Over the last few months, so many of our activities have become virtual. We’ve seen virtual proms, virtual weddings, virtual game nights and more. But here’s one you may not have thought of: in Honduras, my longtime colleague Cesar is helping families virtually as their cows give birth.
The coronavirus pandemic took longer to reach Latin America than many other parts of the world. It’s the new epicenter of the pandemic as the number of cases of COVID-19 continue to climb. So while the United States and many other countries begin to gently reopen, lockdowns are still firmly in place in many parts of Latin America.
Cesar Soriano lives in a town called Macuelizo, near the border with Guatemala. There have been four confirmed cases of coronavirus in Macuelizo, and one person has died. All four of the people who have confirmed cases are members of the community who were working in the economic hub of San Pedro Sula, only a couple of hours away. When they lost their jobs, they moved back home and unwittingly brought the coronavirus with them. To prevent the virus from spreading any further, Cesar and his neighbors are isolating. He can only leave his farm every eight days.
But his community needs him a lot more often than that.
Cesar is an agricultural promoter and project manager of the CWS-supported food security program in this part of Honduras. He works for our local partner, CASM.
Both CASM and Cesar are well-known and well-respected. Part of his job is to be a coach to farmers who participate in the program, offering advice and talking them through challenges they are facing. For example, Cesar and his team are working with municipal authorities to find ways for farmers to bring their produce to local markets, since it’s the harvest season for yucca and sweet potatoes.“People call me with questions about crops, markets or a cow giving birth in the middle of the night. It is important for them to be heard,” he told me the other day. Since the start of the pandemic, Cesar has talked five families through the birth of a calf on their farms. “People call me stressed and anxious,” he says. “For many, it’s the first time that they are in this situation.”
A cow is a big deal to these families. A heifer can be sold in local markets for $400-450, which is enough for a family to pay for home improvements or buy land. They are more than animals; they are investments in brighter futures.
Usually, Cesar visits with families before a calf’s birth to talk them through things. He tells them what to expect and answers their questions. For example, the process often takes longer than the family is expecting. So despite their training, most people panic and think something is going wrong the first time. And because of the pandemic, Cesar wasn’t able to prepare these families as much as usual.
Not to worry, though. All five births were successful, and all the calves are healthy. And the families? They’re so excited. And they’re proud of the success, since for some it was their first time.
Two of the families will keep the calves, which they will raise until the cow is ready to be sold. The other three families will raise their cows for 18 months and then pass them to another family. It’s their way of paying for the cow that they received in the first place. Then when their cow has another calf, it’s theirs to keep and sell.
We already know which three families will receive these calves in a year and a half. In the meantime, they will visit their calves, take classes and participate in other program activities. By the time they receive the cow, they will be prepared to care for it.
“The families who deliver the cows are so proud that they can repay the gift that was once given to them,” Cesar says.
Juan Jose Benito and his family will be receiving one of these three. Juan Jose is a leader in his community of El Pino and an active participant in the program. He has improved his farm with things he learned in the agricultural trainings he has attended, and he has participated in exchange farmers to share information and tips with other farmers.
Cesar tells me that he’s especially proud of Juan Jose, since for a long time he was scared to sign up to receive a cow. He had never had one, and he wasn’t sure he would be able to care for a cow. But he saw his neighbors finding success in the program. Their success comforted and inspired him, and he signed up. In 18 months, the next chapter of his story will start.
Cesar, Juan Jose and all of the people we work with in Honduras are a powerful reminder that the pandemic hasn’t defeated us. While we protect ourselves, pray for our neighbors and mourn with the families of people taken too soon, time continues to advance. And with a little help from technology, we can continue to help families move forwards into more hopeful futures. One cow birth at a time.
Martin Coria is the Regional Director for CWS Latin America and the Caribbean.
Special thanks to Growing Hope Globally for their support of this program.