The gift of giving is what marks the holiday season, and with Heifer International, it should continue to do so. The organization has touched the lives of millions. Not only does Heifer give, but they require others to give as well. At this time, they have close to 500 ongoing projects. With more than 60 years under its belt, Heifer International was listed by Forbes in 2004 as one of the top ten charities in the United States.
Living up to their name, Heifer’s projects take place on the major, living continents of the world. Their mission is simple: End world hunger. Although it is said with ease, the average person knows that ending world hunger is not simple. Yet, Heifer tries. The means by which they attempt to reach their goal is through self-sustainability. Providing people with “not a cup but a cow,” the organization disperses local livestock to people in need. Then, Heifer teaches its recipients, also known as “partners,” how to care for their livestock. This idea originated in 1937 by Indiana native Dan West, a Church of Brethren relief worker. Mr. West realized something vital as he passed out milk to war-torn children of Spain. Passing out milk would not last, and people would die because of it. However, if he gave a family a cow, they could produce their own milk and become self-reliant.
But before Heifer gives a cow, the recipientsy must be educated on how to properly care for the living, breathing animal. With Heifer’s projects, animals are needed to sustain a family for a long period of time, and that’s why to this day, Heifer teaches and stresses self-management and sustainability. Cows are not the only animals given to needy recipients either: chicks, rabbits, goats, bees and pigs are also widely given, and as of today, Heifer distributes more of the latter animals than cattle. The way they distribute is decided upon climate and feasibility. Then, recipients are taught how to care for that particular animal. These animals are often used for other purposes than meat consumption. Cows and goats produce milk and offspring; chickens lay eggs; bees make honey; and where there are sheep, there is wool. For the offspring that are produced, Heifer requires partners to pass them on to others in need. That is where the term “passing on the gift” comes from.
Heifer teaches agroecology because they feel that the best way to ensure lasting relief is through education. So, in addition to teaching partners to care for livestock, Heifer teaches them to care for their immediate surroundings, which have a direct effect on how they live their lives. In fact, donations can be directed towards tree seedlings if one wants. Recipients of Heifer are taught the uses of animal manure as fertilizer and flammable gas; the power of trees in protection from soil erosion and maintaining healthy crop bearing soil; biodiversity; the problems of overgrazing; and the benefits of animal power versus mechanical.
Even with all of Heifer’s gifts, it doesn’t stop there. It needs to do more to ensure its own existence as a meaningful organization. Heifer focuses on peace and communities. It also incorporates the powerful role of women, which in many instances has elevated their status. Heifer claims to have persuaded farmers in Albania to surrender guns in exchange for cows. Radhika Khadka of the Parijat Women’s Group of Imadol, Nepal said this about Heifer, “As a result . . .we [women] have found our voice. We can use our own name. We get mail in our own name; before we could only get it through our husbands. . .” With close to 500 projects worldwide, these are just a couple of examples of what Heifer has done.
Heifer International is unique in the sense that it seems to work. Its first major project was with the United Nations following World War II, in which it made major shipments of cattle to Europe and Asia. Its reach, although international, sticks to the home front as well with a total of 75 current, on-going projects within the United States. The organization has been recognized by prominent individuals, such as former President Jimmy Carter. Peter Mahn of World Hunger Year has said that Heifer has gained the respect of international aid organizations such as USAID and World Bank, to name a couple.
So, if you’d like to give a little this year, why not give a cow or goat? Heifer International is definitely worth a look. Interested? Call 1.800.696.1918 or visit www.heifer.org. They offer free catalogs and other materials.