As we pulled into the village of Nomonge in Tanzania, I notice a woman walking up the red dirt road in a swirl of blue and yellow wraps. This village is part of a program supported by Red Cross and Heifer International helping vulnerable families – those with serious illnesses, disabilities, widowed, or suffering from extreme poverty. Additionally, the program supports orphaned and vulnerable children.
I get out of the car and begin to take photos of a chicken coop. Since I am focused solely on looking through the camera, I am completely startled by the loud squawk and chickens plummeting passed my lens. I look up to see the woman in the blue and yellow wraps with a mischievous grin on her face.
We are in Nomonge for the “Passing on the Gifts” ceremony which is a principle of Heifer. When you receive support from one of their programs you are asked to pass it. If you are given training, you are asked to train others. If you receive chickens, once your flock has grown, you pass chickens on to help a new family.
In this case, vulnerable people received six chickens and training on how to care for them in a program funded by the American Red Cross. The training teaches people to build coops and hatcheries, identify and treat poultry diseases, and prepare chicken feed at home.
Afterwards, I walk over to the woman in the wraps. Her name is Hadija and she is a success story. She brought two chickens from her flock to pass on. When her husband died, she was fearful that she and her younger children would become a burden to her adult children. She was determined not to let that happen.
She took the training and received her six chickens. With careful care, her flock thrived. In fact, not only does she have plenty of meat and eggs, but she also extra chickens to sell. She uses the income to buy other food for her family and she recently purchased five goats.
As we talk, she pulls out a 1000 TSH note (Tanzania Schilling worth about 60 cents USD) from the folds of her skirt. She hands it to me. I start to protest, worried that she thought she needed to pay me for the support Red Cross has provided. Luckily, members of the Tanzanian Red Cross team explain this is a traditional expression of friendship.
I hope one day I can return to Nomonge to visit my new friend, Hadija. Since our relationship started with her throwing chickens at me, I am dying to see what happens with the goats.
Jana Sweeny is the Director of International Communications for the American Red Cross.