The holiday season is a great time not just for exchanging gifts with friends and family, but also for giving support to worthwhile causes and charities and in doing so remember those who are in need. Giving back at the end of the year is a wonderful way to acknowledge our blessings and to try to pass them on in some small way. We recently had the opportunity to speak to Cindy Jones-Nyland, Vice President of Marketing of Heifer International, an organization built on the principle of “paying it forward.”
How did Heifer International come about?
Dan West was a farmer from the American Midwest and member of the Church of the Brethren who volunteered as an aid worker during the Spanish Civil War. His mission was to provide relief, but he soon discovered the meager single cup of milk once a day rationed to the weary refugees was not enough.
And then he had a thought: What if they had not a cup, but a cow?
The idea drove West to found Heifer International. And now, more than 70 years later, that “teach a man to fish” philosophy still inspires and informs our work to end world hunger and poverty once and for all.
What makes Heifer International different from other anti-poverty/hunger charities?
A primary differentiator and a core principal to our work is Passing on the Gift. It carries myriad meanings. Initially, it meant families share the training they receive, and pass on the first female offspring of their livestock to another family. Now, we see this principle extended and take other forms. In one example, victims of the Philippine typhoon Bopha raised money for families in need after typhoon Haiyan; and in Cameroon, Heifer farmers have saved money and used it to build classrooms for a neighboring community. However our project partners choose to pass on, they’re extending the impact of the original gift, allowing a once impoverished family to become donors and full participants in improving their communities. We’ve seen communities hold fast to this idea. In some places, 22 generations of Heifer animals can be traced. On average, Passing on the Gift® lasts for at least nine generations, no matter the project.
Can you tell us about some of your success stories?
Most near and dear to my heart is the women’s empowerment component of our work. In my time here, I’ve traveled to many parts of the world and a common theme I see everywhere is the almost immediate transformation of the women, their confidence improved, their decision making respected and the incredible improvements in their home. More girls are going to school with money made from selling surplus eggs, milk etc. One of my most recent favorite stories involves women alpaca farmers in Peru who are using computers and technology to improve their business. I invite your readers to check out the full story here on our website.
What are your organization’s future plans?
In short order, we want to help more families, more quickly and Heifer approaches this in many ways. We have increased our project size to an average of 1,000 families per project, we are working with more partners like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and other like-minded organizations to connect farmers to emerging markets.
How can people get involved/help?
This time of year is especially focused on giving and we believe giving Heifer for the holidays is a gift that everyone appreciates. It’s a win-win-win; for the giver, the recipient, and our farm families around the globe. Together, we are making the world a better place, where families can feed themselves, create better futures, and care for the planet.
For our work to be successful it is essential that we empower families to create the conditions for their own success. We provide them with the tools and resources, but they do the hard work. Heifer links communities and helps bring sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty and our animals provide both food and reliable income, as agricultural products such as milk, eggs and honey can be traded or sold at market.
You can learn more about Heifer by visiting www.heifer.org. You can also check out their new PSA released just in time for the holidays below.
Jennie has contributed to Imperfect Women since its inception in 2009. She writes about politics, celebrity news, and anything else that catches her interest.