About 20 years ago, my brother Dick sent me the Christmas gift of a pig that he was giving in my name to a charity called Heifer International (I really hoped that wasn’t a comment on moi). Then 10 years ago, my husband’s friend Gary sent us a goat that he was giving in our name for the holidays. We kept getting Heifer gifts and receiving Heifer catalogs in the mail, and I kept thinking “What a great idea!” then promptly forgetting about it (like most everything else in my life, as we had four kids and two full-time jobs at the time).
Then last year, in my What Gives 365 blog, I decided to write about and give to Heifer‘s Value-Based Literacy Program for women in Nepal. I read up on the whole history and philosophy of the organization, talked to the country manager of the program, and I was blown away.
Heifer International was started by American farmer, Dan West, who became frustrated with relief efforts in Spain in 1944 and decided to start a philanthropic organization that would “give not a cup but a cow.” West’s sustainability model included every family studying animal husbandry, learning environmental stewardship and better farming methods, and agreeing to Pass on the Gift. With this promise to donate the first female animal offspring to another family, West ensured that a single gift would multiply far beyond the original investment. And since 1944 , Heifer has helped more than 71 million people in more than 125 countries move from desperation to dignity and bring an end to poverty and hunger.
The Heifer model is simple and captivating, which is why it’s become a time-honored way to teach philanthropy to children who love the idea of sending gifts of cattle, sheep, rabbits, honeybees, pigs, llamas, water buffalo, heifers, chicks, ducks, goats, geese, trees and seeds to less fortunate children across the world.
But it is the complex, demanding work that is done with beneficiaries before they even see an animal that has made Heifer so successful in transforming communities, empowering local people to become leaders of positive change, and giving people the tools to improve their own lives.
Having seen the Heifer programs in action in Guatemala and Uganda, I can tell you that it’s impossible to grasp what a profound and potent difference these programs can make in the lives of people living in poverty – until you see it in action. And that’s my plan: to allow you to vicariously experience these programs in action — boots on the ground — through my words and photos.
I hope you’ll come along. It’s going to be one heck of an amazing ride!