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A gift of a heifer can stave off hunger and environmental degradation, and help teach children to care. More....

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One year I gave all the children on my holiday list a flock of ducks or a trio of rabbits.  The animals were not actually delivered to their door. (I did want to remain on speaking terms with their parents).  Instead, they were purchased and given in the child’s name to people in need in another part of the world, through Heifer International.

Naomi from Fairvue Farms. Photo by Elinor Donahue.
Diane and Lela Miller lead Naomi from the Fairvue Farms trailer to cheer on school children raising money for Heifer International. Lela worked with Naomi for several weeks beforehand so the calf would know how to behave in public. Photo by Elinor Donahue.

The Heifer Project began in 1944 as a project of the Church of the Brethren to alleviate hunger and poverty. Today it is an ecumenical, nonprofit organization called Heifer International.  They help struggling families become self-sufficient, by supplying them with farm animals or trees, training and technical assistance.  Recipients agree to share know-how they have gained, and to pass on the offspring of their livestock to others in their community, thus multiplying the gift.  The concept is along the lines of the proverb “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”  

Some of the children who received my gift from Heifer International reacted with a “Huh?  I wanted a video game!”  Others were excited to be helping others.  Diaper-clad children as young as 18 months who can barely talk often spontaneously exhibit altruistic behavior (helping others for no personal gain).  Altruistic children grow up to be altruistic adults, according to a study by Dr. Nancy Eisenberg of Arizona State University.  Adults who model and teach empathy and caring can help develop what some call “the brighter side of human nature.” . The most effective activities are oriented towards encouraging learning and reflection versus resume building.  

School children from the First Congregational Church of Woodstock, CT are engaged in just such an activity.  They raise money for Heifer Project. “The children focus on a different animal each year,” says Ellie Donahue, Director of Children’s Ministries.  “Over time, they have learned about water buffalo, sheep, bees, goats, and ducks.”  They watch videos to see where animals have gone in the past, and interviews of families showing how the gifts have made a difference in their lives.  Some have also visited Overlook Farm in Rutland, MA.  Overlook Farm is one of Heifer International’s learning centers. Groups and individuals can see their global village set up and experience firsthand how others live.   

In 2008, the First Congregational Church schoolchildren chose heifers (young female calves).  They adopted Naomi from Woodstock’s Fairvue Farms as their mascot.  “Lela and Ciri Miller, granddaughters of owners Paul and Diane Miller, selected Naomi because of the heart on her forehead,” said Donahue.  “Fairvue Farms transported the two-month old calf to church in September 2007 to help kick off fundraising.  The children’s goal is to raise $1500 that the Heifer Project will use to purchase three heifers.  During the month of May, they will have one last fundraising effort to gather sponsors or money.  Naomi will return to church on June 8th for the annual Children’s Sunday and picnic. The child who raises the most money in May will have the honor of “Kissing the Cow.”  Those interested in helping can contact Donahue at 860.974.1786.

One heifer can deliver up to four gallons of milk every day. Income earned by selling surplus milk pays for tuition, medicine, clothing and better housing. A healthy cow can have a calf every year. A gift like this can eventually help an entire community move from poverty to self-reliance. The project also helps stave off environmental degradation through sustainable agriculture.  Cows are a natural fertilizer factory to help crops grow. Ducks remove weeds and bugs from crops and add fertilizer.  Families who receive trees as gifts learn how to keep their small plots of land healthy and renew the soil for future generations by planting forests, using natural fertilizer, and limiting grazing.

Note: If you donate to Heifer International, request that they NOT send you catalogs, and that they not sell, rent or share your name and address.
Originally published in the Villager newspapers on May 9, 2008

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