No javascript detected! Our online shopping basket requires javascript. You can also complete your order by phone at 855.9HUNGER
You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience and security. You can also complete your order by phone at 855.9HUNGER

By Katya Cengel, World Ark contributor
Photos by Geoff Oliver Bugbee

Water buffalo have a history in rural Transylvanian villages, where they provide nutritious milk and draft power.

ASCHILEU, Romania—Ioan and Felicia Giloan, parents of nine children, had a difficult choice to make the Christmas of 2009. With no ready cash, the couple sold their only water buffalo so they could buy Christmas presents.

Luckily the following year they received a water buffalo through Heifer Romania. The gift was part of a project covering the Romanian region of Aschileu, where they live, and the nearby Hungarian village of Mera. The area is notable for its strong faith and deep poverty. Here in rural Transylvania, religious icons decorate most homes and yards. Indoor toilets and central heating are rare, and children wanting education beyond elementary school must travel to the nearest city of Cluj-Napoca.

The main room of the Giloan home in Aschileu features worn rugs and purple walls. The windows are cracked and covered with tape, and the only heat comes from a wood stove with a pipe going out of the wall. The third oldest of 10 children, Ioan stopped school in the equivalent of fourth grade to help support his family. He would like his children to finish high school, but his oldest two daughters went no further than he did. Bianca, who is 17, made it to eighth grade. But there is no high school in their village and the family doesn’t have the money to pay for her to stay in Cluj-Napoca while attending school. Bianca spent four months last summer picking mushrooms. She gave most of the $300 she earned to her mother.

“I’d like to go abroad to work because the money here is without value and the work is very, very hard,” she said.

Passing on the Gift
The Passing On the Gift ceremony featured speeches and cultural dancing.

Although Romania joined the European Union in 2007, it is still playing catch-up with its western neighbors, especially in the rural areas that account for half the country, said Heifer Romania Country Director Ovidiu Spinu.

Many do go abroad for work. Many of those who remain make their living in agriculture. Ioan is a herdsman, earning $2,500 from April to September looking after his neighbors’ cows and water buffalo. During winter, the family’s only income comes from the little that Ioan makes chopping wood and the $12 a month the state provides for each child, a benefit extended to all families. If it weren’t for the milk from their water buffalo, the family’s diet would consist mainly of the potatoes and vegetables they grow.

Water buffalo have long been a feature in Transylvanian villages, one of the few places in Europe where they have a history, Spinu said. Their advantages over cows are many: they live longer, are not so particular about what they eat and are more resistant to disease. The milk they produce is rich and low in cholesterol. They also provide draft power.

But the animals fell out of favor in the region after the fall of communism, when farmers received better subsidies from cow milk. Romania’s entry into the EU in 2007 saw more favorable subsidies and flexible quantity and quota regulations for water buffalo milk. Heifer Romania seized on the opportunity and began the water buffalo revitalization program with World Vision Romania in 2010. The program split the two deliveries of 36 water buffalo it made in 2010 and 2011 between Mera and Aschileu. Both regions have a tradition of working with water buffalo. But Mera is a Hungarian village with a different language and culture than the Aschileu region, which is primarily Romanian.

“If you are different and isolated you could hate each other,” Spinu said. “But if you are working together, if you are celebrating together, you start to respect each other.”

Farkas Doroghi is one of the few Hungarians who lives in Aschileu. Before the Heifer project the two groups did not fight, but they also did not mix, he said. A veterinarian assistant, Doroghi regularly holds informative meetings in his home on subjects relating to the care of water buffalo. When Heifer provided alfalfa seeds for the water buffalo, Doroghi taught Hungarian and Romanian recipients where to plant the alfalfa and how to use it as fodder.

“Now we have a subject in common, and I think we communicate more,” he said of the two groups.

Several Mera residents were spotted at the program’s first Pass on the Gift ceremony in Aschileu last year. The cold weather, with a mix of rain and snow, dictated mud boots and heavy sweaters for the men and headscarves for the women. Someone strung wreaths of fake red flowers around the necks of the six water buffalo calves. Schoolchildren braved the cold to receive a goody bag from the mayor. When it was all over, the recipients tied their calves to the backs of their horse-drawn carts and rode away.

Emil Ioan Olfalean and family
Emil Ioan Olfalean, his wife Marinela, and their son Emanuel received their buffalo from Heifer Romania in 2010. They passed on the gift of a calf at the ceremony.

Emil Ioan Oifalean left with one less water buffalo, having passed on his calf as a gift to another family in need. He used to work with the Hungarian residents of Mera, and he admires their skill in making sour cream and raising water buffalo, something they are more experienced at than those like himself who live in Aschileu.

“With this water buffalo thing we could say that Mera could become our big brother because they have a better tradition in water buffalo,” he said.

A familial relationship is exactly what Spinu hopes for in these villages and the other villages where Heifer is present. He believes that now that the farmers are working for themselves and not for an anonymous state, like under communism, they work harder. As their situations continue to improve, their generosity through Heifer’s Passing on the Gift practice serves as a model for other families and villages.

“So we are creating some islands,” Spinu said. “But our islands of normal life are growing and growing. And I hope one day these islands will be united in the happy world.” 

Free Download

You only need to enter this information once to download digital resources.

Basket Summary

edit
Your gift will be matched!

{{ product.title }} {{ product.subTitle }}

Qty: {{ product.quantity }} @ {{ product.price | currency }} Qty: {{ product.quantity }} @ FREE Monthly
{{ (product.quantity * product.price) | currency }} Free

No products in cart.

Additional Impact {{ processingFee | currency }} Sub-total {{ cartSubTotal | currency }} Shipping Cost {{ orderShippingCost | currency }} NOT YET CALCULATED Tax Cost {{ orderTax | currency }} NOT YET CALCULATED Total {{ cartTotal | currency }} Monthly Total {{ cartSubscriptionTotal | currency }}

{{ cartCheckoutPath[1].title }}

edit

Billing Address

{{ billingAddress.first_name }} {{ billingAddress.last_name }} {{ billingAddress.address_1 }} {{ billingAddress.address_2 }} {{ billingAddress.city }}, {{ billingAddress.state }} {{ billingAddress.zip }} {{ billingAddress.country }}

Company

{{ billingAddress.company }}

Shipping Address

{{ shippingAddress.first_name }} {{ shippingAddress.last_name }} {{ shippingAddress.address_1 }} {{ shippingAddress.address_2 }} {{ shippingAddress.city }}, {{ shippingAddress.state }} {{ shippingAddress.zip }} {{ shippingAddress.country }}
edit

Shipping Method

{{ orderShippingOption.description }}

Basket Summary

Step 1 of 2 Step 1 of 3 Step 1 of 4
All major credit cards and Paypal accepted
All major credit cards accepted
Your gift will be matched!
Your basket has been updated.
The following item(s) are now sold-out or unavailable and have been removed from your cart:
-{{ product.title }} {{ product.subTitle}} ({{ product.quantity}})

{{ product.title }} {{ product.subTitle }} To: {{ product.giftCardRecipientName }} From: {{ product.giftCardSenderPrint }} Email: {{ product.giftCardRecipientEmail }} Delivery: {{ product.giftCardDeliveryDate }} Message: {{ product.giftCardMessage | truncate '200' }} Activation Code: {{ product.giftCardCode }} Delivery: {{ product.additional_info['deliveryDate'] }} Message: {{ product.additional_info['personalMessage'] | truncate '200' }} 1 {{prods["title"]}}

{{ (product.quantity * product.price) | currency }}/month
You've reached the maximum number of products for this item.
You've reached the maximum number of products for this item.
${{ product.price }}
$ {{ product.price }} Free
Remove
Great! We'll help you set up your free Honor Card after your donation is complete.

Gift Message

Personalize your message up to 5 lines in length.

Preview

heifer.org
Subtotal {{ cartSubTotal | currency }}
Monthly Subtotal {{ cartSubscriptionTotal | currency }}
It's not a hand out. It's a hand up.

For maximum impact, try adding a few items to your basket.

Browse The Gift Catalog
Secured Checkout

Increase Your Impact with a Donation Visit the Gift Catalog

Make an even bigger impact with a donation from our Gift Catalog

Responsibly-Sourced, Artisan-Friendly Gifts Shop the Marketplace

Shop the Marketplace for responsibly-sourced, artisan-friendly gifts
Secured Checkout
Continue Shopping
Edit Basket Summary

{{ cartCheckoutPath[1].title }}

Step 2 of 2 Step 2 of 3 Step 2 of 4
All major credit cards and Paypal accepted
All major credit cards accepted
Shipping Information

If you have received a gift catalog in the mail please enter the highlighted code that begins with a "D" or a "P" in the source code box below. If you have not received a Heifer Gift Catalog please leave the source code blank.

Shipping Address
Secured Checkout
Secured Checkout
Edit Basket Summary

{{ cartCheckoutPath[1].title }}

Step 2 of 3 Step 2 of 3 Step 2 of 4
All major credit cards and Paypal accepted
All major credit cards accepted
Billing Information
Enter your company name to see if your employer will match your gift.

If you have received a gift catalog in the mail please enter the highlighted code that begins with a "D" or a "P" in the source code box below. If you have not received a Heifer Gift Catalog please leave the source code blank.

Billing Address
Secured Checkout
Secured Checkout
Edit Basket Summary

{{ cartCheckoutPath[1].title }}

Step 2 of 3 Step 2 of 3 Step 2 of 4
All major credit cards and Paypal accepted
All major credit cards accepted
Billing Information
Enter your company name to see if your employer will match your gift.

If you have received a gift catalog in the mail please enter the highlighted code that begins with a "D" or a "P" in the source code box below. If you have not received a Heifer Gift Catalog please leave the source code blank.

Billing Address
Shipping Information

If you have received a gift catalog in the mail please enter the highlighted code that begins with a "D" or a "P" in the source code box below. If you have not received a Heifer Gift Catalog please leave the source code blank.

Shipping Address
Secured Checkout
Secured Checkout
Edit Basket Summary

{{ cartCheckoutPath[2].title }}

Step 3 of 3 Step 3 of 3 Step 3 of 4 Select shipping method. Orders after 12:00 PM CST will be shipped the next business day. Orders on Saturday or Sunday will be shipped the next business day.
{{shippingOption.description}} ${{shippingOption.shippingCost}}
Secured Checkout
Secured Checkout
Edit Basket Summary Edit {{ cartCheckoutPath[1].title }}

Payment Information

Step 3 of 3 Step 3 of 3 Step 4 of 4
All major credit cards and Paypal accepted
All major credit cards accepted

Payment Summary

Additional Impact {{ processingFee | currency }} Sub-total {{ cartSubTotal | currency }} Shipping Cost {{ orderShippingCost | currency }} NOT YET CALCULATED Tax Cost {{ orderTax | currency }} NOT YET CALCULATED Total {{ cartTotal | currency }} Monthly Total {{ cartSubscriptionTotal | currency }}

Pay By Credit Card
Pay with
Pay with
We were not able to process your request. Please try again or contact Donor Services at 855.9HUNGER (855.948.6437).
Secured Checkout