My little hen, Marbella, had an unusual morning. Instead of waking up to run out of the coop and waddle around in the mud all day, she was whisked out of the pen, placed in a carrier, put in the car and taken to Sunday School to mingle with a dozen or so six to eight year olds. So why would a chicken be going to church? Because she was invited! A group of children from St. Francis Episcopal Church in Potomac, MD are saving their nickels and dimes during the next few weeks for a donation to Heifer International, an organization that provides livestock and training to people in underdeveloped areas. Since many children in urban and suburban areas don’t have much of a chance to get up close and personal with food producing animals such as chickens, goats, cows, honeybees and the like, I was asked to bring one of my girls to show-and-tell, giving them (literally!) a “hands-on” experience with something they would be providing to others. She cooed and clucked obligingly through all the questions and observations. Does she have teeth? Does she have a tongue? She’s so soft. What’s that thing hanging from her chin? She’s staring at me! Her foot is bigger than her head. Can I have one of those feathers? In the midst of all the curiosity, I was able to explain that chickens are fairly inexpensive, easy to keep, and can be an excellent source of food and income for people in many places, where children even their age can take part in feeding the family by caring for them. Meeting Marbella will help them connect with the purpose of their donation, and hopefully give them a heightened sense of what they can contribute as good neighbors to the rest of the world.
Following the philosophy of “Give the man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach him to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime,” Heifer International’s goal is to create self -sustaining families and communities around the globe. As explained on their website, here’s how it works. “We empower families to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity – but our approach is more than just giving them a handout. Heifer links communities and helps bring sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty. Our animals provide partners with both food and reliable income, as agricultural products such as milk, eggs and honey can be traded or sold at market.When many families gain this new sustainable income, it brings new opportunities for building schools, creating agricultural cooperatives, forming community savings and funding small businesses.”
We had a direct experience with Heifer International when our family went to Tanzania in 2004 with Cross-Cultural Solutions, an organization that creates meaningful volunteer experiences, both short and longer term, for individuals, families and groups in a dozen locations around the world. In our little village just outside of Arusha, where each of us worked a volunteer job in the community, Heifer was there working to provide goats. In a very small space, an entire family could have a daily supply of milk and cheese, which for most of them would make the difference between hungry and thriving children. All that was required was that they receive the free training that is provided on how to care for the animals, and that they pass on the first offspring of their goat to another family in need. Thus the chain of self-reliance and sustainability is extended throughout neighborhoods and villages and ultimately, across the globe. Heifer International does great work. So with all of that in mind, Marbella and I were happy to get out on a rainy Sunday morning to help their cause…and brag about chickens!