What it means to give.

After seven months into my journey with Heifer, I’ve seen a lot of Passing on the Gift ceremonies. Passing on the Gift (where people who have been given an animal are required to give the first-born female of that animal to another person in need) is at the very soul of Heifer. Not only does this double any gift Heifer (and you) makes – it also, and equally importantly, turns a person who has received charity into a charitable giver. Which is a remarkable, powerful transformation.

However… when you’ve seen a POG a dozen times, you may feel like you’ve seen it all before. And on my first day in Rwanda I was jet-lagged, worried about Lulu’s 200 mosquito bites, and just kind of going through the motions – until I downloaded my photos that night in my hotel, and saw the absolute beauty of this concept reflected in each face.

What I love the most is that you can’t tell who is the giver and who is the receiver.

Passing on the gift of a cow to another person takes on even more resonance in Rwanda, since this is a cow-loving society (they have many songs dedicated to cows, and I think I heard them all) and every aspect of society is laden with the memory of the genocide of 1994, when Hutus rose up against their Tutsi neighbors and slaughtered over 800,000 men, women and children in cold blood. Trying to rebuild community on that shattered foundation of savagery takes unbelievable discipline and compassion – which, oddly, is precisely what Passing on the Gift also demands.

For a poor family to receive a huge asset like a cow and then to be required to give up its valuable first female baby is really hard– as is taking the time and effort to share what you were taught with the new family: how to build a shed for the animal, grow forage crops for it, keep it healthy and clean, milk it properly, and know when it’s ready to breed. But with the help of Heifer’s field techs, that is exactly what the people do.

Today in the Northern Province, where some of the longest-lasting fighting occurred, the POG ceremony began and ended with everyone shouting this slogan:  “Have peace!” answered by “Unite in reconciliation and uproot the genocide ideology.”

Each recipient then chose a white ticket with the number of a donated heifer, and went home with a cow that will give milk, reproduce and produce income, nutrition and assets for the family.

Waiting to choose the all-important ticket that means a new cow.

These neighbors, Tutsi and Hutu alike, will thus be bound together in friendship, responsibility and interdependence – all through the gift of a cow. And in Heifer’s Sustainable Dairy Enterprise project, this scenario is happening in 1,200 homes across the north and east Rwanda.

What the children see is giving, not division.

Town by town, and cow by cow…

Some heifers are a little easier to get home than others.

It’s such a beautiful thing to witness. I wish you could have been there –but watch this, and you’ll feel like you were!

Categories: Africa, Animals, Heifer International, Photography, Rwanda, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

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22 thoughts on “What it means to give.

  1. Gosh, this notion of passing on the first born female is beautifully reflective of how all of us want to reach out–giving and receiving–reproducing the most important commodity in the world–LOVE!

    And I understand your jet lag–your going through the motions–mosquitoes all around. I have been there. Bless you, dear Betty! Bless you as persevere.


    • I love that perspective of reproducing LOVE … and yeah, I was (and always am) pretty delirious the first day after I travel 30 hours by plane in economy. I know you’ve been there, dear heart! thanks for the comment, B

  2. Martha Radatz

    The color! The music! The smiles! I DID feel like I was there!
    Passing on the Gift IS a powerful thing. So is their chant of “Have Peace!” and the response. May their and Heifer’s efforts be mightily blessed!

  3. Hi B, Wondering how POG recipients are selected? Seems like the potential for hard feelings is high with a life-changing valuable gift like a cow (or whatever) on the line. Must be many people who would like to receive a Heifer gift with a limited supply. What is the system to select who receives the gifts?

    Congrats on the Classy Award! They got the name right when it comes to you…

    • Oh, thanks so much for that comment, Chris! To answer your question, Heifer always works with and through established community groups — and THEY choose who gets the gifts of the cows .. and who gets the passing on gift, too. That way, it is not Heifer (that is always staffed by people native to the country they are working in) making the decision but the people themselves deciding who most needs the animal. That’s also the reason they use the white folded pieces of paper with the cow’s tag numbers on them — so everybody picks their own animal, and there can be no charges of favoritism … it’s really such a SMART system!! xooxox b

  4. eric

    Thanks for the good job

  5. Wonderful video Betty. The most we can aspire to in this life, is to make a difference. Heifer is giving not one but two gifts. Self self-sufficiency and dignity at sharing that gift with another.

    • I agree — and how beautiful are these women?? I am so happy to be able to show the donors to Heifer what a gorgeous thing they are doing with the gift of a cow …

  6. Loved this post. Beautiful photos of all the people hugging each other – as you said you can’t tell who is giving or who is receiving.
    So glad you included the video so we could hear the sounds and see some of the color of the country, and the people.

  7. Thanks, Rosie .. I did love that you couldn’t tell if the happiness and joy you see on the faces was from giving or getting — and how much does that say about the power of Passing on the Gift?!!

  8. Thanks for your inspiring example Betty. I watched the video and felt “there” as well.

  9. Fantastic post.

  10. Once again your Blog touches me in so many ways
    It is good to know that in a world so filled with hate, there are those who stand up against it.
    Our mutual friend Pattie has told me over and over again, it is about the journey.
    Your journey has opened my eyes to so much of the good in the world that I will never see first hand
    Bob Lundsten

    • Never say never, Bob — it’s just a plane ride away! But thank you for your kind words and I am so grateful that you’ve followed my journey (as Pattie would say) over 365 and now with Heifer. It’s great to have you along!!

  11. Betty, thanks for the inspiration. I’m following your time in Rwanda closely – I’ll be in Musanze District (Ruhengeri) in mid September on a service trip working with the nonprofit Art of Conservation. Following Heifer 12 x 12 has inspired me to start a blog about living life at full throttle through charitable and other life experiences. My Rwanda trip is the “jumping off” point for living6. It’s a work in progress, for certain.

    Your insights into the spirit of optimism and reconciliation efforts of Rwandans is such an important part of helping us understand how Rwanda is moving beyond their tragic past.

    Safe travels, Betty!

    • Thanks so much — and what a thrill that I’ve inspired you to do your own travel!! I know you are going to love your time in Rwanda, the people are so amazing .. and I’m really looking forward to following what YOU write! All the best … and Godspeed!

  12. Absolutely beautiful pictures! What an adventure! I need to go back now and read over the last seven months of your trip. Now if only I can find the time….I will! 🙂

  13. Thanks SO much, TEM — I love your blog, too and I’m so happy you’re along for the journey!! b

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