Heifer International works world wide to improve the lives of people and their communities, making the best use of the limited resources available. While Heifer continues to train and gift individual families with cows, pigs, goats, chickens, etc., the organization is also developing new programs to help groups of people to organize their resources, using seed money provided by Heifer, to create systems that benefit the entire community. Interest paid for low cost loans serves as the new form of "passing on the gift" making more resources available to others.
On our Heifer study trip to Ecuador we saw several projects in action.
1. A fishing town on the Pacific coast: Traditionally any development had to pass through the intermediate loan agents who charge high rates and kept individuals on a short leash.
Fishermen, with the help of Heifer, can use seed money to build common loading docks, buy equipment in bulk for resale to members, and combine their catch to improve their marketing position for better sales. Most important, their new sense of community allows the families to develop more financial independence, better health care, and better education possibilities for the children.
New loading dock:
We went out with fishermen to experience their daily work, (2 or 3 of us in a boat with each fisherman) It's hard work laying out long nets, then going back to pull them in by hand, and collecting the fish that are to be sold.
The fish caught in 2 cycles of net out and net back in. The fishermen continue this all day... every day the weather permits.
For lunch we tied to a clump of mangrove trees - a charcoal fire was started on a steel plate - fish (really fresh!) and green bananas were fried for us - and a tomato/onion salad was made by the fisherman... delicious!
The fishermen and families "hanging out" in the evening in front of their houses. Life here is communal!
2. Organic banana and chocolate farmers can also learn how to be better prepared to deal with the world economy, it's limits, and it's demand... The answers are more training, well managed seed money ( Heifer), and assistance to establish coops. The banana farm we visited was only accessible after trekking up a long muddy foot path that crossed this stream.
Cacao - chocolate pods hanging on the trunk of the tree - each pod is about 8- 9 inches long, containing the seeds used to produce chocolate
Judy's boots after the long walk up the hill... We all looked like this...
Bananas must be carefully inspected for ripeness before shipping... if too ripe they must be rejected because they would not be suitable for sale if they arrive overripe. Sample bananas must be cut open to check the color, which indicates if it is OK to ship.
The village coop is also developing a cottage industry of drying, roasting, and preparing chocolate from cacao beans, to make chocolate bars for the local market... It has superb flavor ! ...and what an aroma as it is cooking!
3. Enroute we drove up above the 14,000 ft. level on Cotopaxi volcano. (To the point where climbers start their assent. ) Read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cotopaxi
4. Small independent farmers: can increase their yield if they learn to use organic farming methods, new crop rotation patterns, and develop coop marketing plans. Alone they are subject to the whims of the market. Together with training paid for with "Heifer seed money" they can greatly improve their lives and resources.
Our host and local Heifer staff person on one farm we visited:
Here I am relishing a nice portion of well roasted guinea pig, prepared by our hostess. It reminded me of rabbit.
5. Trout farm coop... It takes seed money to build cement tanks that can collect the cold clear spring water coming out of the mountainside... But a group of families can build and maintain the tanks and produce an effective trout farm that supplies all the fish sold by a local restaurant and also for sale in the farmers market. The low cost loan is paid back with interest - and the money is available to support other projects.
Here is one of the entrepreneurs who developed the fish farm
6. Farmers markets like this are one of the main marketing strategies for local organic farmers and producers of livestock and fish...Local people are drawn by the quality and freshness of these products over those grown with chemicals and fertilizers. It is evident that the organic market was attracting more customers that the "chemical" growers.
"Social capital" is a term used to describes the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively. For example a healthy church group or community association that effectively grows and develops must get buy in and participation from many in the community to be effective. A goal of Heifer International is to provide the knowledge and start up money to permit people to develop their social capital in a manner which will be self maintaining and self expanding.