Animal magnetism in Happy Valley.

After the dust and dryness of Ixcan, it was pure pleasure to arrive in Cunen, a verdant valley in El Quiche, Guatemala where Heifer International has had a project since 2006. (Not only because Cunen is beautiful, but also because it meant we could get out of the car we’d been bouncing around in for 4 hours).

The inimitable, devoted Maria Cruz.

The Cunen project is the work of 3 local organizations with Heifer, and there to greet us was Maria Cruz, a lovely 36-year old Mayan woman who has been the Heifer technician, animal-whisperer, and trainer in this area for 10 years. Although the Cunen project has been “weaned” and is on a maintenance schedule, Maria still travels here once a month by bus to check on the animals, answer questions, and visit the homes of Heifer’s beneficiaries – of which there are 36 in this town (and over 500 in the project). In fact, she is so devoted to her work that when she was temporarily laid off due to a cutback in Heifer donations, as a result of our economic downturn (hint, hint), she still took day and night calls about animal fevers and diarrhea from the four villages she works in. Apparently, having animals is about as time-consuming and worrying as having children (except they’re more grateful and don’t talk back).

Don Serbando

Don Manuel

In Cunen, even after the Heifer project has ended, the gift still keeps on giving. The cow above was received by Don Serbando Vasquez, director of the local association, and had a female baby that was passed on to Don Manuel Vasquez (whose 7 children grew up drinking its milk), and that female just gave birth to the cutie-pie new baby above. Cows live for 15-18 years and will have 5-7 offspring in their 13 years of fertility, so Cunen will see several more new generations of Heifer heifers—each of which will benefit a new family. As we walked from farm to farm, we jumped over creeks bubbling down from the surrounding mountains, bringing plentiful water to the fields that were everywhere springing to life with alfalfa, beans, snow peas, onions, oats, snap peas, corn, and napia grass. Lemon, orange, papaya, avocado and lime trees grew in orchards, and sheep and goats happily munched on forage crops in the tidy Heifer sheds Maria had taught the farmers to build.

Under-goat sheds' poop & urine collector -- how clever!

These sheds allow the farmers to efficiently collect the animals’ manure and urine – so they can make rich compost for their fields. Heifer trainings promote organic farming to liberate farmers from having to buy expensive, often dangerous chemicals and to protect the environment. Basic composting is enhanced with the help of some crazy California red worms that eat through the manure like Pac-Men, reproduce like rabbits, and are also passed along with the gift of an animal to a new family.

Speaking of rabbits, the Cunen families we visited also had plentiful pens of rabbits. These bunnies, like all the animals from Heifer, were bigger, better breeds that are chosen to improve the local stock, generation after generation. And because rabbits have 5-7 babies each litter and can have 7 pregnancies a year (yep, that’s 50 babies annually!) … that’s a lot of improvement really fast.

I'm fertile.. are you?

Andrea Canto-Camaha, Cunen farmer.

The people of Cunen were so likeable, friendly and eager to share their stories with us, it was hard to leave. Don Serbando gave us a parting speech, which he asked me to share with you:

We are very grateful to the Heifer donors. We know how much we have been helped and we don’t take it for granted. Because of the gifts you have given us, our children will grow up healthy and smart. We are living the Heifer dream.

It’s a dream that involves never-ending work and a boatload of struggle, but they have water. And animals. And hope.

It’s a happy valley.

Categories: Animals, Guatemala, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

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21 thoughts on “Animal magnetism in Happy Valley.

  1. Ginger O'Neill

    Dearest Betty,

    We talk often about when we can and cannot be the messenger. You are Heifer’s trumpet declaring all the well-deserved work they have done as well as the long road ahead that needs continued support from well-informed donors.

    Blessings on your head! Peace and prolific writing be with you.



  2. amazing:) how often we take our luxuries and lives for granted. good to see that there are still dreams and lives being blessed, opened, and received 🙂 xoxoxoxo

  3. This is the grandest testimony to what Heifer is all about. What extraordinary souls you are meeting this year.

    • Dear KKB — you are SO right … and just think? I’ve got 11 more countries to go (well, actually 12 since I’m going to China & Nepal in April ! Thanks for coming along with me!!!

  4. What a great testimony to the work Heifer does. And what great photos of the beautiful people who benefit. I savor each word you write.

  5. Deb Morrow Palmer

    What a truly amazing adventure. This has been one of my major donations each year,
    for the last 7yrs. So glad to know it really works. Looking forward to the next post!!

    • So happy (and not at all surprised) that a huge animal lover & compassionate giver like you has chosen Heifer … and I am thrilled to take you along to see where all your gifts have gone. It’s incredibly inspiring to see the complex, long-term investments that Heifer is making in these communities!!

  6. The under the shed collector is cool! I like how you say the red worms are like “pac men”! Thanks for your comment yesterday…I feel better today. I think cabin fever hits me some times and life!

    • Cabin fever hits us all … which is why it’s important to share the journey and to reach out for support!
      I am glad to be co-blogging with you, Travel Spirit … and thanks for liking the under-shed collector — i was so impressed by how simple & efficient that was — they can just take it out and spread the manure on the fields … and use the urine for pesticide on the leaves!!

  7. Thank you for sharing Betty. Heifer has done so much around the world, I was inspired to read this posting. Keep up the good work. Heifer, I was honored and proud to be one of the heifer Heroes last year!

    • Jackson — I am so inspired by YOU …. and so happy that Heifer has recognized your work to support girls’ education, sustainable farming, grannies’ microloans, fresh water projects, community gardening, and SO much more in Nyaka, Uganda!!! I miss all your kiddies a LOT!

  8. These are truly donations that keep on giving. More sustainability like this needs to be build into international aid efforts. Thanks for sharing Heifer’s efforts with us.

  9. Wonderful blog. Truly amazing effort and it’s paying off indeed. Of course I love the photos of the animals too 🙂

    • I don’t even LIKE animals, and I was crazy about these (except for the rabbits, of course — which terrify me for some unknown reason) … I think this journey is my Year of Learning to Love Animals !

  10. Gosh, that sounds like a really terrific stop on your journey, Betty. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  11. I love Andrea’s smile.

    • Sybil — that’s so funny that you should say that because after I took about 14 photos of her, I wrote down in my book “Andrea — fabulous smile!” She was SO jolly and so beautiful, and her smile just lit up the room — don’t you think??!!

  12. This journey is such an inspiration and it’s wonderful that you can share it with us. Love the girls all dressed in pink! I would love to take a journey like this someday. . .

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