Nietiwe Hemedi is a young Tanzanian mother of four. Until recently, she lived a life typical of women in rural Tanzania.
Nietiwe’s days included walking miles upon miles to fetch buckets of water so dirty it must be carefully boiled before consumed, preparing meals over a fire emitting toxic smoke, and struggling in the garden to cultivate enough food for her family, with hopes of excess to sell at market and cover her children’s school fees.
I first heard about Nietiwe in an email from a colleague that I read on my iPhone while filling my cart at Hy-Vee. The contrast was difficult to ignore.
When Empower Tanzania, the Iowa-based NGO for which I work, invited Nietiwe to join their Hedaru Goat Project, things changed dramatically for her and her family. Part of Empower Tanzania’s mission is to empower the local population to learn new skills and build viable business models that allow for sustainable economic growth. It’s a listening organization with Tanzanian staff that understands the local culture, customs, and way of life.
Generous donors afford life-changing opportunities, but the onus of progress is dependent on people like Nietiwe.
Since receiving two dairy goats, Nietiwe’s determination and natural business sense has brought tremendous success. With just a grade school education, she has taken her training and creatively expanded her business. After studying the results of raising her milk goats in a pen, feeding them fresh grasses, and carefully tending to their veterinary needs, she determined such practices would work for goats raised for their meat.
With her earnings from selling dairy, she bought several meat goats and began to raise them in the same manner. She now sells some of the best (and most expensive) meat goats in her town.
Nietiwe is now able to feed her family and half of her neighborhood. She has added chickens, built a new latrine and kitchen, and pays her children’s school fees. She shares her knowledge with others and has emerged as a strong leader among the Hedaru goat farmers. The investment in one woman has impacted countless people and the course of families for generations.
Last year Nietiwe gave birth to a son who weighed over nine pounds—an unheard of weight for a Tanzanian baby. When my Iowa-based colleague visited, she became concerned that Nietiwe might be developing diabetes, which is common in Tanzania. Nietiwe laughed and said, “I am fat! I eat meat, milk, and vegetables during my pregnancy, and I have an American-sized baby. He is healthy because I am healthy.”
In April, I will travel to Tanzania to help celebrate another Empower Tanzania project. While there I hope to meet Nietiwe. The two of us were born into vastly different worlds. And yet, healthy children, money to pay for schooling and healthcare, meaningful work—this is Nietiwe’s dream. What strikes me is that as a woman, wife, and mother, it’s also mine.