The old adage goes, “if you give a man a fish…” But what if you give him, or her, a cow? That is just what Heifer International has been finding out since its beginnings in 1944. The organization has taken on the difficult task of reducing the number of hungry people who do not have enough to eat in the world from 870 million to none, hopefully, with a provision of long-term self-sufficiency as opposed to short-term aid.
Founder Dan West was a relief worker during the Spanish Civil War who handed out cups of milk to starving children. It was then that he realized that the type of aid that forced him to decide who would and who would not receive the meager rations could never work.
He got the idea that these people needed a way to help get themselves out of poverty, rather than a handout of food and drink. Heifer International sent out its first shipment of 17 cows to Puerto Rico to help the impoverished families there make a new start on life.
But why heifers? Heifers, by definition, have yet to give birth and are therefore perfect for providing food and continued support for the community. Each family promises to pass on the wealth by donating the female calves born to their heifer to other families and to promote the well-being of their neighbors.
Heifers are not the only livestock given, though. The charity also works with draft cattle, goats, chickens, and other animals essential to farming. Fruit trees and vegetable plants are also donated to supplement the family’s farming efforts.
Heifer International works all throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas providing livestock and, most importantly, training. Each family who receives a cow or other animal learns what to feed it, how to make sure it is getting enough nutrition, and how to keep it from becoming ill or destroying crops by housing them in shelters rather than grazing them.
The volunteers also help the families take on planning, managing, and record keeping to enable their farm to help start a business. To date 79 million people have been lifted out of poverty with the help of one initial heifer. In the United States they have been working in the neediest farming states by providing farm animals, as well as seeds through the project Seeds for Change.
One of the main focuses, outside of sustainable income and ending hunger, is gender equality. Heifer International address the role of women in their communities head on and teaches them that they can provide for themselves and have a more active role in their society. In fact, if women farmers had access to the same resources as men, there would be 150 million fewer hungry people in the world.
Scovia, a single mother in Uganda, takes care of her own children as well as her 12 orphaned nieces and nephews. She lived with her mother collecting bananas, but when the banana crop started to diminish, she lost even more hope. Heifer International gave her a heifer and trained her in crop production.
With the addition of the income from selling the extra milk provided by her heifer she is able to take in much more money than before. But the cow also provides Scovia with fertilizer for her banana trees and the harvest has improved, allowing her to bring in 275,000 shillings a month all combined. Her children are going to be able to finish school and her success has influenced others as well.
On September 19th, the organization will be holding a gala event called Beyond Hunger: A Place at the Table. There will be a live auction, hosted by Susan Sarandon, to raise money and awareness for the charity as well as a performance by The Band Perry. Tickets run from $1,000 for a supporter ticket to $25,000 for the benefactor package, which includes tickets for 10 people, access to the after party, and advertisements.
– Chelsea Evans