It all started with a cow.
Moved by the plight of orphans and refugees of the Spanish Civil War as he ladled out meager rations of powdered milk, Dan West, an Indiana farmer, volunteer relief worker and Church of the Brethren member, grasped that the people needed "a cow, not a cup"—cows that could produce milk so families would not have to depend on temporary aid. From that simple idea, Heifer International was born.
In 1944, the first cows sent abroad were donated by West's neighbors and distributed throughout Europe following World War II. More than 67 years later, Heifer has expanded its mission, just as it expanded to 30 types of animals it now provides—from goats, geese and guinea pigs to bees, silkworms and water buffalo.
West's vision of a worldwide program to end hunger and poverty was born of his Christian faith, and today, Heifer works with people of all beliefs—and no belief—to overcome poverty and hunger. We ask no faith statement from partners or participants and almost all staff in the countries where we have programs are indigenous to that country. Their religious beliefs vary widely, but they share Heifer's singular commitment—to help poor and hungry people help themselves.
By giving families a hand-up, not just a handout, we empower them to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity, but our approach is more than that. By bringing communities together and linking them with markets in their area, we help bring sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty.
Our animals don't just provide project partners with a reliable source of food, but also a reliable source of income. Extra agricultural products, such as milk from cows or goats, honey from bees or eggs from chickens, can be both shared within the community and sold at market. This new income, coupled with the training in sustainable practices that our partners receive, allows partners to clothe their families, provide them with medical care and send their children to school.
And when not just one but many families gain this new sustainable produce and income, it brings new opportunities for building schools, creating agricultural co-ops, and forming community savings and loan groups to help fund entrepreneurial start-ups. Newly formed women's groups help increase the communities' full potential, as neighbors who may have never interacted now come together to help the community prosper.
It's a lofty goal, but it's happening! In communities around the world, our 12 Cornerstones model is helping people lift themselves from hunger and poverty.