And it all starts in a community….

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. Dwight D. Eisenhower


How different would your life be if you lived in a land that has been war torn by civil unrest and social upheaval for years? Weapons were everywhere and easily accessible, but food and opportunity were not.

Then you learned that you could turn in the illegal weapons you’d acquired and exchange them for Heifer International livestock. Food is real security–weapons are not.  Heifer invested in self reliance and hope of peace in Albania and it paid off.

This trade-off was part of a collaborative “Guns for Cows” project among Heifer International, the United Nations Development Program and officials in war-torn Albania, a country that underwent a deadly period in 1997. Through the project, Albanian villagers receive one pregnant Holstein or Jersey dairy heifer for every three weapons they hand over to the government. The weapons are then either destroyed or turned into shovels, pickaxes and other agricultural implements. Development incentives in return for citizen disarmament – a project that was an easy fit with the work Heifer was doing.

Here’s how Heifer International works:
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.

And it all starts in a community.

First, Heifer helps a community group analyze their situation. They ask: What do we need? What are our resources? What would we like to see happen in five years? Then, they plan specific activities to achieve their goals.

At this point, the Heifer “living loan” becomes reality. Farmers prepare for their animals by participating in training sessions, building sheds, and sometimes planting trees and grasses.
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.

Passing on the Gift allows families and individuals who have received animals to be donors themselves. There is great dignity in having gone from a recipient to a donor– it develops both community and self esteem and creates a cycle of sustainability. Passing it forward, sharing of blessings. Passing on the gift is fundamental to Heifer’s entire approach. As people share the offspring of their animals – along with their knowledge, resources, and skills – an expanding network of hope, dignity and self-reliance is created.

You can watch a Passing of the Gift ceremony.

Inspired people take action.

Looking for specific ways you can support the work of Heifer? Let me offer a few suggestions:

  • Planning a vacation in 2010? You could go to a resort and lounge around the pool, but I know you are looking for a little something more. Take a Study Tour – Travel with a purpose by visiting Heifer project sites around the world, and learn more about the families and communities they partner with. Heifer Study Tours are small, specialized expeditions that go beyond sightseeing. It is a journey into the daily lives of extraordinary people. As you visit with the farmers and families who are working with Heifer to improve their lives and protect the earth, you learn more than you could have imagined. A Heifer Study Tour takes you beyond your ideas about poverty, and shows you what the human spirit is capable of overcoming.
  • Will you buy a gift in 2010? Of course you will! Sometime over the next year you will need birthday, anniversary, wedding, and graduation gifts. Name one person who needs another knick-knack? Heifer has the best gift catalog– bar none.   You will be able to 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. Give the gift of bees or a flock of geese. Hell, Go big and give your friends a Water Buffalo. That’s right I said  Water Buffalo— it will provide protein-rich milk, strength to till soil, manure to enrich the land … so many benefits for a  family living in extreme poverty.

Ending world hunger and poverty globally is a large feat but it’s not unrealistic.  I believe that hunger and poverty can be eliminated, forever. But livestock is just one part of the solution. Communities sharing resources, skills and knowledge are all critical components as well.

We all have to share what we have and care if our neighbors are going to bed hungry–whether we are in Kosovo or Uganda.  It’s all of our responsibility to share the work and wealth of the world in just and equitable ways and seek the good life of dignity, decency and prosperity for everyone. Let 2010 be the year where we share all of our gifts and by sharing; receive more than we thought possible.

What gifts will you share in 2010?

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