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. 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.
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 his father decided to take him, his mother and his sister who was 7 and leave the Mannar, (North Sri Lanka where they lived) and leave to India by boat.
“With the war raging next door, there was heavy military presence in Mannar. It was a challenge to go out and find work,” explains Nitharshan’s father, “I paid 35,000 rupees (250 USD) to a boat to carry my family to India.”
“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.”
They reached the shores of India and were put into the camp for the refugees. “India was full of cattle and the village closer to our camp had a cattle shed,” he says, “I would go and spend hours watching them.”
Two years later in 2008 they returned back to Sri Lanka with the support of the Indian Government. They found their house robbed and broken. Nitharshan’s father returned back to daily labour work to support the family. Nitharshan returned to school and back to his calf that was fully grown to a bull 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 (7 USD) extra for her and my father worked 10 days to earn that money,” says Nitharshan, “I named her Mani. She was very friendly. I began to have big dreams about having a dairy farm someday and selling milk to support the family.”
One year later, Mani gifted them with the first calf. Since then she has given them seven calves – 2 females and 5 males.
“The first calf was special. I didn’t even let it sleep outside and look it inside the house in the night,” says Nitharshan, “My father taught me how to milk Mani. She gave about 1 ½ litres per day. We sold a litre to a collector at 60 rupees.”
As Nitharshan’s fatigue increased with the health condition he dropped out of school at 15 and decided to focus on dairy farming.
Under World Vision’s Rebuilding Lives through Income Generation, Livelihood Development & Microfinance Project Nitharshan’s family was identified as a beneficiary last year especially considering his health condition.
“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.”
And Nitharshan selected dairy farming as his livelihood.
“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, but they had to first build a shed according to the standards. World Vision also provided 10,000 rupees ( 71 USD).
“For the rest, my mother pawned her jewellery and gave me the money. I have already repaid her and released the jewellery,” he says.
“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. He is only two months into completing the loan cycle.
Wellamma is pregnant again and Nitharshan is pregnant with hope. Meanwhile the government is providing them support for new housing.
“My dream is to have atleast 10 cows of improved variety like Wellamma. I want to see the income grow so that I can buy gold 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.”
Rebuilding Lives through Income Generation, Livelihood Development & Microfinance Project aims to improve the well-being of families like Nitharshan’s by introducing sustainable livelihood practices. The Project provides skills development and financial literacy to the families through the Generate Your Business training of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Through the World Vision’s partnership with MILCO - State owned premier Milk Processing and Marketing Organisation in Sri Lanka 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.
The Project has contributed to the increase in the monthly milk production in the area from 6,789 litres (2014) to 15,531 litres (2016).
In order to ensure the sustainability of this Project, World Vision has linked the communities with different government service providers in the area such as the Department of Animal Production & Health (DAP&H) and veterinary services. Savings clubs have also been introduced.