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 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.
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.
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.
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.