Greetings From Guatemala!

June 17th, 2009

I ended up in Guatemala.  





With these two punks for my family…





One of them found out he was about to give birth shortly before we arrived at our new home.





This was our family goat.  






Our supplies consisted of two carrots, a cup of cornmeal, three eggs, powdered milk, matches and an assortment of cooking utensils.  





My home also had nearby ‘facilities’ AND we had all the water rights.  No one was getting a single drop without our say so!







When I discovered that our group had a house, a goat, enough food to survive the night, water, BEDS, DOORS, and even ELECTRICTY, I felt ludicrously wealthy.


The other groups were not so lucky…




My son Calder ended up in Appalachia with black lung, and due to his health condition, he was unable to leave his tiny one room cabin.  His group had potatoes, onions, salt, pepper, cooking oil, and all the wood.






If we wanted to cook our food, we were going to have to trade something with Appalachia.





My friend Jenny ended up with the largest group of kids in the urban slums…








Her group had the smallest amount of food, only a few cups of rice, with nothing to trade for water or wood.  




This experience all took place on the grounds of the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas.





The Heifer Project was founded in 1944 by Dan West.  West was a WWII relief worker who decided that instead of giving hungry children a cup of milk from a supply that was certain to run out, why not give their families a milk cow that could sustain them for years, give them a way to earn money, and even the ability to pass on the eventual offspring to other families in need.  Since then, Heifer has been helping struggling families and communities all over world by working to develop and implement sustainable agriculture practices as well as giving the gift of small herds, flocks and other necessary animals that play a central role in sustaining life in many parts of the world.  



Literally millions of cows, chickens, rabbits, goats, bees, camels, water buffalos and sheep have been sent from Heifer to people who were willing to do the necessary work to create a proper environment to ensure success.  These days, the animals are purchased in the countries where they are used and no longer shipped from the U.S..  Often, the receipt of these animals is enough to bring a family from the brink of starvation to living a life with not only enough to eat, but also a product to sell… eggs, honey, and milk.  The animals produce manure allowing the families to fertilize their crops and gardens as well as fuel to operate cooking stoves.  It can be a life changing gift for a family to receive a goat, a pig, or a small flock of chickens.  Heifer International helps a community to help itself.  




One of Heifer’s central tenants is called ‘passing the gift’.  Once a new herd, flock or hive has established itself, the family must give a portion of their animals to another family that could benefit. They must also promise to help the weakest members of their community first and agree to empower both women and children with the project.  



Heifer has worked to create what they call ‘appropriate’ technology.  Some examples of appropriate technology include a device that turns pig manure into fuel for a stove, pumps that are operated similar to a tread mill that can deliver water to livestock and gardens and animal pens that allow for people to easily collect the manure for fertilizer and fuel.  As I viewed some of these appropriate technologies in action, I couldn’t help but think that we may be closer to times when devices like the ones that Heifer has created, that do not rely on electricty or oil to run, will be needed more and more in our own country.    



Our church youth group visited the Heifer Ranch to participate in a program called the ‘Global Village’.  After a day of group exercises and information, we were divided into three groups, given a few paltry supplies and set loose in the village.  There is no one particular outcome that Heifer is looking for in the Global Village experience.  It is really just a way to experience a tiny glimpse of what it might be like for a family to survive in a poor country under circumstances that are drastically different from our own.   






The adults are firmly instructed to step back and let the kids lead the experience.






Our kids eventually decided that the best answer to our various problems was to pool all of our resources and have dinner together in Appalachia so that my son with the black lung would not have to eat alone.  





After dinner, we all went back to our various homes and countries.  




Some to the urban shanty to sleep on a rocky floor, some to a simple one room cabin with a broken television, no running water and no electricity and my group to our tidy cinderblock home with the obscene luxury of real beds.

But everyone had a meal in their belly.   

It really wasn’t very hard to work together and share what we had.  

It wasn’t so difficult to decide to have our meal in a place where we could all be together.

It wasn’t so hard to realize that if we all threw our meager supplies into one pot, there was better food and more for everyone.

Maybe Heifer should invite all the world leaders for a one night stay in the Global Village?



If the world leaders need any help figuring out how to get along with each other and to share what they have…

I know a few kids who could help them out.


  • DirtyKSmama - Nikki:

    How cool!
    I’d never heard of the Heifer Ranch, just Heifer International. What an amazing experience. Thanks for sharing.

    And may you dream of goats for the next week.

  • I am too tired to dream. Still recovering from sleeping with the goats.

  • Cathy:

    This is really interesting! That would be a heck of a learning experience. When I went to camp we tried to find snipes and ran from cows.

  • What a cool experience! Are you glad you went? I love it that the parents are encouraged to just observe the kids make the decisions.

    Kari B

  • How wonderful, and what a great experience! I’m so glad you and your boys participated and shared this with us.

  • Leslie:

    That is really an amazing thing. I have long been a fan of the work that Heifer International does. Had no idea that they ran this program here in the states. I think that would be an awesome thing to take a group of kids to.

  • What a great place! Wish we had one around here. How smart of your kids to pool their resources!

  • I like your last idea!

  • Great photos- sounds like an amazing place!

  • Southern Gal:

    I will have to share this information with my parents. They have a ministry in the Philippines called Abounding Grace. One of their projects was to give a pig to as many families as possible. They are very poor people and were so appreciative. Some great ideas. Thanks for sharing.

  • Amazing. How smart you are to suggest world leaders taking part! Thank you!

  • What a great experience for the youth group.

  • Wow. I wish we lived closer the Arkansas. What a cool experience.

  • What an amazing experience … I know everyone learned a lot. Thanks for sharing. I’ll have to keep this place in mind for my own church …

  • Cool piece!

    60 Minutes did a great piece a few years ago on the impact a goat donated by Heifer International had on a girl in Africa. It’s an amazing story. Here’s the link:

    Some of us simply win the lottery when we’re born. I consider myself very lucky.

    I hope your son has a speedy recovery from the black lung.

    You load 16 tons and what do you get?
    Another day older and deeper in debt.

  • Kathy:

    This is so neat – I’ve never heard of anything like it. I wonder if any churches from Texas ever go up there, I’d sign my kids up in a heartbeat. Thanks for letting us experience it a bit.

  • Heifer is one of my favorite charities because they encourage self-sufficiency and sustainability. What an awesome experience for you and your children. We could all definitely use a reminder of how blessed we are.

  • Fran:

    ” … and a little child shall lead them.” If we could all learn to see the simple answers and live by them. Heifer International is a fabulous program, making a real difference in people’s lives. My sister worked at the Heifer ranch one summer and she and her husband worked with the program in Mexico. Purchasing animals for families through their program is a great alternative to a traditional Christmas gift that will get tossed into the back of a closet. Everyone should check out their website! I’m so glad your boys got to experience the Global Village. This idea could be adapted and participated in anywhere by church groups, etc….

  • Very cool! I used to work on staff with a high school youth group – we had a very similar “outing” – it changed lives. Maybe more impactful was the week we spent in South Central Los Angeles (pre-riots). Some of the kids in our group had never known that not everyone in America lived the entitled lives they did. We had kids crying themselves to sleep at night because of the poverty and hopelessness they saw during the daytime.

    And I gotta say – I used to live in Appalachia – and I’ve visited homes not much different from your Black Lung son’s. I’ve visited worse, in fact. I’m so pleased that Heifer Int’l is so well informed and is doing something to change the status quo.

  • Jennifer:

    Thank you for this post! Heifer International is my favorite charitable organization. I was made aware of it by a fellow knitter on her blog, and think it is an amazing organization. I had no idea about the program you attended–fantastic experience for you and your family.

  • What an awesome experience! I think you’re dead on – we need to send some of the “higher ups” in this world to Heifer Ranch.

    Hope the boy has a speedy recovery from black lung! (Boy that hacking sure sounds bad….)

  • Loved this! What a great experience. We’ve done similar things with our children.

    One of the best experiences we’ve had was reading my parents blog while they were humanitarian missionaries in the Democractic Republic of the Congo. My kids were floored with the lack of clean water, balanced nutrition, and schools. Their favorite post was the ingenuity of the local children making their own toys. If you want to read it, my blog has it under the Congo section. It is called Barlows in the DR Congo. My parents have been home now for 9 months. They really miss it.

  • What an amazing experience for everyone involved. I wonder if there is anything similar in my part of the country? Seeing these types of living conditions on tv or the internet just doesn’t make it real enough.

  • caren:

    I went last year with my son and his 7th grade class. I live in Arkansas and we rode the school bus to the ranch about a 2 1/2 hour drive. It was a great experience for them. I might do again this next year when my other son is in 7th grade. The kids did great, I wasn’t too sure they would but they all surprised us! They still talk about it.

  • What a great experience! Years ago, I used to facilitate an annual Global Banquet for a grade 5 Church school class. It was sort of the same idea. Some kids representing developing countries got dry crackers only, or nothing, and some kids representing wealthy countries got pizza and ice cream and so on. They were allowed to barter, and the “poor” kids always tried to give away their shoes for a bite of pizza. Not as much impact as your experience, but I still hear young adults mentioning that banquet. Love your fun posts!

  • Oh, that is really neat!!! Makes you definitely put things into perspective, too…

  • Incredible, Rechelle. What an experience this would be for everyone young and old. I think everyone should have to go to something like this at least once in their life. Awesome.

  • Wow, what an incredible experience this must have been to share with your kids. Something like that would be right up my alley, I’m going to get my good friend Mr. Google involved and see if there is anything like that here in my part of the world.

  • Catherine McP:

    How cool is this? I hope your son feels better, hey black lung is better than tar lung huh?

  • Jeanie:

    In lieu of gifts to my siblings at Christmas, we make a donation to a favorite charity. My brother and sister-in-law have been partial to the Heifer International project. This organization sends a card to inform you that a particular kind of animal(s) were chosen by the donor and sent as a gift in your name. I love the idea of empowering people to help themselves. This camp experience was unknown to me, but certainly a beneficial life lesson for your children. Thanks for passing this along to us.
    P.S. Loved your photos!

  • christina564:

    I have been seriously lost the last three posts. I managed to meander through your website, and have stayed for a while now, but you just about lost me. I didn’t finish reading your last two posts because I was confused, and knew they were directed at people who actually “know” you. I clicked yesterday to read that your son had black lung….no, he doesn’t…click off.

    I found myself with complete quiet and nothing better to do this morning when I remembered the puzzlement of your posts, so I revisited and read your last three posts, starting with the black lung one. Oh…you went to the Heifer Ranch….good to know.

    I am amazed at what you all experienced. I have been interested in Heifer International for years, and this is really a great way to “show” people how others must live to survive.

    **I just wish that I had been in on what the heck you were talking about. It felt very alienating. I would have cared more, and been able to whisper a prayer for your family, and been more eager to find out what you learned.**

  • Brilliant post! Great cause, good pictures and, above all, a wonderful experience for everyone involved!

    And I hear ya – all world leaders should be forced to experience a week or two in Global Village.

  • I’ve supported Heifer Int’l for years and love it! You are so awesome to go to the Ranch. I wish I lived closer and could take a group to it.

    Thanks for a great post.

  • love it. love the idea, love the exposure, love the outcome. Tucking this idea away as a future ministry possibility in the works right here at home.

  • What a wonderful opportunity for your group! Many people in this country have no idea how blessed they are. Even many of those considered poor here would be wealthy in comparison to those in some parts of the world. Stepping into someone else’s shoes and seeing things from their perspective deepens compassion, increases thankfulness, and inspires people to work together for the common good.

  • Those kids will talk about that experience for years. There is an organization in Oklahoma City called World Neighbors. About twenty years ago they came to my church and led us in an experience much like this. We drew numbers as we came in. Only one table represented the USA, and those diners were given steak, baked potatoes, vegetables, rolls, dessert, etc. Many tables full of people had only rice to eat. Other tables had rice and beans. Some ADULTS even became upset because it wasn’t fair! There was a lot of discussion as we applied our experience to the world situation. Very eye-opening. And I remember it well, even two decades later.

  • Erika:

    What an amazing post! I have never heard of this and think it is a fantastic experience for children and adults alike. Thank you for sharing.

  • This really sounds fantastic, I need to find out if there is anything similar in Washington. Thanks for sharing!!!

    Of course, I’d end up being the one with the Black Lung…

  • I love the Heifer organization. I think it’s awesome that you are giving your kids this experience. It will stay with them forever.