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


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

Ardent Armenia.

Inside the monastery at Geghard.

For over 1700 years, Armenia has been a Christian country.

A church destroyed by the 1988 earthquake in Mets Sariar.

The Armenian Apostolic Church traces its origins all the way back to the missions of Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus in the 1st century.

Its religious culture informs and infuses every aspect of Armenia’s tortured history, and explains the isolation and vulnerability of this small country straddling Europe and Asia.

Khachkars, or prayer stones were places to worship when churches were inaccessible.

There is no better way (besides eating) to experience the unique character and enduring tenacity of Armenia than to visit its churches and monasteries.

The treacherous steps at Noravank remind Armenians that it’s difficult to go up to God, but harder to move away from Him.

A baptismal font.

I’m leaving beautiful Armenia with images I’ll never forget.

Next stop, Cambodia and Vietnam!!

Categories: Armenia, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 31 Comments

These boys mean business.

At the age of 17, Nairi Hakobyan is a walking advertisement for the YANOA (Young Agriculturalists Network of Armenia) program that Heifer is supporting in Armenian schools. With a $100 loan from Heifer (that came after he wrote the first business plan in his 90-member club) Nairi is following in his father’s footsteps and starting his own nursery of 3,000 fruit trees in beautiful Getap, Vayots Dzor Marz in southern Armenia.

Nairi has planted seeds for 2 types of pear, 5 varieties of apple, 3 types of peach, and 2 varieties of apricot trees on 800 square meters of his father’s land and used the rest of the money to buy fertilizers and vaccines to protect his tender plants. After the trees grew to 2 feet, he painstakingly grafted a tiny branch of a cultivar to every slender stalk. (Otherwise, the trees will revert to the wild and produce no fruit).

Nairi’s been working for one year and his 3,000 trees are flourishing but it will take another year before they’re ready to sell. He’s invested $100 of his own money in his business, but when he sells to the local market (his dad is the only other nurseryman in the area, and everyone knows the Hakobyans sell the best trees), he’ll make well over $2,000 (including the $100 loan he repays to another budding YANOA entrepreneur).

Like father, like son — a gift for growing.

That’s a lot of money in rural Armenia – but Nairi has worked his tail off for it, and his plan is to plant more trees and expand onto more land (but first, he’ll have to serve his mandatory 2 years in the military). His father can’t believe the transformation in his son. “I could never get him interested in farming before,” says the tough but proud Aram. “But I’ve seen a big change in him. He’s doing grown-up business-thinking.”

Aram, Narek & Arsen: Rabbit Raisers par excellence!

Other young men in the YANOA program have experienced the same entrepreneurial thrill. Narek Gasparyan, an orphan living with his grandparents in Tsaghkavan, was taken under the wing of his high school YANOA mentor, Rabbit Whisperer Iskandar Mehrabyan – and is now raising, breeding and selling 60 rabbits (worth at least $10/each)  in the back yard of his home.

His friends Armen and Arsen are doing the same – and the collective knowledge they are gaining transcends the small businesses they are building.

As Nairi’s dad says, “Kids are like sponges. The most exciting thing they’ve gotten from YANOA is knowledge about what it takes to run a business. And they can take that anywhere.”

Sevak Gafaryan,15, is raising strawberries in tiny Mets Sarian, a town almost destroyed in the 1988 earthquake.

I’m willing to bet these young men will both stay put (and not have to emigrate to Russia or Iran for employment) and put everything they’ve learned into action to make a good life for themselves and their families.

Sevak’s strawberry seedlings will earn him $700, three times a year!

What a powerful lesson in competence and confidence for these young men in a post-Soviet society. And what an ROI for Heifer – and Armenia!

Categories: Animals, Armenia, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Out to Pasture.

Traveling northeast out of Yerevan to lovely Tsaghkavan, you go first through the arid high mountains, then enter a tunnel and blast out the other side into an entirely different terrain – green, lush, wooded and cool. This is the “Little Switzerland” of Armenia: verdant forests of oak and beech and lush high pastures, where some of Heifer’s most important work is being done.

Remember the premise guiding Heifer’s new strategy? If you can double the productivity of the 650 million smallholder farmers around the world, they will feed themselves… and feed the world. Well, to double the productivity of Armenia’s farmers you need more cows. More healthy, fat cows. And cows like that come from a land with plentiful, fertile pastures.

The reality is, there are plenty of communal pastures in northeastern Armenia – they’re just inaccessible, overused or underused, and chronically mismanaged. So last year, Heifer teamed up with the World Bank and Armenia’s Ministry of Agriculture to start CARMAC (Community Agricultural Resource Management and Competitiveness Project) –and yes, these folks love acronyms as much as we do. CARMAC is a five-year, $23.3 million project that is designed to improve the lives of 24,000 people in 55 mountainous communities by increasing milk production by 17 million gallons/year and increasing meat production by 15 million pounds.

That math would really get Bill Clinton’s heart racing – but what it comes down to is giving rural communities like Tsaghkavan the tools, technology and training so the people can make the most of their animals and land assets and create a sustainable economy.

That’s what we’re talking about.

Each farmer needs about 120 bales of hay to feed each cow through the winter in barley, legumes and hay. In other words, they need productive pastures. Problem is, nobody’s paid much attention to the condition of the pastures, so in Tsaghkavan, the 80-hectare close ones are overused and unproductive, and the 570-hectare remote ones lack electricity, water and are impossible to get to. With CARMAC, each town works to build roads, shelters and watering points so the herders, animals and farm equipment can get to the rich, remote pastures. Trained vets and 10 new regional Ag Support offices improve animal health, provide artificial insemination, donate seeds and tractors and impart modern methods to grow better fodder, and loan coolers and cold storage to each village, so dairy products can be kept safe and fresh. It’s a soup-to-nuts approach and Heifer will provide links with large dairy processors and producers to support the marketing value chain – so all the extra milk being produced can get to market and be sold for a profit.

Tsaghkavan means City of Flowers….soon to be City of Dairy!

It’s a big, bold plan and it’s already is changing the way these towns work—where everything used to be done by hand, man by man. Now the farmers cooperatively employ technology, internet access, and mobile messaging to farm more efficiently. I must be evolving into a true Heifer geek because when I saw the Pasture Management Assessment maps, I was so excited I took about 15 photos of them.

It’s a beautiful, scientific thing …

I love when Heifer thinks big – and this plan is huge, complex and multi-faceted. I love that CARMAC moves far beyond giving a heifer – to planning how the communities can work together to develop a viable dairy business and charge up the economy of the whole region. And I love that it involves sustainably using the land so the pastures will be fertile and productive for years to come, without the use of toxins and pesticides.

Forever and ever …

If that makes me a geek (and I know it does), I’m happy to wear the pocket protector. Bring it!

Categories: Armenia, Farming, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 15 Comments

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