Editor’s note: This week’s series about volunteering is to spotlight the Spring into Action events on March 24th hosted by Heifer International. Read why these volunteers have dedicated their time in helping share Heifer’s mission of ending hunger and poverty while caring for the earth.
By Nancy Bauer, Heifer Volunteer
When Kate Merrill, Southeast Community Volunteer Coordinator, asked me to write a blog about volunteering for Heifer International, I was honored. Heifer is one of my favorite organizations and I am always happy to tell people. I have had the pleasure of being a volunteer for Heifer for about 7 years.
Like most people, I am a pretty busy person. I am a wife, mother, try to keep a healthy, active lifestyle; run my own business. Fitting in a volunteer commitment is sometimes a very difficult thing to do…unless it’s an organization like Heifer. I volunteer because I really believe that I have an opportunity to make a difference in the world. And, I volunteer with Heifer because they are making a difference through the creation of sustainable, innovative projects that really help to move people out of poverty.
As I began to organize my thoughts, one word kept coming up over and over in my head: respect. I guess I didn’t realize how big a word respect is. As a volunteer with limited time, I want to know that my time is valued, that my efforts to share Heifer’s mission and work are important and, that I am volunteering in a quality atmosphere. Over the years, I have been invited to speak about Heifer’s work to women’s groups; I have shared the amazing work of Heifer with students; and, I have been the Heifer representative at various charitable giving fairs.
Respect for human dignity is a major part of Heifer’s program development strategy. I remember having an opportunity to hear the Country Director from Thailand speak about Heifer’s work with lepers in the Hill Country of his home country. He told of working with a group of people who had been shunned from their community, of children that were not being allowed to go to school. Then he showed us one of the amazing projects that had been put in place – it was a fish pond, surrounded by a vegetable garden with a chicken coop over the top. Fish, vegetables and chickens…all in a small, self-contained area. Steady access to food raised the nutritional levels of the people in the village, extra food was sold and the money was used to help build a school in the village, kids began attending school again, over all health standards increased. This once ostracized community began to thrive.
Respect for education is a key part of Heifer’s project strategy. Giving a gift is not a hand out. Recipients are expected to learn how to care for the gifts they receive, whether it be a goat, a water buffalo or honeybees. Education and support are provided to recipients so they know how to efficiently care for their gift – how to milk a goat, how to get honey from bees, how to shear a lamb. But that training also continues to people who are the beneficiaries of “passing on the gift.” Heifer commits to support each project for several years, allowing a community time to begin to thrive under the support.
Respect for culture is also a critical part of Heifer’s work. In every country where Heifer works, project leaders are chosen from that country. In my experience in the developing world, having a team on the ground who understands the local culture is so critical to success – knowing that women are the farmers in a community rather than the men, knowing that men raise animals – can all factor into the success or failure of a project. Heifer projects are developed with those cultural perspectives in mind.
Respect for the environment is also a key piece in Heifer project development. In areas of Latin America where deforestation has taken place, Heifer plants trees and teaches participants how to better use the natural resources. Coffee farmers in Guatemala have benefited from local expert advice on how best to plant and harvest their coffee. In Southeast Asia, water buffalo populations are staying stable ad rice farming is made easier for many. Projects are developed by analyzing and utilizing available resources; developing a plan to keep those resources available for a long time.
I am honored that I have an opportunity to volunteer with Heifer. I feel valued and respected. I know that beneficiaries of Heifer’s work feel the same way.