Even Cooler Than I Thought


By Matt Williams

AlpacaA few weeks ago, I received an incredible gift.  World Vision invited me to join with four other 30 Hour Famine youth leaders to travel to Ecuador to see how they operate.  Needless to say, I accepted the invitation with gusto! So for nearly a week, we travelled through the central part of Ecuador visiting different WV partnership programs.  As you might expect, the trip was full of remarkable moments, wonderful people, and great insights.  But if I had to boil it all down into one sentence or one nugget to share my experience with everyone who does the Famine, it is this: World Vision’s approach, partnerships, and work are far more innovative, hope-filled, and downright cooler than I ever imagined.

There were numerous times where I was surprised at the way WV works to improve lives and communities, but I won’t try to pack them all in to this blog.  Instead, let me tell you about one project in one village that might give a glimpse into what we saw and experienced. They called it The Alpaca Project.

When WV began a partnership with this one community, there were many challenges the leaders wanted to tackle.  One of the more pressing challenges was the slowly degrading quality of the community’s water supply.  Now, we all know that WV helps people find and sustain sources of clean water, so it is no surprise that they were willing to help the community with this challenge.  What blew me away was the way WV addressed the problem.  The answer was not digging a well, creating a water pipeline, or building a purification system.  Instead, WV found a far more ecological, economic, and sustainable solution.

A few decades ago, the community started farming sheep.  The sheep were a good source of wool, and occasionally protein, for the people.  But sheep ate a lot of the grasses on the mountain slopes. Over time, the hungry sheep over-grazed the limited pasture land, resulting in erosion.  Without the grasses and soil to act as a natural filtration system, more minerals and runoff entered the water supply, slowly eliminating it as a drinkable water source.  WV proposed switching from sheep to alpacas as a remedy.  See, alpacas produce a comparable amount of wool as the sheep, but they eat one-sixth the amount of food.  They also breed more quickly than the sheep.  The village agreed, and WV provided 15 alpacas (and some necessary how-to-raise alpaca training).  Because the alpacas eat less, the mountain grasses regrew and thickened, making the pastures viable again.  Because the grasses were thicker, they again held the soil and acted as a natural water filter. This, in turn, reduced the contaminants entering the water table, and improved the water quality.  Now the village has 90 alpacas, a surplus of wool (which is turned into clothing and blankets for sale in nearby markets), and a clean source of water.

How cool is that!  By simply partnering with a community and coming up with a creative answer, WV helped to stabilize water quality, to introduce more biome-friendly livestock, and to create a long-term income source.  But the more important thing WV created is this: hope. Instead of struggling simply to survive, this community is starting to see a better future.  Who would have thought that looking into a water quality issue would so completely transform a small community?  Well, I guess WV does, and that is why the work they do is even cooler than I thought.

Thanks for all you do to support WV and the 30 Hour Famine.  Please keep working hard, because it truly changes lives and brings hope to communities that so desperately need it. Oh, and should the 30 Hour Famine team ever invite you to travel to see WV in action, go for it.  You might find yourself more hopeful too!