Heifer International

Kwibuka –Kinyarwanda for “Remembrance.”

rememberingYesterday, all across Rwanda, people began gathering in stadiums, churches and community centers to take part in Kwibuka, or “Remembrance.” Bko8w4sCMAA96lS

20 years ago marked the terrible beginning of the Rwandan Genocide, during which almost one million people were killed as tribal Hutus rose up and slaughtered their Tutsi neighbors, friends and even family members.

Two decades later, Rwanda is a shining star of economic development in Africa, but the psychic scars of the trauma remain.

woman2In 2012, I was able to visit Rwanda with Heifer International and bear witness to Heifer’s programs in that country. The first day, I went to the Northern Province and watched a Passing on the Gift ceremony, where recipients of a Heifer cow pass on the first-born female to another needy family.

Instrument of peace.

An instrument of peace.

It’s a beautiful tradition at the heart of Heifer’s ideology, made doubly poignant by the fact that many of the givers and recipients were on opposite sides of the Hutu/Tutsi divide. Thank youBut Rwandans seem dedicated to rebuilding their country and repairing the terrible schism.POG52

“Have peace!” the people shouted — and answered with “Unite in reconciliation and uproot the genocide ideology.”POG4

It was one of the most moving and inspiring ceremonies I’ve ever seen… and one I’m not sure I would ever have the spiritual capacity to emulate.

POG

So here’s to the beautiful Rwandans in their quest to remember, and be reconciled.kidsAnd to Heifer, for being a part of the healing.

Categories: Africa, Heifer International, Photography, Rwanda, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

If it’s good enough for Bill Gates….

3023877-inline-spoiler-alert-bill-gates-did-not-get-you-because-he-got-me-1387410864Super adorable story about Bill Gates donating … you guessed it! … a heifer from HEIFER to an unsuspecting Reddit reader.

http://www.fastcompany.com/3023877/reddit-user-discovers-her-secret-santa-is-bill-gates

Now that’s what you call a Super Secret Santa!!!

(And if you need some further encouragement to give Heifer gifts to people you love this holiday season, wait til you read my LAST look-back at my 12 x 12 journey to Ecuador  — coming as soon as I can use my computer again… maybe in Myanmar/Burma??)

 

Categories: Heifer International, Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

A look back at Cambodia.

wowThe first time I was in Cambodia, in 2005, I disliked it intensely. It was the end of the dry season and the land was parched and brown, as if nothing had ever lived there. My friend Martha and I stayed in a fancy tourist hotel and went outside the resort only to visit the famous temples of Angkor Wat. The heat was so intense, and the beggars & cripples in the streets so aggressive, it sapped my interest in seeing the countryside or meeting the people. Despite the wonders of the temples, it was an unpleasant experience overall, and I never wanted to go back.

Pretty much my tourista view of Cambodia, the first time.

Pretty much my tourista view of Cambodia, the first time.

However, when I went to Cambodia with Heifer last year, it was an entirely different experience. (And this is why you should never hold on to prejudices about countries you’ve only visited briefly — or in an utterly touristy fashion.)

For starters, I met the people I really wanted to get to know.mother & childAnd then there was the fact that everything – and I mean EVERY single living thing– in the countryside was bathed in green. And water. greenCambodia is geographically shaped like a bowl, so in the rainy season, water collects in the center and seeps out everywhere. The rice paddies were swollen with their watery harvest…rice field

…and children everywhere along the road were splashing happily and joyfully in the ubiquitous ponds.picking lotusI got to really talk to the people I met in the villages, and understand some of their tragic history on a deeply personal level.

Pream Sui, survivor of a forced marriage to a Khmer Rouge soldier - and beautiful grandmother.

Pream Sui, survivor of a forced marriage to a Khmer Rouge soldier – and beautiful grandmother.

I saw the work Heifer was doing to mend communities, bring people together to work alongside each other, and heal ancient rivalries with the amazing gift of animals . water buffalo

mom & chickies

pigs

A brood of guinea fowls.

A flock of guinea fowl.

And I came to adore Heifer’s country director, Keo Keang, who traveled with me every day to the villages and towns where Heifer works – and had her own horrific tale of tragedy from the Khmer Rouge days, when her father and sister were murdered. Keo Keang

Despite the severe difficulties this country faces in overcoming its genocidal past, poverty-ridden present, and dubious future, I met so many people filled with a gorgeous spirit of optimism and hope.fisherman

Kuhl Samon, mother of 11, and wife of Chin Chhil, an amputee in the war.

Kuhl Samon, mother of 11, and wife of Chin Chhil, an amputee in the Khmer Rouge civil war.

girls in temple

sweet namasteAnd believe me when I tell you, nothing can make you love a country more than that.lotusFor a look back at my Cambodia posts (and they’re really GOOD!) ..

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/10/16/haunting-cambodia/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/10/22/a-song-of-reconciliation/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/10/25/under-water-but-not-overcome/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/10/29/i-was-married-to-the-khmer-rouge/

watery road

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Cambodia, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Astonishing Armenia.

Shangri-La I’ll be honest – I wasn’t very excited when Heifer International suggested I visit Armenia last year in one of my trips visiting its projects working to end poverty and hunger around the world. I’d never known anybody who’d been to Armenia, and had barely heard the name Yerevan, the country’s capital. And so, it came as a big surprise to me that I didn’t just like Armenia – I fell madly in love with it.Prayer CrossesFor one thing, the land itself is beautiful. From Mt. Ararat towering just over the treacherous border with Turkey…

Even Armenia's beloved Mt. Ararat, where Noah's Ark supposedly landed, is now part of Turkey.

….to the dun northern hills that made me think of Afghanistan…landscape…to the lush green pastures that support gorgeous orchards of fruit and nuts…Apples…to the rocky outcroppings where Christian churches were tucked in the crevasses, hidden from marauding invaders. rock churchThis is an ancient land with a totally unique history.buggy Armenia is the first Christian country in the world, and is ardently religious still.crossIt was the first country to experience heartbreaking genocide after World War I,

The Armenian Genocide Monument in Yerevan

The haunting Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan

A country in near-constant conflict with its neighbors: Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkey.

Across the lake and in gunsight: the Azerbaijan Border Station

Across the lake and within gun range: the Azerbaijan Border Station

And then, of course, there is the food.fruit pyramid

 Armenians dearly love to welcome you. And wine you. And dine you. And bread you. And fruit you. And cheese you. And coffee you.

Lahvosh & cheese You better come hungry when you visit Armenia, because you’re going to eat.PicklesAnd despite the severe challenges of moving beyond a Soviet mentality to establish an economy that can sustain the young people growing up here (which Heifer is working so tirelessly and creatively to support), there is a tenacity of spirit and national pride that is simply not to be denied.

Look at these beautiful faces!One of 44 members of Tsaghkavan CARMAC committee

Tamara Sargsyan

Naira Gyulnazaryan

The I am enI am Hope of Armenia

rabbitsBarev, Armenia – I’ll never forget our time together!cute boy

Categories: Armenia, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Remembering Rwanda.

boy me & Lu Rwanda was one of my favorite trips last year — not least because it was the one time my daughter Lulu accompanied me. She’d turned 21 in May, and I decided the best birthday present I could give her would be to share some of what I’d seen on my trips around the world with Heifer International.

Well, eye-opening doesn’t begin to describe it.

memoryRwanda is a fascinating, haunting country – tiny (about the size of Maryland), one of the most densely populated in Africa (with 11 million folks), and scorched with a past marked by holocaust, horror and hatred. But Rwanda today, under the leadership of President Paul Kagame, has moved along the hopey-changey spectrum at a clip no one could have anticipated or imagined. lovelyChild mortality is down 70%. Malarial deaths have plummeted 85%. Kigali, the capital, has become one of the cleanest, safest cities in Africa. Literacy of the population is almost 75%. The infrastructure is efficient and new. And the economy, unburdened by corruption, is one of the fastest-growing on the African continent, despite Rwanda having no ports, virtually no natural resources, and 90% of its population raising crops on an acre or less of land.

Everywhere you look, tidy little plots of land are cultivated, mile after mile.

Everywhere you look, families are eking out a living on tiny plots of land.

Rwanda is a remarkably neat, tidy country – with the brilliant insight to ban plastic bags almost ten years ago (makes me feel like we’re the developing ones). There has been a lot of criticism of Kagame’s strongman rule http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/08/magazine/paul-kagame-rwanda.html?pagewanted=all  but it’s difficult to imagine any scenario after the genocide of 1994 that could have predicted a resolution as peaceful and progressive as this.boysHeifer’s role in the country has been consistently progressive, inspirational and positive – working with AIDS families to provide income, creating a model for enabling poor families to use a cow to fuel economic prosperity, and of course, always, Passing on the Gift.

A hug after Passing on the Gift -- a Heifer tradition.

A hug after Passing on the Gift — a Heifer tradition.

To see communities which two decades ago erupted in genocidal atrocity now be focused on giving to the least blessed a huge asset like a cow is nothing short of inspirational.proud

I’m so happy I got to see it. I’m beyond grateful that my daughter did, too.serious girl

And just because I’m good at sharing, here are my blogs from the journey:

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/08/16/a-country-with-a-past-and-a-future/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/08/20/what-it-means-to-give/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/08/23/goats-an-anti-viral-agent/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/08/27/stop-making-me-cry/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/08/30/cows-r-us/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/09/03/a-woman-named-constance/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/09/07/wild-rwanda/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/09/11/lulus-view/

zebra

Categories: Heifer International, Inspiration, Photography, Rwanda, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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