Dec 17, 2008

World - How a goat kept Rwandans schooled (V.G.Read)

Tony Smith
BBC News, Rwanda

As we drive into the Rwandan village of Nyamikamba, a dawn mist is gradually lifting.

The single red-brown dirt road is busy with foot traffic. Children are hauling yellow plastic jerry cans back from a well. Bicycles, loaded with bananas, are being pushed to market.

The village is four hours from the capital, Kigali, close to the Ugandan border.

It is poor here; life is hard. Most of Nyamikamba's people are subsistence farmers, living on less than $1 a day.

There are no Christmas lights and no decorations. It is a world away from Christmas in the West, where shoppers throng the high street, fighting for the latest games consoles and "sat-nav" systems.
Yet this is the destination for thousands of dollars worth of Christmas gifts, given by people in the UK.

Ethical gift catalogues are increasingly popular.

The idea is simple: a gift is bought for a friend or loved one, anything from seeds to schoolbooks, even a classroom or medical centre.

The recipient gets a card explaining the idea. The gift itself goes to the developing world, to someone who needs it, in a place like Nyamikamba.

Seventeen-year-old Celina Muberarugo found it hard to understand at first. Her family received a goat three years ago.

But they were grateful and the original goat now has had several kids. One of these has been sold, enabling the family to pay for a school uniform.

Without this, Celina says she would have dropped out of school.

"We say thank you," says Celina. "People shouldn't underestimate how important a goat can be for a family in Africa."

The goat manure has been good for the family's land, so where once crops failed, now there is food.

Celina's family are subsistence farmers, surviving on the food they grow.

This year, the goat manure has been good for the family's land. So where once crops failed, now they are more plentiful.

They have even been able to sell some of their produce at the local market.

Even though they do not have money for Christmas presents, Celina says her family will be celebrating.

Home-made decorations, cut from the pages of old newspapers, hang from the ceiling of the one room where they live, eat and sleep.

Teenage wish list?

Aid agency Oxfam has given away more than 200,000 goats in this way around the world.

Almost every charity now runs a similar scheme.

Save the Children has a Wishlist catalogue, packed with gifts aimed at needy children. Help the Aged offers Cows 'n' Things, helping the elderly overseas.

Eleanor Paish, a British student, bought a goat three years ago and ever since has shunned the usual teenage wish list of clothes and music.

"My family will be giving these kinds of gifts again this year," she says.

"It's fantastic to know that you're buying something that can really make a difference, much better than the usual stuff you get like socks and soap."

Oxfam's Stuart Fowkes says it has been hugely successful.

"There's something really tangible about buying someone a goat, knowing that it is going to be a living, breathing four-legged creature that is actually going to help someone in the developing world."


The benefits are also on show at Celina's school.

Children here are desperate to learn. Hands shoot into the air whenever the teacher asks a question.

The school itself has been recently refurbished and now boasts 300 new desks.

And there are unseen benefits to the local economy too, as local carpenters make the desks rather than them being shipped in from overseas.

Celina is in her last year at school. She has just taken her final exams and is waiting for the results.
She hopes to go on to become a journalist, but knows that few here ever manage to leave the village and build a career.

Charities hope the credit crunch will not affect the popularity of such gifts.

"It's extraordinary that for £15 ($22) you can change someone's life," says Dame Hilary Blume, founder of the Good Gifts Catalogue.

"What would you rather do, buy three bars of soap from someone, or give sight to a blind child?"

She is fearful that the global economic downturn may affect sales.

"It's a little bit early to tell, but we think the number of gifts we're selling is the same," she says. "But the value of those gifts is probably down. People are spending less. People are scared of spending money because they don't know what's in the pipeline."

Thronging with patients

In the Oxfam catalogue a medical check-up costs just £6 ($9).

In reality, the charity puts those donations together, pooling the money until there is enough to finance a health clinic.

One has been built in the village of Kabuga, a half-hour drive from Celina's house in north-eastern Rwanda.
When we visit, the clinic is thronging with patients waiting to be seen.

A mother is clutching a baby girl, her eyes listless with the onset of malaria. In the clinic's only ward, two twin boys, just three months old, are recovering from pneumonia.

Outside, a queue of expectant mothers is waiting to attend a maternity clinic.

They are waiting patiently on a bench; appointments have been delayed because one woman has just gone into labour.

We hear the wail of a newborn baby boy and find him wrapped in a blanket.

"Before this place was here, expectant mothers would have had to walk three hours to get medical help," says Jean-Baptiste Nduhirabandi, the clinic's head nurse.

"Many of them wouldn't have made it. Without this place, there's no doubt that the more vulnerable children would die."

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