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Column Irish prisoners raising cattle for an African community feel a sense of atonement

‘Helping people to help themselves’ is our mantra at Bóthar, which is why we involve prisons, schools and community organisations in helping the world’s most vulnerable, writes Peter Ireton.

THE MANTRA WE ascribe to at Bóthar is ‘helping people to help themselves’. So, the project we launched this week in Loughan Prison, which will see inmates there raise 31 dairy calves for a community in Africa, is a perfect manifestation of that – and on so many fronts.

For your readers who perhaps don’t quite know our model, it’s very simple. We give a gift that keeps on giving: an animal that will not only produce food for an impoverished family in the developing world but one that is reproductive itself. The deal we strike with recipient families is that the first born female off-spring is passed on to another family – so the gift, yes, keeps on giving – and the family retains all other offspring.

Before the animal arrives, we spend a full year training the family in the relevant animal husbandry, and after it is delivered, we return not just to ensure they are caring well for this precious gift (and they always do) but to re-impregnate that animal after each successive birth.

Restorative justice

We are in the business of ‘livestock’ aid now for 22 years and are continually evolving but the wonderful partnership, for which we are so grateful, that we have been fortunate to strike up with the Irish Prison Services, first with Selton Abbey Open Prison and now with Loughan House, has redoubled the sense of ‘helping people to help themselves’.

For not alone is this programme ensuring that our recipient families are receiving a life-changing gift of an Irish dairy heifer but the prisoners who are involved in rearing that heifer at Loughan House are also benefiting enormously from the project.

It’s a wonderful illustration of what restorative justice is all about. Without exception, the consensus coming from the prisoners, who are typically coming towards the end of their term, is that the raising of these animals imbues them with a real sense that they are giving something back for their crime; a sense of atonement, beyond their time ‘inside’, as it were, for what they have done.

Akin to winning the Lotto

You just have to be on the ground in Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, South America – all regions/continents where we have projects – with our recipient families to witness the difference that these animals can make.

In short, receiving a gift of a food-producing animal there is akin to winning the Lotto here. They become ‘rich’, in the most humble but appreciable sense, beyond their expectations.  And from it, they achieve things in their lives that they otherwise would not have dream of, even up to putting their children through third level education from the profits they earn from selling any excess produce beyond what they consume themselves.

But this particular project is extra special as these calves being raised by the prisoners at Loughan will go, in calf (they will be artificially inseminated in advance of the airlift) directly to Rusizi, Rwanda in 18 months’ time to help supply a creamery we are currently developing there for the growing ‘Bóthar’ herd.

‘White gold’

Not alone will this creamery supply the local people with pasteurised milk, yoghurt, a sour milk (a real speciality there) and potentially even ice-cream, but they will also turn this little corner of Rwanda, right on the border with the Congo, into an export community.

For across the Rusizi River is the Congolese city of Bukavu, with its 900,000 population. The Congo is, of course, rich in all sorts of minerals, diamonds and gold among them.  But the mineral they are crying out for is ‘white gold’ – milk!  And the Rusizi community is about to start supplying them.

There is a magical coming together in this wonderful chain linking Loughan House all the way to our Bóthar creamery in Rwanda.  But it all starts with the farmers who so generously donate the animals or the groups, including schools and community organisations, that raise the funds to purchase others.

We in Bóthar are indebted to those and the legions of supporters across Ireland who have stuck with us in very difficult times over recent years to enable us continue helping people to help themselves.

Peter Ireton, founder of Bóthar.

For further information on Bóthar projects and how to donate please go to

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