Heifer International – A Sustainable Solution to Poverty
“What we have learned from the work we’ve done in developing countries is that it doesn’t take that much to improve the lives of many people.” — Esther Duflo, the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at M.I.T., quoted in the New Yorker May 5, 2009.
An Inside Job
“Lifting people out of poverty doesn’t come from the outside in; it’s an inside-out job,” says Christine Volkmer, spokesperson for Heifer International. The organization she represents is known worldwide as having a highly effective method for helping one family at a time to not only survive, but prosper. More important, families helped by Heifer International also commit to share, passing on the benefits they have received.
“Heifer’s mission is to end hunger and poverty while caring for the earth,” says the NGO’s website. The organization works to accomplish this ambitious mission by providing livestock to needy people in 57 countries around the globe, including the U.S. Prior to receiving one or more animals, the recipients of a Heifer gift receive required “environmentally sound agricultural training” to prepare them to care for their living gifts. Since its founding in 1944, Heifer International has brought sustainability to more than 48 million people — and the number keeps growing as the animals reproduce.
“Every gift of an animal provides direct benefits such as milk, eggs, wool, fertilizer, as well as indirect benefits that increase family incomes for better housing, nutrition, health care and school fees for children,” the website explains.
A Gift of Sustainability
Heifer International is supported by financial gifts from individuals and groups. Most gifts to the organization begin with the desire to honor a loved one. Perhaps you want to celebrate a relative’s birthday, but she’s 70 years old and doesn’t want any more knickknacks, sweaters, or flowers. Maybe she’s even told you, “Don’t get me anything. I have all I need.” If that’s the case, check out the Heifer International gift catalog. Then give her a gift she won’t have to dust or store or eat: a flock of chicks, ducks, or geese (currently US$20). Or, maybe she’d appreciate a “Knitting Basket,” a gift of two llamas and two sheep ($500 for the full gift or $50 a share).
Heifer has developed numerous packages with attractive gift options in all price ranges. When you browse the Heifer International Gift Catalog, you’ll find so many options that it may be hard to choose. You can spend as little as $10 for a share in a goat (full share: US $120) or a pig (full share: $120). Or, if your budget is more expansive, you can provide an entire “Gift Ark” ($5,000) with 15 pairs of animals to provide milk, eggs, meat, and transportation.
Isaya Shakwet, 33, is the Village Chairman of Mkuru: “Camels aren’t bad for the environment, camels eat leaves of trees and not the grass. Camels feet are different from cows- its like sponge….Before we didn’t have camels… When we get camels we are happy because they changed our life. Camels can carry a lot of luggage and goods like water and supplies. We were able to take people to the hospital by camel. … They are changing our life quite a bit because now we employ people with our safari company.”
Women in Livestock
Heifer International has created a gift specifically to benefit women. Here’s how the organization’s website describes the power of a gift to Women in Livestock Development:
Heifer International‘s goal is to end poverty. It’s a simple goal but requires serious commitment. In our effort to do this we recognize that women make up 70% of the world’s poor. Women produce 80% of developing world’s food yet own less than 1% of the earth’s land.
By focusing on women we also help struggling families and communities. Overlooked by government programs and often denied education, rural women face a cycle of poverty, hunger and despair. Without help, many toil endlessly yet watch, helpless, as death, too often steals their children.
But there is a way out. In a world where too many women feel powerless you have the power through a simple gift to help them to change their circumstances.
You can become a helpful participant by making a donation to help out the women who are looking for a way out not a hand-out. Through training from Heifer International and our model of Passing on the Gift, women and their entire communities overcome social and cultural barriers.
When women have financial security, they take care of their families and their communities. They use their resources for food, clothing, and education. They are community builders, bringing sustainability that lifts those around them out of poverty too.
Sambekie of the Ekenyawa women’s group, part of the Tanzania donkey project. Before they got the donkeys the women had to carry 40 liters of water twice a day from the local watering hole, which was several kilometers from the village. The work was extremely fatiguing. Hygiene in the village was lacking because of the water shortage. Today the donkeys carry enough water so the entire village can have water to drink, for cooking and washing clothes, and to use to bathe.
What a Small Donation Can Do
I was fascinated to read about the many and varied projects Heifer International is engaged in throughout the world. A few of them appear on this page. You can read about others at the Heifer International website.
Channel Cyuzuzo, 6, daughter of Frida Mbanda, posed with the family cow “Superbness,” which they received through a Heifer project in the Muhazi Women’s Dairy and Horticulture Development Project in Nsinda Village in the Kibungo District of Rwanda. Her mother, Frida Mbanda, 33, named the Jersey hybrid a superlative after it was placed with her family on February 12, 2007. The cow produces 14 liters of milk per day. The benefits of this yield cannot be underestimated as Frida is the mother and primary caregiver to 12 children (5 are biological, 7 are orphans of relatives of hers who were AIDS victims.)
Passing on the Gift
Poverty forces people into survival mode, Volkmer tells me, and it causes them to withdraw internally. Giving to others is out of the question when they don’t have enough for themselves or their families. But Passing on the Gift is a vital part of the Heifer International program. Each recipient must agree to give their animal’s first offspring to another needy family.
“The experience of giving to others becomes transformative internally,” Volkmer adds. “Watching the ceremony of Passing on the Gift is a powerful feeling. The whole village gets involved. Everyone is ecstatic, especially the person who is giving the animal away.”
“Other relief programs give animals to people in need, too,” says Volkmer. “But this is what’s different about our work: The animal is secondary to the heart of the work, which is to provide a long-term, sustainable solution to poverty.” And that’s exactly what happens during the Passing on the Gift ceremony.
Shama Wuji with a pig in Daxing Village, Xide County, China. “Before this project we could not afford to raise pigs. Now in less than half a year we have sold two pigs and several little pigs, which has brought about 3,000 RMB for our family.”
Find out how your gift to Heifer International can spread sustainability year after year after year.
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