Serendipity and a Superhero: Goats for Widows

Traditionally, in rural Borneo, wives whose husbands have died are left with few options for making a living. Our partners at Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI) created the Goats for Widows program to empower these women and give them economic independence. Amy Cardamone, a public health expert who works in different rural areas throughout Southeast Asia, visited Alam Sehat Lestari recently and witnessed the birth of a baby goat, with a rather dramatic intervention from ASRI staff:

Ibu Setiwati, the ASRI Goats for Widows Coordinator, and I set off to visit several of the goat recipients early one morning during my 4-day visit to the ASRI Clinic earlier this month.  We traveled quickly by motor bike along the main roads of Sukadana before turning into a dirt path leading to a rural neighborhood where several of the program participants live.

Our first stop was at the home of Ibu Are.  Two goats, grazing on the grasses across the street, were immediately visible.  Ibu Are eagerly ushered us to a shady area where a baby goat and its mother caught our attention.  The baby, at one month old, is adorable.  She is the 5th offspring of the female goat who was given to Ibu Are 4 years ago.  As the program requires, the first offspring was given to another recipient to extend the program beneficiaries.  The second one was sold while the third and fourth, a male and female, were the two we had seen when we first pulled up.  The female has just miscarried and Ibu Setiawati recommended she be given a mixture of turmeric, salt and water to clean out and strengthen her reproductive system.  She also trimmed the hoofs and suggested they be given water used to boil sweet potatoes to prevent worms and ticks.  Ibu Are was obviously proud of her success and very grateful for the program and to Ibu Setiawati for her support.

When we arrived at our second stop, the home of Ibu Lugaya was quiet.   We found her out back trying to get coax her goat to follow her to the front of the house.  When the goat would not budge, Ibu Lugaya grew concerned.  As we approached, we realized the mother goat was starting the birthing process.  Before too long, it became obvious to all three of us that the mother goat was struggling and did not seem to be dilated enough to push the calf out.  Ibu Setiawati asked the widow for some oil which she smoothed on the skin of the opening and began to message the mother goat’s belly.  The waters broke and slowly after some coxing and multiple pushes, the head popped out.  The calf was alive!

Photo: Chelsea Call

However, after successfully getting the head out, the mother goat stopped pushing.  We thought she was just taking a rest but when she did not resumed even after 15 minutes, we began to get worried.  Ibu Set had been at one birth previously and the whole thing had only taken about 15 minutes.  By that point all three of us, the widow, Ibu Setiawati and I, were down on our knees messaging the mother, holding her gaze and using words of encouragement for her and the baby.  Time was ticking by.  Ibu Setiawati, who was trained by a Veterinarian, several years ago on goat care had not been trained to assist a birth.  There was no Vet in the area to call.  Ibu Setiawati suggested calling the village Midwife but she was away attending a birth in a neighboring village.

At last, Ibu Setiawati corralled her own strength, took a deep breath and maneuvered her right hand inside the birth canal and pushed on the mother’s belly with her left hand.  She pulled and pushed and miraculously guided one shoulder and then another and finally the whole baby calf safely out into the world.  The atmosphere was electric.  The mother goat had successfully given birth to her first calf -- with some much-needed assistance; the widow became the proud shepherd of a growing family of goats; and Ibu Setiawati had called on an inner reserve of strength and became a super hero that day.  I felt incredibly honored to witness this tangibly empowering moment.  Ibu Setiawati’s skills and courage impressed me deeply as did the success of the program for the widows.

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