Posts Tagged With: Pigs

Jumbo Shrimp … and no, that’s not an oxymoron.

 Duang Thi Anh Tuyet is a tiny slip of a woman—beautiful like a butterfly but in constant motion like a bumblebee.

The mother of two boys she has severe stomach problems and can’t work, but like most moms “not working” in developing countries, (or developed ones, for that matter) she does more before breakfast than most folks do all day.

Mrs. Tuyet at the edge of her shrimp pond.

Tuyet is part of a Self-Help Group that Heifer started in 2008 in her small village of Duc Tan in the Mekong Delta … and she’s made the very most of every opportunity presented to her. She got her first cow four years ago, and in record time had her first calf, passed it on to another needy family, then had another female calf.

Tuyet’s very photogenic (and curious) calf.

With the $100 in revolving loans that Heifer offers each family, she then bought 7 Muscovy ducks, 20 chickens, and a sow that is about a week away from having her third litter (and the piglets sell for $50/each). She repaid that loan, too.

An embarrassment of riches: the third litter is due in 10 days!

Not content with all that fecundity, Tuyet and her husband (who works in a rice-polishing factory for $4 – $6/day), dug a pond on their single acre of land and bought 50,000 black tiger shrimp larvae to raise in the dry season, when the salt water rises up from the sea through the Mekong River and floods their pond. The shrimp will feed for four months on plankton left behind by their saline-resistant rice crop, get bulked up for a few weeks with commercial feed, and then sell for about $3,300 – or $400 net profit.

Checking the size of her Black Tiger shrimp.

Tuyet’s beautiful 17-year old son.

With all the work she does with her animals, don’t think for a minute Tuyet is overlooking her sons. Her 17-year old is looking at universities and her 6th grader is tops in his class and earning a full scholarship – despite the fact that the family’s thatched roof house collapsed a year ago, and was only rebuilt to its current concrete sturdiness with a hand from Heifer’s Self-Help Group and its friends in government agencies.

Unfortunately, in Duc Tan, the majority of Heifer beneficiaries who got cows have sold them for easier-to-raise pigs and chickens (a faster way of earning income but subject to greater price fluctuations in the market, and diseases) but Tuyet wisely hedged her bets and raises all the above: cows, pigs, chickens and shrimp.

The final product … yummmm!

When I asked her group leader, Nguyen Van Hong, what Tuyet was doing that made her so successful with all her animals, he said, “Tuyet works very hard, harder than others. She takes care of her animals very well and knows exactly what they eat and what they need – from the good food she raises, to the vaccines she gives at the right time. She’s very precise.”

One precisely beautiful farmer

When I asked Tuyet the secret to her success, she replied, “I believe that if you try really hard, have good trainings, and are motivated, you can pull yourself out of poverty. That’s my goal.”

Tuyet is small… but she is mighty. I hope all her big dreams come true.

Categories: Animals, Farming, Heifer International, Inspiration, Photography, Travel, Vietnam, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Goats … an anti-viral agent.

If you’re a woman in Rwanda, you’re almost twice as likely to be infected with HIV as a man. That seems hideously unfair, particularly after rape was used as a weapon during the genocide of 1994, resulting in a huge swell in the numbers of infected women. Still, even today it is a reality.

Cluadine Uwamaiya, mother of six and HIV+ in Kibungo.

So Heifer International has teamed up with my second most favorite organization, Partners in Health, to improve the health, nutrition and income of people living with HIV/AIDS in the Eastern Province, who make up 2.5% of the population there.

Partners in Health, which grew out of Dr. Paul Farmer’s pioneering community health work in Haiti in the 1980s, is the first responder. Since 2005, PIH has been providing crucial medicine and health care to HIV patients, as well as food packages for 10 months, in order to strengthen and stabilize these weak, poor and malnourished folks and get them on the road to recovery. But after that immediate intervention, patients still needed a way to provide themselves and their families with sustainable income and food security. And that’s where goats (and Heifer) come in.

Goats are quick to reproduce (they can be bred in the first year), their milk is highly nutritious (reportedly it really helps bolster one’s white blood cells that fight off infection) and with easily available forage (old banana peels, kitchen waste and some grasses) goats will produce a lot of poop to fertilize vegetable gardens that the people are encouraged and trained to plant. So Heifer has given away hundreds of South African dairy goats to people like Charlotte, who has used that gift to transform her life.

Charlotte found out she was HIV+ in 2003, after she had four heartbreaking miscarriages in a row and went in for a test. But her husband, from whom she got the infection, argued that she was not infected and so she got thinner and sicker until 2005, when she visited PIH (or Inshuti Mu Buzima as it’s known in Kinyarwanda) and was put on life-saving medications. In 2009,  Charlotte received a goat from Heifer, passed on its first female offspring to another family, and now has two more female offspring that provide her with so much milk, she has plenty to sell.

Nobody in Rwanda would ever drink goat milk before .. but they love it now!

With her goat milk income, Charlotte bought a pig that is now pregnant, and she can sell those piglets for about $120/each (if healthy and fat, a pig can have two litters a year of about 8-12 piglets each). Charlotte also bought a heifer and is eager to raise more goats, sell more milk, plant more vegetables and bananas, and buy more land. In a big kitchen garden that surrounds her house, she also grows carrots, beets, and maize that she sells, but she’s really famous for her excellent bananas (thanks to copious amounts of manure).  

Her 13-year old son is tall and handsome, and she’ll have the money to send him to the best secondary school –although in Rwanda it’s considered quite a tragedy to have just one child (a fact my only-child Lulu found ironic). When she talked about her four missing children, Charlotte looked bereft, but she quickly said, “I don’t think about being sick, I think about the future. It’s only when I talk about being sick that I get sad.”

Leaving Kibungo…

As we pulled away from her house, I was thinking of how Charlotte had stood up in front of the whole town meeting and told her story, and the courage that must have taken. Then I thought of the song the people were singing at the meeting (it only rhymes in Kinyarwanda, folks): “People say if you have HIV/AIDS you are going to die, but we are not prepared to die… We are going to live!”

Categories: Africa, Animals, Heifer International, Photography, Rwanda, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

Farewell, my lovely …

The new breed … smarter, better, prettier!

My last two days in China were spent visiting Heifer International projects in Jingu and Fuxing Village … towns that were hit hard by the disastrous 7.8 earthquake that tore a path of destruction 500 kilometers through the heart of Sichuan province on May 12, 2008. These rural communities raised livestock and fruit, but inside the collapsing barns and houses most of the livestock were killed – along with 68,000 people.

The rebuilding of the Earthquake- Affected area by the Chinese government has been intense, but the Lizhou Poverty Alleviation Bureau chose to work with Heifer for livestock replacement because of its reputation for long-term results. (Or as the Heifer China staff humbly told me, “Our strict standards, high expectations of our farmers, and precise reporting of results make us challenging to work with. But I think we got chosen because we have a reputation for changing people, communities, and the government entities we work with for good.”)

Yang Shengxue, a master breeder & his wife Wuchang Lian in their newly renovated pig barn in Jingu.

The project started in March 2010  in the two villages (and six neighboring communities) with the establishment of 26 Self Help Groups consisting of about 20 families each. They met weekly to begin trainings in animal husbandry; breeding; group savings; animal barn improvement; Heifer concepts like the 12 Cornerstones in cooperation, sharing and gender equality; and value chain marketing.

Only then—after six months’ work – did the 505 families in Lizhou receive their animals. Some chose chickens, some pigs – depending on the land they had to raise crops and the labor required. But by the end of 2011, those original 505 families had recruited 505 more families to form new SHGs, passed on their trainings, and are getting ready to pass on the gift of animals in June of this year.

A captivating local pig!

And what a gift!! The pigs, in particular, are beauties.

The new breed of sows provided by Heifer are more shapely than the local stock (these are the words of the villagers, but I’m not taking sides as I kind of got attached to the local babe on your left), they grow heavier faster with more meat and less fat, and when they do reproduce, the sows have 13-16 babies in a litter. Unfortunately, there have been some fertility issues with the new breed and Heifer vet techs are working to encourage the farmers to feed the sows carefully with only raw food, give vaccinations, and keep their barns clean and hygienic to promote pregnancy.

Oh, Mama!

One of the indomitable ladies of Fuxing.

In Fuxing I met with the only all-women’s Self Help Group, as most of the men have left to work in the city, their teenagers are away at boarding school, and the women have been left behind to farm and raise animals.

Organic forage is best.

Communally, the women can support one another, meeting once a week to share their stories, discuss animal problems (for instance, when a pig develops a weak hind leg, you don’t just wait for it to die, you treat it with meds and stop feeding it so much protein and no cooked food…good to know!!). The women also work together to maintain the new road into town, clean the village, and build reservoirs to harvest water to get them through the 2-month drought period when they used to have to carry water up to the fields in buckets.

The villages are beautiful – blanketed with yellow fields of rapeseed (for oil), orchards, and neat fields, but the women have despaired of their children moving back here. “Emotionally we want them to come back, but financially, we know they can’t survive here. Our children can’t get used to the hard farm work we do or handle the risk of a failed crop or lost animals.”

“They’ll have an easier, better life in the city,” another mother says.

… I’ll be waiting …

I ask the mothers if they want to move to the city and they laugh and say in unison, “Never. It’s hard here but we can’t get used to the air and the noise in the city. Maybe things will get better someday and our children will come back to the farm.”

I’ll leave you with this haunting song from the women of Fuxing (sorry it’s dark but we were inside by a fire)!

Next stop… Nepal!!

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, China, Farming, Heifer International, Photography, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

A beautiful life.

The first thing you notice about Waqi Wunin is how deeply alive she is– with sparkling eyes, a melting smile and a big personality housed in a pixie frame. Which is ironic considering the fact that every day, Waqi confronts her own death.

Waqi has AIDS; she got it from her drug-addicted husband who died in 2010, leaving her a widow with three small children, now 10, 8 and 6.

The good news is that Heifer International started a pig project in Zhaojue County, China in 2006 –and in 2009, Waqi was selected as a Passing on the Gift recipient of two piglets and a sow.

Despite the fact that she was then very ill (with fevers that gravely damaged her hearing), Waqi never missed a single training from Heifer staff and project managers. She learned to build a concrete sty for her pigs, and religiously adopted the habit of cleaning it three times a day to keep it hygienic and insect-free. She learned how to inject her pigs with vaccines and give them medicine so they could survive debilitating diarrhea and minor infections. She learned to raise nutritious forage crops in the fields behind her house and feed her pigs organically. And she learned to keep meticulous breeding records to improve the genetics of her stock.

As a result of her hard work, Waqi is now breeding the most healthy, clean, fertile, and laid-back pigs I’ve ever seen.

And it’s not just my opinion; the whole village of Puti knows that Waqi has the best piglets around. In 2011, she sold 140 piglets for 12,000 yuan ($2,000), plus earned another 4,000 yuan from an abundant rice crop fertilized by her pigs’ manure. All this from an original 2 piglets and a sow from Heifer – a gift that she passed on to a new needy family last year, along with all the teachings and trainings in how to raise good pigs that she generously shares with any neighbors who want to learn.

Waqi is a leader in Puti Village, the Zhaojue government official associated with Heifer’s project told me in admiring wonder. Teaching by the power of her own example, she’s paid off her husband’s debts, sent her children to school, loaned money to others in need, and even though she needs IV treatments three times a week and has to take handfuls of government-supplied medicines daily to stay healthy, she never stops working.  

Looking around her spotless, cheerful household with all its responsibilities of animals, farming and beautiful young children, I know it’s an overwhelming burden for one small healthy woman to manage. When I asked her where she gets the will and energy to prevail–and to give to others — for the first time her smile disappeared and the grief running just below the surface of her life crumpled her face in tears.

“Sometimes it’s hard for me to get up in the morning, but thinking of my children forces me to get up and do the work,” she says when she composes herself again and breaks out the twinkling smile each one of her children has inherited. “It’s for my children that I want to go on.”

Waqi’s adorable oldest daughter.

This Mother’s Day you can share the love that Heifer is letting loose in the world by clicking here. ( I know it’s what I’m asking for.)

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, China, Photography, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Not exactly a Tiger Mom.

Jisu Erxi is 70 years old, poor, and living with her husband Leer Wujia and her three grandchildren in Gudu community, Zhaojue County, Sichuan Province. She’s missing some teeth and there’s no doubt that the years have not been easy on her. Her eldest son is in jail, having left behind his two children with Jisu & Leer when they were infants. Her second son married a nice girl from the village but he is a migrant worker miles away. And when Jisu’s youngest son disappeared, his wife fled the drug-filled marriage, leaving another baby behind for Jisu & Leer to raise.

The Wujias definitely don’t follow writer Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom rules for perfect Chinese mothers: (1) schoolwork always comes first; (2) an A-minus is a bad grade; (3) your children must be two years ahead of their classmates in math; (4) you must never compliment your children in public; (5) if your child ever disagrees with a teacher or coach, you must always take the side of the teacher or coach; (6) the only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal; and (7) that medal must be gold.

But whatever Jisu lacks in forcing her own children to achieve, she more than makes up for in kindness: the entire time she was telling us the sad story of her children’s failures, she was stroking, caressing and hugging the grandchildren they left behind. Her diligence, caring and hard work is what brought her to the attention of Abi Shiha, leader of the Gudu Women’s Self Help Group.

The irrepressible Abi Shiha

“These women lead really harsh lives,” says the relatively affluent Abi, “but they were working so hard, I felt like I should help them find new channels to succeed.”

And those new channels led to Heifer and some really great pigs.

Established in March 2009 with the help of Heifer International, the Self-Help Groups Project consists of about 80 female-headed families in Zhaojue County who agreed to participate in livestock trainings, group savings accounts (each woman contributes $1/month and from that fund any member can borrow), and in community- and income-building activities like hog-breeding and community clean-ups that teach group responsibility and achievement (Tiger Mom maxims).

Everywhere you look, it’s women doing the work.

It’s step-by-step learning for women whose daily lives are a struggle against deprivation and despair.

A stockpile against hunger of beautiful maize.

Zhaojue is an outlier community: peri-urban, beset by AIDS and drug abuse, and predominantly female, as the vast majority of males have left for work in the cities. Typical income is less than $300/year and there is very little land to farm. But with the gift of Heifer pigs, the women’s income increased more than 3,000 RMB in a year, and some families increased 10,000. (Abi & her husband raised these prize winners:)

Gudu women  have learned to be self-reliant, help each other, and establish hygienic habits in their houses and the community, even petitioning the government to build clean, healthy biogas stoves. They also adopted Heifer’s Farmer Field School trainings to plant pasture for their animals and vegetables for their children, and by November 5, half the women had Passed on the Gift of animals to another 80 needy families– a full six months’ ahead of schedule.

As we sat in the yard talking & admiring Jisu’s 3 Heifer sows, 1 fattening pig and 9 piglets, the grandchildren, who were rather withdrawn at first, reverted to their feisty adorable selves. They are all in school now (the better township school Jisu proudly told us) and they finally have enough food to eat and clothes to wear. “Before, we had nothing to sell so we couldn’t even buy shoes,” she explains. “But now we have pigs.”

The promise of a new generation: Jisu’s daughter-in-law and youngest grandchild.

And in Zhaojue, pigs are better than tigers any day.

Categories: Animals, China, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

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