I remember living for a few years in my grandmother's house in Mar del Plata, Argentina, while my father was in the U.S. trying to establish a home for us. I remember those to be some of the happiest times during my childhood, not because we had toys or bikes or any other type of entertainment (in fact, we had no bikes at all and I used to have to hitch a ride on the handlebar of one of my neighbor's little bicycle while he pedaled and I directed traffic) but because we felt safe and loved. Because we had a cozy roof over our heads, amazing mortadella sandwiches for dinner, and I got to share a bed with my grandmother who taught me how to knit and sew. I remember as a child a sense of safety which to any child is a a big thing.
Although we had very little ourselves at the time and no cash to spare, my mother would nevertheless always give them something to eat, even if it was a piece of homemade bread with cheese. And she would wrap it in nice napkin and give it to them with a glass of water. Sometimes, I would make the sandwiches and wrap them myself and give them to the children, some who were my age. My mother taught us that you should never deny someone food or their dignity.
As an adult and now a mother, I try daily to pass on that gift of love that my mother gave to me to help anyone, whether an adult, child, elderly or even animal. I donate regularly to Unicef, the American Humane Society, and the Defenders of Wildlife Association. Sometimes, maybe no more than $10 if times are hard, but something, no matter what the amount, is always better than nothing.
Although all of these organizations are well deserving, there is one in particular that is not as well known but, in my opinion, is making great strides in ending world hunger and poverty through a unique program that gives people dignity and a renewed sense of hope by allowing them to help themselves. This organization is Heifer International.
I came to know about Heifer International through a teacher at my children's school who sent a note home asking that in lieu of gifts from students/parents for christmas, the same money be used to purchase a gift through Heifer International. Having never heard of Heifer, I did some research and soon learned about this amazing charitable organization whose mission is to empower families in third world countries and turn lives of hunger and poverty into self-reliance and hope by giving those families a hand-up, not just a hand-out. With gifts of livestock and training, Heifer helps families improve their nutrition and generate income in sustainable ways. Heifer refers to the animals as “living loans” because in exchange for their livestock and training, families agree to give one of its animal’s offspring to another family in need. It’s called Passing on the Gift – a cornerstone of Heifer's mission that creates an ever-expanding network of hope and peace.
A Midwestern farmer named Dan West was ladling out rations of milk to hungry children during the Spanish Civil War when it hit him.
“These children don’t need a cup, they need a cow.”
Dan West, founder (courtesy of Heifer International).
West, who was serving as a Church of the Brethren relief worker, was forced to decide who would receive the limited rations and who wouldn’t – literally, who would live and who would die. This kind of aid, he knew, would never be enough.
So West returned home to form Heifers for Relief, dedicated to ending hunger permanently by providing families with livestock and training so that they “could be spared the indignity of depending on others to feed their children.”
In 1944, the first shipment of 17 heifers left York, Pennsylvania, for Puerto Rico, going to families whose malnourished children had never even tasted milk.
Why heifers? These are young cows that haven’t yet given birth – making them perfect not only for supplying a continued source of milk, but also for supplying a continued source of support. That’s because each family receiving a heifer agrees to “pass on the gift” and donate the female offspring to another family, so that the gift of food is never-ending.
This simple idea of giving families a source of food rather than short-term relief caught on and has continued for more than 65 years. Since 1944, Heifer has helped more than 62 million people - 12 million families - in more than 125 countries. (courtesy of Heifer International).
A good dairy cow can produce four gallons of milk a day - enough for a family to drink and share with neighbors. Milk protein transforms sick, malnourished children into healthy boys and girls. The sale of surplus milk earns money for school fees, medicine, clothing and home improvements.
Better still, every gift multiplies, as the animal's first offspring is passed on to another family-then they also agree to pass on an animal, and so on.
And because a healthy cow can produce a calf every year, every gift will be passed on and eventually help an entire community move from poverty to self reliance. Now that's a gift worth giving!
So I invite all of you, if you are able, to go to the Heifer site and choose a meaningful gift to give a loved one and help children and families around the world receive training and animal gifts that help them become self-reliant.
Just $20 will buy a flock of chicks. A flock of chicks can help families from Cameroon to the Caribbean add nourishing, life-sustaining eggs to their inadequate diets.
The protein in just one egg is a nutritious gift for a hungry child. Protein-packed eggs from even a single chicken can make a life-saving difference.
Heifer helps many hungry families with a starter flock of 10 to 50 chicks. A good hen can lay up to 200 eggs a year - plenty to eat, share or sell. With Heifer recipients' commitment to pass on the offspring and training, the exponential impact of adding chickens to communities in poverty is truly a model that helps end hunger and poverty.
Because chickens require little space and can thrive on readily available food scraps, families can make money from the birds without spending much. And chickens help control insects and fertilize gardens.
$30 can provide a family with a package of honeybees, a box, and hive. From Uganda to El Salvador, bees from Heifer International help struggling families earn income through the sale of honey, beeswax and pollen.
Beehives require almost no space and, once established, are inexpensive to maintain.
As bees search for nectar, they pollinate plants. Placed strategically, beehives can as much as double some fruit and vegetable yields. In this way, a beehive can be a boost to a whole village.
There are several other gifts as well, ranging from heifer cows to goats to rabbits. As I remind my children, I don't need more chocolate or knick-knacks. Knowing that a family gets a goat for milk, or eggs to eat and can be self-sufficient rather than be forced to beg or rely on others for food is a great positive thing to bring into the world.