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Story by Marina Kazaryan | Heifer Georgia Project Assistant
When first meeting the Gabunia family, their hospitality and wide smiles are obvious. Simon and Nino Gabunia live in Georgia’s Gurjaani village with their 9-year-old daughter Anna-Maria and Simon’s elderly mother. They remember when Heifer International’s project started in their area. It was a foreign idea to the locals, but Simon was eager to become a part of it. “I immediately understood that this project will bring prosperity, not only to me and my family, but to the entire community,” Simon said.
Gurjaani is situated in the eastern part of Georgia, where the economic situation is often worse than in other regions of the country. People in this area live on the verge of poverty. Simon is educated, but finding a job in or near his village is practically impossible. The family’s only income is the pension Simon’s mother receives each month.
Simon once tried his hand at agriculture, growing maize and vegetables on his small plot of land, but couldn’t earn enough at the local market. Transporting products to the capital city of Tbilisi to sell in the larger market is not an option, as the trip is long and Simon’s land doesn’t produce enough to make the trip worthwhile. Heifer presented a better option for the industrious and energetic family that comes with great potential to make them successful smallholder farmers. By a unanimous decision of the local Farmers’ Association and Heifer Georgia, the Gabunias were invited to participate in the project.
Before receiving a sow from Heifer, Simon considered traveling abroad, like most of his neighbors, to find work. “Of course, I was sad to leave my family, my sick mother, my beautiful wife and my girl,” Simon said, but worst of all was that I was not able to support them.” Feeling morally obligated to take care of his family, Simon was beyond discouraged. Today, he is grateful for the chance to become a good farmer and show his family that he can take care of them. He promises to strive to make their lives better. To prepare for the family’s new animal, Simon attended several trainings where he learned about Heifer International and the 12 Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development, as well as effective ways to take care of animals. The local veterinarian is available if the family has questions about taking care of their sow, but Simon has so much experience now that he is able to do everything himself and even share his knowledge with a neighboring family who received a sow through Passing on the Gift®. “Heifer not only gave us animals, it united us and taught that people can’t live alone and solely overcome their problems,” Simon said. “Instead, people should gather to share their resources and best practices and support each other in difficult times.” Simon and his family say they love Heifer and its trainings for gifting them with new friends, including community members, project participants and Heifer Georgia staff who work together to support each other.
Currently, Simon’s primary focus is raising and selling pigs. Since he is able to produce pork himself, Simon can make a good living while selling it for a price that is agreeable to his customers. He and several other project participants intend to find a large wholesale customer who will distribute pork to restaurants and major supermarkets. “I’m not afraid, because good quality pork is always in demand,” Simon said. “I’m seriously thinking of expanding my farm and start growing cereals that I will use for feeding pigs, since pigs require a plenty of feed and its costs are rather expensive.”
From the beginning, the entire family has taken responsibility for caring for the animals. Tending to pigs might seem easy, but in reality it takes a lot of work and is quite time-consuming. Nino is a doctor by trade, but is currently unemployed, so she spends her days taking care of the house and pigs. She never expected to become so involved with the process, but she has really gotten into it. “If Simon gets the chance to expand the farm, I will support him in every step,” Nino said. Anna-Maria has grown especially fond of the pigs. She spends almost all her free time with them, making sure they have enough food and water.
Simon can still remember how it felt to receive his sow. So much has changed since then. “Now I can buy all the school books for my daughter,” Simon said. “We have already bought some new kitchen appliances. Unfortunately, my mother is not very healthy, but now I can be relieved that I am able to give her the necessary medical treatment and buy medicines.” Simon no longer considers leaving his family to find a job in another country. The Heifer project has convinced him that a better and more secure future is possible, not only for his family, but for the entire Gurjaani community.