One of my dearest friends gave me a cow last year.
No, not something for my urban mini-farm (which is sadly nowhere near ready for livestock-- even chickens are too big for my backyard). I mean the gift of a cow from Heifer International.
On my trip to Kenya we met with representatives from different farming collectives. We wanted them to grow Amaranth and to use some simple technologies that students/faculty created to see if they improved farming productivity.
So, we met with five different groups over the course of the ten days, and with each we were working to develop an implementation plan.
We wanted to know how they planned to work together, to share the tools, to try to bring the grain to market after it was grown. We walked them through the steps of planning so we had some reassurance that they were thinking about bigger issues, planning for the future, and taking it all into account. Among the five groups there was a big difference in the depth of their organization.
One group was one of the most organized-- a group of HIV-positive men and women who banded together to grow crops and sell them, and also formed a micro-lending group amongst themselves where they would save money and use it on projects.
We asked them really specific questions about how they would manage the implementation of the project, and management of the tools-- and for every question we had, they had really well-thought-out answers that made perfect sense. They clearly had a structure within their group that could handle our project.
Eventually we had to ask them-- how are you guys so organized? Then they started telling us how they worked with Heifer International, and a part of that included that they trained them on how to work collectively and how to overcome some of the conflict and issues that might arise with sharing resources.
Then they told us that Heifer International had supplied them with a cow.
Of course on some level I knew this wasn't THE cow my friend gave me for Christmas last year, but secretly I pretended to myself that this was THAT cow.
Because in Kenya I saw people who I felt needed help every single day. There were many people (like the farming groups we met) who were actively improving their lives, working hard, and achieving success. Their lives held a great deal of promise-- they were relatively quite well off and were able to create a school with their early profits to provide a better future for their kids. In many cases, they didn't have indoor plumbing, they were completely dependent on climate and seasonal rainfall for ensuring their crops would succeed, and it was clear they didn't have a lot in the way of food.
These were the people who were well off.
Every day we saw kids in rags. Kids without shoes. Kids sick with malaria or AIDS. Kids who were happy --no thrilled-- to have a meal of ugali (kind of like grits, a cornmeal mush) and kale. Imagine giving grits (without butter) and kale to the kids in your life three times a day. Imagine their reaction. We saw many, many, many, many kids orphaned from AIDS.
The problems felt TOO BIG, TOO HARD TO SOLVE, and as if anything I could possibly do WOULD NEVER MAKE AN IMPACT.
So, for that afternoon, I wanted to feel LIKE SOMETHING COULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
It was INCREDIBLE to see one of the Heifer International cows in action and what it meant to this community.
I liked their philosophy (a hand up, not a hand out) from the first moment I heard of them, and loved the work they did, but had NO IDEA how thorough and amazing they were on the ground.
So, in this season I wish you the HOPE that I felt that day. That someone's actions thousands of miles away might make a difference to those that need it most.
Posting concurrently on The Kindness Project website on 12/28/2012.
(Girl and cow photo from the Heifer International website. Farm in Kenya photo taken by my student there).