Children

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:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 goats for Janet.

Whenever I’m running off my mouth, thinking that my life is stressful, I hope I can remember Janet Dzonzi from Msendaluzi village in Malawi. And just stand in total gratitude for the life I’ve been blessed with.

Janet is 42 and a widow. She has 6 children; the oldest is 25, has finished secondary school and is living in Lilongwe (he doesn’t’ visit home much) and the youngest is 3 year-old Stella.

Janet’s 23-year old daughter lives next door and helps out a lot, but since her husband died, Janet has been struggling to farm her 3 acres of land and plant the soybeans, ground nuts and maize that will feed her family and provide a tiny income ($150 for the year).

Last October, Janet received 2 meat goats as part of Heifer’s Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Project that will reach 1,600 families around Kasungu. One of those goats is pregnant and the other will be bred soon – she’ll pass along those baby kids, and then hopefully have more of her own.

Fred, his mom Janet, and Abigail with their goats & beautiful shed.

These goats mean a great deal to Janet and the future of her family, and they’ve sacrificed to get the animals. The materials to build the goats’ shed cost $17 and Janet had to save up to buy every 5-cent nail. (“That was a hardship,” she says ruefully – and I’m thinking, I will never use that word again.) But when I asked her if it was difficult to raise and breed her goats, she said no, it was actually a “light job.” She’s learned a lot from the Heifer trainings and she’s determined to succeed.

Janet is painfully thin, but she says the family has enough to eat for now. (But I’m worried because runaway inflation in Malawi has caused the price of food to double in the past few months.) The family eats beans twice a month, meat once a month, and their other meals consist of nsima (the national farina-like dish made of corn flour), porridge, paw-paws and mangos. Plus tea.

Janet can’t wait to show me the new energy stove she made with Heifer’s guidance –it cooks twice as fast and uses half the firewood, so now instead of collecting firewood for hours on end, she says the stove has made her a “free woman.”

Janet’s so proud of her energy stove, you can see it!

Janet dreams of having a flock of 20 goats, and with the compounding beauty of reproduction, in a few years that is totally possible. Each goat will sell for about $36, so these animals are money in the bank –as well as food — for this family.

“If I had 10 goats, I’d remove the straw thatch from my house and get a tin roof and put in a cement floor,” Janet says longingly. “And I’d have no problem paying my children’s school fees of $45/year.”

What she’s saving for …

Such modest goals, really. A roof that won’t leak. Money to educate her children. And enough food to keep from being hungry. All possible through the gift of two goats.

Not to put too fine a point on it (okay, I’m going to make the point with no subtlety whatsoever), but at this time of year when buying gifts is what consumes us, here’s a way to turn consumption into a beautiful circle of giving. Give the Heifer gift of a goat, sheep, or yes, a heifer to someone you love and you’ve not only avoided the mall, you’ve honored that person in a really beautiful way.

One big-hearted boy…

I just bought a flock of Heifer chicks for my grandnephew Kieren who at the tender age of 9 has a real heart for the less fortunate. That purchase  made me feel so good, I can’t tell you.

Because I remember Janet. And I remember how as we were leaving, she pulled me in to look at the new baby that had just been born to the young woman next door. Everyone was so excited to welcome this child into the world! He was an utterly perfect little fellow, but it was hard not to wonder if he too would grow up in such difficulty and want.

…helping one brand new boy.

I’m putting my money on a better outcome. Join me???

Categories: Africa, Animals, Children, Heifer International, Hunger, Malawi, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Under water but not overcome.

The weird landing approach to Siem Reap – all you see is water.

Every year, Cambodia ‘s rainy season lasts from May to November. During that time, this bowl-shaped country experiences floods and deluges in the low-lying center of the country, particularly around Tonle Sap (Great Lake), which expands from 1,000 square miles in the dry season to 9,500 square miles during the rainy season. The farmers in this densely populated plain which is devoted to wet rice cultivation make up the heartland of Cambodia.

Rice field in the Tonle Sap watershed

But despite the government’s insistence that the Cambodian economy depends on “helping people improve their land so they can grow more rice,” (90% of all agricultural land in Cambodia is devoted to raising rice), it appears that little  of the $18 billion Cambodia has received in international aid has been spent on irrigation or flood control to prevent devastation of rice crops and animal loss, or to make rice farmers more productive.

Water, earth, sky, animals.

In fact, Cambodia produces the lowest rice yield per acre in Asia – 2.4 tons/acre compared to Vietnam’s 4.9 tons, Burma’s 4.0 tons, or even North Korea’s 3.8 tons. With no irrigation system, Cambodian farmers can produce only one crop a year in the rainy season – while Thai farmers produce two and the Vietnamese three. Meanwhile, disastrous flooding occurred just last year, destroying 175,000 acres of rice, and with climate change farmers expect a lot more of the same.

The incomparable Mith Loeuy

The near total lack of water management and infrastructure puts Kralanh district farmers like Mith Loeuy and her husband Phach Phey at risk every year. When we visited the dynamic duo, the floodwaters had just receded from their front yard. The chicken coop was partially flooded and empty: they’d just sold 800 of their chickens and Loeuy was heartbroken we hadn’t gotten to see her birds. But she was also mad as a wet hen that the floods kept jeopardizing her progress.

Mith’s big coop, minus her 800 chickens.

“Last year, floods destroyed all the farms around here so a lot of people have migrated to Thailand. We had to put all our chickens on a boat and evacuate them that year, so I lost of money selling them in distress. This year, we sold all our chickens early, but now I have no birds and I feel very bad when I can’t earn money.”

Loeuy’s been earning money with her animals since 2008 when she started in Heifer’s original Self Help Group in this village. She received a cow and found out she had a gift for raising animals, then decided with her husband Phey to do “more, more, more!” as she eloquently puts it.

Phey with all the bags of rice they’ve saved to plant when–and if — the waters recede.

“I started with 10 chickens, then upped it to 20, then 80 .. I love chickens because they’re better than swine and easier than cows. (which she also raises) “When you want to eat, you just kill one, and when you need eggs, they’re always producing. You can make money to put your children through school with chickens. (She and Phey have 8.) “But now, with our rice and our animals, we’re just at the mercy of the water.”

It’s hard to see people this passionate, self-sufficient and focused have to work so hard to keep their heads above water,  – or even protect them from disaster.

Man vs. Water – and in Cambodia, it’s every man for himself.

Loeuy and Phey aren’t just exceptional farmers and animal raisers, they are also role models in championing education, even amidst envy and jealousy in the community that they are “acting rich” by educating their children.

“I tell people, ‘Look in my house, I have nothing more than you do,’ ” Loeuy says adamantly. “But we’ve sacrificed because we want our kids to have  to have education, good jobs and success.’”

Phey, Loeuy, and 3 of their educated 8 .. plus two smart grandchildren!

Louey & Phey’s example of investing in their children’s education has had a big influence on the community in which they lead by example, and by their deep commitment to helping others. Louey is the leader & trainer of her Self-Help Group, and the couple has even offered to take in other girls and send them to school — in addition to their own 8 kids.

Here’s hoping this family’s example of true leadership will provide an example for the nation’s leaders to follow.

Categories: Cambodia, Children, Education, Heifer International, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Haunting Cambodia.

Cambodia is not easy to understand, and even harder to forget.

For starters, it’s the scene of one of the most horrendous genocides in the last century when, from 1975-1979, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge government slaughtered 25% of its people in a bewildering effort to wipe out all educated, urban and professional men, women and children. That carnage (and the 2.75 million tons of ordnance the U.S. rained down upon the country from 1970-73) left the remaining population with a profound fear that the murderous Khmer Rouge government would reappear and has afflicted approximately half the population with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In fact, from 1979, when Vietnam invaded Cambodia and deposed Pol Pot, until 1994, the country was not truly free of the threat of the Khmer Rouge.  And since then, the country has been ruled by a political party known as the CPP (Cambodian People’s Party) — to whom the international community has donated $18 billion in international aid. Unfortunately,   precious little of that money can be seen in this tragic country’s infrastructure, education system, or economy.

A full 30% of Cambodia’s population lives in poverty, 66% suffer from seasonal food shortages every year, and 40% of children under five are underweight.

67% of the population (or more) is illiterate and bribery, and corruption begin at Grade 1, with many students forced to pay their teachers for their lessons and grades.

Almost 80% of people in rural areas live in primitive thatched houses, many without running water or electricity.

Given the country’s history of unleashed violence under the Khmer Rouge, it is also not surprising that domestic violence is rife, afflicting almost one-third of Cambodian women.

You would think all of this would make Cambodia totally depressing, but somehow, it’s not. It’s enchanting. The people are beautiful, and show touching appreciation for any help they are given—while maintaining achingly low expectations of a government that has not exactly served them well.

I can’t say the countryside is unspoiled, because it’s been devastated by deforestation and neglect … but when you drive down the road and see riotously green fields of rice interrupted by languid pools of lotus blossoms, and watch sweet brown children thrashing about happily in the water that is everywhere in the rainy season, it is a notoriously easy place to lose your heart.

Since 1998, Heifer International has been working in some of the least served areas in Cambodia, developing Self-Help Groups (largely led by women) that are helping 12, 244 poor, marginalized families make the steep climb out of poverty. I can’t wait to tell you some of their stories!

Stay tuned!

Categories: Cambodia, Children, Hunger, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Smells like teen spirit.

The first day after I arrive in a country, I’m pretty much in a semi-delirious jet-fog. So when my trusty  Heifer Armenia guide/guru Vahe told me we would be driving two miles north of the capital city of Yerevan to visit a bunch of teenagers, I was … speechless.

Inside Hairavank Monastery at Lake Sevan

We started at beautiful Lake Sevan – Armenia’s largest lake that is surrounded by lovely dun hills and ancient monasteries. These rural communities are challenged by high levels of unemployment and poverty, aging Soviet technology, low agricultural productivity, and for teens: the absolute lack of anything to do.After 70 years under Soviet rule, Armenia is still shaking itself awake from the soporific habit of socialist dependence. In 2002, Heifer’s dynamic country leader Anahit Ghazanchyan decided to kickstart that change with a clarion call to those most likely to respond: the youth of Armenia who are open to new ideas, full of fearless energy, and eager to flex their entrepreneurial muscles.

Change agents extraordinaire.

Heifer’s youth project, called YANOA– Young Agriculturalists Network of Armenia– is a huge undertaking, touching the lives of 4000 youth in 29 rural communities. In Lake Sevan alone, YANOA has produced 3 generations of kids who have been through a rigorous after-school program that teaches kids practical life skills in any one of 7 Directions: Animal Husbandry, Business Development & Management, Ecology, Health Education, Civic Education, Public Relations & Journalism, and Logical Thinking. It engages them in their communities doing everything from publishing newsletters to fixing holes in the street; debating gender issues to influencing town policies, starting small businesses to raising animals.

The sweet faces of the future of Armenia

YANOA is taught and managed by community volunteers like Osana Sahakyan who follow an established Heifer curriculum with the kids for three years and take them through a remarkably sophisticated and hands-on learning process that ultimately earns them the gift of cows, fruit trees, worms, seeds, or seed money from a $22,000 revolving business loan fund. Armenian kids respond to the opportunity like thirsty plants soaking up water; I saw the results in Metaqsya Matevosyan and the adorable entrepreneurs of New Original Beautiful.

Beekeeper Metaqsya and her YANOA mentor, Osana Sahakya

Metaqysa’s father is an accomplished beekeeper, and she chose the Business Direction because she wanted to focus on producing her own honey. After studying the market, competition, and developing a business plan, she qualified for a $100 loan from Heifer that she used for two fully-equipped hives with about 80,000 bees each. With favorable weather those hives will produce 20-25 kilograms of honey that she can sell at $6 to $7 a kilo.

Metaqsya and her hives

Metaqsya has branded her honey A+A for “Work Advantage” (in Armenian) produced great labels, and is selling in direct competition with her dad, which he loves. She’s on fire to get more hives and once she passes on the $100 loan to another budding entrepreneur in December, she is going to ramp up her business and really get going.

Where the New Original Beautiful magic happens – around the sewing machine, of course!

The five 15-year old friends who have formed the textile collaborative New Original Beautiful are equally articulate, confident and enthusiastic about their business potential. They’ve enlisted David’s mom, a skilled tailor, to help them understand fabric, sewing techniques and experience, but the creativity comes from the fab five. Ani is the best sewer. Mariam likes to write commercials and do marketing. Vahan is the distribution guy. And David & the other Mariam make sure work gets done on time, savings are put away to pass on the gift of their $100 Heifer loan, and their pricing is right.

Picking the fabrics is Ani’s specialty (with David’s mom’s help).

Recently, they realized that the bed linens they were producing were not profitable enough, so they’ve moved into producing tablecloths, which are very profitable.

Their slogan: “We work during the day so you can rest at night” has proven to be very popular .. and even though they’re all just 15, they feel they are an unbeatable team and plan to have their own factory one day .. and sell tons of stuff in America.

Mariam loves writing& recording commercials, and New Original Beautiful was her name creation

What makes this particularly moving to me is the unvarnished excitement and full engagement of the kids. They can’t wait to talk about their big plans and what they’ve learned so far. Like teens everywhere, they’ve also had a trickle-up impact on the adults that work with them — like Osana, their YANOA mentor, who has evolved from a quiet housewife into a committed civic leader as she’s helped these kids develop enormous new confidence, vocabulary, ideas and perspective—and learned from them the feeling that anything is possible.

Armine and her son Ishkhan, 16, who wants to become a farmer and extend the family lands.

Instead of thinking they need to migrate or marry to have a promising future, these Armenian teens are learning they can develop a business in Armenia, be successful, and  control their own destiny. Says 16 year-old Ishkhan of Chkalovka, “Before we were counting on the state. Now we count on ourselves.”

How New Original & Beautiful!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(And to read more about MY beautiful Classy Weekend, click here...)

Categories: Armenia, Children, Heifer International, Inspiration, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: