This past summer I travel with my youth group to Rutland, Massachusetts to volunteer and work with Heifer International. The week’s goals were to learn more about hunger, poverty and ecological sustainability in the world, work in the gardens and the animals that feed those on the grounds and provide local produce for the town, and to come away with ideas and ways to educate those in our communities back home in NYC.
We spent every morning doing animal chores which included feeding, milking, and cleaning of the stalls. By the end of the week I was an expert milker and a professional sheep herder. We spent afternoons having lessons on the different aspects and benefits of Heifer International. We learned about the economic benefits of various animals and how the Heifer ideology of giving away the calf of a cow to others will spread the wealth throughout entire villages. Unfortunately none of the animals that we worked with were given to people in need or that were part of Heifer. This was because it is better for local economies and for the animals if they come from the same region in which they are being given to. We also learned astonishing facts such as that North America is 5% of the population of the world and yet we use nearly a third its resources and make half of its waste. We learned fun facts as well, for example there are more chickens than people on the planet. And then in the nights we fed and put away the animals.
We learned how to live and eat sustainably and how to minimize our carbon foot print individually, as community, as nation and as a world. All of the meals we made and ate were from vegetables and animals that were raised and grown on the farm. We learned how important it is for us to eat local. Not only for our own health but for the ecological and economic benefits that it can give to our country and the world.
However some of the most important lessons learned on this trip was that of faith and family. One of the nights we stayed on the farm we spent living in the global village. This was a walking tour through the woods that had pit stops containing houses, gardens, animals and activities that would be found in the third world countries and areas that Heifer helps. I say areas because I was astonished to find that two of the 8 pit stops can be found in America. Three of my friends and I were selected to live in the Guatemala site and the rest of the group was spread out in the Kenya, Nepal, Ghana and Poland sites. We were sent to the village to trade for food where we got baby formula along with beans, cornmeal and an onion. The baby formula was because I was a expectant mother. Dinner was flavorless beans and cornmeal but we shared and bartered with fellow tribes and regions to make a feast. At what I assumed to be 8 o’clock (I didn’t know because we weren’t allowed 1st world items) I gave birth to a beautiful water balloon named Maria. Then in the morning we awoke to a frost that had destroyed a years worth of crops and we, as family. were forced to send our eldest son to work in the dangerous mines in the near by town.
Living in the village was hard for us city goers but no doubt was a piece of cake compared to the circumstances that are really in Guatemala. But it did teach me a few things. First it taught me that when making beans you need salt. Second that we as a society must do something to help these areas in dire circumstances and prevent another family from having to send there son off to work in unsafe areas. Third it taught me that even when you are sleeping out side, in a yurt or a hut and don’t have food or technology the only thing you truly need for happiness is friends around you, love and laughter.
My work with Heifer International over the summer was truly rewarding in many aspects. I can only hope that all those in our community can have such an eye-opening and rewarding experience.