I spent my summer interning at Heifer International's Learning Center in Rutland, MA as an educational facilitator. The learning center includes a 3-acre garden, livestock (i.e. chickens, cows, a camel, water buffalo, and three yaks), and a global village comprised of nearly a dozen replicate houses of communities Heifer has worked with. Each year nearly 20,000 people visit the farm on school field trips, with church youth groups, and as part of family and friend travels. These groups may stay for a half-day, completing a tour of the center and cooking a traditional meal over a fire in the global village. Other groups spend up to 5 days with us participating in additional programs including service projects, a global village market and overnight, food system, hunger, and gender equity activities, and more! My job was to facilitate this programming for visitors, as well as take on the primary responsibility of managing one of the small gardens in the global village.
I thoroughly enjoyed my experience as an educator! I worked primarily with middle school kids, but also anywhere from pre-schoolers to senior citizens. I learned a tremendous amount about poverty, development, sustainable agriculture, and facilitation and was able to improve with each new group. It was extremely gratifying working with kids, and inspiring them to help others and make a difference in their own lives. Also, being in charge of a garden was a great experience and I learned a lot. A staff member would meet up with me every other day to offer advice or suggestions, and there were always people helping out and serving as resources. Finally, living on the farm with other volunteers was a highlight!
The opportunity to work with livestock every day and with the garden was known to me before my arrival, but I had not expected it to the extent which I took advantage of. Following my curiosity and interests, I spent a lot of my time in the garden and with the livestock crew so I could learn as much as possible. And, the fact that it was a learning center created an environment where everyone was excited to teach and discuss what they knew.
I strongly believe that Heifer International has the best approach to development and poverty alleviation: By providing livestock and training, they have helped millions throughout the world and the learning centers offer another powerful opportunity to create change through education.