Amelio Esteban Méndez lives in the community of Zarza Negra, San Carlos Alzatate in the department of Jalapa, Guatemala, along with his wife, Francisca Hernández Santiago, and their eight children. Amelio's family participates in Heifer's Peasant Farmer Alternatives for Food Production Project, which will benefit 500 families with goats, rabbits and training by 2014.
(Photo: Amelio and Francisca showcase improvements made to the family farm with knowledge acquired through Heifer training.)
The second of nine children, Amelio's childhood was filled with unmet needs and missed opportunities. Amelio's parents worked as day laborers in farms far from their village, and they took the whole family along.
"(My parents) took me on trips, but not for sightseeing," Amelio said. From an early age, Amelio had to help his father with farm work. "I didn't play with other children. I never had a real toy," he said.
Amelio's father would manage the family income, which he often used to pay for alcohol instead of meeting the family's basic needs. Although the family worked hard every year, their situation never improved, leaving unanswered questions for Amelio: Why do we have to work for others? Why can't we plant coffee if it provides a livelihood for others?
Amelio met Francisca when he was 18 years old. Now, they have four daughters and four sons for whom they work very hard.
"We tell them to study, so one day they can develop and grow into intelligent people," Amelio said with pride. "I wish I'd had the chance to go to school, but it wasn't possible."
The family's life began to change after Francisca attended the first project meetings. She would share what she had learned with her husband, but Amelio thought it was al a waste of timethat only jobless people attended the meetings.
(Photo: Francisca and her young daughter participate in a food exchange in Alzatate.)
But Francisca persevered, and as time went by, she became the beneficiary of Pass on the Gift animals, and Amelio was hooked.
"I now regret wasting time (and) not taking advantage of being part of the organization before, because I have now seen the results," Amelio said.
The family initially received chickens, and now they have a cow. Their diet has improved from incorporating animal protein from eggs and meat. The cow provides manure for organic fertilizer, which enriches the soil and increases crop yields. Their farm is 3.2 acres, and they grow corn, beans, vegetables, coffee, and wood and fruit trees.
(Photo: Amelio learns about water harvesting during a farmer exchange visit.)
Amelio has participated in several project-led exchange visits where he has learned from the successes and failures of other small farmers.
"My family takes advantage of any space to produce; here, we are using old tires to grow vegetables," he said.
Every exchange encourages Amelio to continue improving his farm.
"I am pracitcing worm composting, and I'd like to learn to make composting bins," he said. Francisca is also learning and applying her newfound knowledge to the benefit of her family.