Monday, January 27, 2014

Heifer International: A Hand Up Not a Handout

Continuing with my Monday spotlight on humanitarian organizations, I thought I would focus on one that has become very near and dear to my heart over the past few years. It's also the reason why I think goats are so awesome.

Bee project in Honduras
Heifer International started very small by a man named Dan West. "West was a farmer from the American Midwest and member of the Church of the Brethren who went to the front lines of the Spanish Civil War as an aid worker. His mission was to provide relief, but he soon discovered the meager single cup of milk rationed to the weary soldiers once a day was not enough.

And then he had a thought: What if they had not a cup, but a cow?" (

From there, Heifer International has grown into a very well known organization helping to bring families out of poverty all over the world including in the U.S.A. Donors can "buy" an animal like a cow or chickens that will be given to a family in need somewhere around the world. But it is so much more than providing animals to families for food and income.

International development research has clearly shown us that the only way to have a lasting and sustainable impact in communities is to help provide the means for the communities to become empowered and lead their own change. It's a hand up not a hand out. Here's an example. When I was traveling with Heifer to Honduras we talked to many families who said that other NGO's (nongovernmental organizations) had come in and built very nice bathrooms in their houses. They were grateful for this, but there were more pressing issues for them like being able to feed their families and have a reliable source of income. Having a nice bathroom means nothing when your children are hungry. When Heifer became a part of the community, they worked with local partners and spent a great deal of time finding out what it was that the community needed most. Then they helped the community find a way to get what they need and provide a way for it to be sustainable without reliance on an organization. The key here is involvement. When people are involved in a project, they are more likely to carry it on because ownership is built within the community.

Heifer International operates on some essential yet very simple cornerstones within everything they do. One of the most important, however, is passing on the gift. To me, this is what separates Heifer from the other guy. Each family that receives an animal or other Heifer gift must pass on an offspring to another member of their community. It's the gift that keeps on giving. In addition to that animal, the community receives training and education based on their needs. This also contributes to the sustainability factor. Community members then become experts and teach their fellow community members. It's so simple, but it works.

Me in Honduras on a Heifer Trip for Educators
How can you get involved with Heifer?

Teachers: Whether you teach Pre-K or Middle School, there is a program for you. All of the fabulous lesson plans and project ideas are downloadable for free at the following website.
And if you are looking to teach your students about service learning, there are plenty of options including Read to Feed. I have done this a couple times with elementary students, and they just love it when they can choose the animals that they donate.

Volunteer: If you really want to get involved, the best way is through volunteering. Heifer has an amazing network of volunteers all over the world, people just like you who do the work on the ground to build awareness and raise funds to help bring communities out of poverty. Check out their new volunteer page for all the details:

Faith Communities: There are so many fun things that you can do like a living gift market or an alternative mission trip at one of Heifer's many educational sites. Check out the link here:

Donate: Take a look at the giving catalog and purchase a goat for your best friend on her birthday or some bees for your honey on Valentine's Day (I did this a couple years ago!). You can donate a whole animal or contribute some money to go toward a more expensive one like a camel or a water buffalo.

And there's much more on the website, so take a gander and see what fits your interests.

House in Honduras on a project visit