Merging mind, body, and spirit

Kiley Petencin, of Charlottesville, Va., at Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Ark.

During a semester-long internship, Kiley Petencin embraced holistic learning, where questions were encouraged and answers came from within.

A junior in Virginia Tech’s Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise, Petencin recently completed an internship at Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Ark. The ranch is one of Heifer International’s learning centers that promotes solutions to global hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation. It also engages in an alternative method of teaching called holistic learning.

“At Heifer, we don’t answer questions — we raise questions,” Petencin said. “It was a learning experience for me to communicate Heifer’s message and to listen to varied opinions from a broad-based scope of visitors.”

Petencin became interested in Heifer Ranch after spending a week there in the spring of 2010 as part of a one-credit class. The week inspired her to volunteer for a semester-long internship in the fall of 2011.

Heifer is a nonprofit that embraces the idea that giving a community a cow instead of powdered milk is a better way for poverty-stricken people to become self-reliant.

“Every family that receives an animal from Heifer is required to pass on the first-born offspring to another family in the community,” said Petencin. “This is referred to as ‘Passing on the Gift’ and is an underlying element in Heifer’s mission.”

As a volunteer, Petencin led visitors through activities such as making ropes and milking goats, as well as community-building exercises and overnight stays in the global village.

The global village replicates different communities throughout the world and immerses visitors in varying levels of poverty. Each house in the village is named for a different country such as Guatemala, Thailand, or Tibet. Other houses represent urban slums and refugee camps.

“The houses demonstrate that a lower standard of living may not correspond with a low quality of life.” Petencin said. “Some houses do not have running water, but a family can still be happy living there.”

Livestock, gardens, and appropriate technologies in the village demonstrated how different communities could utilize their resources. The Thai house, for example, had a pigpen with an attached biogas unit. The biogas unit converted the pigs’ manure into methane, a renewable energy source.

“After groups spent the night in the village, we would debrief the experience,” said Petencin. “Many would say it was an eye-opening experience when they compared the different lifestyles and reflected on the things they took for granted.”

Petencin also taught visitors during her internship. Being an educator was a challenge, she said, and she had to be conscientious of how different people absorbed information. She was also impressed by the concept of holistic learning. “I wasn’t familiar with the term ‘holistic’ until I went to Heifer,” said Petencin, who thinks the experience has made her more aware of the world at large. “I found that I have developed more compassion for people.”

The internship has influenced some of her career goals. When a group of developmentally disabled individuals spent a week at the ranch, she noticed how therapeutic the ranch was for them.

“I may want to work in a therapeutic setting that connects my interest in sustainable agriculture and human health,” she said.