Ashley Stone says she learned a great deal about Heifer's training and community development in her visit to Chitwan, Nepal in March 2013.
Ashley Stone says she learned a great deal about Heifer's training and community development in her visit to Chitwan, Nepal in March 2013.

By Puja Singh, World Ark contributor

As a volunteer and donor with 10 years of service to Heifer International, Ashley Stone is a vocal proponent of the organization’s work to end hunger and poverty. Stone’s deep experiences with Heifer fire her conviction to support the mission and pass on the gift.

WORLD ARK: How did you first learn about Heifer and what about it clicked for you?

ASHLEY STONE: I saw Beatrice’s story on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” about 10 years ago. I was impressed with the simplicity of Heifer’s model of battling hunger and poverty and how Beatrice’s future, her family’s trajectory and the possible future for her kids changed because of this simple idea of giving goats.

WA: When did you understand the full picture of Heifer’s work? How did you act on this understanding?

STONE: The understanding came out of a combination of events and interactions over the last several years. My first hands-on experience was seven years ago, at the Heifer Ranch at a women’s lambing weekend with my mother. Then in October 2011, I participated in an event for donors and was offered the opportunity to meet country directors, like Alejandro Lopez Musalem from Mexico. I also saw the education programming Heifer has devised for kids, which sparked a commitment to involving my children’s school with Heifer.

The March 2013 trip to Heifer projects in Nepal ingrained in me the significance of the years of training and community development. I began to have a better understanding that the Cornerstones are what sets Heifer apart from the other NGOs that may have a more Band- Aid approach to assistance. Heifer’s holistic and thorough approach to community development creates a strong foundation and framework from which the project partners can continue to develop and improve, eventually independent of Heifer.

WA: How would you define your involvement with Heifer?

STONE: I was an Area Volunteer Coordinator from 2008 to 2011. I hosted meetings for volunteers, staffed booths at community events and attended trainings on Heifer’s model. I’ve since focused on talking with other donors, helped at various fundraising events and assisted my children’s school in a trip to Heifer Ranch.

Pass on the Gift ceremonies illustrate how Heifer's work helps restore the hope and dignity of vulnerable farmers by empowering them to become donors themselves.
Pass on the Gift ceremonies illustrate how Heifer's work helps restore the hope and dignity of vulnerable farmers by empowering them to become donors themselves.

WA: Why are you so passionate about Heifer?

STONE: I realized that I wanted to focus on my core values and find programs that aligned with those core values with the best, smartest and most efficient practices possible. With a social work background, I have always been interested in finding ways to help the most vulnerable people, which tend to be women and girls. In the U.S., we have a culture that supports females at a much deeper level than in most places around the world. Heifer addresses the needs of women and girls in dignified and sustainable ways by encouraging the entire community, men and women alike, to reevaluate each person’s value to the community. This process tends to fuel more girls going to school and open up more opportunities for women to take on leadership roles.

At Heifer, I have seen a grassroots approach to addressing a variety of important social, economic, environmental and cultural issues. I believe the 12 Cornerstones and the associated trainings are at the root of Heifer’s success. I feel that Heifer’s approach assists communities in redefining themselves in an organic way. It takes time for communities to make real, long-lasting positive changes for themselves, and Heifer understands this. It does not rush change. For example, with the trainings and livestock, project partners will change the economy, which will change the education which will change the health and which will change the politics. These are the long-term, sustainable changes that are initiated by the people themselves and not by anyone externally. In addition to just surviving, people love to feel competent and intelligent, they love to learn, develop and grow. Heifer offers the opportunity and framework to do so and this is how Heifer helps people to regain dignity and hope.

WA: What components of the Heifer approach  do you appreciate the most?

If you are looking to help make real impact in the world of communities helping themselves in sustainable ways, Heifer, in my opinion, is the best way to go about it. Ashley Stone, Heifer Volunteer

STONE: First it was the animals. But after 10 years of learning and involvement, it is Heifer’s ability to help the most vulnerable populations to restore their own hope and dignity. It’s not the West coming in to say, “This is the way, the path for you.” It’s Heifer’s ability to ask the right questions so the community members can come up with the answers that will change their future.

WA: You are a relentless advocate for Heifer. What makes you want to share Heifer with your family and your network in San Diego and around the world?

STONE: Heifer’s value system completely aligns with my own. As global citizens, we are not separate. I can get to Nepal tomorrow. We are connected to each other and need to understand how we are related to each other’s issues around the world. I feel like Heifer is the absolute best possible answer to community development, and I want people to know that Heifer is an incredible, transformative option for their time, energy and support.

We will have bigger impact if you can get everybody on the same page. I believe that if the donor community learns about Heifer’s incredible impact, then our collective effort to solving a range of problems has a better chance of success. At the end of the day, I support Heifer because Heifer focuses on assisting motivated communities to address their own needs, rather than the international donor community trying to solve their problems for them.

Ashley Stone

Thank you, Ashley Stone!

Your work raising more than $600,000 for Heifer International has changed thousands of lives by empowering small-scale farmers around the world.

Heifer International relies on volunteers like Ashley to carry out our mission to end hunger and poverty and care for the earth. We need you to lend a hand. Help us realize a brighter future for all.

WA: Do you think this is a long-term solution? Why?

STONE: Yes. There are many examples from Nepal, like Sita Poudel, who was a Heifer recipient and now is an implementer of Heifer’s projects in her community. Bhudharmia Chaudhary was a farm slave like generations before her, and now in a span of 13 years of working and growing with Heifer, her daughter is finishing nursing school. Heifer’s model offers long-term solutions to complicated problems that are manifested in different ways in different countries.

At the core, Heifer’s value of Passing on the Gift creates true healing across communities. The concept of sharing may come naturally to people, but extremely dire circumstances make this value hard to achieve. Since Heifer requires a pass on, farmers pay forward instead of back. The psychological effect of moving from a recipient to a donor cannot be underestimated in this whole process of improving the quality of life for the individual and the community. I’ve seen several pass-ons now, and in my opinion, it is the magic ingredient to Heifer’s long-term success.

WA: Your son went to Heifer Ranch with most of his fifth-grade class. What do you think — and  hope — he will take from the experience?

STONE: One of the things that I would like to ingrain in my kids is that there are many people in the world who have it much harder than them, due to no fault of their own. And I want them to understand that it is their responsibility to not look the other way but to try to address the problems in whatever ways they can. From his visit to Heifer Ranch, I hope my son understands the value of community development within his own communities at school, in San Diego and around the globe.

WA: Why should I give to Heifer?

STONE: I would ask you to define your own values, learn about Heifer’s values and see if they align. I am sure you will find that most, if not all of Heifer’s Cornerstones, are similar to the ones you are trying to instill in yourself and others around you. If you are looking to help make real impact in the world of communities helping themselves in sustainable ways, Heifer, in my opinion, is the best way to go about it.