Heifer International: not a handout but a "hand up"



On May 28, World Hunger Day will be observed. This global celebration, organized by the World Hunger Project, turns the spotlight on a global hunger problem that exists.

Being from the Midwest, where some of the most fertile soil has blessed us with bumper corn and soybean crops, the issue of hunger is hard to conceptualize and yet, it exists. Our farmland has been called “The Bread Basket of the World,” because enough is grown in our region of the United States to literally feed the world – and yet hunger kills more people that AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. And 90 percent of those suffering with hunger and poverty are living in other parts of the world not affected by famine, earthquake or flood, but because of the chronic persistent hunger that exists in the developing world, in particular, Africa, South Asia and Latin America.
This is a problem that can and should be addressed. Typically, there are two approaches. One is to provide food to those areas where chronic persistent hunger exists. Unfortunately, this approach tends to create a cycle of dependency and persons are never given the opportunity to have a voice in the decisions that affect their community due to a lack of income, education and basic skills.
A far better approach is to devise a plan where we provide the basic things needed to empower people to care for themselves and by teaching them basic farming and livestock care, they can become self-sustaining.
The good news is we do not have to re-create the wheel. There is a working model employed by Heifer International that has been empowering persons around the world through its Living Gift program (Advance Special 982532) that enables persons and congregations to be involved in giving a “hand up” instead of a “handout”.
The concept is simple: Living Gift Markets “sell” food- and income-producing animals like bees, chicks, goats and heifers. These markets enable shoppers to honor a friend or loved one by giving in his or her name, while at the same time empowering an impoverished family by providing an animal and training in its care.
The family, in turn, receives training on care of its animal, and then gives the firstborn offspring to another family, which provides a sustainable income through products to sell or barter.
Our church, the Jerome United Methodist Church in Springfield, Illinois, donates to Heifer annually through our Five-Star Mission offering. Heifer is our UMCOR Advance Special which receives our “Spare Change Offering for Second Mile Giving” on the third fifth Sunday of the year. With an average of 35 on Sunday morning, this congregation has raised hundreds of dollars for Heifer International because we are sold on the concept.
Vacation Bible School is a way in which we have involved the community’s children as they bring their offerings all week in order to help a child like themselves to have a chicken or a goat or a milking cow to provide the basic necessities of life. Whether it is Fill the Ark, (Advance Special 982418) Feeding the 5,000 or Animal Crackers, Heifer International has key resources that can assist your congregation in becoming a living gift partner.
The old proverb is right: “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” Empower those who are hungry and you will see the difference between a “handout” and a “hand up.”