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Journey to Soroti 2007

Inspired by a widow named Faith, I was planning to travel half way around the world to give dairy goats to deserving widows in Soroti District, Uganda. Although I had been told that there were no dairy goats available in that area, I was determined to find dairy goats somewhere in Uganda to purchase. On the internet, I found the email addresses of Government Agriculture Officials in Soroti and Mbale Districts. I emailed them and asked if they would put me in touch with Veterinarians who had experience in crossbreeding dairy goats. They each gave me one name and email address. Only one of the two Veterinarians answered me, Dr. Opolot in Soroti District. It turned out that he lives a few houses from my son's home, and they are acquainted! Coincidence? I think not!!! It was one of the many amazing things that have happened far beyond my imagination. Dr. Opolot's expertise is not in crossbreeding dairy goats, but the very large Boer meat-type goats. However, he and his partner Dr. Sam, have been truly an answer to prayer. They have been fair in their prices, and extremely helpful to us. I've given them an ear tattoo appliance for use in their business and to ID our animals.

Other internet research enabled me to find Farm Africa, a British charity similar in design to Heifer International. I couldn't find Heifer International operating in Uganda at the time, but Farm Africa had goat herds at Mbale, a city between Soroti and the capital city of Kampala. Our Interpreter, David, visited them and they said they would sell dairy goats to individuals. They raised European Toggenburg dairy goats cross-bred with local meat-type goats.
I was preferring to buy Anglo-Nubian dairy goats because they are native to Africa. They can have babies every 9 or 10 months as compared with European goats that cycle annually with the winter and summer months. The Anglo-Nubians have a higher incidence of twins and triplets. Also, they are not considered "exotics" and are more resistant to local disease. However, the Anglo-Nubians were located much farther away near the Capital city of Kampala, and cost nearly three times as much. To be cost effective, they would have to be purchased as herd goats that would raise the future goats we'd give to widows. If I wanted to give any dairy goats on this trip, I would need to get the Toggenburg goats from Farm Africa.

Disappointingly, after I arrived in Uganda, Farm Africa told my son that they didn't think they had any goats for sale, certainly not the 4 goats I was requesting. A week later, they said they might be able to sell us some 9 month-old females, but didn't know if the goats would be expectant or not. After several polite phone calls from my son, they called Sunday, September 30th, three days before I was to leave for home, and said we could come and buy some goats. After all the days of frustration, we were able to buy 4 beautiful, healthy two-year-old females that had each had a baby previously, and were heavily expecting. They were 50% European Toggenburg dairy goats. The babies they were carrying would be 75% European Toggenburg. These goats turned out to be far beyond my expectations!

Many family clans still believe women have no ownership rights of property. When a couple marries, they go to live at the husband's clan. If the husband dies, his brothers take all the couple's property, even the dowry the woman had brought into the marriage. Some clans then don't want to keep the widow and children of the dead husband. Those widows and children may become displaced persons, as their own families may not want to take them back because they already got their inheritance in the form of the dowry. We had been sending David out into the countryside near Faith's home, to help us identify three additional qualified widows who were completely on their own, and didn't have a male relative who would take their goats. These widows plus Faith were raising a total of 20 children between them. David was able to give them only one day's notice that they had been selected, and that we were coming the next day. I had been hoping to give them at least a week or two advance notice, but I couldn't promise them a goat if I couldn't purchase them from Farm Africa.

The next day, Monday, we drove to Mbale by the secondary road. The primary highway was partially under water and closed. Uganda was experiencing the worst flooding they had in 47 years. I had already arranged for a Missionary Bush Pilot to fly me back to the capital city for my flight home, if needed. The secondary road wasn't too bad except that a bridge over one river was about 6" underwater. It was frightening to drive across it, but other traffic was using it. The road attached to the other end was a bit squishy, but our four-wheel drive got us through it. Scarey!!! Our four-wheel drive got us through several other rough areas, but we made it to Mbale by noon. We ate lunch in a nice café, and of course, I ate goat meat. Delicious!

We arrived at Farm Africa in the early afternoon, and saw 4 beautiful goats tied up outside. Nothing happens fast in Uganda, and it took well over an hour for the formalities, getting the right officials there, paying for the goats, and more formalities. When we went out to load up the goats, there were only two! My heart sank! We had four impoverished widows expecting goats the next day. Several of the men scattered in all directions looking for them. We had already purchased the travel permit for FOUR goats from a Government official who wasn't keen about changing it to TWO.

Then, my son looked me in the eye, and said, "Mom, we are going to pray." So we gave a fervent prayer that the goats weren't stolen but just wandered away, and trusting in God that they would be found. Then my son said, "Now we are going to sit and wait". We sat and waited for a very long half hour. Then one of the men came walking up with the two lost goats!!! We hurried and loaded them in our van and headed for home. The goats were good about staying in the back area of the van and didn't bother us. I didn't relish the thought of driving back across that submerged bridge, but it was ok. Our biggest concern was about getting home before dark. No one drives anywhere after dark because of armed bandits.

It was just getting dark when we arrived at home and drove through the welcome tall steel gates of our compound. I had told my son that I wanted the three guard dogs put in a shed before we let our goats out of the van. The dogs had been pestering the goat we gave Faith last year, and I didn't want them chasing our 4 goats. The guards were just changing shifts at the house, so L and the two men tried to catch their 3 (normally tame) dogs. You'd think the dogs were being murdered! They were terrified, and howled and shrieked, ran round and round the house, and hid under cars. When they were caught, they would "YIPE, YIPE". The men finally got them all locked up. Then we let the goats out of the van. They were so tame, they especially liked to follow the one guard around. We decided to shut them up in the guard house overnight. It doesn't have a door, but we put some wire mesh across the doorway and to block it. Then we let the terrified dogs out. What a day! Can you imagine the 4 goats having the luxury of an armed guard all night? Electricity was out, so I couldn't send an email until the next day about our wild, exhausting, hot, dusty, dirty day.

Tuesday, October 2nd, we gave the Toggenburg goats to the 4 widows today! We started the day by buying supplies for them, such as yellow plastic water cans called "jerry cans", stainless steel milking containers, plastic water dishes, ropes, and a year's worth of medicines for each of the widows. Meds included worm pills, fly and tick spray, salt/mineral blocks, and spraying equipment.

We were fortunate to hire Dr. Opolot's partner, Dr. Sam to come with us and give a training session. We folded the back bench seat down in the van, and covered the back with a tarp. We planned to take my oldest granddaughter with us. She could sit on the back bench behind our front seats, and Dr. Sam and our interpreter David could have the two middle seats. We were surprised with the news that the 4 oldest grandchildren wanted to come, plus David showed up with his Mom. So, we took off with 9 people and 4 goats in our 7 passanger van. The kids fit in wherever they could. Then we went to meet the widows. We didn't know we needed to pick up two of them and take them to the meeting place. We got Faith first, and she brought her little boy. Then we got the Grandmother Widow Ruth, and she brought her three grandchildren. So we were 15 people and 4 goats in a 7 passenger vehicle driving along footpaths, somewhere in the middle of Africa. Some of the kids got in the back with the goats, and several sat on my lap. Everyone was a very good sport.

We got to the mud hut home of Widow Alice for our meeting place. I gave my presentation concerning the care of the dairy goats, and what good milk they give. David interpreted. Since there are no dairy goats in Soroti District, many of the people believe they won't like it. They were surprised to learn that goat's milk is so nutritious, people add 1 to 2 cups of water per cup of goat's milk to make it similar cow's milk. (Part of my mission was to convince them that goat's milk is appreciated by other people around the world.) Ten years ago, bandits stole all the cows in the area, which added to the problem.

Then Dr. Sam gave a complete presentation, repeating much of it to help them remember what they needed to know. He explained the meds in detail. Then I gave each widow her particular goat, and her supplies and meds. Dr. Sam gave them each personal demonstrations about proper milking techniques. I then handed out tomato, carrot, watermelon, muskmelon and sunflower seeds. All were open pollinated, not hybrid, so they can save the seeds. Also, all of these foods can be eaten raw. I had packaged them separately in little zip lock bags, with a color picture of each inserted. I've heard they have a problem obtaining good seeds. I explained that they should work up the soil first, and plant the seeds under dirt rather than the traditional method of scattering them on the ground. All should grow well in the lush climate.

We took several pics, gave our goodbyes, and I headed back to the van. It was then that I heard the women and their families cheer with the HIGH UGANDA TRILL! Their cheer of thanks was all they could give, and it warmed my heart. I still have difficulty telling about it without getting tears in my eyes. We piled into the van, 15 people and only 2 goats, and headed back, dropping the two Widows, children and goats off at their huts. I noticed that Gma Ruth's granddtr age 13 had a great interest in their goat during the training, and took charge of leading it to their hut. A lot of the children listened intently as we explained each thing for over 2 hours in the hot sun.

Interpreter David did a tremendous job of selecting the Widows. They were so very, grateful and deserving. Surprisingly, on their data sheets that David helped fill out, the three newer ones said they had never raised goats or chickens. They were living on vegetables and fruit. Our 4 widows are:

Faith (from last year), age 30 with 5 children ages 11 to 4
Ruth , age 70, raising three grandchildren ages 15 to 7,
Hannah, age 35, raising 4 children ages 12 to 7,
Alice, age 45, raising 5 children and 3 grandchildren ages 14 to 3. Imagine that!

Although I kept my umbrella over me at all times, I got sunburned. We were 200 miles from the Equator, and the sun is intense. It was a really, really hot day! We got wonderful pictures of these dear, regal people. I saw Faith rubbing away tears when I told them I was there because of her. I am happy to report that she has come a long way in the past year. I saw the black mama goat from last year, its little "kid" and another goat at her place. Also, a piglet, and three mother hens each with a flock of chicks. She has built a second storage building, perhaps for the animals. I can see that her home has deteriorated some, perhaps from the rain. I don't know how many years the mud huts with grass roofs last. I could see a joy and self confidence in her that wasn't there last year.

I could not have set up these things from afar. A person needs to be here, and do things the Ugandan way. Not many things went as expected. However, most things turned out far better than I expected. It was a wonderful experience today, and I will always remember these women, and their strength and dignity . We plan to drive to the Capital city of Kampala tomorrow, and I fly home Friday night. (note* We drove South to Kampala by the secondary route the next day, over the submerged bridge (an 8 hour drive). However, that road was closed before Lawrence's family returned home a few days later. They had to drive West from Kampala toward the Congo and circle above Soroti, approaching it from the North. They said it was the roughest road they had ever traveled. I can't imagine any road rougher than the roads we had traveled! I suppose they got home after dark, but wouldn't admit it to me!

On my last day in Kampala, I was able to visit Lucy, a lady who makes the beautiful, traditional Uganda necklaces out of paper beads. My daughter-in-law had come across Lucy on a previous trip to Kampala, and bought me two necklaces. She had no idea I would have it on my agenda to somehow find someone who makes the necklaces. Lucy is a fine Christian woman who has kindly offered to travel to Soroti and teach this craft to widows who don't live in areas sufficient to raise goats. I expect to take her up on this offer in the future. She turned out to be far beyond what I was looking for in a "necklace lady".

Lucy cuts long thin strips of paper from magazines, and rolls them tightly into beads. She glues, varnishes and washes them. Then she strings them according to her choice of color into lovely necklaces. The only color on the beads is from colored pages in magazines. Sometimes a person can even see parts of printed letters. I bought 112 of her necklaces, and that was nearly two month's income to her and her family. She doesn't have a market, but tries to sell them individually to tourists. I told her I can't sell them in the USA, but I can give them as gifts when people donate or help promote our charity.

We sent Dr Sam out November 23rd to visit all the widows and check up on their goats. Faith's dairy goat had twins on October 25th, a boy and a girl! Dr. Sam said they weigh 4 times that of ordinary one-month old goats! Faith said she hadn't been drinking the milk, but had tasted it, and it was very good. She thought she shouldn't drink it because there are two babies rather than one. Dr. Sam told her they could drink all the milk they wanted. Her goat is a very good producer of milk. Imagine that from a 50% Toggenburg! Beyond my expectations! He said that Grandmother Widow Ruth's goat looks ready to have a baby very soon. We will send Dr. Sam out periodically to be sure that the goats are thriving.

We received word on November 29th, that Dr. Opolot has brought our 5 Anglo-Nubian goats (4 females and a male) from Kampala to Soroti, and has them in his pasture! We were convinced that we need our own herd, so that we are not at the mercy of others when we are ready to give goats to more widows and orphans. We will then be able to give better advance training and notice to recipients. We have been given estimates of $250 to $500 per acre depending how close to town, and hope to purchase a nice sized pasture for around $10,000. The cost of high chain link fencing and other improvements will also cost another $10,000. We plan to have Dr. Opolot arrange for their care. I have already told him he can use the services of our male goat. Imagine his delight at producing a goat that is half Anglo-Nubian and half Boer (a very large meat-type goat)! We are looking forward to an exciting year in 2008.

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A Non-Profit Christian Charity
PO Box 9362
Rapid City, SD 57709

PROVERBS 27:27 "There will be enough goats' milk for your food…and for the food of your household."