Heifer International, Passing The Gift

As one year ends and a new year begins, we’re all flooded with catalogs asking for our support to various charity organizations. One that has always impressed me is Heifer International. Heifer’s mission is to work with communities to end hunger and poverty and take care of the earth, by providing appropriate livestock, training and related services to small-scale farmers and communities worldwide. They care for the earth’s natural resources through training in livestock management, pasture improvement, soil conservation, forestation and recast. Every family and community that receives assistance promises to repay their living loan by donating one or more of their animal’s offspring to another family in need. This practice of “Passing on the Gift” ensures project sustainability, develops community and enhances self-esteem by allowing project partners to become donors–a classic example of Ubuntu.

As people share their animals’ offspring with others–along with their knowledge, resources and skills–an expanding network of hope, dignity, and self-reliance is created that reaches around the globe. Before receiving any animal gift, project participants are given training to help prepare for the challenges and problems they may encounter. The concept of teaching people to fish rather than giving them the fish is central to Heifer philosophy.  First, Heifer helps a community group analyze their situation and set goals. Next, they plan specific activities to achieve their goals. Then the livestock arrives–bringing with it the benefits of milk, wool, draft power, eggs and offspring to pass on to another farmer. Finally, the group evaluates its progress, and the cycle repeats as the group moves to more and more ambitious goals, each time visioning, deciding, implementing and reflecting.  A typical Heifer project consists of three essential components:

  • Livestock and other material goods.
  • Training and extension work.
  • Organizational development, which includes planning, management, record keeping, passing on the gift, reporting and evaluation.

Heifer teaches their project partners environmentally sound farming methods through agroecology. This is the sustainable use and management of natural resources, accomplished by using social, cultural, economic, political and ecological methods that work together to achieve sustainable agriculture production. This simple idea of giving families a source of food rather than short-term relief caught on and has continued for almost 60 years. Today, millions of families in 115 countries have been given the gifts of self-reliance and hope through this wonderful organization. CBS’s 60 Minutes recently did a story about a 19-year-old woman from Uganda, Beatrice Biira, whose family was given a goat when she was a child. This helped them send her to school in Uganda and she subsequently won a scholarship to a college in America.