Report to the Founder/ Part 2 of 3
To: Dan West — Prophet, gadfly, dreamer, youth leader, motivator, peacemaker, and founder of Heifers for Relief.
From: Tom Lyon — Heifer volunteer for 26 years
Subject: Armenia trip — November 2011
As I said yesterday in the first part of my letter, I’m certain you would be pleased, and excited by all that I recently witnessed during my study tour to Armenia. Here some additional things I saw that kept me thinking of you…
Just as the animals were the tools that led to new opportunities for individual families, Heifer’s cornerstones trainings have become catalysts for empowering entire villages. During 70 years in the Soviet system, many Armenians were workers on collective farms or in factories. Heifer staff told us how this legacy left many Armenians feeling that they had little control of their own destiny or motivation to improve things. Cornerstones training and lessons about Passing on the Gift™, “full participation,” and “gender equity” have actually become important lessons in democratic participation and group decision making.
In the small, mountain village of Debed we learned some details. Initially, the Heifer families in the group had to agree on two animals that they would receive. They selected cows and bees. Heifer Armenia staff did a feasibility study of conditions and markets to ensure a good chance for success. With approval and an established community structure, animals (and beehives) were placed. They have multiplied, and their production has been shared, bringing a renewed sense of possibility. The community, with Heifer’s assistance, is now raising other animals and partnering with the Fuller Center for Housing to improve living conditions and sanitation throughout the village.
Dan — although you founded Heifer, you were never a paid employee. You established a model of dedicated professional staff working with and through volunteers to achieve the most benefit and impact. And that model is alive and well throughout Armenia. In addition to Heifer’s incredible country staff, there is a network of volunteers at all levels — district project leaders, ethno-veterinarians, teachers, and peer educators ages 14 to 70. Many are past recipients who have long ago paid back any contractual obligation to Heifer.
I was also privileged to share this study tour with, and learn from, more than a dozen amazing creative, dedicated volunteers from across the US. We talked often and late of how we would return to share stories, teach and preach, network, recruit, and motivate. We were learning that Heifer’s success is due to hundreds of dedicated volunteers in the US, but also due to a Heifer volunteer network in every country where we have programs. Today, our fellow Heifer volunteers worldwide must easily number in the tens of thousands.
I’ll share the third and final part of my report from Armenia this Friday.
Editor’s Note: Dan West, a relief worker and dairy farmer, founded the organization that is today Heifer International. Though Dan passed away in 1971, his principles still guide Heifer and its work.