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Colama, Nicaragua — Julian Sequiera Gomez and his family have been farming the rocky, volcanic soil of Colama for years, coaxing corn, wheat and beans from the fertile but often dry earth.
Two years ago, he became a Heifer International project partner, receiving a pregnant heifer.
"Seven months after Heifer gave me the cow, she gave birth," says Gomez, the father of six daughters. "Before, I didn't have cheese and milk. Now I have milk and cheese for my children."
The protein from the gift of a cow form Heifer has improved his children's health, and with the income earned from the sale of surplus milk, Gomez can buy school supplies for his children.
Down the hill from Gomez's house sits Colama's sturdy cinder-block school. Painted blue and white, it holds about 60 children, dressed in white tops and blue pants or skirts. The classes stop after the sixth grade, so children who want to continue their educations must pay to take a bus to a school about 20 miles away. The income from surplus milk covers bus fare and gives Colama's children an opportunity they wouldn't otherwise have.
Their teacher, a serious seeming young man, permits his charges an unscheduled recess and the children swarm outdoors.
Six-year-old Cindy Brizuela Salgado shyly tells a visitor she wants to study to be a doctor "because I want to help the sick."
"That is My Promise to Heifer"
"Soon, I will pass on a calf to another family," Gomez says, standing outside his tin-roofed house of rough-hewn boards. "That is my promise to Heifer. I'm going to give to Heifer two calves from my cows. That way I help two families."
Years of civil unrest have scarred Nicaragua, leaving it one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere. Although poor, the country is beautiful and the people, often quiet at first meeting, grow friendly through conversation, freely giving of what they do have—juicy oranges, sweet pineapples, tender avocados and other tropical fruits fresh from the trees that surround their houses.
Colama is home to about 135 families living on small plots of land scattered along a network of dirt roads, almost all of them farmers producing just enough food to sustain their families. The simple gift of cows provides Heifer project partners with better nutrition, but it also gives them a chance to generate income for medicine and education.
And by providing these families with a living, fewer heads of households have to leave their homes to seek work in other countries. They can hold onto their land, and families can stay together.
A few miles from Gomez's house, Rafael Acosta Tellez and a couple of neighbors have herded five heifers into a trailer in preparation for "Passing on the Gift," the Heifer Cornerstone that requires project partners to give the firstborn animal to another family in need.
"I feel very good with this project," Tellez says. "I'm keeping my promise with the other families, and I'll still have cows for my family."
"Heifer has helped a lot of people here," he says. "Before, there was nothing. Now we have work."
Jazmina Acosta Miranda, Tellez's daughter, is just 18, but she is looking forward to the day when she has her own cow to care for. Her aunt, Elbia Brisuela Arguello, is part of the extended family. Arguello, who has a 5-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl, says of her children: "They can drink milk every day. They're never sick."
Feliciana Jarquin Alvarez and her husband, Seferino, each received a Heifer cow. But before they could get the cows, the families of Colama had to learn how to take proper care of them, what to feed them, where to keep them so they would be safe.
Alvarez, 50, and the mother of three daughters, says the project has given her a sense of purpose. "I'm working in my home for my family."