Friday, August 27, 2010

A Santa Fe Veterinarian Visits Heifer Projects in Peru

(On Saturday, September 4, Kim Freeman, a veterinarian from Santa Fe and a volunteer for Heifer International, will present a slide show about her experiences in Peru in December 2009.  During that trip, she visited several projects sponsored by Heifer. You are invited to her presentation at Travel Bug coffee shop, 839 Paseo de Peralta in Santa Fe, at 5:00-7:30 p.m.

Below is a piece that Ms. Freeman wrote about her trip)

By Kimberly Freeman

I was fortunate to accompany Heifer International Peru staff members; Alfredo Garcia (country director) and Julia Terrones (administrator assistance) and Manuel (Driver) to the high Andes, rural region of Pasco, Peru.

Our destination was a town called Yanahuanca, north and east of Lima toward the Cordillera Raura highlands. The villages that we would visit over the next few days (Astobamba, Tango, San Pedro Pillao and Misca) are all within a couple of hours of driving from this main town and are all at or above 10,000 ft altitude.

Environmentally friendly Kitchens
We visited many, many households where women had received an improved cocina (kitchen) from Heifer. These stoves have made an indescribable difference to the people here. They are cleaner, more efficient, have a chimney to vent the smoke from the cook fire, use much less wood and have a small oven. They directly and positively impact the health of the family (especially the women), they reduce the time spent making food and they benefit the environment by reducing wood usage.

We had breakfast and lunch every day in the improved kitchens of these families. I was amazed at the wonderful food that I had every day. We ate baked squash and warm corn bread from the tiny ovens. We had delicious dishes of rice, potatoes and very tasty guinea pig (Cuye), chicken and mutton and even a dish called tocosh (admittedly I could not eat this one) that is made from fermented potatoes.

I had many cups of hot tea that helped me warm up in the often cold, misty weather. It did not escape me that feeding us could possibly be a burden to some of these families but they seemed happy to have our visit and discuss their lives with us.

Visiting the animals and their caretakers was the focus of my visit and a high point in this trip for me. I learned that these people have all of the same problems that other small (or even large) producers have all over the world. The only difference is that they have minimal resources to deal with these problems.

I was continually amazed at what they can accomplish and how they use their creativity and resourcefulness. It is also notable that the community as a whole recognizes problems and successes to be group issues and not just for the individual. The animals, in general, were quite healthy, well cared for and productive. The peasant farmers (campesinos) have general issues with parasites, infections, nutrition, animal husbandry and disease resistance in their sheep, goats, cattle, guinea pigs etc. They have issues with unpredictable weather with new and unpredictable excessive rain and drought patterns emerging.

Heifer collaborates with local organizations
The local organizations, a national organization called SENASA and Heifer International are teamed up well with people in the field as technicians and “promoters” to give training sessions, assistance with construction of stoves and animal facilities, preventative medicine and treatment for the sick animals. We traveled with many of these promoters (women and men) to visit the campesinos. These people are dedicated to their jobs, hard working and continually striving to learn more.

Throughout the trip, I saw Alfredo carefully listening to many people discuss their experiences and concerns in the meetings, kitchens and in the field. Ultimately, and after addressing the issue at hand, he was always able to turn the conversation toward the bigger issues of food sovereignty and capacity building for these rural areas of Peru.

He was amazing in his ability to take this complex issue and make it clear and concise by describing the value of a child’s nutrition or growing your own food or passing on the gift of knowledge or training. He was able to incorporate these core values into any discussion and solidify what is the basis of the success of Heifer’s programs.

All of the staff at Heifer Peru have a firm grasp on the big picture and also have an incredible insight into the lives of the people that they are helping. By taking these trips into the rural areas, they are reminded of the daily realities and shown the daily miracles that are performed by these hard working men and women. 

Sustainability and food sovereignty
For myself, I feel truly blessed to have been able to accompany the staff of Heifer Peru into the field. I have been a donor to Heifer for approximately 10 years and have been a local area volunteer in New Mexico.  More recently, I attended an amazing Heifer U 101 course focused on poverty and hunger issues.  I felt that I knew a lot about how Heifer works and have seen countless pictures and read lots stories about the projects and work around the world.  Read more about Heifer's education programs.

However, taking a trip like this and hopefully helping in a more direct way as a veterinarian was extremely meaningful to me, and no picture or story could have driven home the message of hope better than this trip. The basic idea of giving a person a cow versus a cup to sustain him or herself is at the core of Heifer’s values but also their cornerstones of gender equality, sharing, education, improving the environment and many others are ever present in the daily work done by Heifer Peru and other offices around the world.

It is also apparent that Heifer has folded its core values and successful ideas into the larger context of the issue of food sovereignty. This is a crucial step that Heifer International has taken to realize the enormous impact that raising people out of poverty and reestablishing local food systems can have on the world in general. In an ideal world, we would also see cooperative action taken by governments in the countries that Heifer works to secure their own food sovereignty

Lastly, I would like to say that although there is much work to be done in the world it is comforting to know that there is a large unified force that is working toward improving the global and local community. I am proud to be a part of this organization and I am delighted to have met my new friends at Heifer Peru!!

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