Heifer International celebrates 75 years

Church of the Brethren roots noted at Puerto Rico event

Oct 21, 2019 by and

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

CASTAÑER, Puerto Rico — Over 75 years of service around the world, Heifer International has helped bring more than 34 million families out of poverty.

It all began in Puerto Rico as a project of the Church of the Brethren. On Oct. 5, the denomination’s Puerto Rico District hosted the agency’s 75th anniversary celebration.

A gift of a young bull calf to an agriculture student was a highlight of the 75th anniversary celebration of Heifer International on Oct. 5 in Castañer, Puerto Rico. Church of the Brethren general secretary David Steele, center, and Heifer International vice president Jesús Pizarro, third from right, presented the calf to Erick Yadiel Rivera, second from right. — Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford/Church of the Brethren

A gift of a young bull calf to an agriculture student was a highlight of the 75th anniversary celebration of Heifer International on Oct. 5 in Castañer, Puerto Rico. Church of the Brethren general secretary David Steele, center, and Heifer International vice president Jesús Pizarro, third from right, presented the calf to Erick Yadiel Rivera, second from right. — Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford/Church of the Brethren

Brethren mission and service executive Jay Wittmeyer praised Heifer International as “one of the most respected and efficient organizations in the world today.”

“Let us continue to work hard together until no child is sick or hungry or suffering,” he said. “We say this to the glory of God and our neighbor’s good.”

Puerto Rico was the destination of the first shipment of animals by the Heifer Project, as the organization was originally known. The 17 heifers — female cows pregnant with their first calf — left Mobile, Ala., on June 7, 1944, and arrived in San Juan on July 22. Of the 17 cows, 16 survived the voyage.

Heifer was the brainchild of Church of the Brethren denominational staff member Dan West, who came up with the idea of giving farm animals to people affected by war and poverty.

The project’s structure was put in place by the Brethren Service Committee, with animals raised or donated by Brethren farmers, congregations, school groups and others.

Success in Puerto Rico emboldened church leaders to begin a large effort to ship animals to war-torn Europe and Asia.

The animals’ caretakers were known as seagoing cowboys — including Brethren and Mennonite conscientious objectors doing their alternative service.

In subsequent decades, Heifer International became an independent nonprofit. It broadened its scope to distribute fish, chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, cattle, oxen, water buffaloes, bees, llamas, alpacas, camels, frogs and rabbits to poor rural communities around the world.

In 2008, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded Heifer International a $42.5 million grant to help poor farmers in East Africa increase their production of milk to sell to dairies.

Passing on the gift

“Puerto Rico will always loom large in Heifer Project’s history and legacy,” said Peggy Reiff Miller, who attended the celebration as a leading Heifer historian.

She said the anniversary connects Heifer to the work of Civilian Public Service on the island and to the development of Castañer Hospital and the founding of the first Church of the Breth­ren congregation in Puerto Rico.

A CPS unit operated in Castañer because of the dire need for medical services in that mountainous area.

The first Heifer animals, six heifers and one bull, arrived in Castañer in 1945. The herd was looked after by members of the CPS unit and provided milk for the unit and for the hospital.

Over the next 15 years Heifer Project made 24 shipments of animals to Puerto Rico, including cattle, goats, poultry, pigs and rabbits, Reiff Miller said.

During the anniversary celebration, the gift of a young calf was a highlight. Church of the Breth­ren general secretary David Steele and Heifer International vice president Jesús Pizarro handed the calf to recipient Erick Yadiel

Rivera in recognition that Heifer’s motto, “passing on the gift,” continues to benefit Castañer.

“I am very proud as a Puerto Rican that the first project was here in Puerto Rico,” Pizarro said. Heifer International includes and serves people from many religions, “but we share with the Church of the Brethren the sense of empathy . . . the sense of social justice,” he said. “That is the identity we share with the Church of the Brethren.”

Contributing: MWR staff.


Comments Policy

Mennonite World Review invites readers’ comments on articles. To promote constructive dialogue, editors select the comments that appear, just as we do with letters to the editor in print. These decisions are final. Writers must sign their first and last names; anonymous comments are not accepted. Comments do not appear until approved and are posted during business hours. Comments may be reproduced in print, and may be edited if selected for print.

About Me

advertisement advertisement advertisement