The HistoryIt all started with one cow: Dan West, an Indiana farmer, was moved by the plight of the refugees of the Spanish Civil War. As a charitable man, he volunteered to ladle out meagre amounts of powdered milk as rations to refugees, and quickly realized that what these people needed was “not a cup, but a cow”. Essentially, his realization that people needed more than just temporary quick-fixes was along the lines of “give a man a fish, and he eats for a day, but teach him to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.” He followed through, and in 1944, the first 40 cows were sent to Europe by West and some neighbouring Indiana farmers. 69 years on, the Heifer foundation has grown substantially and now provides more than 30 types of animals (from guinea pigs, to bees to geese to buffalo) to those in need around the world, as well as plants, seeds, and more.
Spiritual RootsAlthough West credited his philanthropic impulse to his Christian upbringing, the Heifer foundation now embraces people of all beliefs, and people of no belief, as the overall goal of ending poverty and hunger should waste no time on these relatively petty differences. Partners are asked for no faith statement, but they do all share the same singular commitment, to help the poor and hungry to help themselves.
The Current ImpactThough born of humble beginnings, Heifer International as it is now known has given gifts of regionally appropriate livestock and seedlings to over 125 countries around the world. They ensure that every gift is in line with their goals of agro-ecology and sustainability, and every animal that they gift to needy communities must have the “Seven M” qualities: meat, muscle, milk, money, manure, materials and motivation.
Participating communities are encouraged to further the sustainability of the efforts of Heifer International, by way of the “Pass on the Gift” mentality: they give at least one of the female offspring of the gifted animal to a neighbour who is also in need, provided they have received the Heifer International training, ensuring that they too will pass on the gift when the time comes.