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It's hard not to be pleasantly overwhelmed by the kindness of others when you're in my business. For each issue of World Ark, I get to write about donors who love Heifer's mission so much that they go to great lengths to provide a gift of livestock to the families in need all around the world.

Meghan and Ryan Bell in June 2012

But one donor in particular has really inspired me, and I find it a true pleasure to have gotten to know him and his family over the past couple of years.

Ryan Bell was born with Treacher Collins Syndrome, a disorder that causes malformations of the face. The 11-year-old from Wallingford, Conn., has endured 37 surgeries, and just last week had a tracheotomy—a device which helped him breathe—removed. But Ryan knows his birth defect is nothing compared to what some families face.

An animal lover, Ryan convinced his parents in 2009 that their annual giving should go to Heifer International, a nonprofit dedicated to ending hunger and poverty by providing gifts of livestock and training to families in need around the world. In two short years Ryan  raised nearly $9,400 for the charity. We profiled Ryan and his little sister, Meghan, in last year's Holiday edition of the magazine when they were hoping to raise $850 for a camel.

Ryan before the surgery to lengthen his jaw (left) and after. He has since had his tracheotomy removed.

Well, Heifer donors came through for Ryan and Meghan, and the pair raised more than $8,600 last year. But this year, Ryan has upped his goal. Inspired by a surgery that helped lengthen his jaw and open his airway, Ryan has become set on raising $25,000, or Heifer's "Gift of Transformation."

I'll let Ryan tell the rest, but you can read his whole story and his quest to raise the Gift of Transformation in the most recent edition of World Ark:

“I was excited when I saw the Gift of Transformation in the gift catalog because it reminds me of the transformation that I went through this year. I wasn’t excited to do this surgery and I wouldn’t have chosen it for myself. The doctor took my underdeveloped jaw and transformed my airway. It was a transformation for me,” Ryan said.

That transformation serves as his inspiration, he said.

“I want to give my own Gift of Transformation to the world. I want to send herds of heifers, llamas, and goats, flocks of sheep and chickens, a pen of pigs, a school of fish and a gaggle of geese to an underdeveloped area of the world and let a transformation take place as the gift is received, utilized and passed along. A Gift of Transformation can affect the lives of people in an entire village or community.”

“I don’t want to rely on a trach to breathe. I don’t want extra medical equipment and it would be great to not need a nurse or parent around at all times. I want my independence, just like these people want to be independent and take care of their own needs. They just need a different kind of assistance for their transformation; they need us.”

To help Ryan meet his goal, go to his Team Heifer page.


Annie Bergman

Annie Bergman is a Global Communications Manager and helps plan, assign and develop content for the nonprofit’s website, magazine and blog. Bergman has interviewed survivors of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, beekeepers in Honduras, women’s groups in India and war widows in Kosovo, among many others in her six years at Heifer.