Blog Action Day 2012 is finally here. In case you’re new to Blog Action Day, it’s an annual event when bloggers all over the world blog on the same theme for one day. This year’s theme is The Power of We.
Through the Power of We, hunger and poverty will be history. Photo by Dave Anderson, courtesy of Heifer International
At Heifer International, we’re big believers in The Power of We. In fact, we know it is only through the collective actions of individuals, families, small groups, communities, cooperatives, organizations, governments and other entities that Heifer will achieve our mission: ending global hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth.
Watch our video to learn more.
So how can you join us to become part of the We that will end hunger and poverty?
At Heifer International, “sustainability” is much more than a buzzword. It’s at the core of everything we do. If your donation isn’t going to make a lasting difference, what’s the point of giving? As I mentioned in my blog post Thursday, Heifer’s work can be viewed through three lenses of sustainability. This post is the second in a three-part series to examine what genuine sustainability looks like at Heifer International. Read Part 1 here.
Sustainability: The capacity to endure
Heifer’s work is made possible through the contributions of individuals, families, congregations, civic groups, schools, private foundations, corporate partners, government entities and others. What a shame it would be if these generous gifts, once given, became obsolete. The beauty of our model, however, is that the original recipients of a project’s livestock, agricultural resources and training are committed to Passing on the Gift in equal quantity and quality.
Sustainability through Passing on the Gift in China. Photo by Russell Powell, courtesy of Heifer International.
Watch Alton Brown explain how gifts to Heifer International exemplify sustainability through Passing on the Gift:
This process happens a minimum of one time per project. Would you believe that the average project’s gifts are passed on for five or six (livestock) generations? In Nepal, some projects have Passed on the Gift 13 times. These extra pass-ons aren’t at the requirement of our project staff; they happen because families and communities are so transformed by these gifts, they want to keep paying it forward. Now that’s making a donation last.
Check back on the Heifer Blog tomorrow for Part 3 of this Sustainability at Heifer series. Better yet, subscribe to the blog by email or RSS feed and keep up with Heifer every day.
I have followed and supported Heifer International’s work with women and their families for more than 20 years. I am excited Heifer is a featured nonprofit for the Half the Sky movement, which premieres its documentary tonight at 9pm Eastern. Last year I had the chance to see Heifer’s work in person in Cambodia, and below are my reflections on the importance of Heifer’s transformational work with women. Women, particularly in poor rural communities, really are the “glue” and the key to ending global hunger and poverty.
You can watch Half the Sky in two parts on PBS October 1st and 2nd. To host your own salon or group discussion after viewing, go here for materials. If you’re on Twitter, share your thoughts and support by using #halfthesky.
Editor’s note: The following story and photos are by Jessica Ford, Communications and Research Officer for Heifer Peru.
In my last post; I told you about my first visit with Heifer families in Peru. Thanks for coming back for the second part of the story. If you missed my first post, here is some background:
Heifer has relocated me from the headquarters in Little Rock, where I’m from, to their office in Lima, Peru, for one year as part of a pilot development program. This is the second of two posts about a one-day visit to my very first Heifer project in Peru. I had two reasons for visiting the project. The first was to visit some families there that Heifer is working with for the general monitoring and evaluating that comes with all Heifer projects (read about these families here). The other reason was to attend a Passing on the Gift ceremony.
Everything was ready and waiting for us at the community center. It took us just a few minutes to travel by truck to the center. Once we arrived, we were greeted by two long lines of men, women and children ready to receive their “special guests” for the big day. This blew my mind. Personally, as an employee of Heifer International, a Passing on the Gift ceremony is the pinnacle and trademark of Heifer’s work. Passing on the Gift is at the core of Heifer’s model being successful and sustainable. For any employee from a Heifer office to attend one of these is a huge honor and privilege. I was more honored to be there more than these people will ever understand.
The community members gave us big hugs and kisses and threw confetti all over us and up in the air. There was a band playing as we walked together through the rows of people and hugged and kissed and exchanged greetings like old friends.
We were seated under a tent, and the festivities began.
Much preparation and planning went into this event. You don’t just throw a Passing on the Gift Ceremony together! Hundreds of people were there – they all needed to be organized and fed, there was a Master of Ceremonies, invitations to guests went out well in advance, animals were running around everywhere, the program was well rehearsed. Needless to say, there were a lot of details. Many distinguished guests also joined us. Speeches were given by the leaders of the gathering to welcome all the guests and community members.
The community building.
The presence of so many, and such diverse local community officials and members exemplified the importance and impact Heifer Peru has here. It isn’t just the individual families Heifer supports and trains – Heifer encourages involvement at every possible level. It is critical. The entire area has a deep sense of ownership. It makes the projects, Pass-on ceremonies and new livelihoods less of a story about “what Heifer does to help people,” and more about how much this whole community does to help themselves and each other.
Women wait for the Passing on the Gift ceremony to begin.
Men wait on a bench for Passing on the Gift ceremony to begin.
A highlight of the ceremony was the dancing. Oh, the dancing! Four groups danced for us. The men, women and children both danced traditional dances, and they were beautiful. I was even dragged up to dance some. It was so much fun! I couldn’t breathe afterward, but I did my best.
Community members in a traditional dance line.
While all these plans, dances, speeches and food were important and special, they didn’t compare to the most important planning required of all – the actual Passing on the Gift. For this community that day, each family passed on a sack of potato seeds and one pig. (The seeds are especially important in Peru. Peru has more varieties of potatoes than any other country in the world. Each sack contained multiple varieties of seeds, which strengthens biodiversity and nutrition.) Months and months of strategic planning, cultivating and training went into this very moment. More than 50 families were anxiously waiting their turn to receive their animal and potato seeds. Passing on the Gift changes lives, and they knew it.
Passing on the Gift wasn’t important only for those receiving animals and seeds. The families doing the passing on were upholding a deep-rooted tradition, long held by the people of Peru called Ayni. In my words, Ayni is the ancient Andean concept of natural reciprocity. It is the understanding of the importance of nature and the world around us as being linked and in honoring the duality in everything. It is the principle that one must give and take in equal exchange with the surrounding environment. For all those involved in this Passing on the Gift ceremony, Ayni was a part of them and their community. They honored their ancestors and passed down a beautiful tradition. And Heifer, through our Passing on the Gift model, helped remind them of the importance of this tradition.
As the dancing and festivities led to the culmination of the day, potato seeds and pigs were brought out, and families began to line up.
Sacks of Peruvian potato seeds ready for Passing on the Gift ceremony.
Community members line up for Passing on the Gift ceremony.
Then the MC did the countdown: UNO, DOS, DOS y MEDIA, TRES! GO!
There are no words, pictures or videos for me to truly describe the transformation I felt in that very moment. The months of training and planning and preparation all came together right then. Lives were changed. People were changed – they were better and happier and had hope. They honored their ancestors. They honored each other and themselves. It wasn’t just an animal and a sack of potatoes, which alone can mean the difference between life and death. Somehow it was even more than that – I witnessed the process of personal transformation that Heifer empowers communities to ignite, which means the difference between hopelessness and hope.
A recipient of Passing on the Gift is the picture of life and hope.
Article and video by Chris Kenning, World Ark contributor
Bung Kriel, CAMBODIA—The son of subsistence rice farmers, Chom Thoun grew up in a thatched-roof home on stilts, in a childhood marked by war with the Khmer Rouge, illnesses from poor sanitation and months of hunger each year when the family’s small harvest ran out.
“Our family was very poor, sometimes we didn’t have rice to eat,” said Chom, speaking recently on a shaded bamboo bed under this home, tucked among the rice paddies of Svay Rieng, one of the country’s poorest provinces located near the Vietnamese border.
The fighting had ended by the time he entered his 30s, and he had started a family with five children. But as he hand-plowed the same rice paddies, life was still a daily struggle. Relying on rain-fed rice grown in poor soil on small plot, he did not having enough to feed his family through the year. He was often forced to leave his wife, Toeu, and children to work as a laborer in the city.
While the now 40-year-old farmer still lives in a home without electricity, running water or plumbing, his fortunes have improved significantly in recent years with the help of a Heifer International’s self-help group program that he entered in 2007.
Speaking through an interpreter a few weeks ago on a World Ark visit, Chom said Heifer provided a cow, vegetable seeds, fruit tree saplings and training on how to keep animals and crops healthier by adopting changes such as adding mosquito netting to an animal shelter.
He also joined Heifer’s self-help savings group made up of villagers contributing small amounts for low-interest loans. That allowed Chom to start new vegetables and sugar cane, which they sell at market. In addition to passing on the cow’s offspring to another family in need, Chom also earns money by treating sick animals in the village, a skill he learned through Heifer.
“My life before was hard,” he said. “My living conditions improved; I could buy a bike so my daughter could get to school.”
He said their annual income has more than doubled from $200 a year to $500 a year, allowing them build a new home out of wood with a tin roof. There’s now enough food all year round, because they were able to buy more land for rice. And, fish, eggs or fowl—once a rare treat—are now a nearly daily part of their diet. They even have a small TV powered by a car battery.
They’re just some of more than 8,800 vulnerable Cambodian families that Heifer has helped since 1999 in a country long battered by war and extreme poverty.
Heifer’s programs currently operate in 188 poor rural communities, where they aim to increase food security, incomes and well-being by providing help such as animals and seeds, farmer education, microfinance and a more recent effort to boost basic literacy and math skills.
In Bung Kriel village, home to about 86 families and located in a province known for its low-quality farmland, child malnutrition, illiteracy, distance to markets and health care, and legacy of heavy U.S. bombing in the 1970s, it’s been a huge help, village leaders said.
“It has helped (bring) change for many families,” said Sek Ouk, Bung Kriel’s 69-year-old village chief.
Look for more about Heifer Cambodia projects in upcoming issues of World Ark magazine.
by Christian DeVries | photos and video by Russell Powell
The tortilla is an omnipresent part of all meals in Guatemala. Warm, round, delicious, these flat breads are found on every table.
Mrs. Francisca Najera Vasquez lives in the tiny village of El Duraznito with her husband and seven children, so she has a lot of experience making tortillas. The family’s corn is husked and the kernels are boiled. After being cooked the corn is ground at a local mill. Francisca uses six pounds of masa (dough) to feed her family every day. Using a traditional piedra de moler (grinding stone) with a stone rolling pin she grinds the dough one more time.
Small handfuls of dough are patted into the appropriate size and placed on a hot piece of steel atop a clay oven. Working with her daughter (Saira) and her aunt (Felipa), the three women are a veritable tortilla machine: grinding, patting and cooking.
My mouth begins to salivate at the smell of fresh hot tortillas. The wood smoke penetrates the bread adding a subtle smoky flavor. I always have fun visiting Heifer farmers. Sitting at Francisca’s kitchen table, eating a lovingly prepared meal, I feel like one of the family. All I need is mas tortillas, por favor.
Is it hot and dry where you are? Here in Little Rock, Arkansas, it most certainly is. I’m sure you’ve heard that the United States is experiencing the worst drought on record since the 1950s. For my family it’s meant less time on playgrounds and more time at the children’s museum. My neighbor’s tree has been dropping leaves in our yard like it’s fall. Our electricity bill will be considerably higher this summer than usual.
Hot temperatures and low precipitation have created a visible impact across the nation: stressed and dying vegetation. NOAA’s satellites are used to measure the impact of drought on vegetation, and in many ways, the ability to measure the impact on vegetation provides a more readily understandable way to measure drought. This animation shows monthly composites of vegetation health index derived from data from the AVHRR sensor on-board the NOAA POES satellite. Areas colored in shades of orange are experiencing moderate through exceptional drought conditions and are consistent with areas of vegetation stress.
Right. So vegetation = trees, grass, bushes, flowers, food crops. The United States is the world’s largest exporter of corn, soy and wheat. With our crops turning to dust and blowing away, the world’s grain markets are in a precarious position. If corn gets too expensive or the supply is too low, that spills over into the wheat market, which is next in line as a source of livestock feed. Rice would suffer next. An article in the Guardian stated:
Ruth Kelly, Oxfam’s food policy adviser, said: “The toxic combination of a heatwave in the US, which is decimating corn harvests, and the unwavering global demand for biofuels, is again pushing the price of basic food stuffs higher and higher.”
Richard Volpe, a research economist with the US department of agriculture, said prices of beef, pork, poultry and dairy products could be the first to soar.
Image from New York Times
This seems like a no-brainer, but when food prices climb, people go hungry and are malnourished. And they get angry. Last time we had a global food crisis, we saw riots in 30+ countries. According to Save the Children’s annual child development index, the number of children who are hungry and malnourished grew for the first time in the past 10 years. They are saying hunger is the “most urgent threat to children worldwide and threatens to drag back progress in saving and improving their lives.” We don’t get to pick when droughts happen. And with the global food market so intricately connected, a drought in the United States can spell trouble for the world’s hungry children.
A diverse small farm in Ecuador. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.
A significant part of the work we do with farmers around the world is to help reduce their vulnerabilities to external forces like a drought in the United States. In fact, that’s one way to measure a family’s sustained exit out of poverty: in times of crisis, can the family still provide for themselves or affordably source enough nutritious food every day? A family farm with a small herd of goats, flock of laying hens, crop of livestock fodder, diverse kitchen garden and rain-collecting cistern will be much less vulnerable to rising global grain prices than a farm producing a single crop.
Singing and dancing. Two things people everywhere should do a lot more of. My visits to Heifer projects in various communities have been educational and training-centered. Of course, that doesn’t mean all business and no fun, and what is more fun then Maggie trying to learn traditional village dances!
Well, the video of me stumbling around has accidentally been deleted from my camera, computer, hard drive and anywhere else it could possibly be. Fortunately, all video clips of the seasoned professionals remain in tact and ready for sharing.
The drumbeats, collection of voices, hand clapping, and specific footwork are integral parts of this experience. As far as how it connects to Heifer’s mission, Anjani, Bihar field officer, explains, “if they are dancing, if they are singing…harmony is flowing”.
Check out this medley of traditional dancers and a quick comment by Heifer field officer, Anjani Harsh: