Caring for the Earth
Heifer International Project is a terrific organization that focuses on helping families by providing long-term resources rather than short-term aid. Heifer helps people where they live, with livestock, animals, and training for long-term support, and asking those who’ve been helped to "pass on the gift" to others when their animals give birth. Over the last six decades, Heifer has changed the lives of over four million people all over the world.
Our family has been a supporter for 6 years now. Their new headquarters are in a beautiful green (that is, LEED-certified) building in central Little Rock, but the Heifer Ranch near Perryville is as good a place as any to learn about how they operate (and more fun besides).
It’s about a 40-mile drive from downtown Little Rock. Most of it is along Highway 10 after leaving I-430, a pretty trip through the forest near Pinnacle Mountain and Lake Maumelle. The 2-mile² ranch used to be a main center for raising and then shipping heifers overseas to raise the living standards of families in need. That idea came from the mind of Dan West, who (as I learned from quickly perusing a biography in the bookstore) was a provocative and sometimes challenging mixture of equal parts dreamer and doer. While passing out milk for Brethren World Service (an outreach effort of the church of the same name), he realized that these children needed cows, not milk. In 1944, Heifers for Relief sent its first animals to Puerto Rico. Many shipments to post-war Europe followed, and soon the Heifer Project was conducting similar efforts all over the globe.
This ranch was the starting point. Until the early 1980s, animals left here for families all over the globe. At that point, Heifer realized that it was both more efficient and more effective to purchase animals closer to their final destination.
The ranch lives on as a learning center, staffed by long-term volunteers who give tours, explain Heifer’s approach, and share their passion for this work. Many of the programs in place around the world are demonstrated here, from organic farming to animal husbandry to low-cost, high-quality housing construction.
This is a great place for people of all ages. We started in the small home that houses the visitors center. We watched an introductory video, which showed how
Beatrice Biira, a 9-year-old Ugandan girl, was able to start school in 1991 when a Heifer goat allowed her family to sell the milk and send the children to school. Beatrice is now 20, attending college in the U.S., and preparing to return to her country to continue helping her neighbors.
Our host—a woman from southwestern Minnesota, who comes down with her husband twice a year to work here for 3 months—then toured us around the Ranch on a 30-minute hayride, explaining how each part of the farm exhibited Heifer’s work around the world. We saw several dozen women from all over the country there for "Lambing Weekend", helping with the new sheep and goats (our timing was great!). Our trailer full of kids (and adults) loved the animals, which range from chicken, ducks, goats, rabbits and sheep to camels and water buffalo. But the older kids and adults (in addition to enjoying the animals) found a lot to learn. The Heifer Global Village, laid out around a modest-sized pond, showed how people in Zambia, Guatemala, and other countries may live.
We finished with a half-hour in the gift store, which features crafts and foods from around the world, purchased from their makers at fair trade prices. This visit was a terrific way to finish our short spring trip. My kids are dying to come back and help make a difference by working here. You can’t ask for more out of a vacation.
To learn more about Heifer, visit their website. It includes directions to the Heifer Ranch, which (as their site notes) should be relied upon instead of using some on-line map services. The best advice is: look for the signs. It’s pretty easy to find (the signs are large).