RUTLAND, MASS - A group of eleven Stanley members and friends traveled to the Heifer International Farm in Massachusetts last weekend to learn about conditions in developing countries through simulations, education and hands on experience.
Heifer International’s goal is to end hunger and poverty worldwide through a developmental approach. They better communities through donations of farm animals, training in sustainable farming and education. The hope is to create a cycle where communities come together and those who have been lifted out of poverty reach back and pull their neighbors up with them.
Stanley’s Pilgrim Fellowship spends a lot of time in homeless outreach in our local community. Active participants in Summit based Bridges Outreach and Family Promise of Morris County, these teens have long ceased to view the homeless and disadvantaged as “other.” The Heifer International experience gave them the opportunity to expand their concept of neighborhood to include people all over the world.
Heifer has a presence on almost every continent and in many countries, including Appalachia, right here in the United States.
The youth learned about the distribution of population and the very unequal consumption of resources around the world. They played a game where they had to “survive” using beans, plastic pigs and pennies to represent available resources. Then it was off to “Peru,” one of many model houses in Heifer’s Global Village to build a fire and cook a meal of grains and vegetables commonly available in that environment.
Throughout the weekend, the teenagers and chaperones helped with farm chores, running the sheep and goats from barn to field and feeding and watering the animals: cows, chickens, yaks, llamas, alpacas, rabbits, pigs, and guinea pigs in addition to the sheep and goats. They also picked bugs off the potato plants in Heifer’s one acre vegetable garden that produces 14,000 pounds of produce annually.
The highlight of the trip was the overnight in the Global Village. The group was divided into three and was sent off to Tibet, Guatemala, and Appalachia as families complete with dossiers explaining their situation and economic challenges. Each family had a designated head of household, an elder and a water balloon baby that had to be fed and kept alive (unpopped) overnight. The families visited the market where they had to bargain for their dinner ingredients, after which they returned to their homes to build fires and cook.
Each family had its challenges. Tibet’s animal pen, inhabited by yaks and goats, was immediately adjacent to the house. That family endured, not only mosquitos and a very hard stone floor, but a constant head butting noise against the door. The Appalachian family lived in a trailer with no electricity (power cut off due to nonpayment). The trailer was hot; there were no screens in the windows so there was a constant whine of mosquitos and flies as well as a beeping smoke detector with low battery.
Guatemala was comparatively cushy with comfortable hammocks to sleep in but that family was awakened very early by its resident rooster who also chased our cooks at dinner time. In the end everyone survived and had something to contribute about the lessons learned at the debriefing session.
Living like this for a day was challenging and it is very sobering to think how many people around the globe fight for survival every single day. The Stanley group was moved to make an additional donation to Heifer in honor of our wonderful facilitator, Regina. Stanley’s youth are scheduled for more homeless outreach in New York City on Wednesday of this week but we will also be mulling over everything we learned at Heifer and will be looking for ways to contribute to our now, much larger, neighborhood.