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Damo Sako is a 16-year old girl in grade 7 at Mucha Primary School in Goro Dollo district of Ormiya regional state, over 600 km south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. Her father has two wives and 16 children, 8 boys and 8 girls.

Since 2014, Damo has been one of the six beneficiaries of IIRR’s goats4girls (G4G) initiative from Mucha Primary. She was selected because she comes from a poor family, and also because of her excellent academic performance. When she received her allotment of two goats, Damo agreed to pass on the first born kid to another deserving girl. Such a girl would be selected by the school’s parents and teachers association using the G4G selection criteria. Encouraged by Damo’s award-winning academic performance, her father, Sako Chachu, despite being poor with the daunting responsibility of providing for his huge family, gave Damo one additional goat.

This was his way of showing support and appreciation for Damo’s academic performance and IIRR’s initiative to support girls. The father’s gift increased the number of goats in Damo’s small herd from 2 to 3. The herd quickly got bigger. Damo was lucky that two of the goats were pregnant when she received them and both gave birth to twins. This increased the population of her herd to 7. Honoring her agreement to pass on one kid to other deserving girls, Damo gave her first born kid to her classmate. This left Damo with 6 goats, of which two were pregnant when these words were written.

Damo has just completed grade 8 and is planning to join a good secondary school if she succeeds in passing her state exam. When asked what she would do with her new herd of goats, Damo says, I will be joining a secondary school away from home which requires renting a hostel room. I need to buy clothes, books, and other school and personal supplies. I also need money to buy food. I will, from time to time, sell some of my goats to meet all of these needs, and my goats will keep on multiplying. Now I will no longer burden my poor parents, especially my mother who bore most of my burden.

All the 6 girls who received 2 goats each in 2014 have passed on one goat to the next girl in line. This doubled the number of beneficiary girls to 12. Most recently, in the months of May and June 2015, 12 new girls received 2 goats each. Most importantly, the parents of all 12 girls, motivated by the outstanding performance of their daughters, matched one goat, giving each girl a total of 3 goats. This arrangement will do nothing less than jump-start the economic lives of these girls. Then, the 12 girls in turn will give kids to the next girl in line, and the G4G project will have a domino effect in the area. It also gives the girl and her family members the joy of giving – something they never had before.

Asked about other benefits of G4G, Damo had this to say:

Our society doesn’t value girls and so our parents don’t support our education. In our community all boys are given a gift when they are born but we girls don’t get anything. The goat project is the first live gift we have ever received as girls and it has restored our dignity and self-worth. It has increased cooperation with our parents and I feel we are more respected. It motivates us to work even harder in school and I would like to be a teacher and become a role model for many girls who, according to our tradition, marry when they are very young.

The school principal, Awol Bitata, told IIRR team that this project is a game changer in many ways. This project put girls as well as boys in healthy competition, and especially it has boosted girls’ performance which is usually poor. It has motivated parents to become more supportive of girls’ education, which was not the case before. Since 2013, when the G4G project was started, the enrollment in this remote rural school has increased by over 10% every year, especially that of girls. He says there are still many deserving girls who dropped out of school and he hopes IIRR will keep up its good work.

When each girl who received 2 goats passes on 2 kids to the next deserving girl and parents give a 3rd goat to their daughters, the project will have a huge domino effect as the practice continues. In addition, the gift of goats achieves more than economic support to the needy girls. It introduces both parents and youngsters to the idea of giving – a new practice. The act of giving restores pride, dignity, and self-worth and creates family and community cohesion.

Through G4G, IIRR aims to continue to motivate girls to perform better and become role models to other girls in remote rural communities. We also aim to re-enroll hundreds of girls in Ethiopia and other eastern African countries (Kenya, Uganda, and South Sudan) who dropped out of school mainly for economic reasons.