The generosity of the farming community and wider Irish public towards Rwandans widowed by the horrific genocide of the mid 1990s hit a milestone as Bóthar despatched its 1,000th cow to the African nation.
Just three months after Bóthar sent the largest ever airlift of animals in the world to the small nation in south-central Africa, the agency today launched its 2017 airlift programme as 25 in-calf Friesian heifers began a 7,000km journey to their new home.
The 25 cows were brought to Roscrea Mart in Co Tipperary from farms around the country and, following the finalisation of paper-work, were shipped to Amsterdam and loaded later at Schipol Airport for their overnight cargo flight.
Many of the donor farmers themselves turned up at Roscrea to see off their animals and were welcomed to Roscrea on behalf of Bóthar by Tipperary’s All-Ireland winning senior hurling manager Michael Ryan.
It was a neat GAA double for Bóthar as three months ago, when it sent out a record airlift of animals to Rwanda for its 25th anniversary trip, Dublin’s two-in-a-row winning football manager Jim Gavin was on hand.
While the airlift included the 1,000th heifer sent by Bóthar to Rwanda, the actual ‘Irish herd’ now out there as a result of the airlifts is estimated to be many multiples of that as Bóthar returns each year with artificial-insemination straws from Ireland to put the cows back in calf.
We live privileged lives here but there are people across the developing world who obviously don’t. I’ve been very struck by the impact Bóthar has on families.Michael Ryan
Speaking at Roscrea Mart, part-time farmer Michael Ryan said that he had huge admiration for the charity and its donors.
He said: “We live privileged lives here but there are people across the developing world who obviously don’t. I’ve been very struck by the impact Bóthar has on families.
“The farmers who donate the cows, in particular, deserve huge credit because, and I know this as a part-time farmer, this is no small donation. In-calf heifers could fetch over €1,500 so that’s a very generous contribution.
“Similarly, people who donate to Bóthar make a very important contribution. And, of course, Bóthar itself as an organisation deserves huge credit for doing this year in year out, for over quarter of a century.
“Tipperary has a strong link in that the late TJ Maher was one of the founding members of Bóthar and it’s something for us to be very proud of as a county.”
The in-calf heifers can expect royal treatment on arrival in Rwanda, a country where agriculture is the leading industry and the cow celebrated in song and dance.
“Last October when we arrived there the Rwandan Minister for Agriculture Gerardine Mukeshimana was present to welcome us, as well as a troupe of traditional dancers. It was great to see just how much Rwandans appreciate this gift from Irish people,” said Bóthar CEO Dave Moloney.
“We got out to the countryside to meet families who had received cows from us as many as seven years ago. It was heartening to see the difference this made to their lives.
“We met one woman who was living in a mud-hut and had just lost her husband and two of her five children back in 2009 when we met her first.
“We gave her a cow and from the proceeds of the sale of the calves and the milk, she was able to build a really decent house and has put two of her three remaining three children through second and third level education.
“You can still see the sadness in her but her life has become far less of a struggle thanks to that single Irish cow.”
Referring to the consignment, he said: “We were only able to do this thanks to the generosity of donors, farmers and members of the general public, not least across our Christmas campaign.
“It was our best Christmas in probably ten years and that means we will be able to send out more animals this year again. That’s going to mean more families having their lives transformed.
“We also transport our 1,000th cow from Ireland to Rwanda today and given that we go back out each year with AI straws to put the heifers back in calf, in reality there are now thousands of Irish animals in Rwanda, raising the breeding standard dramatically and changing people’s lives beyond belief. Our donors can be very proud of this and this, of course, could never have happened without them.”