Last last year, I received a catalog in my mailbox that had a sheep on the cover. I sometimes receive mail addressed to my apartment’s previous tenanats, but a sheep catalog was certainly a first. I thought it might be like the time my high school friend Chris randomly got an alpaca catalog in the mail, and then spent the next few weeks telling me how he was going to start an alpaca farm. To my surprise (and mild disappointment,) it was not a catalog selling sheep, but rather a catalog for Heifer International, a charity. I had never heard of the organization, so I spent a few minutes perusing the catalog. Like the old “teach a man to fish” saying, Heifer gifts livestock to families in poor regions around the world and trains them to use the animals as a sustainable source of food and income. Each family that receives a gift agrees to give any offspring to other needy local families. I thought it was a great idea, so around Christmas time, I donated a goat, a flock of ducks, and a llama.
If you read the fine print, you’ll notice that while the website implies you are donating a specific animal to a specific region, what you are really doing is donating to Heifer’s general fund, where they will use the money in the most appropriate way. This may be by giving the kind of animal you “donated”, but most likely not. To some, this screams false advertising, but it is a fact that tracking each individual donation of an individual animal given to an individual family would be a logistical nightmare. Heifer is an internationally well-respected charity that I firmly believe supports a worthy cause.
Nonetheless, some people would like to know that their money is being used directly for a family in need. Enter Philip Greenspun, Craig MacFarlane, and Robert Thompson. Through Thompson, Greenspun and MacFarlane purchased a water buffalo and gave it to a family in Yunnan, China. Thompson filmed the process and edited the footage into a moving 8-minute short: 4 Generations. I highly recommend you check it out.