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Help for Uganda's farmers: a heifer to start a family

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"What do your children dream about?"

That question is put to the parents committee in Uganda's eastern Pallisa district. After a puzzled silence, a young father stands up and says, tentatively: "To have corrugated sheets of iron on the roof?"

Dreams are modest here, where despite an economic upturn in the past 15 years, these villagers - like 40 percent of Uganda's 22 million people - are barely surviving on less than $1 a day, below the poverty line.

Food is meager, homes are crowded and flimsy, clothes are dirty.

The men and women here - small farmers with big families, tiny mud huts, and no savings - are just trying to get themselves and their children through the day. With a little help, that could be easier.

And help has arrived, in the form of a cow.

The Heifer Project, run by the Richmond, Va.-based nongovernmental organization Christian Children's Fund (CCF), has, since its inception in 1998, been handing out female cows to needy families in Uganda.

While there are other cow-donation projects at work in Africa - notably Heifer Project International, a Little Rock, Ark.-based charity which has provided farm animals to needy families worldwide for more than 50 years - the CCF project has given an economic boost to more than 5,000 families in Uganda and is increasing the pool of recipients by 500 each year.

What started as a small pilot program in one district is now running in 30 communities, and being copied by both the Ugandan government and by several African countries nearby.

A goat-giving spin-off project has also just begun.

Alloys Omolo, an African agricultural- development expert, consultant, and regional coordinator for CARE Kenya, says programs like this are costly to start up and take a long time to help significant numbers of people.

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