As Heifer‘s Byron Lopez, Vivian Martinez and I pulled into the beautiful village of Quilinco near Huehuetenango*, Guatemala, I realized we were late. For once, it wasn’t my fault (blame breakfast and a whole bunch of bad potholes) but I was horrified to see 30 gorgeously-attired mothers & children and weather-beaten farmers in immaculate white hats patiently waiting for us in the beautiful turquoise central meeting place that was cheerfully festooned with flowers, hanging stalks of braided corn, and a pine-needle strewn floor.
This was my first Heifer “Passing on the Gift” ceremony and I was late. Dang it!
Passing on the Gift is the most Cornerstone-y of the 12 Heifer Cornerstones – and the thing that truly sets Heifer apart from other “giveaway” charities. When a poor family receives a Heifer animal (any animal – be it chick, goat, sheep, cow, water buffalo or bee), the first female offspring of that animal must be passed on to another needy family. This not only builds community solidarity, it ensures that the gift keeps on giving to more and more families – while it engenders self-respect, dignity, and a sense of responsibility to others (Oh, that we had a little more of that in the USA!)
This community of Quilincohas had a relationship with Heifer since 1984 – and remarkably, the Passing On tradition is still being Passed On. From 80 original families, Heifer gifts are now benefiting over 500 families…with no direct supervision for 8 years (although Heifer still provides some veterinary support, new animals to improve the stock, and community counsel).
Today, we were witnessing THREE Passing On gifts. First was the gift of two stallions (I was envisioning Black Beauty – but no, these were sheep) from 4-time Award-Winning Sheep Breeder Jesus Garcia. These two males would be shared by four families in two neighboring towns and used to impregnate the local mares.
The second gift was a valuable Italian female rabbit that was robust, fat and juicy and would likewise be used judiciously to improve the local stock, given by Paula to Isabel.
The third gift was a campesino-to-campesino gift of a goat that would hopefully have at least 5 babies, improve the local stock (the price of prize stock is 5 times that of the local sheep) and enrich the lives and diets of the receiving family.
The speeches preceeding the gifts recalled decades of community efforts to encourage people to contribute funds (sounds like any civic association anyplace on the planet), work together, and find common goals and common ground. With Heifer’s encouragement, Quilinco’s Mayan Mujeres had pooled their money and begun micro-lending programs to enable other women to buy animals and pass their offspring on. Their history of “working together with solidarity – the way you taught us — and not by ourselves” as Alberta Garcia recalled, has served them well.
The land of Quilinco is steep, foreboding, and back-breaking to farm, but the people there are determined to grow their own food, feed their own children, and prosper. Heifer’s great gift has been to give them the small help they need to succeed in that endeavor.
** I’M OFF TO HAITI TOMORROW … BUT STILL HAVE A FEW MORE SCINTILLATING POSTS FROM GUATEMALA… STAY TUNED!!