Milking It

Thanks to Al Gore – or whoever really invented the internet – I can communicate frequently with my college freshman. Families with far-flung kids now keep in touch through texts, emails, Skype sessions and Facebook posts; we’ve come a long way from the Sunday night calls from our dorm rooms.

However, I’m still hoping for the “I miss you and the family” and “I’ve begun to appreciate all you and dad have done for me” messages. I know better than to hold my breath.

Instead, I receive frequent texts requesting reimbursement – for another pair of shoes, a jacket for fraternity functions, snacks for late-night studying and even water (although a friend suggested that might be a euphemism for a different kind of liquid).

You can’t blame a kid for trying. Nevertheless, I’m waiting for my son to gain some perspective on all that he has, and all that others on this planet do without. How do I help him understand that the $100 he wants for Nikes could literally change the future for a Latin American family? Is the typical teenage boy capable of that sort of appreciation?

I wish he could have attended the Global Partnerships luncheon in Seattle last month, where Albertina Calanchi, who lives in the Peruvian Andes, recounted (thanks to a simultaneous translator) how she used a series of microloans to expand her dairy business, which in turn has afforded a bus for her husband’s business and dental school for her son.

Every time I attend this annual fundraiser, I am struck by how women in Central and South American turn tiny loans – often as small as $100 – into life-changing livelihoods.

Global Partnerships focuses its energies on Latin America, where 94 million people live on less than $2 a day. (Many of us spend more than that on daily lattes or “water.”) The Seattle-based organization has invested close to $40 million in microfinance organizations and cooperatives that provide small loans, job training and services such as health care to a quarter million people in Central and South America.

Albertina, this year’s featured speaker, told 1,000 Global Partnerships supporters about her journey: the youngest of seven children, she was discouraged from attending school, so ran off to join a convent. When that didn’t work out, she returned home and defiantly enrolled in a teacher-education program.

Due to financial pressures, Albertina had to quit school, and soon married and had a son (he is 16 now; she also has a 10-year-old daughter). To help provide for the family, she bought a cow and started selling its milk to neighbors.

With a vision towards growing her business, Albertina joined seven other local women, all dairy farmers, in a cooperative bank, which secured microloans through a partner of Global Partnerships. (Not incidentally, the pay-back rate of such community-bank loans is 98 percent, compared to 80 percent among top U.S. banking institutions.)

Before long, Albertina owned 12 Holstein cows and a thriving dairy business. (That’s her in the photo, taken by Adam Weintraub.) She begged and cajoled a local supermarket owner to carry her milk and now sells 500 liters a day.

Albertina spoke of her success non-chalantly; clearly, when she ran into a challenge, she pushed through it, always with an eye towards a better life for her family. Her persistence, vision and intelligence served as great inspiration to those of us who take our many blessings for granted.

In our household, we have always promoted charitable giving and volunteerism; in fact, our oldest son has helped build houses in Tijuana and worked with schoolchildren in Bri-Bri, Costa Rica. Yet, somehow he now believes that we should dedicate our donations towards a not-so-struggling college freshman.

I think my husband and I can do more to humble, instruct and inspire our kids. I’ve read that Global Partnerships includes the public in its trips to South and Central America, to see first-hand how rural entrepreneurs put microloans to work. And so, I’ve mentally scripted the next text to my son: “How R U? HV GR8 idea 4 spring break. CM! TTFN. ❤ Mom”

Linda Williams Rorem, 7 Nov. 2011


  1. […] parents.  As a young mother with three kids in five years, she rose daily at 4 a.m. to milk dairy cows no matter rain or shine, or lack of sleep or 20-below-zero wind chill in northern […]

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