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Russell Powell / Heifer International

Maria escaped an abusive upbringing and an abusive relationship, and she was left with nothing to support herself and her two children. Maria’s story could have been a sad one. The many challenges she has faced could have robbed her of joy and happiness, but instead she chose to persevere. She decided to go to Guayaquil for one year to earn some money, and when she came back, the community government decided to give her some land in San Jose. Maria was excited to get her own land; “For us this is a paradise.”

It was around this time that Maria became friends with Mr. Tomas Burgos Santos (53). Tomas is a good man, kind and supportive. They were together in April 2015 when they saw some of their friends at a special farmer’s market in Manglaralto, a nearby town, selling only agroecological produce. Tomas and Maria asked how they could participate. Heifer and the prefecture government have people at this fair to help with logistics, monitor and record sales information, and answer questions. Heifer’s project technician explained how to apply.

After signing up and being accepted, Maria participated in a variety of trainings: Passing on the Gift, Heifer’s 12 Cornerstones, social capital (where they discuss leadership principles, democracy, etc.), LINK Methodology (business and marketing), and agroecology and animal management.

After these trainings, Maria received four piglets in June 2015 and 50 chickens in September. Since then, she’s raised 20 piglets and more chickens than she can count. She also received 95 fruit trees (15 oranges, 30 lemon, and 50 banana), 2 lbs. of peanuts, 5 lbs. of corn, vegetable seeds (carrots, green pepper, tomatoes and culantro), yucca, plantain, and passion fruit. Maria and Tomas have received a lot through this project, but are reinvesting everything back into their farm to diversify their income.

Maria and Tomas now grow everything organically. “We don’t use any chemicals for the health of our family, and we are able to give a high-quality product to the public,” said Maria. “It takes a little longer,” she added. But, “We don’t have to force it.” “The produce is much larger. The color is very good.” Organic produce also commands higher prices. Plantain for example is a major part of the Ecuadorian diet, and it sells for twice as much when it is grown organically.

Even though they’ve been in this project for just a short time a lot has changed. “If we wanted chicken (before) we had to go buy and sometimes there was no money,” said Maria. Now, “It has changed in every way.” Her family’s health, their income, and even their family unity, are much better. Their life is more stable. “We are not at a really high financial level, but we don’t want for anything,” said Maria.

Mrs. Maria Carmen Cholango Tallana (48) is proud to be a Heifer recipient. “It’s not just an organization that comes, gives you something, you take it and that’s the end,” she said. “It comes all together. We get a package of teachings, of follow-up, of strengthening, of love.” She was impressed that Heifer looks at your needs, not your skin color. The story of Dan West and what he set out to accomplish impressed Tomas.

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