Dan West and Heifer International

As addressed in We Need New Names, as well as in multiple class discussions, aid work is one of the many interesting and complicated ways in which America interacts with the rest of the world. Heifer International is one of my favorite organizations (although this may be simply because I haven’t done enough research into potential pitfalls) because it’s designed to solve the problems of developing communities without requiring the continued presence of aid workers.

While he was in charge of a relief program for refugees of the Spanish Civil War, Dan West came up with the idea that it would be better to give the refugees a cow, as opposed to just giving them milk, leading to the creation of Heifer International. Aside from providing the cow’s owners with sustainable access to nutrition, the heifer could produce even more milk-producing cows that could eventually help an entire community, while families with extra milk could sell it. Along with providing livestock, Heifer’s program also ensures that participants receive the proper training in how to care for their animals. Since the first shipments of livestock in the 1940s, this idea of sustainable aid has expanded to include many more types of animals being sent to various countries; in 2013, Heifer projects had helped 20.7 million families.

Along with his efforts in forming Heifer International, West’s work opened up the opportunity for conscientious objectors to WWII to instead volunteer through his church, rather than serve in the military, a program that still exists today. Additionally, West originated the first American college program for peace studies at Manchester University, which, in the words of the university, “continues to explore the frontiers of nonviolent alternatives to conflict.” While this description seems somewhat vague, the major strikes me as an ideological complement to Heifer International: rather than solve the problems created by war (or simply provide food to people in need), preventing war removes the need to alleviate its effects (preventing hunger with sustainable nutrition removes the need to provide food).

There is likely no perfect aid organization that can fully address the potential issues of imperialism and problematic transnational relations associated with providing aid, but the way that Dan West’s program tries to address the needs and contexts of the communities it helps shows a tendency towards long-term progress for encouraging self-sufficiency.

Giant credits to http://www.manchester.edu/danwest/dwflash2.html, http://www.manchester.edu/danwest/#, http://www.heifer.org/ending-hunger/the-heifer-way/lasting-change.html, and http://www.heifer.org/ending-hunger/the-heifer-way/mission-and-cornerstones.html for biographical information about Dan West, as well as data/information about Heifer International’s programs.

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