Mothers

A good/bad day in Malawi.

cropped shedMost days on the road with Heifer are really good days. And some are just hard.

The last day we spent visiting projects in Malawi was a hard one – not because of what we did but because of what we saw. We were visiting the Khongoni project near Lilongwe that supports people with HIV/AIDS by providing them with training, trees, seeds, and milk-producing goats. I expected the towns close to the capital city to be more affluent, but in fact they were some of the poorest communities in this very poor country.hardwell & wife

Our first visit was with Hardwell Chidesmbo –a HIV-positive father of 16 (yeah, that’s right) whose first wife died of AIDS, leaving behind 8 children. With his second wife (also HIV-positive) he has had another 8. That boggled my mind but far worse, the children were dirty, frantic and hanger-thin. The entire household seemed teetering on the verge of neglect and one little lamb had a broken leg. One of Hardwell’s daughters was disabled and another had died, leaving behind an infant daughter who was also HIV positive. The situation seemed more than any mere livestock could improve.

How much can 2 goats do?

These two goats from Heifer will bring much-needed nutrition and income for Hardwell’s family.

And yet, Ginison Moliyere, the local Community Animal Health Worker that Heifer has trained to provide animal services, was not feeling discouraged. He told me that Hardwell’s family had only just received the goats so he felt there was plenty of time for them to progress and improve their situation. Ginison had come to splint the lamb’s leg after it tumbled out of its new shed and it’s now healing well.

Ginison Moliyere, Heifer's intrepid CAHW.

Ginison Moliyere, Heifer’s intrepid Community Animal Health Worker with his Heifer bike.

I can’t tell you how this young man’s dedication moved me.  Ginison spends 2 days each week on his Heifer bike, traveling the 15 km. radius of this project and helping people keep their goats robust and healthy. Ginison helps them do that with advice, encouragement, and hands-on training (and the government provides anti-retroviral drugs). And he does it all as a volunteer.

Records

Belvin Manda and Victor Mhango from the central Heifer office, going over records under Ginison’s goat’s watchful eye.

Ginison also gives vaccines, keeps impeccable records for 5 groups of about 250 recipients, and is raising two goats of his own (although one of his pregnant goats died the day before – a big setback). But at age 39, HIV-positive, with six children of his own and a new wife (his first wife died), Ginison doesn’t seem to sweat the small stuff; he is tremendously dignified and remarkably resolute. His household is neat as a pin, his children are all in school, and clearly he has a gifted way with animals.Gidion talks

Despite his volunteer status (farmers do pay him a small fee and eventually it should become a business), Ginison’s role could not be more important. Heifer’s project is a joint effort with the National Association of People Living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) and will reach 1,000 HIV-affected families with meat or dairy goats to improve their income and nutrition (goat milk is easier to digest than regular milk and has been shown to increase white blood cells). If it weren’t for people like Ginison willing to offer day-to-day support to the project beneficiaries and extend the reach of Heifer staffers, there is no way this project could reach its goals.

Sweet but so, so poor ...

Although 1 in 7 Malawians have HIV/AIDS, the numbers are going down – hopefully fast enough to protect the next generation.

Some people like Hardwell, with his 16 ragtag children, seem almost beyond the reach of Heifer’s battery of trainings. (Although Heifer’s gender equity and family health trainings are certainly encouraging people to control their own reproductive future — and of course, educating girls has been proven to be the most effective route to decreasing family size, and Heifer is all about keeping kids in school.) While it would be naive to think that every Heifer story would be one of immediate success, it was still  difficult not to feel some despair at the prospects for Hardwell’s family.

But then Ginison took us to meet Rebecca Mzingwa… and she was nothing short of an antidote and an inspiration.Rebecca2

In August 2011, this HIV-positive widowed mother with 3 children and 1 mere acre of land received 2 goats from Heifer. In September, her goats gave birth to 2 more, she passed them on to another HIV family, and since then, her goats have kidded again (I love that phrase) and now she has 5 healthy thriving goats. She sells 3 liters of milk every day (saving ½ liter for herself and 8-year old Bernard) collects grass from the public wetlands every day to feed her goats, and raises maize and vegetables on her 1 acre, fertilized with goat manure.Rebecca Mzingwa

In 2-3 years, she wants to have 20 goats and I don’t doubt for a minute that she’ll do it.

“My children are orphans so I need to support them with these goats,” she says confidently, as Bernard snuggles up to her. “I am very healthy and very strong. I am fine.”Rebecca & goat2

She’s more than fine; she is a woman with a plan. And some very healthy goats.

Categories: Africa, Animals, Heifer International, Mothers, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 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

Bon bons, lots of mud, and the Lotus position.

I hate to pick favorites (my favorite country is always the last one I’ve been to). But in every country I visit with Heifer, there will be (at least) one person that I can’t get out of my mind. A person that I know I’ll be thinking about and worrying about for years to come. In Vietnam, that person was Thach Thi Sa Phinh of Koko Village.

Whatever she’s selling, I’m buying – what a cheerful face!!

Pretty Koko town, population 718, in Suc Thong province lies in the heart of the Mekong Delta and is primarily a Khmer community. The Khmer ethnic group, originally from Cambodia, seems to be regarded by the hard-working Vietnamese as an obstinately poor group that gets an inordinate amount of help from the government– but from what I saw in Phinh’s household, that stereotype is miles from reality.

Phinh & Quy, quietly talking business under the gaze of the Buddha.

Phinh and her husband Kim Sa Quy are in their early 30s with three children. They joined Heifer’s Self-Help Group in 2010 and received a heifer in August that year. (That cow is now blessedly pregnant.)

Phinh is gentle and tender with everything — even her heifer.

Then, with a $100 revolving loan from Heifer, Phinh opened a small business stall in her house, selling necessities like tea, seasonings, cookies, sugar, flour, and oil. Every day she and her husband get up at 3 a.m. and drive their motorscooter to a big market an hour away, buy and load up 15 kilograms of fish, pork and vegetables, and bring it all home to sell, opening their store at 6 a.m. when people stream to Phinh’s house to buy food they can quickly cook and take with them to the fields where they’ll spend the day working.

Phinh grew up very poor and can’t read or write but she’s taught herself to do numbers; her 12-year old daughter helps write the customers’ names and keep the books. Because no one in Koko has much money, everyone buys from Phinh on credit and she is repaid at harvest time, without fail.

A good team… Phinh runs the store, her daughter keeps the books.

After the shopping surge ends at about 8 a.m., Phinh goes to tend her 2,000 square-meter lotus field that’s a bit of a walk from the house. She and her husband, who works day labor, saved $1,500 and then bought another 3,000 square meters, which they are devoting to growing grass for their cow, a little rice, and bon-bons (I couldn’t find a translation but stubbornly kept visualizing a field of gorgeous chocolates).

These are the real bon-bons and yes, that is Phinh’s very sharp knife.

Of course, I was dying to see both fields, so we trekked out through the mud and sat admiring the lotus plants that will earn Phinh $20 every 3 days. She learned how to grow lotus from her grandfather and knows how to pick each root at just the right time – individually plucking each plant from its watery home. Twice a week she harvests 20 kilos of lotus root (it’s SO delicious!) and sells it for $1/kilo at her store.

The original lotus position.

Phinh’s bonbons in her new field looked like baby leeks but tasted sort of sweet. Those vegetables are collected once a month and sell for about 55 cents/kilo (75 cents) during the lunar festival. Her new field will produce 300 kilograms in a year’s time, which means that all her wading through thigh-deep water and bending over harvesting each root will yield about $150.

As we were sitting with our toes in the water, talking about my life and hers, Phinh said poignantly, half in jest, “Our life here is so hard. Why don’t you take me back to the United States with you?”

It was so pretty in that field, I couldn’t imagine wanting to leave, but then, I also could see the incomprehensible difficulty of  life here. And I knew Phinh was worried about her oldest daughter, who had just quit school after Grade 5 so she could stay home and help out with the younger kids (5 and 3) while her parents are working so hard in the fields and store.

Such a smart, beautiful girl .. I hate that she’s not in school!

Phinh and Quy have bought her a bicycle to try to persuade her to go back to school, but she feels it’s more important to help her parents with all their work. And that’s kind of breaking Phinh’s heart, although she is deeply touched by her daughter’s sense of devotion. I was torn by my undying belief that education is the key to a better future, and my feeling that I couldn’t possibly understand the complexity of what this family is going through.

Saying goodbye is hard to do.

But what I knew for sure was that whatever happened in the immediate future, Phinh’s family was moving forward. I wished I could bring some of America’s great abundance to this beautiful little family, but I also know Heifer already has. Now it’s up to you & me (and Phinh and Quy) to keep it going.

Godspeed, Phinh … you’re in my heart!

Categories: Agriculture, Heifer International, Inspiration, Mothers, Photography, Travel, Vietnam, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Lulu’s View.

I’m taking the photo, but they’re all looking at Lulu.

My daughter Lulu is a lulu. She’s 21, smart, sweet, street-savvy, beautiful, funny and kind. And I’m not taking credit for that. She came that way.

See what I mean?

I was totally jazzed about taking Lulu to Rwanda with me, because I wanted her to experience some of what I’ve been seeing and learning all year long on this amazing journey with Heifer.

But I was a little worried that it would be too emotionally intense or just too physically exhausting. (And of course, we hadn’t been getting along all that well for most of the summer.)

Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Lulu was a complete trooper — she never complained about having to get up at 7 a.m. and be out in the countryside til 7 p.m., never seemed bored for a minute, and was polite and sweet with everyone (even me!).

I was so proud of her, and so happy she could share this experience with me.

These are her favorite photographs from Rwanda.

And here’s an English proverb she loves:

“The soul is healed by being with children.”

Hope we’ll be back soon!And now…. I’m off to Armenia!

Categories: Children, Heifer International, Inspiration, Mothers, Photography, Rwanda, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 33 Comments

A little bon-bon for Mother’s Day

(With thanks/apologies to Cyndi Lauper for borrowing her beautiful song! And of course, you can click here to support Heifer and the moms it is helping all over the world!)

Categories: Children, Heifer International, Mothers, Photography, Travel, Women | Tags: , , | 19 Comments

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