The Heifer Reward

Ms. Mudiyanselage Dayangani Herath is 38 years old and resides in Udamalala, a village in the Hambantota district of Sri Lanka. Dayangani is originally from Polonnaruwa district, but moved south seven years ago to marry her husband, Mr. Mala Bandanage Karunaratna. Her husband is a fisherman and a devout Buddhist. The day the 2004 tsunami battered seventy percent of Sri Lanka’s coastline also happened to be Poya (full moon), a day with religious significance to Buddhists. For this reason, Karunaratna was at his local temple rather than working on his boat when the waves of the tsunami crashed ashore. The following day when Karunaratna travelled to the coast, he was confronted with the devastating loss caused by the tsunami. He located his fishing boat perched on top of a tree, ripped apart. Karunaratna lost all of his nets and fishing gear and in the aftermath of the tragedy, his livelihood as well. For a long period, the family’s only source of income was a paltry monthly relief allowance provided by the government of Sri Lanka.

Dayangani is a member of the Women’s Development Federation (WDF), an active NGO in the Hambantota district, and a member of the Hambantota District Consortium. Her association with the NGO goes back many years. Dayangani learned about the Heifer dairy project from a partner organization working with WDF. She was told that before receiving a dairy cow, participants had to complete Cornerstones (a value-based social mobilization programme) and a course in animal husbandry. As Dayangani was busy taking care of her one-year old infant son, she nominated her husband to take the courses. Karunaratna is illiterate, but this did not prevent him from absorbing the information discussed in the classes. Karunaratna finished his Heifer training in June 2007, demonstrating commendable commitment to the project objectives. He believes that the Cornerstone programme was extremely valuable for achieving greater unity within his family and the larger community, and also for teaching him how to develop a home garden using conservation methods. In addition to the substantial savings generated from using compost fertilizer in the home garden, the family is happy that no harmful chemicals are being sprayed on the vegetables they consume daily.

After completing the Heifer training, Karunaratna shared his new knowledge with his wife. A local resident and fellow Heifer participant, Ms. Sudharma Nilmini, in accordance with the “passing on the gift” principle espoused in the Heifer training, gave the couple an 8-month calf on July 5, 2007. The “passing on the gift” occasion was marked by a festive atmosphere and the consumption of lots of sweetmeats to celebrate their new foray into dairy farming. The couple concentrated their efforts on the home garden while the calf developed into a mature cow. They grow many crops, including bananas, papayas, chillies and a wide assortment of vegetables. Both husband and wife are members of a small self-help group that emphasize sharing knowledge and learning from other member’s experiences.

The family’s calf grew into a mature cow, and gave birth to a healthy heifer in February 2009. After weaning the calf from her mother and putting aside some milk daily for her children, Dayangani sells about 2 litres of milk a day to supplement the family income. Before the couple’s participation with the Heifer programme, the family used to spend Rs. 1,200 monthly on milk powder for her small children. Now the children drink fresh milk, and the home garden allows the couple to sell surplus fruit and vegetables, usually generating Rs. 1,500 a month. The couple have recently taken out a bank loan for Rs. 50,000 from the local rural bank to carry out home improvements, such as replacing the roofing sheets for their thatched house. With the income they receive from the sale of milk, fruit and vegetables, Dayangani and Karunaratna are finally in a position to invest in their own lives. The Heifer programme has been pivotal for rewarding this young family, both economically and through the social elements of the Cornerstones training. Words do not adequately express the gratitude that Dayangani and Karunaratna feel for the Heifer programme. And like the gift they were fortunate to receive from a neighbour, they too will soon be passing on the Heifer gift of a young calf to another fortunate soul in their community.