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November 24, 2001
Column #1056


    I just received ''The Most Important Gift Catalog In The World.'' That's a bold claim, but consider the chain of events the catalogue suggests you can set in motion when you purchase a gift animal from Heifer Project International (HPI):

    You pay $120 to donate a sheep in honor of your mother who always loved these gentle animals. Your mom receives a handsome gift card, describing the generous contribution you've made in her name. 

    A desperately poor family in Afghanistan - where there are three million hungry people - receives a pregnant sheep. Its wool can be used to make snug blankets and clothes to warm the family. Sheep often give birth to twins or triplets and can graze on the hilliest, rockiest pastures. 

    Each family gives its sheep's first female offspring to another needy family. In fact, the first family does not have clear ownership of the sheep until it ''Passes on the Gift.'' The second family also agrees, when it become an HPI partner, to contribute its first female offspring to another family in need.

    Heifer International has been in China since 1984. By 1999, 1 million families had been helped with a donated Heifer, rabbits, goats and other domestic animals. Only two years later, in 2001, the Passing On feature of HPI resulted in reaching 2 million families in China!

     You could encourage your children to save $20 from raking leaves to buy a flock of 10 chicks for a family in Cameroon or Afghanistan. The protein in just one egg is a nutritious gift for a hungry child. And a good hen can lay up to 200 eggs a year, plenty to eat, share or sell. Since chicks require little space and can thrive on readily available scraps, families can make money from poultry at little cost.

     Last year 109,000 families were helped by Heifer International which began in 1944 when a farmer named Dan West was working as a relief agent, sending reconstituted powdered milk to refugees. The thought occurred to him, ''These people don't need milk, but a cow.'' 

     At home he went to his church and said, ''I need cows to send to these people.'' A farmer raised his hand and said, ''You can have Faith.'' Dan replied, somewhat irritatedly, ''I don't need faith; I need a cow.'' The farmer said, ''Faith is my cow!'' Soon Hope and Charity were also sent, pregnant Heifers, so that the family who received them was twice blessed. 

     What began as the shipping of animals across the ocean has evolved into the local purchase of an animal, and the training of receiving families on how to care for their gift. There are now 45,000 project partners in 48 countries who oversee distributing 29 species of animals including bees, snails, goats, cows and water buffalos to very needy families often to a mother supporting a family alone.

     For $60 you could donate a trio of rabbits. In November, 1985 four families in China received 105 rabbits from HPI. Each family agreed to pass on to a neighbor five rabbits for every female rabbit received. From that first gift, 30 generations and more than 40,000 pass-on rabbits have helped more than 2,000 families feed themselves, becoming self-reliant. 

     As the gift multiplied, family income soared as much as 200 percent. The rabbits helped poor farmers pay for essentials - clothing, medicine, school fees and improving their houses. 

     Ten years ago there were 1 billion people who were insecure for food and income. Heifer International alone has been responsible for helping lift 100,000,000 people out of extreme need.  Today an estimated 841 million people are still going hungry.

     The task seems immense, but HPI makes it easy.

     The Heifer Project's genius is that it does not give a hungry child a fish but teaches him to fish. Former U.S. Ambassador to China James Sasser says, ''Heifer Project bestows the gift of self-reliance. From this foundation, amazing things can happen.''

     Are you are tired of giving gifts to people who do not need them? Joe David Rice used to give canned popcorn to his staff at the Arkansas State Tourism Office. Last year, with a $250 check he bought a water buffalo on behalf of his staff to help a family in the Phillippines. He told me, ''My staff really enjoyed it, and talked about it for weeks afterward, speculating on what part of the water buffalo they bought!''

     If you would like to make a gift, call 800 422-0755. Still unsure? Order the free Gift Catalogue at 800 698-2511.

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.

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