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Act With Me

Uzo Aduba on giving people 'a hand up,' not just 'a handout'

The ‘Orange Is the New Black’ star says Heifer International helps people raise livestock — and pay it forward

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A version of this story appears in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands now, or available here. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

In EW’s column Act With Me, stars share their personal stories about giving back. This week, Orange is the New Black star Uzo Aduba speaks about Heifer International, which fights poverty around the world by providing people with the means to create self-sustaining small businesses that raise and care for livestock.

WHY SHE TOOK ACTION

In 2015, the actress attended Heifer’s annual Emmy week gala, Beyond Hunger, and her interest was piqued. “It was the only party that had goats,” she jokes. Aduba then traveled to Africa to see the organization’s work firsthand. “It really spoke to what I love, which is this idea of service,” she says. “I can see in my own home what one generation can become, and seeing that on the ground in Uganda, it just means so much to me. I can’t say it enough: I do not believe that where you were born or to whom you were born should determine your destiny.”

WHAT THE FOUNDATION DOES

Heifer gives livestock, seed, and feed to impoverished individuals and families to help them build a self-sustaining business for themselves and their community. The organization also teaches people the necessary skills to care for the livestock. “They are given the training skills for how to rear an animal, how to bring the calf through delivery, how to bring home veterinary instruments to test the health of the animal, how to feed it,” explains Aduba. “The piece that makes them different than other organizations is that their firstborn from that animal they’ve been given, they have to give to someone else.”

“It’s a powerful moment, and it’s called the passing-on ceremony because to ask for help is in itself a very hard thing for most people, especially when it comes from financial circumstance. And so, here you were someone who didn’t have means or any means to get yourself out of your current situation, reaching out for help, and you’re being given something from somebody in your community. … Here you find yourself in this empowering place to actually pay back the favor. And that’s how the loan works. There’s no monetary payback; it’s that you actually pay back with giving it forward to someone else, and that’s what Heifer is and does.”

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT

“We create a network and a community of people who lift up their entire community rather than one person alone really thriving… it epitomizes the idea of paying it forward. This person has been taught to fish, not just been given one,” says the actress. Aduba describes visiting a village that has built a co-op around their livestock. In her travels, Aduba also met Moses Zabika, a man who has gone from abject poverty to a multi-room home lit by biofuel produced by his cows. Using the money from his livestock business, Zabika was able to send his youngest son to school, where he trained to become an accountant.

“It really supplies the demand for a help up. I don’t think there is anyone in this life looking for a handout; everyone is looking for a hand up,” she explains.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

“I don’t think people know how far their money can go,” says Aduba. “You can change lives.” People can donate a small amount of money for seed, chicken, cows, goats, and more, or they can select a specific long-term project to fund. People can also volunteer or even take a trip like Aduba’s.