The Huge Gift Of Just One Cow

Susan Page
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Wednesday - May 23, 2007
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During my 36 years of motherhood, I’ve received quite an array of Mother’s Day gifts from my children: an 8-year-old’s crayon version of Pipeline, elaborate collages of glitter hearts, and last-minute IOUs for dishwashing or lawn-mowing. There have been flowers “after the fact” and promises of gifts to come - that always do - and homemade cards signed I love you, once with a P.S. that said “No offense, Mom, but sometimes you bug me.”

All were special, but none has meant more than the gift I got this past Mother’s Day. In addition to cut flowers and sweet treats, I got a cow. Yes, like Lani Moo, a cow.

Well, truth is my daughter and son-in-law didn’t actually send the cow here to my house. I don’t really need a cow since I get my milk at the grocery store, where it comes pasteurized, fat-reduced and cartoned.

Besides, a cow wouldn’t do much to enhance my neighborhood standing, at least not the way it would for 31 widows and grandmothers in Kinangop, Kenya, where a cow doesn’t just mean prestige, it means everything.

My gift cow is actually for them.

In a country where life expectancy is 47, these brave women, some HIV positive, have burdens we can’t even imagine. Most have had husbands die of AIDS and many have lost children to the deadly virus. All take care of from three to 12 children and/or grandchildren on about $51 a year.

One of them, Veronicah Wambui, 76, a widow, has been very depressed. There never seems to be enough. Since her three daughters died of AIDS, she’s struggled to support 12 grandchildren (one as young as 3) by working in gardens.

In 2005, when life seemed impossible, these 31 women decided to do what women do well: talk. Every Wednesday they gathered in a local orphanage to share, support each other, and also plan and pray. Their first wish was for chickens. How amazing it would be for each to have a chicken for fresh eggs and eventually meat for the children. They’d toil extra hours - those who could - in rich people’s gardens and homes to buy those chickens. Finally, after eight months of exhaustive work, it was real: 31 chickens, one apiece.

With such success and their goal realized, would they still need to meet? Of course, because they came up with a new goal: 31 dairy cows.

In Kenya and most of Africa, a cow is real property that provides food and even income. But for these women, many of whom are dying, a cow is an inheritance, a legacy of sustenance. A cow would mean AIDS widow Grace Githuku, infected herself and jobless, can worry a little less about Phillis, 16, Cecilia, 13, Ann Njeri, 9, and Winnie, 1, when she dies. Left with a cow, her girls might survive.

An American charitable organization found out about these women and began to raise awareness and funds. The response was overwhelming. Even though a good milking cow in Kenya costs $500 (about what the top iPod with some accessories runs), 31 cows and a bull have been purchased in time to be delivered in July. The cows will be walked into the village by a mission group from the organization to surprise the faithful women of Kinangop, Kenya. Can you imagine their faces when they see such a sight? Imagine what a “mother’s” day that will be!

Well, I’ll let you know, because I’ll be there in Kenya, walking “my” Mother’s Day cow into Kinangop village.

Some gifts are just more meaningful than others.

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