As many of us are busily getting through a stockpile of chocolate eggs over Easter, a Salvation Army overseas aid program is quietly building livelihoods, writes Jen Vuk.
For the past seven years at Easter, Chicks for Change (formerly The Chick Effect) has been asking Australians to put the chicken before the (chocolate) egg.
The date is significant. As one of the most important periods on the Christian calendar, Easter brings hope, renewal and transformation—all of which underpin the Chicks for Change philosophy.
Run by Salvation Army International Development (SAID), you can say that the initiative’s unofficial tag line is ‘From little things big things grow’. Chicks for Change also reminds us how small the world really is and how interconnected we all are.
For instance, when we buy a gift, such as a pair of chickens (A$24) or some seeds (A$7) through the Chicks for Change website*, what we’re actually doing is helping a woman in a developing country start her own business.
Manager of The Salvation Army’s International Giving, Leigh O’Donoghue tells Warcry that when a woman in India, Myanmar or Tanzania, for instance, receives her chickens (or goats, ducks, piglets) she’s “able to build up a small business which enables her to earn an income.
“With this income, she can feed their family, send her children to school or pay for medicines when needed.”
There’s a very good reason why women are targeted as the beneficiaries of this program, adds Lieut-Colonel Simone Robertson, director of Salvation Army International Development.
“There have been several studies that show that helping women benefits the whole family,” she says. “It improves the health of the children, and mothers are generally aware of the need of education. They know what their family’s needs are.”
This is how the program works: The Salvation Army’s ‘field organisers’—those connected to the community via an Army church or who come alongside the community through a social program—help identify those who will benefit most. The aim is be as inclusive as possible.
Those who come on board are generally women who are best able to identify common needs in their own communities, and they, in turn, form self-help groups which helps them secure microfinance loans from financial institutions, the government, or other NGOs.
“So they’re actually availing themselves of those loans and with that money they’re purchasing the chickens, or it might be a goat or candle-making machines or sewing machines,” says Lieut-Colonel Robertson.
“They identify their needs and the problems they face.”
This is certainly true for Salima. Not so long ago Salima lived with her family in rural poverty in Tanzania, and she says that her life has been completely transformed thanks to the Chicks for Change program.
Since receiving chickens, she and her family have managed to work their way out of poverty.
“Before the project I just had a small vegetable patch that didn’t grow much, but after getting some chickens I am making a profit,” she says.
“I am now able to send my children to school; one of them is a policeman, another is studying computers and a third will soon study to be an electrician.
“Through the chicken project I have also been able to purchase a cow, build a new house for my family and buy a plough which I rent out to other farmers.”
It was through a community grant offered by the program that Ranjulata, who lives in Tudubali, India, received 200 chickens.
“It helps us to generate income and strengthen our financial standard. It’s helping us fulfil our needs,” says Ranjulata. “Now I am even more passionate about my children’s education and health.”
Regardless of whether the women receive chickens or livestock, or a grant, each ‘gift’ is designed with one aim in mind—to empower the recipient.
“In many in many of these contexts women don’t have so much of say in their household and decisions are primarily made by their husbands and they don’t have the power to make the decisions,” says Lieut-Colonel Robertson.
“So in helping create these self-help groups it gives them an opportunity to meet outside the house and be empowered. Because once they start to have more income, this can often lead to recognition of their equality from their husbands and community.”
And the positive flow-on effects of our one small act don’t end at the door of the family home, either. Even something as small as a chicken has a ripple effect in the community, providing access to better health, income and livelihood opportunities or vaccines, as well as equipment for agricultural farming needs.
The self-help groups also provide a valuable avenue through which the women are able to advocate for and, better avail, resources for their community from the government—yes, it’s true there really is power in numbers.
When you think about it, Chicks for Change doesn’t just remind us that Easter is about more than chocolate eggs, it also offers something of value in real terms and shows us that distance is no barrier to change, but, most of all, it illustrates that social revolution can—and does—begin at home.
Each year Easter falls between 21 March and 25 April. The Bible tells us that Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday and came back to life three days later on Easter Sunday, which falls this year on 16 April.
*You can get involved by going online at salvos.org.au/chicksforchange.