Consider a life-changing moment you experienced. Who was there? What was it like? How was the course you were traveling altered? On my most recent expedition to the small community of Pampa de los Silva, Peru, I met a cohort of women whose lives were changed by a small group of ducks.
These women decided to form a Duck Cooperative, despite all of the difficulties and the fact that they were challenging many societal norms.
Rather than individually raise one or two ducks, which would eventually be slaughtered and sold when money was tight, these women decided to “pool” their ducks. Then, they would take turns caring for the ducks, each agreeing to take one day of the week to do it. This is a sacrifice for these women, as time spent feeding and caring for ducks replaces cooking, cleaning, and caring for one’s family. You can imagine that in a machismo society, like this one in Peru, most of these women did not have the support of their husbands when they began this cooperative. However, despite the fear of failure, these women went for it.
When the CHOICE-Peru team heard that these women were jointly raising ducks, they decided to help provide additional materials and training. CHOICE provided basic instruction on how to care for the ducklings, including basic veterinary care like vaccines. They also gave the women additional ducklings and helped purchase food. What happened next was incredible.
The women decided they needed to expand the pen where the ducklings were being kept. This meant building a large fence from a bamboo-like plant. This involved creating the supporting structure, then shoving the gaps and empty spaces full of the dried bamboo. The women got to work, but it wasn’t just the women this time. Then men -- their husbands -- started to realize that their wives might just have incredible success. Suddenly the sacrifices the women were making weren’t so terrible after all. The man showed up to help complete the fence, which was an incredible gesture to each of the 30 women in the co-op.
Once the first 100 ducklings were raised to maturity, they were slaughtered and the women cooked them & sold them -- a better method since duck is not as desirable a meat as chicken, and many do not know how to properly cook it. With their newly earned funding, the women decided that instead of paying out the funds, they would reinvest them in the co-op and purchase more ducklings and supplies.
These women are now on their fourth batch of 100 ducks. They have been saving their profits to strengthen the co-op, and despite the large personal investment (particularly of time and energy), have refused to withdraw from their joint savings for personal gain. But their investment has given them so much more than just ducks and the potential for future increased revenue.
These ducks have given them priceless gifts, including the respect of their husbands and the admiration of their children. But most importantly, these ducks have given the women self-confidence and courage. These women, who were previously terrified of failure, now know that they have talents and skills that will change the lives of them and their families. They will be able to afford to send their children to school, but more importantly, their children now know that they do not have to simply accept their extreme poor circumstances. They can pursue their own innovative ideas to break the cycle of poverty. And all this came from a bunch of ducks.