Editor's note: This blog was written by singer-songwriter Lucy Schwartz, about her recent experiences in Cambodia traveling with Heifer International.
Heifer provides livestock to communities around the globe. They help to lift people out of hunger and poverty. That in itself is an incredible gift to the world. I think something that people might not know is that Heifer’s work extends far beyond just livestock.
I was lucky to be able to go on a trip to Cambodia this past spring with Johnny Hanson, Ryan Newman, and the Heifer Team, to witness the work firsthand. We traveled to several villages and met people whose lives have been changed forever by Heifer. Sometimes we had a translator with us, and other times we did not. It’s interesting to meet someone who doesn’t speak the same language as you. In some ways, it creates a barrier; it’s more difficult to communicate. And in other ways, you find yourself feeling even more in tune with the person you’re meeting, because you can’t just say, “Hello”, you have to find bigger ways to express yourself -through gestures, and smiles and larger-than-life-pantomime, and soon enough, you find yourself sharing a laugh.
When we arrived in each village, we were always greeted with smiles and waves, and a beautiful procession of traditional Cambodian song and dance. I felt a little like an imposter receiving this grand greeting…I hadn’t changed the lives of the people in the community, Heifer had. I was there as a happy and sweaty observer (it’s mighty humid in Cambodia), a supporter of Heifer, and occasionally, I was there to sing. But one thing was clear from each greeting: there is a deep appreciation and gratitude for Heifer in these communities. And it’s no wonder why that’s the case, when you hear about the difference that Heifer’s involvement can make in a person’s life. In the second village we went to, we met a single woman with a family of five. Before Heifer’s involvement, she was struggling to make ends meet, she couldn’t feed her family and barely had a structure of a house to live in. Now, after Heifer’s involvement, she has a beautiful, solid, house, and her children are well-fed, and she radiates a feeling of hope. Amazing.
I learned a lot about the way Heifer works while I was on my trip. I learned that Heifer doesn’t just give an animal and leave it at that. Heifer stays with the community for several years. They provide training. They teach the people in the community how to take care of the animals and crops and how to create a successful business. But the idea is always that eventually Heifer will leave; they don’t want the community to be reliant on Heifer, they want to create thriving, self-sufficient communities. When a community is ready, they participate in a wonderful event called Passing on The Gift. At the Passing On The Gift ceremony, families that received resources from Heifer—such as livestock, seeds, or training—pass on these gifts to other families in a neighboring community, allowing them to help others as they have been helped.
But, like I was saying, Heifer is not just about livestock. Heifer helps people start their own businesses. They encourage the community to create a “group fund” where the villagers can put a certain amount of money each week/month towards a communal group fund. Then, people from the community can then take out a loan from the group fund to start their own business; which is great for everyone, because all of the interest goes back to the collective group fund. Heifer also works with the community on social issues—promoting gender equality and helping women have an equal opportunity for education. Women's empowerment is an integral part of the Heifer belief-system….which is why during training, women are at the forefront, and during group meetings, women are leading the group. Heifer also brings a sense of community to a neighborhood. I remember, in the first village we traveled to a woman said something that I was very moved by, “Before Heifer, we didn’t talk to each other, we didn’t really know our neighbors. Now we know everyone and we support each other like a family”.
I’m honored to have met all these wonderful people on my travels, and honored to be a supporter of Heifer.
Join Lucy and become a Heifer supporter today.