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Story by Marina Kazaryani | Project Assistant | Heifer Georgia
Photos by Kakha Kebuladze | Field Assistant | Heifer Georgia
Eliso Sulaberidze was born in Chiauri, a village in Georgia’s eastern region of Kakheti. Growing up, her family had a small farm and Eliso helped her parents take care of the animals. “Kakheti is known for its vineyards, but in our village summers are too hot for growing grapes,” said Eliso. “That’s why animal husbandry is a much better option.” Eliso’s husband was from the Imereti region in western Georgia. When they married, the couple made a home in his village. They had a happy home, but an earthquake left them and many others homeless.
“When the first shock was over we had to move on,” Eliso said. “We had two small children; there was no time to grieve.” The young family moved back to Eliso’s home village to make a new start.
Soon after their move, Eliso’s husband became ill and passed away. Newly widowed, Eliso was devastated. “When the natural disaster happened I knew I wasn’t alone,” she said. “I had my husband by my side; I knew he would protect us no matter what. Now I was completely alone with two kids.” Eliso had to sell the turkeys they used to breed because she needed cash to raise her sons. What followed were years of hard labor, scarce resources and numerous hardships.
Eliso grew vegetables but still struggled to cover the costs of raising a family. “I wasn’t expecting help from anywhere,” said Eliso. “I just hoped my sons would grow up healthy and find jobs to support themselves.” She realized it would not be easy, as jobs in the village are scarce.
When Heifer Georgia started a cow project in Chiauri, Eliso started thinking about the possibilities. “The place they first brought all the cows was next to our house,” said Eliso. “That’s how I got to see them for the first time. Watching those heifers, I thought this might be a way out for our family.” She discussed it with her sons, who were grown by this time, and they decided to sign up. The cow they received was already pregnant. They took good care of her and soon had a healthy calf. They knew it would be passed on to another family through Heifer’s Passing on the Gift® (POG) practice. Although they were sad the little calf would have to leave them, they were happy for the family who would receive the “ray of hope.” Eliso said, “No one could understand better than me what it meant to see a light in a desperate situation.” Shortly after Eliso’s family passed on the calf, their cow had another calf, which they kept.
Eliso’s younger son recently married and had a little girl. Thanks to the project, Eliso’s family, including her granddaughter Nia, enjoy fresh milk and cheese every day. “Nia loves fresh milk,” said the proud grandmother. “And I’m so happy she is not undernourished. My sons have seen enough hardship; I want my granddaughter to have only the best natural products.”
Eliso’s older son is serving in the army and will return home soon. Meanwhile, they are a family of four, with Eliso’s younger son and his family living with Eliso. The sense of security their cows provide is priceless. “We are sure of the coming day,” Eliso said. “We know that we’ll have healthy food on our table.” Eliso also speaks of enlarging her farm, saying that she would gladly welcome three more cows. This would enable her to start a small milk and dairy product business to boost her household income. “This cow gave us what I thought I had lost many years ago–hope and belief in the future,” Eliso said.