Heifer Project International
Solving the problem of world hunger has been a heartfelt vision of many people, but the sheer magnitude of the problem has overwhelmed the most sincere individuals and corporations who are keen on vision but bereft of finances or logistics. Heifer Project International is the outgrowth of one man with a vision and a practical method of implementation that did not require inordinate financial underwriting. Born a native of Ohio in 1893, Dan West, a life-long Brethren graduated from Manchester College in 1917 and spent the next two years as a conscientious objector during World War I. After working for the Emergency Peace Campaign in 1936 he traveled to Spain in order to serve as a relief worker following the Spanish Civil War. Sitting under an almond tree one day, he also felt the challenge of feeding hungry people as ubiquitous images of poverty and deprivation surrounded him daily. Thinking of his own daughters being healthy and well-fed back in the United States, he believed that he must start a process that could bring that same wellness to the children of Spain. But how? He observed that as fast as you give milk to these children they drink it and it is gone, and the cost of importing more milk was economically prohibitive for a war torn nation engrossed in a monumental recovery effort. Then one day an idea came to him. Why not bring cows to Spain and produce the milk here? Why not give each cow to a family with the stipulation that its offspring must be given to another family who would, in turn, give a calf to yet another family? And so on and so on! Somewhat analogous to: 'Little steps climb big mountains.'
On his return to the US in 1938, West started building enthusiasm for his project among neighbors, resulting in a volunteer Heifers For Relief Committee the next year. It gained approval as a national project in 1942, with the first shipment of heifers leaving for Puerto Rico on June 14, 1944. On that day, one man's vision became a reality. Later known as The Heifer Project, its continuing process would geometrically multiply animals worldwide as hundreds of cattle produced thousands of calves, and those thousands would likewise produce millions. Following the death of Dan West in 1971, the project was incorporated as Heifer Project International and has become an independent ecumenical operation.
One childhood memory of this writer at the Church of the Brethren 1960 Annual Conference was sitting in the balcony of the auditorium at the Louisville, Kentucky, Convention Center when Dan West served as the first lay person moderator of Annual Conference. Why did this occasion imprint such a visual memory? West became the only moderator who refused to noisily hammer the traditional gavel when a “call to order” was necessary that would quell the din of boisterous intermissions in order to restart a business session. How did he grasp the attention of thousands of delegates and visitors? How was he able to quiet the noise of hundreds of conversations with almost mystical effectiveness? How did this man of vision yet again accomplish the seemingly impossible? By gently raising a white towel and holding it motionless, high above his head. It was facinating to witness. Delegates quickly returned to their seats and respectfully encouraged others to do the same. Vision!