3 orphaned grandchildren in the Masoko Ward located in South Western Tanzania. Masoko is a collection of 7 villages set in the beautiful foothills surrounding Mt. Rungwe, the third highest mountain in Tanzania. In 2008 the village Most Vulnerable Children’s Committee nominated Granny Mary to became one of the 10 founding members of the new village cow co-op.
She attended all the classes such as how to run a co-op, pasture management, building a cow shelter, lactation management, ideal cow diets and hygiene. Mr. Noel Mshua, the Africa Bridge Livestock and Agriculture coordinator together with the local government agriculture officers were her teachers. Noel informed me that Granny Mary does not speak Swahili the common language in Tanzania, she only speaks Mwykusa her tribal language, nor can she read or write. So, her eldest grandson, who was a student at the local Secondary School accompanied her during the training sessions. Her grandson took notes so the family would have documentation on exactly what she needed to do to become an excellent cow keeper. Mary listened diligently and asked numerous questions to ensure she understood what her trainers were telling her.
The results speak for themselves. Mary’s cow is named “Job”, produces 14 liters of milk per day. A local village cow will only yield 1 to 2 liters per day. “Job” has delivered numerous calves. The first calf Mary donated to her co-op. The second calf she reared for 6 months and sold, this enabled her to send her eldest grandson to a highly rated school in Arusha, in the NW of Tanzania. The third calf she donated to her local village Most Vulnerable Children’s Committee to enable them to make material interventions for vulnerable families not yet in a co-op. The fourth calf she kept in order to increase her milk production. The proceeds from the sale of milk has helped her to improve the family’s diet, to purchase a healthcare plan and improve her house. In addition, has also started a small business of rearing and selling chickens.
All the founder members the Lipa Mbele co-op donated their first-born calves to other families caring for most vulnerable children. Those new members have done the same and within six years the co-op grew to 27 members.
Also, the Lipa Mbele cow co-op group payed it forward to a village in the nearby village in the Mpombo Ward. One of the co-op founding members helped a new cow co-op in Mpombo. He was trained by Africa Bridge to be a mentor and guide for the new co-op. He became a co-trainer, supervising the building of the cow shelters and ensuring the new cows are effectively managed. Every month the mentor met with the new co-op members. At these meetings there is a report on activities and a discussion about challenges and successes. After the meeting all the co-op members visit one of the new cows where the mentor conducts a tutorial on how to overcome one of the challenges raised during the meeting.
While villagers have an innate understanding of agriculture, they do not have the support, knowledge nor the capital to acquire and manage a high-grade dairy cow. As Granny Mary demonstrates that when given the relevant knowledge, support of a co-op system and a valuable asset, vulnerable village families have the capacity to raise themselves out of extreme poverty, transform the lives of the their most vulnerable children and pay it forward to others in their community.