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UBC alumnus John Agak spearheaded a microfinance project using goats to benefit his home village - photo courtesy of John Agak
UBC alumnus John Agak spearheaded a microfinance project using goats to benefit his home village - photo courtesy of John Agak

UBC Reports | Vol. 52 | No. 11 | Nov. 2, 2006

Alumni Focus: Goat’s The Hero In This Community

By Lisa Thomas-Tench

It all started with goats.

In 2004, UBC PhD alumnus John Agak asked then-president Martha Piper for forty goats to help his home community in Kenya develop a new vision for self-reliance and sustainability.

Kanyawegi, a small village in the far west of Kenya and neighbour to the expansive Masai Mara game reserve, is situated in lush tropical rainforest along the African equator. Agak grew up in the village, and was one of a very few young people  from his poverty-stricken community able to pursue a university education.

His determination is palpable: Agak wants to give Kanyawegi children orphaned by the HIV/AIDS pandemic the same kind of educational opportunities he received.

“The devastation and poverty that this disease has brought to this community cannot be overemphasized,” Agak says. “Kids from poor homes are bright, concentrate in school and have the willingness and passion to further their school to the highest level possible. The only drawback is the financial support that they desperately need to fulfill their dreams.”

The vibrant community has every hope of achieving its goals, creating sustainable income-generation projects, leadership opportunities and jobs to local people. After receiving a grant for the goats, Agak donated the livestock to eight women’s small business groups. His idea: provide the community with a means of generating cashflow, so that they would be able to pass on any surplus revenues (or goat offspring) to other small businesses to create new opportunities. It’s microfinance, only using goats as currency.

The idea worked. Within a year, the women’s groups were making a profit and started a bank account to finance other projects, like a granary being built to maximise revenues from the sales of ample corn crops, a school reconstruction project and a clothing manufacturing business. As Agak notes, “investing in women makes a profound difference in the community,” not just for the women themselves, but for their children now able to afford to attend school.

In the spirit of global citizenship and service learning, Agak has now opened Kanyawegi to the world. Through a partnership with YouLead, UBC’s global service learning unit, students are able to visit, learn and assist with projects in rural Kenya. A new program beginning this spring will invite UBC alumni to the village to share business skills, agriculture techniques, and input on education projects with the community.

Agak’s ongoing partnership with UBC will not end in Kenya. Goat microfinancing has been translated into a pig project in Uganda, and will continue to inspire new YouLead programs in Indonesia and Colombia. John Agak and Kanyawegi have created a unique legacy that the university will share with students and communities worldwide for years to come.

To learn more, or to explore a volunteer vacation in Kenya, contact YouLead at 604 822 6110 or visit youlead.org.

Reprinted with permission from Trek magazine.

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Last reviewed 31-Oct-2006

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