Monday, October 31, 2011

More Than A Cow: How Cow Banks Promote Financial Security

Photo by Paul Jeffrey

For most Cambodian families, cows represent much more than a farm tool or even a potential food source. Here, cows mean financial security. They can be sold whenever the family is in a financial pinch — if someone becomes ill, if the breadwinner suddenly loses a job, or if natural disaster strikes.

Cows are living, walking savings accounts. So when CHAD promotes cows through our cow bank programs, we're really promoting financial security. And since we operate under a "passing on the gift" philosophy, that security spreads throughout a community.

Here's how it works:

Community members form a cow bank group. Of the people in that group, one is selected as the initial caretaker. That caretaker is the custodian of the cow gifted to the group from CHAD. When that cow becomes pregnant and gives birth, the calf is passed on to another group member. The original caretaker is allowed to keep the second offspring. But the third time around, the calf is passed on again. At this point, the caretaker becomes the owner of the gift-cow and all subsequent offspring.

The same gifting system is applied to the offspring of the original cow, with recipients passing on the first and third calves that they bear. And as the cow's family tree grows larger and larger, so does the group of people whose lives are improved by the cow bank.

Of course, there are often flukes in the system: Cows die or become infertile, or family emergencies necessitate that a cow be sold before it can pass on offspring. Missionary Katherine Parker talks about some of the complications that arise in keeping track of a cow's genealogy in this blog entry.

Despite the complications, the program successfully provides financial security to many Cambodian families each year.

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