For my Mitzvah project, I chose the Heifer Foundation. The Heifer Foundation is a non-profit organization that helps people in third world countries by providing education and livestock. To understand the foundation better, my dad and I spent two days and one night on one of their Outreach farms in Massachusetts in October, where we both learned a lot.
When we first arrived in the morning, both of us were equally awed at the surrounding land. The fall foliage was out in full, and the view of the uninhabited land around us took our breaths away. Waiting for us at the main building was our guide for the next two days, a young woman by the name of Natanah who had been a volunteer there for a year. She was going to leave in 11 days. She and the other twenty-something volunteers ran the farm, taking care of the grounds and livestock and giving tours.
Leading us into a classroom she explained to us the goals of the Heifer Foundation and shared some interesting statistics. Did you know that out of all the people who die of hunger worldwide, only ten percent die of starvation?
After absorbing the information, we watched a short video about the people that Heifer helps, and it was in that video where we heard of a really clever idea called Passing On the Gift. Passing On the Gift means that before receiving an animal from Heifer, you sign a contract stating that when an animal they give you reproduces, you must give one of the offspring to someone else in need in the community. As a result, participants get to feel pride in helping someone else; being the giver for once instead of the receiver.
That’s one of the things that I really like about Heifer. They really take into consideration the people who they’re giving to. For example, instead of an agent from the USA interacting with their clients, they only use volunteers from that country or region, so as to not upset or offend anyone. Also, Heifer doesn’t force their help on other people. They aren’t missionaries. They are there to help, and the only way for them to give help is when a person comes forward and asks for it of their own volition. I enjoy knowing that.
After the video we toured the farm, seeing all the animals and passing a few tour groups and other volunteers along the way. The coolest thing in my opinion was the Global Village. The Global Village is a mix of nine replicas of housing representing eight of the many countries Heifer Foundation aides, along with the animals that belong in those regions. Among them were Peru, Ghana, Guatemala, Kenya, Tibet (which had two houses), Appalachia, Poland, and an unnamed area on the border between Texas and Mexico of immense poverty.
At lunch time, we went to the Peru sight, where we made an authentic Peruvian stew over an open fire using the exact ingredients they would use. Did you know that Peruvians eat Guinea pigs? (Thankfully, all meals at the farm are vegetarian, so I didn’t have to eat Guinea Pig stew).
Later that day once we cleaned up, the three of us made our way down to the muddy pig pens, which we helped expand with 2 other volunteers, getting very muddy in the process. In return for the hard work, I got to name one of the pigs- a small one with a huge black spot over his face; I named him Marvolo, going along with the all-M names.
By that time it was 4 O’clock- chore time- and all of the tour groups had left. We were the only overnight visitors. For chores, all the volunteers gather around a whiteboard and decide what they’re going to do. We ended up milking and herding the goats, which I found positively thrilling, and probably took at least 15 minutes longer than it normally would have.
When it got dark, my dad and I stayed in a one-room replica of a Nomadic Tibetan family’s winter home, right next to the four yaks’ enclosure, so that every time the wind shifted, we’d get the sweet essence of smelly Yak. Complete with the absence of electricity, bathrooms, Wi-Fi, and books, and the task of cooking a traditional bland Tibetan dinner over an open fire in the quickly-approaching darkness of night, I could really believe we were in Tibet, the only reminder of the modern world a very strange black cat that wanted our food.
By seven O’clock, I was wiped out and ready to go to asleep in the warm sleeping bag inside the house, but stayed outside to see the stars. I’m glad I did, because it was amazing. As someone who’s night sky is never truly dark thanks to the city lights, and who’s version of stars are blinking satellites and flying planes, I was struck at just how many there were. It was positively one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life of twelve years.
The morning began with early rising and hot oatmeal, followed with chores consisting of herding goats and feeding the alpacas, llamas, and Yaks. Afterward it was time to leave, and although I was glad to get back to civilization where showers and Wi-Fi were welcome and not banned, I felt sad that I had to go. My time there at Heifer was amazing and I learned so much, and I know for as long as I live I will never forget the great experience I had.
To go to Heifer’s website, here’s the link: http://www.heiferfoundation.org/
-Alexandra Deutsch, 12 years old