“Once during flood time, my daughter had a seizure and fell in the river,” says Bibi Gull, an Afghan woman whose child is epileptic. “She was wearing red, so we could see her from where we were standing. Her cousins jumped in the river and pulled her out.”
Her daughter, now 14, had gone for years without treatment and fell down often. “It’s dangerous,” says Bibi. But the family had no money for medicine or doctor’s visits. After returning to Afghanistan following years as refugees in Iran, they had to borrow money from neighbors just for the basics.
In their dusty village near the city of Herat, Bibi’s husband worked as a sharecropper. Bibi took care of the house and her 9 children.
Like most of the women in her village, she had no way to earn money.
One day they had an unusual visitor: one of Afghanistan’s only women veterinarians came to see them. “It was the first time that anyone came to our village and told us about a program,” says Bibi. The vet, Doctor Karima, worked for Catholic Relief Services. “She told us she would teach us to raise chickens on better management to be profitable.”
Doctor Karima and other CRS staff taught 50 women in Bibi’s village about proper feeding and watering; how to avoid or treat common poultry diseases; and how to keep both birds and eggs clean. They explained how to build a coop that would keep out rats and scorpions and provided screens for ventilation. CRS started the women off with egg tray-cartons to link in local market, urging the group not to put eggs in a plastic bag where they could be smashed.
Doctor Karima and a CRS colleague flew to the capital, Kabul, to search out the best chickens. “Domestic chickens only lay about 50 eggs a year,” says Fraidoon, Animal Husbandry Senior Project Officer. “The chickens we chose lay over 300 eggs each year.” Giving each woman seven hens and one rooster, CRS distributed over 8,000 chickens to women’s groups like Bibi Gull’s.
The birds were selected for hardiness and for the taste of their eggs.
“In the market, there are a lot of imported eggs from Iran and Pakistan, but they are white and not so in demand,” says Fraidoon. “They’re from chickens who get a lot of hormones. The eggs from the chickens CRS selected are more like the domestic variety, more delicious. The birds are free-range and get fresh air upon natural growing.”
The chickens started to lay eggs quickly, and within a few months families had enough eggs to eat and to sell. As the group leader, Bibi Gull takes the eggs to market in Herat about once a week. Carefully cradling four carton-trays holding 30 eggs apiece, she takes a bumpy hour-long bus ride to get there.
Today, Bibi Gull makes about $10—each week from the sale of her own eggs and other women farmers’ eggs. A portion of that goes into a saving box; the rest is profit for the women. In a place where $0.11 can buy a family bread for days, the extra money “makes a big difference,” says Bibi.
As the group’s leader, Bibi Gull regularly monitors the women farmers’ flocks, providing instructions and distributing medicine as needed.
The savings box money buys the poultry medicine, and is also used to help group members out when they are in need. With the group’s approval, Bibi Gull took a loan for her daughter.
“Now I can take her to the doctor regularly, and she’s getting better,” says Bibi. With a new prescription, her epilepsy symptoms have lessened. She’s even able to help her mother with their livestock.
“She’s really interested in the chickens. They give her something to do,” says Bibi. “And the little chicks, they’re her project. She thinks, ‘They’re my responsibility.’”
“It’s a really good, happy feeling” to see her neighbors’ success, says Bibi. “It was hard times here before, but now many women farmers love their chickens and are working.”
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