Nitharshan was 6 and knew exactly what he wanted to become when he grew up. He wanted to own a big cattle herd and he wanted to champion in Bullock-cart racing in his area (Mannar, North of Sri Lanka). His inspiration was his grand uncle.
“He had a big herd of cattle and every day I would spend time with him as he cared for them and took them for grazing,” Nitharshan (now 21) smiles recalling the good times, “Every January he raced at the annual bullock-cart racing festival and took me every year to watch the race. He was amazing and wanted to grow up and be like him.”
His grand uncle noticed his interest in cattle and gifted him a calf when he was six. His dream became tangible. He took care of the calf - fed him, took him to the lake for a bath three times a week and took him for a walk in the evening.
“The villagers used to make fun of me because the calf was bigger than I and I couldn’t keep up with him sometimes,” he says.
Soon, life began to take unexpected turns for Nitharshan. At the age of seven Nitharshan was diagnosed with dextrocardia - a rare congenital defect in which the apex of the heart is located on the right side of the body. The condition restricted his growth and made him easily fatigued.
At the age of eleven, caught in the middle of a war, he and his family fled the country and escaped to India by boat. “I was excited about going to India and we left the calf with my grandfather,” says Nitharshan, “But when we were out in the ocean and the big waves started to throw the boat up and down it was so scary. I couldn’t breathe and I thought I’d die.”
But lucky for Nitharshan, India was full of cows and he spent hours watching them from the refugee camp. In 2008, the family returned to Sri Lanka with the support of the Indian Government. Nitharshan returned back to his calf that was fully grown by now. By 2010 the war was over and his father suggested that they sell the animal in exchange for a cow so that they can find an additional income selling the milk.
“I had to pay 1,000 rupees extra for her and my father worked 10 days to earn that money,” says Nitharshan, “I named her Mani and I began to have big dreams about having a dairy farm someday and selling milk to support the family.”
Under the livelihood interventions, World Vision identified Nitharshan’s family. Nitharshan took part in all the trainings.
“We were first given training to help us understand different types of income generation activities and to help us each identify a livelihood for ourselves. I had no second thoughts about what I wanted to do,” says Nitharshan, “We received support to create our own family development plan, how to manage the income, how to plan the finances… my confidence in my dream started to grow.”
“After that I received specific training on dairy farming. I thought I knew already but I learnt many new things. How to prepare the fodder properly, maintaining the shed and the surrounding, vaccinations and how to take care of the animals…,” he says.
“My favourite was preparing their food. I used to feed them just hay but now I have learnt better options such as palmyrah yam, green gram and special formulas available. I also learnt about cleaning the animals and keeping them free of ticks, bathing them regularly.”
“Before the training we used to keep the animals outside in the garden with thatched leaves for them to sleep on, but I learnt the importance of having a proper shed. World Vision itself provided us with the design – where the drain should be, the water tank etc.”
Within a month from the training Nitharshan received a cow from World Vision. “We named the new cow ‘Wellamma’ because she is white. She came with a calf. Wellamma is a higher breed and gave us 2 ½ litres of milk per day even when her calf was grown,” he says, “At peak time she would give around 8 litres of milk per day.”
The Project also connects them to Vision Fund - the microfinance arm of World Vision. Nitharshan has already taken a loan and bought another high-breed milking cow.
“My dream is to have at least 10 cows of improved variety like Wellamma. I want to see the income grow so that I can buy jewellery for my sister, support the education of my little brother and probably buy the bicycle he’s been asking for," he says, “But most of all once I have a stable income, my father wouldn’t have to go looking low-paying labour work to support our family.”
World Vision has linked Notharshan and other farmers with different government service providers in the area such as the Department of Animal Production & Health (DAP&H) and veterinary services. Through the partnership with MILCO - State owned premier Milk Processing and Marketing Organisation, 13 milk collection points have been established at the village level providing the dairy farmers with easy access and a better price for their milk.