A Goat Can Make You Happy


We asked women what changes they wanted to see in their lives.  Their answers might surprise you.
Reading through the pile of documents at work today, I ran across a remarkable truth—a goat can make you happy.  Sounds strange, but it turns out to be true.  How do I know?  A woman in Burundi told me so.

"What makes me feel well in my heart? My goat. . . Every morning when I wake up the first thing that I see is my goat, tied up to the tree. Then I smile. I bought that goat with my savings in the solidarity group. Someone could come and kill that goat. Someone could steal her. But it would not matter. I could get another goat, because I bought the goat myself, with my savings. And now I have the power to solve my problems and take care of my daughter. I never have to be afraid again!" (Minani[1])

Just reading that reminds me why I do my job.  Sometimes it seems like I spend a lot of time in meetings and on airplanes for tiny changes out in the world.  Some days it feels like nothing at all is getting better.  Between Ebola and the crisis in Sudan, it’s easy to think that the international development enterprise is entirely doomed. But Minani reminded me that small changes matter; they become big changes. A goat can make you happy.  A goat can change the world.

Minani’s story encapsulates so much about the basic foundations of life and happiness for all of us—whether you live in an apartment in DC or a hut in Burundi.  For Minani, her goat represents self-sufficiency, success, resilience, safety, and the ability to help other people.  A goat can help her solve her problems, and protect herself and her family.  It proves that she can do anything.

This quote is part of a CARE’s new study To Be Well at Heart about what it means to truly support women’s well-being.  We asked women in Burundi, Nepal, and Uganda what they needed in their conflict-affected lives.  CARE wanted to get a sense of how our projects could best support them.  Their answers help us to design and measure programs to create changes that work for everyone. For Minani, this was getting the skills and support she needed to save money and buy a goat. Other women pointed to other issues that mattered to them, including:

  • Land ownership / independent income
  • Being able to help others
  • Access to groups and support networks
  • Peace and security
  • Quality education

Everything on that list is something that I want for myself and my family.  Nothing on there is objectionable.  But it might not be the list we would come up with if we didn’t ask women what they wanted. I would not have thought that a goat would be the first thing a woman would list when she wanted to be happy. Listening to Minani and others like her means that we’ll do a better job making long term change that matters.

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About the Author:
Emily Janoch is the Knowledge and Learning Advisor for CARE USA's Gender and Empowerment team.  She has 9 years experience in international development, focusing on how to work with communities to get solutions that work for them.  She has a Masters' in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.


[1] Name changed to protect her privacy