SALT LAKE CITY — The 82 kids born this spring to the East African Refugee Goat Project of Utah are an endless source of amusement as they climb and rocket off a wooden platform jokingly referred to as the "kid launcher."
Consequently, the mood was light Monday at the project's goat ranch in western Salt Lake County, despite the stormy weather. The herd has grown exponentially, and after winning a $30,000 investment in the social enterprise from Venture Philanthropy Utah, the project's prospects are even brighter.
The goat project was launched three years ago by Somali Bantu, Burundi and Somali Bajuni community leaders with help from the state Refugee Services Office. International Rescue Committee's Salt Lake office, one of two primary refugee resettlement agencies in the state, is the umbrella nonprofit organization for the project. It is also assisted by nonprofit, church and corporate partners.
Matt Kennedy, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, helps with the daily work of the herd.
What started with a herd of about a 40 goats has grown into a social enterprise of some 160, with 45 new arrivals expected in May. In addition to leasing the goats for grazing for weed control and fire suppression, another goal of the project is to sell goat meat, which is in growing demand in Utah.
"Our goal is over 300 goats, maybe even 1,000," said goat project coordinator Gustave Deogratiasi.
Proceeds from the microenterprise are targeted for programs for East African refugee youth and women and to provide college scholarships. The project also creates jobs and a sense of unity for the three communities that help tend the goats.
Last summer, Deogratiasi's sons showed goats from the project at the Salt Lake County Fair. There are plans for nine youths to show goats at the fair this year, with children from each community taking part, he said.
Late last year, the project competed in the Community Foundation of Utah's fourth Social Investors Forum. It was among five finalists selected to pitch innovative ideas for solving social problems to Venture Philanthropy Utah, a group of investors committed to innovation and sustainability in the nonprofit sector.
The goat project, represented by Alex Ngendakuriyo and Abdikadir Hussein, topped a field of 33 entrants at a forum in December. The other finalists were: Ayudafin, Cranium Cafe, the Green Urban Lunchbox and Wasatch Community Gardens.
"The committee is thrilled to see the caliber of organizations and pitches that were presented at the forum.” said Jeramy Lund, a founding member and board chairman of the Community Foundation of Utah.
“This round of pitches and deliberation is an indication of what we want for the future of this forum. We want to see that these organizations and projects have the best possible chance at sustainable success and we are focused on a more engaged investment to make that happen,” he said.
Patrick Poulin, executive director of the International Rescue Committee's Salt Lake office, said Venture Philanthropy Utah's investment is a validation of the hard work of many partners, some who have remained with the project and others who helped it get off the ground.
The project is also supported by the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation.
"It's starting to pay off. We knew it was going to take some time. But we've gone from 40 goats to almost 200 now. We're hoping in the next year or two we're going to be up to the 400 goat mark, then it will be sustaining," he said.
The project has given the refugee partners the opportunity to provide for their children a glimpse of their own lives in Africa.
"They're bringing their children here. They say, 'Our parents had goats. Our grandparents have goats. We thought our children would never have goats.' They're able to bring their children here and enjoy sharing part of their culture here in Salt Lake City," Poulin said.
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