Study Tour in India
by Jennifer Dobberfuhl-Quinlan
In November 2010, I experienced the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to visit India. My husband was sure we would someday visit the eastern hemisphere, and through his work with Heifer International, that dream finally came true. Heifer International is a non-profit organization which promotes ending hunger and poverty and caring for the earth, with a unique training and sharing
Our Study Tour took us from New Delhi to the state of Orissa and into the forests and villages surrounding the Bubaneswar area. In this particular area, Heifer programming comes in the form of cornerstone training, gifts of livestock, and gifts of seeds and gardening education.
The simple one-room, mud-walled homes, or, in some cases, thatch and stick homes, revealed the level of poverty of the villages. Some villages depended entirely on the fruits of the forest for their sustenance. Yet the villagers’ faces revealed warm smiles and hope shining in their eyes. Through Heifer projects, they have become empowered to rise above their circumstances.
After witnessing the widely unfulfilled basic human needs of many people in India, I couldn’t help but redefine my ideas of ‘need’ and ‘want.’
We met groups of women who were organized into “self-help groups” (SHG’s). With Heifer’s values-based cornerstones training, they developed skills and confidence necessary to succeed at making a livelihood. One requirement of SHG membership is saving a certain amount of money each month. Entire villages have gone from having no money to maintaining a savings account; the funds become available to villagers to help pay for medical expenses, marriages, and sending children to school.
We also witnessed a Passing of the Gift ceremony, a fundamental part of Heifer programs. When a person completes the training program, they become eligible to receive a livestock gift. They receive a female animal (usually chickens or goats in this region) and commit to pass along one of their female offspring to another family, thus perpetuating the gift. The entire community united to celebrate the hope and joy of the ceremony.
One woman explained the significance of passing on to me: “Before, I could never imagine giving something. Or sharing. We always needed. We were always receiving from others. The first time I passed on a gift… to be able to give… I can not find words to explain to you how it feels.” With tears in both our eyes, I understood the empowerment in being able to give; it radically changed this woman’s life.
In our developed country, it seems the lines between comfort and necessity scarcely exist anymore. After witnessing the widely unfulfilled basic human needs of many people in India, I couldn’t help but redefine my ideas of ‘need’ and ‘want.’ Ending hunger and poverty may seem daunting, but I witnessed how a simple animal coupled with effective training is changing individuals and entire villages. I, too, am changed because of Heifer programming. I have experienced courage and strength that fuel a desire to learn, to develop beyond what generations of tradition may dictate, and to escape poverty and hunger.
Heifer lauds support from around the world, with celebrity supporters such as Ted Danson and Susan Serandon, political leaders like Robert Kennedy and Bill Clinton, corporate partners such as Organic Valley and Dr. Hauschka’s Skin Care, and individual donors like you and me from nearly every continent. To learn more about Heifer International, Study Tours, or how to get involved in the fight against world hunger and poverty, visit www.heifer.org.