A real, live piggy bank

A Ugandan couple hoped Friend would help them. They had no idea how much.

Mary Ilero was able to turn one pig and its litters of piglets into opportunities to make money through selling her sewing, making nut butter and raising cows. — Matthew Lester/MCC Mary Ilero was able to turn one pig and its litters of piglets into opportunities to make money through selling her sewing, making nut butter and raising cows. — Matthew Lester/MCC

In a village in rural Uganda, a pig came to live on the farm of Mary Ilero and her husband, Julius Egadu.

Ilero, who was the pig’s primary caregiver, named her Friend.

Ilero and Egadu needed a friend. The couple argued a lot about not having enough money to feed and educate their three children. Egadu worked in construction, but there wasn’t enough work.

They hoped Friend would help them, but they had no idea how much.

Friend gave birth to nine piglets in 2017. Ilero knew how to keep Friend and her piglets healthy because trainers from Mennonite Central Committee partner Action for Peace and Development taught her and Egadu how to feed them and medicate them before APED gave them the pig.

Ilero sold each of the piglets for about $21, using the proceeds to buy a cow that she named Patience, who had a calf in 2018. Patience began producing milk that Ilero’s children can drink and used to make yogurt, cheese and butter. She kept the calf so that it, too, could eventually produce, but she could sell it for about $160 as a yearling and about $266 as an adult if needed.

With proceeds from Friend’s second litter of nine piglets, Ilero bought a sewing machine. With the productive sow’s third litter of 10, she took sewing lessons.

Now she can sew clothing for her family, including a fourth child born in 2019, and she can make clothing to sell. Once or twice a week, she makes clothing for customers.

With more income, she can buy some beef and fish to feed her children, ages 3 to 14, in addition to greens, grains and beans, and she can help pay for their school fees.

She’s unwilling to eat her own pigs though. “I love them,” she said.

The gains kept growing. With funds from Friend’s fourth litter of piglets, she bought a grinder to make nut butter from the groundnuts she was already growing. In town, she can sell five pounds of groundnut butter for about $2.15.

With Friend’s third and fourth litter and even more piglets from Peace, one of Friend’s offspring, Ilero and Egadu began to build a cement-block house to replace their thatch-roofed clay house. It even has a room for her sewing and recordkeeping.

“I was surprised that I now have an office from the proceeds of the piglets,” Ilero said.

It’s not only her earnings that have grown. In addition to learning about raising pigs, Ilero and Egadu benefited from APED training on resolving conflicts. They now work together and plan together.

“We join our hands together,” Ilero said.

Where she once waited on her husband to provide, she now can earn enough herself to buy food, oil or other things she needs.

“I have changed,” she said.

She delights in surprising her husband with a juice or a wrap during her trips to town. She can buy material, make clothes for her husband and Christmas gifts: “I can even tell him, ‘This Christmas, you will not buy anything. It is me.’ ”

Gifts through MCC’s Christmas giving guide — mcc.org/christmas or mcccanada.ca/christmas — empower people like Ilero.

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