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East African Refugee Goat Project: Birthing of a Refugee Business

Photo of Dee Daniels Scriven, Denver ORR Regional RepresentativeDee Daniels Scriven, Denver ORR Regional RepresentativeBy Dee Daniels Scriven, ORR Denver Regional Representative

On a recent monitoring trip to Salt Lake City, I had the pleasure of visiting the East African Refugee Goat Project of Utah. The visit originally scheduled for a Tuesday was postponed to Thursday due to work conflicts.

For months prior to the trip, I heard about the goat project from the Utah Refugee Services Office and was excited to see it in person.  On the drive to the site, I learned about the history behind the creation of the project from Utah State Refugee Coordinator Gerald Brown. A few years ago, a rancher who wanted to involve refugees in the development of a goat ranch contacted Brown and the Refugee Services Office to see if there was any interest. Brown reached out to refugee community leaders, and three refugee communities showed interest: the Burundians, Somali Bajuni and Somali Bantu. 

After a three-hour trip to the rancher’s farm, mostly over dirt roads, it became clear that this setup would not work given the distance and transportation. Since that time Brown, the three refugee communities and the Refugee Services Office have continued to dream about making the project a reality, since those interested communities continued to have some struggles in resettlement. 

About a year ago, another rancher was found who donated 40 goats (you have to love Utah!). The Refugee Services Office also was able to secure four acres of land for lease at $1 per year, right outside of Salt Lake City, from a local mining company which wanted to become more involved in the community. 

A Burundian community leader, whose family owned goats and land in Burundi, was hired to tend the goats. The International Rescue Committee - Salt Lake City volunteered to act as the umbrella organization and fiscal agent for the project until capacity is developed for a stand-alone organization. The plan is that, within four years, the East African refugee communities will have a large enough herd to lease the goats to large companies for an eco-friendly form of weed control.  (It’s true, even Google uses goats for weed control!) The added bonus for our East African neighbors is the continual supply of goat meat which is a staple in their cuisine.  

Photo of a goat herd on a Utah farm.Shortly before arriving at the site, I learned that kidding season was still a week away. I was secretly disappointed because I really wanted to see goat babies. Brown, International Rescue Committee - Salt Lake City Director Patrick Poulin, Utah Refugee Services Office's Michelle Conley and I stopped at the first plot of land, and then continued to a separate location where the does (mamma goats) were being kept until they give birth. 

Upon arrival we found one goat under the shelter in labor. There was a live kid (baby goat) on the ground, and the mamma goat was in the process of birthing a second kid. We discovered that the second goat was in a breeched position and we needed to help the mamma. We were the only humans at the farm at that time. So we called an expert rancher for advice, and quickly tried various maneuvers to deliver the second goat and save the mamma goat’s life.  When I say “we,” I must say my role on the delivery team was not to try the maneuvers but to physically hold/emotionally support the mamma, since I swoon at blood. It was quite a traumatic experience – one baby died, one baby lived and the mama goat survived. After the delivery, we were joined by Burundian leader Gustav Gitakuzi and Kim Chapman, who provides consultation on tending the goats. 

That Saturday, I returned to the farm for a work day and was surrounded by Burundian and Somali Bantu community members who were preparing the stable and pens for the rest of the kidding season. Mamma and baby goat were doing fine. It was a life giving experience for me, and I’m looking forward to seeing this great project develop into a growing and thriving refugee business in the future. 

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