Dairy goats assist empathy

I was interviewing a Turkhana man in a small town, north of Maralal, where Turkhana and Samburu tribes have worked out ways of living together peacefully after war and drought.

A movement outside the window caught my attention – I watched a woman walk over to a goat tethered under a tree. With a stick she lifted up a long thin piece of something and carried it away. We had seen the goat when we parked the car, with a tiny baby kid. Now there were two tiny kids, and I realised that what the woman was clearing away must be the afterbirth. Then it was back to the interviewees in the room, the recorder and the translation process: my question in English, translated by Evans into Swahili and by another guy into Turkhana; the replies coming back down the chain.


When we left to go, someone commented on the new goat kids – by then there were three. He remarked on how these new ‘dairy goats’ were so fertile, giving birth to 2 or 3 rather than the single kid they were used to from their usual breed of goat. The story of the dairy goats as told by a previous interviewee nicely illustrates the creativity of peace making.

The diocese peace-building team had held a workshop in Maralal, an hour’s drive away. The man had enjoyed meeting the others and talking with them. Sometimes these meetings produced reunions of friends from former times who had not seen each other since the fighting broke the friendships. In this workshop, they learnt about dairy goats and how these could support development through their breeding prowess and the extra milk they provide. The workshop was about practical skills but also about connection and (re)building empathy:

we were given an opportunity to talk to each other, and see where the problem is.

After the workshop, a few dairy goats were provided for different villages. And what I had seen through the window was the birth of new kids from one these. That alone was fantastic but the dairy goats also continued to support connection between people from different tribes who have moved from fighting to peaceful co-existence. The interviewee told of a recent encounter:

Even recently, I left here and went to Malasso.

And I met again those friends, we met in Maralal.

And I asked them,

“How are our goats doing now that we were given?”

He said, “They are still there.”

Even them, they are taking care of their goats very well.

In this encounter, the dairy goats provided a topic for conversation between the man and his ‘friends’; they recalled shared memories of a positive time spent together; and they produced a new, positive shared identity – former enemies can see each other now as fellow (successful) goat-keepers. And that’s on top of providing multiple kids. Who would think a humble goat could offer so much towards empathy and peace-building!

3 Responses to “Dairy goats assist empathy”
  1. That’s a wonderful example of a very creative process

  2. Evans Onyiego says:

    This is a great innovation in peace building and it is wonderful to see how a goat can re connect people who perceived each other as enemies. Just an addition to the story is that the offsprings were passed on to a member of a different ethnic community in the end building a larger relationship. Culturally when someone gives you livestock then the person becomes your brother. The goat transformed the “Enemy to a brother”

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  1. […] the situation, even the least promising. Credit for buying tea is an affordance for building trust; development funding for dairy goats becomes an affordance for empathy […]

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