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Gift of a Goat Brings Opportunity to Ugandan Girl

By Kathryn McConnell
Staff Writer

Washington — Born into poverty in 1984 in a remote Ugandan village, Beatrice Biira grew up dreaming of going to school. But instead of setting off for a classroom each day, Biira stayed at home helping her mother care for her five younger siblings and planting the family’s fields. Her parents could not afford to buy her a school uniform or books. An education, Biira thought, was out of reach.

But far away — in Niantic, Connecticut — a church youth group decided to donate to a good cause. They sent money to the nonprofit group Heifer International, an Arkansas-based nonprofit that gives small livestock to poor families.

When Biira was 9 years old, her family was among 12 in Kisinga village to receive a goat from Heifer, purchased with the donations from the people in Niantic. Biira named the goat Mugisa, or “Luck.” Mugisa soon gave birth to two kids, and the three animals produced enough milk to give Biira’s family a nutritional boost. Each morning, Biira sold the milk left after the family’s needs were met. Within three months, she had saved enough money to pay for a uniform and supplies and begin school.

Two years later, a group of Heifer supporters came to Kisinga to see firsthand the effects the donations were having on villagers’ lives. It was clear to the visitors that the goats’ milk had improved the villagers’ health. The families used goat manure to fertilize gardens, improving yields of other healthy food. And some families that had received goats had saved enough money from milk sales to start small businesses or build houses.

Among the visitors were children’s book author Page McBrier and illustrator Lori Lohstoeter. The two decided to write a book about how the small gift of a goat was able to provide Biira with the opportunity of an education. Beatrice’s Goat was published in 2001 and became a New York Times best-selling children’s book.

A portion of the sales goes to Heifer for providing poor families around the world with farm animals or honeybees and with training to care for them.

As Biira got older, another person who had been among the visitors to Kisinga in 1995 stayed in touch. Rosalee Sinn had felt an instant feeling of friendship toward Biira, and she encouraged her to apply for study in the United States. Biira did that. A bright student, she qualified for a scholarship to a college preparatory school in Massachusetts, and later, for another scholarship to Connecticut College.

She managed during her college years to get an internship with then-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in Washington. In May 2008, Biira graduated with a bachelor’s degree in international development. She is enrolled in the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, Arkansas, from which she expects to receive a master’s degree in May 2010.

Now 25 years old, Biira said college life has required much work and patience. She wants to use her education to start an organization to help women and children in her home community, she said in a December 2 webchat ( ).

Biira has returned to her village once each year since she moved to the United States. She encourages children there, especially girls, to set their sights on getting an education. The opportunity to go to school opens many doors, she said. While the traditional view in Africa has been that girls need not go to school because they will marry at a young age and start having children, “fortunately, such beliefs are fading away.”

She also encourages women to start small businesses. “Women have a lot of talents they can develop to earn income,” she said. Many Ugandan women she knows are “hardworking, resilient, persistent and willing to work to improve their financial status.”

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.  Web site:
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