Visit the East African Refugee Goat Project (Goat Project) on a Thursday evening and you will likely see a group of youth training goats in preparation for the Salt Lake County fair in August. These youth, all members of the Somali Bantu, Burundi and Somali Bajuni communities here in Salt Lake City, are participating in the 4-H program with the help of Goat Project staff and volunteers. Since 2015, staff at the Goat Project, a program of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City, have worked with youth from these three East African communities to select, train and show goats at the county fair.
“It improves each year. Each year you learn and grow from your previous years, and you meet new people that help you and guide you. It keeps progressing, it never stays the same,” explains Niyera, a 17-year-old participating in the 4-H club for her third year. “As a teenager, without 4-H, I wouldn’t be raising a goat. I would probably be in my room on my phone. It’s different, that’s why I like it. [My favorite part is] going to the fair, seeing all of our hard work at the end,” she continues.
Rehema, a 14-year-old participant of the 4-H club, notes that the goat project “[is] a way to stay in touch with my community.” Goat herding is integral to the cultural traditions of the Somali Bantu, Burundi, and Somali Bajuni communities. The Goat Project gives members of these communities the opportunity to build a connection between their home country and their new home. This is especially beneficial for youth who might not remember or ever lived in their home country—giving them the opportunity to connect with part of their culture they would otherwise not access in the United States.
This year, in addition to raising and training goats, the program will incorporate a financial literacy component. Cassidy Reeves, Goat Project financial capability AmeriCorps VISTA, plans and teaches workshops designed to encourage financial well-being and money management skills among the youth.
“In general, having financial management skills is one of the many ways that you can be self-sufficient,” Cassidy notes. “I think it’s something that teens don’t have a lot of formal discussion around outside of their homes, so being able to talk about these broader financial topics—like budgeting or planning—actually fits very naturally with their goat projects over the summer.”
Workshop include budgeting, saving, and an introduction to loans. In fact, the youth are getting hands-on practice applying for, receiving, and managing a loan this summer. “It’s a fun way to practice some real-world financial management skills within the context of their 4-H projects.”
In order to pay for their goat and necessary supplies, the IRC in Salt Lake City is distributing small loans to 4-H participants. During one 4-H meeting, the youth applied for loans from the IRC to cover the costs of their goats and maintenance, and learned about the loan application process. The youth worked on spending and management plans for their loan money. Instead of monetary payments, however, the 4-H youth are able to “pay back” their loan through volunteer opportunities over the course of the summer.
“The hope is that the prize money they win [by participating in 4-H] at the end will just be theirs. The idea is that they will use that money as scholarship money. In the past, it has mostly been used to retroactively pay off their fees,” Cassidy explains. The youth will be given the option to open a savings account after the county fair, encouraging a saving mindset and creating a small pool of funds for their future educational endeavors.
The youth all agree that they are learning and practicing valuable life skills through the financial literacy classes. “These lessons have taught me that I don’t spend my money well. So, I’ll probably save the money [I get from the fair], and buy something that I actually need, not want,” William, a 16-year-old 4-H participant explains. Through these classes Rehema has learned “we don’t need to spend our money once we get it, we can save it for the future, budget it and use it wisely.”