The Orange Is the New Black star has joined Heifer International to help fight world hunger
Credit: Splash News Online

Uzo Aubda is empowering African families to turn poverty into wealth.

The Nigerian-born actress, 35, has joined forces with Heifer International – an organization whose mission is to end world hunger by helping families gain self-reliance. The answer? Cows.

Every person the organization gives a cow to must donate their first cow to someone else in the community, says Aduba of the animals, which provide both food and income for the families in need.

“So it’s not just that one person who gets Heifer’s aid,” the Orange Is the New Black actress tells PEOPLE. “They’re building communities and I think that’s just stresses back to where I’m from in Nigeria where you are the community, you are the entire village, so what you’re seeing is village building.”

She adds, “This organization is allowing people from going to barely surviving, to surviving, to thriving to eventually enterprising.”

Aduba ventured to Uganda in May to lend a helping hand when she witnessed a “Passing on the Gift” ceremony, and since then it has stuck with her that “you don’t have to have a lot in this life to give something to someone else.”

“There’s the beginning tier where somebody has just been given their very first cow, and they have just now given away their first cow and have their second cow and they’re just putting their life together,” Aduba says of the families who are just starting out with Heifer.

“You just see the excitement and the gratitude in these families because they had seen the person who was giving them the goat and how their life has changed – they had a proper stove that they were able to generate gas from because they had the biofuel from the manure to turn it into gas and that put electricity in their entire house – it was like winning the lottery,” the actress continues.

And Aduba got a gift, too – that is, one that could fit in her suitcase!

“There was this incredible woman who was given a heifer and [now] had like 50 cows, and it was changing her entire life,” Aduba says of the widow she met. “She gave me this little gourd that was hallowed and hardened – it’s what they use to make butter in and she had come ready to give this to me.”

She adds, “What I know about the tradition is that you can have nearly nothing or nothing at all and the generosity of spirits that existed there was unlike anything I had seen before outside Nigeria.”

Orange Is the New Black season 4 is currently streaming on Netflix.