September 24, 2014

Zimbabwe: Life-Giving Goats

One nurse's research on goat's milk leads to a surprising new source of hope for mothers with HIV.

  • Sharing a Laugh

    James Kambudzi laughs with Tawanda Mundara (far right) and his grandmother Merina Mukwenya. Tawanda was given a goat through the goat project a number of years ago and has now grown the number of goats he owns to four.

  • Innocent

    Innocent, now named Tapiwanashe Chirindo, is a living example of the difference goat’s milk can make for orphans or babies whose mothers are infected with HIV. Together with his adoptive mother, Dorothy, they share a laugh over a game of dice.

Walking to work one evening 10 years ago, a Zimbabwean nurse aide heard a faint cry coming from the side of the road. He found a security guard who lit a large torch, and the two went back to investigate.

Following the unmistakable sound of a newborn cry, they searched and found a baby boy abandoned in the tall grass. The baby was cold, weak and filthy. They took the baby to the hospital, where he was resuscitated, given fluids and put in an incubator. The hospital chaplain looked at the helpless child and, through tears, said, “This is just an innocent soul.” Fittingly, the baby was given the name Innocent.

Innocent was cared for by the nursing staff at Karanda Mission Hospital, just north of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. He was given artificial milk, but it caused diarrhea. Innocent was irritable, crying all the time, not gaining weight and often seen as a nuisance. His future was uncertain.

Then God sent Dorothy Chirindo into Innocent’s life. A hospital midwife who loves newborn babies, Chirindo had compassion for Innocent. When she went home for tea and lunch, Chirindo took Innocent with her. She’d cuddle him, change his diaper and feed him goat’s milk.

In a perfectly designed chain of events, Chirindo had unknowingly been preparing for Innocent’s arrival for years. Working with new mothers in the hospital wards, she felt a palpable need for a healthy and affordable option for orphans and mothers who could not nurse. “When the mothers with HIV were very sick, they couldn’t put their baby to breast,” Chirindo says. “In our communities, they can’t afford to feed children with artificial milk because it’s expensive, and because of the hygiene requirements, when you prepare it, the babies often develop diarrhea and die.”

Chirindo knew there had to be another option, and she began studying the benefits of goat’s milk for a thesis project in her efforts to earn the U.S. equivalent of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She researched how goat’s milk can be used and learned about its nutritional benefits. With her findings, Chirindo was certain that, in this particular community, they would be able to use goat’s milk to feed the starving babies. She started a pilot program at Karanda that provided goats and goat’s milk for mothers with HIV and mothers who could not produce milk for their newborns and orphans. 

But Chirindo soon encountered a problem. The community wasn’t familiar with goat’s milk, and milking goats was perceived as something only the poorest people did. “In the beginning, we would have to admit a mother for a week, feed the baby goat’s milk and allow her to see the baby gaining weight, growing and healthy before she was convinced to milk a goat,” Chirindo says. Over time, the community became educated about the benefits of goat’s milk and the program gained credibility. “Now they readily accept it. In fact, families will ask if we have a goat to give them,” she says.

Before sending a goat home, families are taught how to care for it, how to milk it, and are required to build adequate housing for the animal. Because people do not have refrigerators to store milk, Chirindo’s team teaches families to milk the goats three times a day: morning, afternoon and evening. They are also taught how to properly prepare the milk so it can be given to the baby without creating health problems. Over the years, the program has changed people’s mindsets. Now the community embraces the goats, and more and more people, other than just infants, are drinking the nutritious milk.

Chirindo and the other team members at Karanda are in constant communication with the families. As relationships are being built, it provides the opportunity to share the gospel. James Kambudzi, a chaplain at Karanda, oversees the goat project. “When I started my work here, I thought I was just going to read the Bible, prepare some sermons and do some counseling. But Chirindo saw potential in me and forced me into helping with the goats,” Kambudzi says. “She saw something in me which I’d never identified myself. She’s like a coach who develops a gift.”  

While Kambudzi was hesitant to get involved at first, he now understands how the goat project is really a ministry. Through regular contact with the people they help, Chirindo and Kambudzi are able to share the love of Jesus with families and orphans. “Through working with goats, and the orphan family who needs them, I’ve learned that a goat is an animal that can make nothing into something. They can eat leaves just lying on the ground, and then produce milk,” Kambudzi says. “It’s a good example of how nobody is useless under the sun. Even an orphan — you never know what God has for that orphan in future.”

The goats not only provide nourishment to orphans, they open the door for Chirindo and Kambudzi to love on people. Kambudzi, who is a parent himself and is a father figure to his siblings, explains, “I’ve seen that you can give an orphan whatever you might think an orphan would need. But, when asked what they need, they have told me that they need their parents back,” he says. “So in orphan care, I try to be like a father to an orphan — someone who can speak on their behalf and somebody who can listen to them and to their problems.”

Goat’s milk saved the life of Innocent, the abandoned baby found along the road all those years ago. Not long after Chirindo began taking Innocent home and feeding him goat’s milk, he was gaining weight and wasn’t crying as much. “We were getting attached,” Chirindo says. At the time, Chirindo’s husband was at home, sick, and watched Innocent during the day. “With time, they gave me permission to have custody of Innocent, but unfortunately my husband died before the adoption process was finished and it was very difficult to adopt him,” she says. Chirindo persevered in the adoption process for nearly six years, and now Innocent is officially her son. His name was changed to Tapiwanashe Chirindo, which means “gift from God.” Now he is Dorothy’s beloved son, a healthy and happy 10-year-old boy.

“He’s a very strong child,” Chirindo says. “He likes sports so much. He likes church so much. I just watch what he’s going to be. I think he’ll be a great leader.”

Innocent is living proof that goat’s milk can sustain a child and give him the chance at a happier and healthier life. The goat program may seem simple — give a goat to a family so they can feed an orphaned child. But its impact is far-reaching: The program saves lives, helps transform a community and gives orphans a second chance.

-Written by Katie Honnette
-Photographs by Robert Johnson

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