For 63 years, Lam O. felt like a burden. Born blind in the Tay Ninh province, where visually impaired people are considered invalids, Lam struggled with a sense of worth. Then he married and had two children. His family loved and respected him, but he felt like a failure. He was unable to work and to provide for his wife and children. His son went to work as a day laborer just so his family could survive, but they still struggled in poverty. Lam began to lose hope.
Just when he felt complete despair, ADRA workers came to his house and asked if he was interested in joining the Cow Bank Initiative. When they explained the program, he responded with a joyous and emphatic “yes.”
Visual impairment is the most common disability in Vietnam. According to the UNFPA, 4 million people are visually impaired in Vietnam.
“People with visual impairment lack access to education, health care, jobs, and many other basic social services,” said Nguyen Anh Thinh, programs director of ADRA Vietnam. “They often have low incomes, so we concentrate on helping them generate income with a particular model that they can participate in and apply.”
In Vietnam, that model is the cow bank. The system is simple and cost-effective, and it is changing lives.
A family is given a female cow and training on how to care for it. They mate the cow with a bull and wait for her to give birth. Once she delivers the calf, the family gives the calf to the cow bank, and they keep the mother. After that, they are allowed to keep all her subsequent calves. When the firstborn calf given to the cow bank reaches the appropriate age, she is in turn given to another family, and the cycle begins again.
Since its launch in 2010, this program has affected more than 160 families. And in a society where a single cow is worth $2,000, these families are lifted out of poverty and provided with tangible, measurable hope.
Lam and his family are among the beneficiaries. He and his wife care for the cow together, taking it to the field in the morning and evening. She has already given birth twice and is carrying a third.
“This is a new beginning for us,” said Lam. “The cow is the most precious asset we own, and it will secure our future.”