B1G1 Goat Tour 2011 — Part 1

Giving goats that transform

If you’d have told me that goats have the potential to transform an economy, I’ve have called you crazy.

But after what I saw in one of the most inspiring days of my life yesterday in Odede, Northern Kenya, there’s no doubt — goats transform (and perhaps not in the way you might think).

First it’s important to get that Kenya is a country where aid has been massive and the results less than impressive. Second, Odede was one of the villages that was regarded as ‘dead end, no hope’.

Then yesterday, as we walked to the new ‘Happy Goat Centre’ (you’ll see why it’s called that in a moment) we saw the transformation first-hand. We’d been told that the women who now run the Happy Goat Centre were themselves now ‘alive’ for the first time in their lives and that they would be so thrilled to see us.

But even with that pre-framing, weren’t ready for what we experienced. As we walked, we were literally surrounded (almost attacked) by 25 brightly clad women, all of them with huge smiles (some with huge toothless smiles), their voices raised in song, “Mzungu, Mzungu” “white people, white people”.

Gradually they moved us down to the shade of a tree. Enter Alex, a project leader here with World Youth International.

When Alex speaks, people listen. Some people in our group book international speakers around the world — several motioned to me that Alex should be on their books. If Alex were to run for office, he’d win.

Clearly, concisely and inspirationally, Alex laid out the background to the Goat Centre. He passionately articulated how much of Kenya had been a ‘hand out’ economy where aid dollars were given and wasted. ‘Here in Odede we believe in hand UP not hand out. Whatever we do has to be sustainable when the donors move on,’ he said.

He introduced us to the first group of 25 ‘Goat Professors’ as he called them. He told us that it’s normal for goats to be given and then effectively left to themselves. ‘That’s not happening here,” said Alex. “These goat experts are creating, in fact, they have already created, the largest goat farm in Kenya.

He told us how the women have been tending the goats each day, vaccinating them, caring for them, feeding them. And as World Youth International Executive Director Ralph Hoey put it, ‘I have never seen happier goats.

Alex told us how the women themselves are so happy  — and you could see that without Alex’s explanation.  “And that happiness has spread throughout the village,” he said

He recounted how everyone had seen what had happened to this first group of 25 women. As a result, there are now another 175 on a waiting list to be involved in the next program. And each one of them will be trained by the first group in a pay it forward way.

That pay it forward philosophy is at the heart of the project. As each kid is born, so it’s transferred to another village and the process begins again.

As important as that is, Alex feels the most important thing is that the men and crucially the youth are involved. “If a goat escapes the pens, the men now rally together to find it. That would never have happened before," Alex told us.

And the youth have been inspired to take on their own programs too,” he continued. That’s a stunning program too — one that we experienced later in the day first hand.

Then Alex laid out the plans for the breeding program where ‘normal’ goats are being cross-bred with pure Bavarian goats so that over time, the entire herd will be effectively hybrid yet close to pure bred. And pure-bred goats are worth 6 times the price of a normal goat here in Kenya.

And then began a joyful 2 kilometre ‘dance’ (that’s the only way to describe it) as the women led us down to see the newly built ‘Happy Goat Centre’ specially constructed by World Youth International (and young!) volunteers over the past 5 weeks.

It’s close to the village’s boundary on Lake Victoria and it’s great — specially segmented areas for each male goat to serve selected female goats and allow the women to keep tabs on the breeding program (and that’s not the reason it's called the ‘Happy Goat Centre’).

On the way back from the centre, Florence, one of the Goat Professors put it this way, “Thank God for the goats,” she said.

And of course, it’s not really about the goats is it. They’re a symbol of what happens when you:

•    Create a higher purpose
•    Devolve responsibility to the team
•    Create leaders not followers
•    Continue to pay it all forward.

The transformation in Odede is far from complete. There’s much to do in so many areas. And the Happy Goat Centre is paving the way forward for transformation to be the norm.

Stay tuned for more on that soon.