When Husna joined Samridhi’s first group of goat farmers, she had 40 years’ experience in the business, but it hadn’t paid off for her. She’d cared for goats since childhood on a sharing basis (common in rural India) through which she would shelter and feed a goat belonging to someone else, and then split the milk output 50/50. However, “as the goats grew more sturdy and could survive, the owners would often come and take the goats back,” Husna recalls. Supplementing goat farming with potato harvesting, she made about 80 cents per day.
Husna lived in what’s called a “kaccha” or “makeshift” house made of mud and thatch, with two raised beds and no other assets. At age 50, widowed in her thirties, she had singlehandedly raised four children: a son now working in Kolkata, one daughter married, and another son (15) and daughter (14). When the Samridhi opportunity arose in October, Husna signed on for three goats, increasing her earning potential to $2-3 a day. And the next time we visit Husna in late January, we cannot believe our eyes.
Standing close to the exact spot where the mud hut had been is a charming brick house with an iron door and a curtained front window. The 10’ x 15’, one-room house has a built-in raised bed with storage below. It has floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with dried foods, elegant ceramics and silver, storage containers and cooking utensils, and a cook stove. The mortar still smells fresh. Around Husna’s neck is a burgundy ribbon pendant, on which she has strung the silver key to her front door. Out back stands a sheltered pen for the goats, stacked with fresh hay and feed.
“I built this house just next to the goats to motivate them on financial prosperity,” Husna jokes, posing with her goats for a photograph.
Turns out, Husna has long been salting away savings in an account at her local post office. “I’ve been saving for 13 years for this house,” she says, “ever since my husband’s death. At first I was saving for my daughter’s wedding, but then I realized that the house is a priority. My son and son-in-law advised me to build a house, so that if anyone comes to marry my [youngest] daughter they will see that she is well off.” Husna’s eyes twinkle as she gazes across the interior of her well-stocked new home. Not only has she built a lovely, sturdy abode for herself, she’s upped her daughter’s chances of marrying into the type of financial security she’s built here.
Husna constructed her house in three months with financial assistance from no one, not even her grown children. It cost $800. Part of her old mud and thatch house now serves as the shed for the goats.
Now she’s off and running toward her next big goal, saving for the wedding, which will cost at least $1,000. Given her increase in income, Husna expects to be able to save that amount in two years.
However, right now, Husna has some haggling to do with the company CEO over how things are run here in Berhara Village. Samridhi had tried out some fancy goats from Rajasthan that produce milk with higher fat density, and Husna believes that was a mistake. Her “foreign” goat fell ill and died, and she says she prefers the hardier local breed.
“I will only be happy if you replace both [the one that died and the other Rajasthani] goats with local goats,” she says, tossing her headscarf. She banters good-naturedly with Samridhi CEO Lokesh Singh and staff veterinarian D.K., calling them names and bargaining until they come to an agreement to replace the two goats, allow Husna to choose them from The Goat Trust, and transport her on D.K.’s motorcycle so she will not have to be away all day. The plan is set for tomorrow, and Husna is satisfied.
After all these years of working for other farmers, Husna struggles to believe that Samridhi actually has entrusted her with ownership of three goats. “I will believe these goats are mine once they [all] start giving milk,” she maintains. As she advocates for her goat-flock and envisions future earnings, Husna is wordlessly surrounded by a gaggle of grandchildren with big eyes who have come in to watch their grandma in action. Husna pauses to give hugs all around, at the same time pointing out that although she has family here in Berhara, they are all quite independent . . . and so is she. Yeah, we noticed.