Would you pay $2 a day to let a pair of sheep mow your lawn? If you live in Oberlin, Ohio, you now have the option! With the economy what it is, folks are getting realllly creative to earn their livelihoods, even here in the United States. This NY Times article highlights an urban sheep shepherd who rents out his sheep as a lawn care service, another man you can pay to build a backyard chicken coop and teach you to care for your very own poultry, and several other cases where people are turning to creative urban agriculture.
Goats are pretty handy, too. Though they won’t actually eat tin cans, they will eat kudzu, otherwise known as “the weed that ate the South.” In Knoxville, Tennessee, these browsing ruminants have been put to work eating kudzu on farms and along highways since at least 2003.
October 17th presents an opportunity to acknowledge the effort and struggle of people living in poverty, a chance for them to make their concerns heard, and a moment to recognize that poor people are the first ones to fight against poverty. Participation of the poor themselves has been at the center of the Day’s celebration since its very beginning. The commemoration of October 17th also reflects the willingness of people living in poverty to use their expertise to contribute to the eradication of poverty.
There’s a reason we refer to the families and individuals with whom we work as “participants.” It’s because they are participating in the eradication of their own poverty. More than that, they are helping end their neighbors’ poverty, too, through Heifer’s Pass on the Gift model. Yes, we provide our participants with gifts of livestock, and we train them at no cost to themselves. The real work comes from the participants, however. We are but facilitators in a process that empowers them to analyze their situation, determine what work needs to be done to improve it, and make that work happen. Livestock and training are tools that provide the “leg up” our participants need. Without their Full Participation (which happens to be one of Heifer’s 12 Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development), our successful model would fail.
Watch this short video about farmers near Andamarca, Peru, who have become empowered through Heifer’s model and now share their expertise in raising guine pigs and sheep with neighboring communities.
When I visited Senegal in May of 2010, everyone was waiting on the rain. Men sat on their heels drinking hot tea, waiting. Women tended the animals and children and kept one eye on the sky, waiting. The ground was parched after 10 months of bone-dry weather, and food stores were low or already gone. Some farmers dared to put their seeds in the ground in anticipation of the rain. Others chose to wait, knowing that if the rain came later than expected, the seeds would wither.
It was impossible for me to imagine anything growing in the blazing sand, but everyone reassured me that in a month or two, peanuts, millet and vegetables would sprout. This photo from NASA shows the stark contrast between the dry season and the wet season in Senegal. Having been there only in the dry season, the green landscape on the right seems unreal. In countries of the Sahel, the dirt stays thirsty for the better part of the year. Rains come all at once, and farmers scurry to coax what they can from the soil before everything turns brown again. Sometimes, enough rain falls to bring in a decent crop. Most the time, though, it doesn’t. And with only the most rudimentary irrigation systems in place, growing food year-round isn’t an option.
Heifer’s projects in Senegal incorporate improved seeds that produce abundant yields even in dry conditions. The sheep Heifer project participants are raising are especially suited to the heat.
Slate, the online magazine, isn’t the first to ask the question “Does International Aid Keep Haiti Poor?”
The article tells the story of what Haitians want, their voices heard after Haitian civil-society groups polled more than 1,700 citizens about their aspirations and hopes for their country.
Again and again, people expressed a desire for independence, self-determination, and direct participation in the rebuilding effort after the earthquake.
Many of the people interviewed saw the earthquake as an opportunity for renewal in which both rich and poor Haitians could participate in the economic development of the country. Aid from the outside should reinforce their country’s sovereignty. Among the fishermen, teachers, mothers, unemployed, farmers, and students interviewed, many said they wanted help with agriculture, education, and housing, but they did not want to be passive recipients of the international community’s money. The word they used most, according to the report issued after the interviews were conducted, was respè, meaning “respect.”
Yet the strong Haitian government support needed to help make that happen isn’t yet there, according to a Reuters article detailing a scathing report by United Kingdom-based Oxfam.
“As Haitians prepare for the first anniversary of the earthquake, close to one million people are reportedly still displaced. Less than 5 percent of the rubble has been cleared, only 15 percent of the temporary housing that is needed has been built and relatively few permanent water and sanitation facilities have been constructed,” the report said.
The report said a reconstruction commission chaired by former President Clinton and Haiti’s Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive had fallen short in many crucial areas.
“So far, the commission has failed to live up to its mandate,” it said. “The commission is a key element for reconstruction and it must cut through the quagmire of indecision and delay.”
Heifer’s values-based training builds the skills and confidence of each participant with the end goal of self-sufficiency. In the Winter 2011 World Ark, in mailboxes late this month, read about how one Heifer sheep farmer in Nordely, Haiti, was able to feed, shelter and support 12 friends and relatives displaced by the quake. In the same issue, you’ll find updates from the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund and Clinton Foundation on Haiti one year after the earthquake.
Photo by Bryan Clifton Heifer sheep farmer Francklin Silvanis with his sheep in Nordely, Haiti.
Fifteen volunteers and staff from all over the United States traveled to Bolivia to embark on the first ever Heifer Bolivia Study Tour. After landing at nearly 14,000 feet in La Paz, we felt light-headed, but also filled with anticipation for what was to come. One of the most special events of our trip was the opportunity to take part in a Passing on the Gift Ceremony. On November 12th, after a 2.5 hour drive from Cochambamba, (filled with endless bumping up and down the rocky, one way road into the valley), our Heifer group finally arrived in Pajcha Baja. Many of us had been suffering to varying degrees from altitude sickness, but we were determined not to miss this ceremony.
The entire village had turned out to greet us with friendly handshakes, a kiss on the cheek, and many kind words of “Bienvenidos” and “Gracias” for making the journey. People and sheep alike strolled around the open square between the surrounding buildings, and we could sense the excitement for the ceremony that was about to begin. The women were all in their finest layered skirts and wide brimmed white hats. Chairs were brought out from the little school and we found a little shade against the side of the building, protecting ourselves from the intensity of the sun at such a high altitude.
After the official speeches were delivered and the thanks were offered, it was time for the Passing on the Gift ceremony. We leaned forward like kids on Christmas morning, so excited to see what would burst forth from the shaking, bouncing green bags! A representative from the donor family would step forward to have their name read, a list of the animal(s) they had received and the name of the donor would also be read. The donor would then place the leash for the sheep in the hands of the recipient. After the main gift of a sheep, the excitement really began!
Each person would step forward with a bouncing green bag, open it and gently drop forth whatever animal was hidden inside. Squealing piglets, clucking chickens and quaking ducks all emerged somewhat stunned into the mid-day sun. Children ran in all directions to chase down the scurrying animals and to return them to their rightful recipients. Some of us, as well as some of the Quecha people, both men and women, were in tears, overcome by the moment. It was, in many ways, beautiful and powerful, but it was also joyful and funny.
We felt incredibly honored to be able to share in this moment with these generous people, and to congratulate this community on having achieved so much in such a short period of time.
It’s 110 degrees and blowing dust while Khady Sarr stands over a pot of millet simmering on an open flame. All around the village of Diarrere, other women are doing the same. Smoke rises from sandy courtyards encircled by mud brick huts and fences woven from craggy twigs. This lunchtime scene is their tradition.
In rural Senegal women take on the lion’s share of work around the house, but for Sarr, the burdens are even greater. Her husband is sick with a chest ailment that first attacked four years ago, so she has to do his share of work in the field when the rainy season comes and it’s time to plant.
Sarr’s workload increased a bit last year when she got three sheep from Heifer, but caring for the animals is something she doesn’t mind at all. Healthy rams can fetch up to the equivalent of $1,000 during Muslim religious holidays. Sarr is eager for the chance to make enough money that she has savings and plenty of food to eat.
Luckily she has help caring for the new animals from her sons, ages 20 and 24, who remain
unmarried and live at home. Her oldest son Dam Ndong is a thick-necked, solid-muscled fighter who sometimes travels to Dakar to make money in traditional wrestling matches. It’s difficult to imagine him losing, and he admits he doesn’t very often. Despite his success, he always returns to Diarrere to help his mother.
Of Sarr’s three daughters, the oldest is married and the youngest is in school and living at home. Her middle daughter, age 14, left Diarrere to be a maid in the city. She landed in the home of a teacher, who promised to pay her tuition beginning next year so she can finish junior high and go to high school.
Sarr is glad for the help, and glad her daughter will get her wish of keeping in school so that maybe she can be a doctor someday. “That one is really clever, really eager to study,” said Sarr, who never went to school herself.
Photos by Geoff Oliver Bugbee
Austin and Geoff are in Senegal reporting on Heifer projects there for World Ark magazine.