Gift of pigs restores life, hope to family trapped by despair

Oscar, father of four sons, tried to take his own life when he became convinced that his situation was hopeless. But the gift of two piglets from World Vision’s Gift Catalog has changed his family’s situation beyond recognition.

Story by Pat Curry. Photos by Jon Warren.
Published November 16, 2011 at 12:00am PST

Oscar Alegre had been sick for more than three years with a mysterious illness, and his wife, Elena, was once again driving him to the hospital.

Due to severe pain in his left leg, he couldn’t work and thus couldn’t feed his family. World Vision was providing them with food because all four of their sons had World Vision sponsors.

Unable to support his wife and sons and thinking that he might never recover, Oscar tried to commit suicide by throwing himself from the moving car.

Elena pulled him back into the car and saved his life. Her devotion and words of encouragement gave him the strength to go on.

With time, Oscar recovered from what the family now believes was a stroke. But his true recovery began with a most unlikely “prescription” — two piglets provided through the World Vision Gift Catalog. It was a gift that would change the Alegre family’s life forever.

Life defined by poverty, struggle

Both Oscar, 44, and Elena, 38, are from the impoverished Chapare province of Bolivia. Like many who live there, Oscar worked in the coca fields, growing the plants used to produce cocaine. Neither of them came from stable families, and they married a month after they started dating. After eight years of marriage, they moved to the village of Viloma and purchased a farm.

According to Oscar, “life is easier here than it used to be.” But “easier” doesn’t mean easy.

Bolivia is one of the poorest and least-developed countries in Latin America. Oscar left school after the sixth grade; Elena only went to first grade. Even today, only 50 percent of Bolivian children complete primary school.

Viloma lies in the Andean foothills about 10 miles from Cochabamba, where World Vision first began working in Bolivia. A small rural town with no paved streets, Viloma only occasionally has running water and electricity.

‘We just loved them’

Oscar holds one of the piglets. All of the Alegre children help care for the animals.World Vision’s work in the community benefitted the Alegres first through child sponsorship. But there were more blessings to come. The family was selected to receive two piglets from World Vision. Elena recalls crying when she first saw them, because they were so small.

“I cried because I thought they were going to die,” she says. “We just loved them.”

With that love — and four animal-care training sessions for Oscar — the piglets not only survived but thrived and multiplied.

“[World Vision] gave me two piglets,” Oscar says. “I made them grow, and now I have more.”

He has many, many more, in fact. By Christmas 2010, the Alegre family’s pair of piglets had grown to a herd of 90.

A gift that multiplies — literally

Such is the beauty of a piglet gift. One sow can bear 20 piglets a year. In just six months, the piglets can grow to 200 pounds each and are ready for market. Each piglet costs only 60 Bolivianos, or U.S. $8, to raise. The sale price is 700 Bolivianos, or $100 each.

The Alegres sold several of their pigs that first year. Initially, the profit went to pay for Oscar’s medical care. Today, they are repaying the family’s loan on the farm.

The pigs also gave the family the ability to do something incredible — adopt a little girl.

Arminda was about 5 when the Alegre family heard about her. “That little girl was suffering,” Elena says. “Her mother wanted to give her away to anyone. Even though we didn’t have a lot, we decided to adopt her. God will bless you when you take care of the children.”

Arminda holds one of the piglets with a radiant smile.Today, Arminda has a dazzling smile and loves to cuddle baby piglets.

All four of her brothers — Jimmy, 19; Jonathan, 17; Dennis, 14; and Brian, 9 — are good with the pigs. More importantly, they’re all in school. Several are planning on college; Brian, in particular, wants to be a lawyer.

The freedom to dream

Several years ago, this would have been unthinkable. “I remember that we suffered a lot,” Jonathan says. “We didn’t have anything to buy food. I used to go to school really worried because I didn’t know if I would be coming back and if my dad was going to be alive.”

Now, the children can just focus on their lessons.

It’s a true blessing for Elena, who barely attended school and wants so much more for her children. “I want them to learn things that will help them in life,” she says. “I don’t want them to be like me.”

Oscar’s dream for his children is to finish school, go to university, “and study whatever they want.” A far cry from when he saw no future for himself or his children and tried to end his life.

In receiving two small piglets who grew beyond all expectations, Oscar and his family have also been given freedom to dream.

This article originally appeared in the winter 2011 issue of World Vision Magazine.

Learn more

This Christmas season, follow our trip to Zambia and Sri Lanka to see firsthand how lives are being changed by gifts given through World Vision’s Gift Catalog.

Find out how your church can partner with World Vision to give gifts through our Gift Catalog! The generosity of your congregation can unwrap a better tomorrow for children and families in poverty.

Two ways you can help

Thank the Lord that Oscar and his family found new hope after facing the depths of despair, and praise Him that the children now have the chance to pursue their dreams. Pray that many more families around the world will be similarly blessed this holiday season.

Donate a share toward the purchase of a pig for a family in need, or browse other items available through World Vision’s Gift Catalog. Your generosity can help bring joy and hope to a child or family this Christmas, while building opportunity and stability for the year ahead.