China

China Re-mix.

man w pig2 Having dutifully swallowed all the negative publicity we’ve been served up in this country about China (and added some of my own piquant paranoia) — it began to seem like a place I would never want to go. Solemn Little Beauty

But once I got to China, on my fourth month of traveling for Heifer International, I found it was much like any other place on the planet: filled with beautiful people working hard to make their lives and the lives of their children a little bit easier, sweeter, and more secure.

little princess I spent my time in Sichuan province, in the western part of China. It is a place of big, impersonal cities and lovely contemplative country-sides– but no, I didn’t stop to see any pandas (sigh).landscape

However, I did experience the incredible ethnic groups of the Yi people (the women are intensely fabulous, with headdresses right out of the Witches of Eastwick)…Yi hat

… And I met the kindest, most gentle AIDS mother making a living with her Heifer pigs for her three young children …

Waqi Wunin, my personal heroine

Waqi Wunin, my personal heroine

…and I visited a small village making a big comeback from the terrible earthquake of 2010, despite it being populated almost solely by women my age (probably a good bit younger).

The women of Fuxing & me.

The intrepid women of Fuxing Village & me.

And of course, I was served some totally amazing food – and ate my wimpy vegetarian share of it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn China, I had the unique opportunity to sit down and talk to ordinary rural Chinese people who were struggling to cope with life outside the megalopolis–and whose stories turned out to be riveting.

A circle of trust (and roasted potatoes)

A circle of trust (and roasted potatoes)

I also realized that I wasn’t the only one who was perhaps a little skeptical of the foreigner. skepticalBut more than anything, I had the same epiphany I had in every Heifer country I visited last year — Leader

… that the poverty we don’t see around us is still there … Grand-daughter

… that animals are beautiful and full of potent power to change the trajectory of a family’s life .. that pig

… and there is literally nothing more universally beautiful than a smile.daughterTo follow me through the pages of yesteryear (in China) click on a story:

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/04/30/first-impressions-of-china/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/02/high-but-not-dry-in-yi-country-china/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/04/not-exactly-a-tiger-mom/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/07/a-scaredy-cat-taste-of-china/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/09/a-beautiful-life/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/14/farewell-my-lovely/

Categories: Animals, Children, China, Farming, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

It’s My Blog’s Day!

Last October, I proposed to Heifer International that I visit 12 countries in 12 months in 2012 to visit their projects around the world…. and they said yes!

Heifer 12 x 12 was born in January 2012, and today— 12/12/12 — I’m celebrating this journey of discovery & inspiration that is almost coming to an end. Thanks for coming along on this wild, joyful ride!!

Categories: Appalachia, Armenia, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Heifer International, Malawi, Nepal, Peru, Photography, Romania, Rwanda, Travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , , | 59 Comments

Thanks4giving!

Guatemala, January 2012.

The following faces have been brought to you by … you.

Haiti, February 2012.

You see, in 100,000 miles of travel to Heifer projects around the world this year, one thing has been utterly consistent.

Peru, March 2012.

People will take my hands, look in my eyes, and tell me to thank you.

China, April 2012.

Thank you for helping them to feed their children.

Nepal, April 2012.

…and send them to school…

Cameroon, May 2012.

….and stand with dignity…

Romania, June 2012.

…and have the chance to create a better life.

Appalachia, July 2012.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m bringing you their thanks.

Rwanda, August 2012.

Thanks for being so compassionate…

Armenia, September 2012

…for being so generous…

Cambodia, October 2012.

… and for your willingness to share your good fortune.

Vietnam, October 2012.

Look at the beautiful things you’ve done!

Malawi, November 2012.

Have a spectacular Thanksgiving weekend!

(And if you haven’t given to Heifer yet, I still love you ( : )

Categories: Appalachia, Armenia, Cambodia, China, Guatemala, Haiti, Hunger, Malawi, Mothers, Nepal, Peru, Photography, Romania, Rwanda, Travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , | 45 Comments

Farewell, my lovely …

The new breed … smarter, better, prettier!

My last two days in China were spent visiting Heifer International projects in Jingu and Fuxing Village … towns that were hit hard by the disastrous 7.8 earthquake that tore a path of destruction 500 kilometers through the heart of Sichuan province on May 12, 2008. These rural communities raised livestock and fruit, but inside the collapsing barns and houses most of the livestock were killed – along with 68,000 people.

The rebuilding of the Earthquake- Affected area by the Chinese government has been intense, but the Lizhou Poverty Alleviation Bureau chose to work with Heifer for livestock replacement because of its reputation for long-term results. (Or as the Heifer China staff humbly told me, “Our strict standards, high expectations of our farmers, and precise reporting of results make us challenging to work with. But I think we got chosen because we have a reputation for changing people, communities, and the government entities we work with for good.”)

Yang Shengxue, a master breeder & his wife Wuchang Lian in their newly renovated pig barn in Jingu.

The project started in March 2010  in the two villages (and six neighboring communities) with the establishment of 26 Self Help Groups consisting of about 20 families each. They met weekly to begin trainings in animal husbandry; breeding; group savings; animal barn improvement; Heifer concepts like the 12 Cornerstones in cooperation, sharing and gender equality; and value chain marketing.

Only then—after six months’ work – did the 505 families in Lizhou receive their animals. Some chose chickens, some pigs – depending on the land they had to raise crops and the labor required. But by the end of 2011, those original 505 families had recruited 505 more families to form new SHGs, passed on their trainings, and are getting ready to pass on the gift of animals in June of this year.

A captivating local pig!

And what a gift!! The pigs, in particular, are beauties.

The new breed of sows provided by Heifer are more shapely than the local stock (these are the words of the villagers, but I’m not taking sides as I kind of got attached to the local babe on your left), they grow heavier faster with more meat and less fat, and when they do reproduce, the sows have 13-16 babies in a litter. Unfortunately, there have been some fertility issues with the new breed and Heifer vet techs are working to encourage the farmers to feed the sows carefully with only raw food, give vaccinations, and keep their barns clean and hygienic to promote pregnancy.

Oh, Mama!

One of the indomitable ladies of Fuxing.

In Fuxing I met with the only all-women’s Self Help Group, as most of the men have left to work in the city, their teenagers are away at boarding school, and the women have been left behind to farm and raise animals.

Organic forage is best.

Communally, the women can support one another, meeting once a week to share their stories, discuss animal problems (for instance, when a pig develops a weak hind leg, you don’t just wait for it to die, you treat it with meds and stop feeding it so much protein and no cooked food…good to know!!). The women also work together to maintain the new road into town, clean the village, and build reservoirs to harvest water to get them through the 2-month drought period when they used to have to carry water up to the fields in buckets.

The villages are beautiful – blanketed with yellow fields of rapeseed (for oil), orchards, and neat fields, but the women have despaired of their children moving back here. “Emotionally we want them to come back, but financially, we know they can’t survive here. Our children can’t get used to the hard farm work we do or handle the risk of a failed crop or lost animals.”

“They’ll have an easier, better life in the city,” another mother says.

… I’ll be waiting …

I ask the mothers if they want to move to the city and they laugh and say in unison, “Never. It’s hard here but we can’t get used to the air and the noise in the city. Maybe things will get better someday and our children will come back to the farm.”

I’ll leave you with this haunting song from the women of Fuxing (sorry it’s dark but we were inside by a fire)!

Next stop… Nepal!!

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, China, Farming, Heifer International, Photography, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

A beautiful life.

The first thing you notice about Waqi Wunin is how deeply alive she is– with sparkling eyes, a melting smile and a big personality housed in a pixie frame. Which is ironic considering the fact that every day, Waqi confronts her own death.

Waqi has AIDS; she got it from her drug-addicted husband who died in 2010, leaving her a widow with three small children, now 10, 8 and 6.

The good news is that Heifer International started a pig project in Zhaojue County, China in 2006 –and in 2009, Waqi was selected as a Passing on the Gift recipient of two piglets and a sow.

Despite the fact that she was then very ill (with fevers that gravely damaged her hearing), Waqi never missed a single training from Heifer staff and project managers. She learned to build a concrete sty for her pigs, and religiously adopted the habit of cleaning it three times a day to keep it hygienic and insect-free. She learned how to inject her pigs with vaccines and give them medicine so they could survive debilitating diarrhea and minor infections. She learned to raise nutritious forage crops in the fields behind her house and feed her pigs organically. And she learned to keep meticulous breeding records to improve the genetics of her stock.

As a result of her hard work, Waqi is now breeding the most healthy, clean, fertile, and laid-back pigs I’ve ever seen.

And it’s not just my opinion; the whole village of Puti knows that Waqi has the best piglets around. In 2011, she sold 140 piglets for 12,000 yuan ($2,000), plus earned another 4,000 yuan from an abundant rice crop fertilized by her pigs’ manure. All this from an original 2 piglets and a sow from Heifer – a gift that she passed on to a new needy family last year, along with all the teachings and trainings in how to raise good pigs that she generously shares with any neighbors who want to learn.

Waqi is a leader in Puti Village, the Zhaojue government official associated with Heifer’s project told me in admiring wonder. Teaching by the power of her own example, she’s paid off her husband’s debts, sent her children to school, loaned money to others in need, and even though she needs IV treatments three times a week and has to take handfuls of government-supplied medicines daily to stay healthy, she never stops working.  

Looking around her spotless, cheerful household with all its responsibilities of animals, farming and beautiful young children, I know it’s an overwhelming burden for one small healthy woman to manage. When I asked her where she gets the will and energy to prevail–and to give to others — for the first time her smile disappeared and the grief running just below the surface of her life crumpled her face in tears.

“Sometimes it’s hard for me to get up in the morning, but thinking of my children forces me to get up and do the work,” she says when she composes herself again and breaks out the twinkling smile each one of her children has inherited. “It’s for my children that I want to go on.”

Waqi’s adorable oldest daughter.

This Mother’s Day you can share the love that Heifer is letting loose in the world by clicking here. ( I know it’s what I’m asking for.)

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, China, Photography, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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