About ten years ago, my brother Dick & his wife Martha sent me a Heifer card for Christmas. I thought it was either a children’s book, or an unsubtle comment about my weight – until I paged through it and realized I was being given the very cool gift of donating an animal to a family in poverty.
So I thought I understood Heifer International — until I started communicating with Puja Singh, the communications director of Heifer Nepal. And she’s opened my eyes to the Heifer system of combating poverty that is tantamount to the AA program for combating alcohol, right down to the 12 Cornerstones that have enabled 9.2 million families in 126 countries to holistically transform themselves into self-reliant and dignified communities.
For the long version of the process, go to the Heifer website and read the profoundly moving story of Belsi Nepalese women who originally scorned the Heifer ideals, but were soon profoundly empowered and altered by Passing on the Gifts (giving the off-spring of the animal you were given to another village family in need) and all the lessons Heifer works to share with a community – from kitchen gardens and reproductive health, to improved animal management, gender equality, justice, improving the environment, and combating illiteracy.
It’s a unique system of ensuring sustainability and systemic change in poverty-stricken communities that seems utterly contemporary – until you consider that Heifer has been around even longer than I have. During the Spanish Civil War, an American farmer named Dan West was ladling out rations of milk to hungry children when it hit him: “These children don’t need a cup. They need a cow.” West subsequently dedicated himself to ending hunger permanently so that families could be “spared the indignity of depending on others to feed their children.”
This simple idea of giving families a source of food rather than short-term relief caught on and has continued for over 65 years.Heifer International first became involved in Nepal in 1957, but it wasn’t until 1997 that Heifer began full-fledged operations – and in 11 years, expanded its program of hope to 38 districts to reach over 35,000 families.
It’s an amazing story of hard work and beautiful sharing – culminating in an April 16 festival where 13 Bhramin and Chhetri women in saris and glass necklaces passed on the gift of 51 goats and 1 breeding buck to 23 families in need – the great-grandkids of Heifer gifts from 2005 (maybe mine!). They also passed on a sack of rice filled by every women saving one fistful of rice from every meal she prepared.
For years of this kind of inspired service and sustainable change, my $100 today goes to Heifer Nepal. Thanks, Puja!!
If you’d like to give, click here!
And read a great NY Times Op-Ed piece on “The End of Aid” by BONO.