AVMA passes on million-dollar gift

Heifer International begins rebuilding lives in Asia
Published on August 15, 2005
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The veterinary community has become a link in Heifer International's living chain of giving.

In the spirit of Heifer's guiding principle of "passing on the gift," the AVMA has raised a million dollars for Heifer to expand the cycle of sustainability to more victims of the devastating tsunami this past December in Asia.

The AVMA met its million-dollar goal June 30—just five and a half months after joining with Heifer in a tsunami relief matching partnership.

AVMA Executive Vice President Bruce W. Little said, "I am pleased that the veterinary profession responded to the challenge to help support ongoing rebuilding in South Asia after the tsunami of December 2004.

"The response was much quicker than I expected, as my thoughts predicted we would reach the maximum matching funds by the end of 2005. It just goes to show you that when you do good things that touch people's hearts, they will respond in an amazing manner. I am very proud of our profession."

At the AVMA General Session/World Veterinary Congress Opening Ceremony sponsored by Hill's Pet Nutrition, July 16 in Minneapolis, the AVMA "passed on the gift" with a symbolic, million-dollar check.

The check represents half-a-million dollars in donations from AVMA members, their friends, families, and clients, and the public, and matching funds from the AVMA, as authorized by the Executive Board in January.

AVMA President (2004-2005) Bonnie V. Beaver told General Session attendees that Heifer International is not about short-term solutions. "Like us, they are concerned with the future as well as the present. As veterinarians, we realized that vital agricultural resources had been lost and needed to be replaced. We understood that what was required were long-term rather than short-term solutions for economic recovery," she said.

"Through our contributions, we will in our own way be 'passing on the gift,' protecting animal health, conserving livestock resources, and using our scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society."

Dr. Mahendra Lohani, Heifer's Asia South Pacific program director, gratefully accepted the check from the veterinary community. "What you have done is amazing," he said. "You became part of the solution. You passed on the gift.

"Because of you, Heifer International will be able to double their efforts in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and India and help feed 3,875 families. ... The solution will continue to spread and positively impact thousands of people in Southeast Asia."

According to Cynthia Hester, director of corporate partnerships at Heifer, that is the number of families Heifer can support with the combined $2 million from the AVMA partnership funds and Heifer's other donors who contributed to their tsunami rebuilding work. The monies will directly benefit 1,465 families in India, 1,500 in Indonesia, 610 in Sri Lanka, and 300 in Thailand.

Recipient families' commitment to "pass on the gift" of the first female offspring from the original breeding animals they receive from Heifer creates a ripple effect that continues helping others develop a sustainable source of food and income. This approach develops communities and builds personal pride by turning recipients into donors.

Project partners—the nongovernmental agencies, or community groups, with which Heifer works locally—have been arranged for two of the countries. In India, Heifer will partner with the Society for Education, Village Action, and Improvement, and in Sri Lanka, the Center for Development Facilitation. In Sumatra and Thailand, Heifer will work through its own offices.

The project partners and Heifer staff work with community members to decide on the animals and equipment needed. They have been identifying the recipient communities, establishing time lines, and starting the important initial phase of husbandry training and other preparations. "The process has begun—the resources that we're going to give them in terms of livestock, fishing boats, equipment, and mangrove trees," Hester said.

Dr. Terry S. Wollen, director of animal well-being for Heifer, said the AVMA partnership opened some doors for Heifer, enabling it to expand its methodology into new areas of Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and Indonesia. Rebels in Sumatra's troubled Aceh Province, for example, recently extended an open gesture for help in a region that had previously been off-limits even to the Indonesian government. And Heifer, which is more accustomed to working with traditional livestock agriculture, has now begun working with fishing families along coastal Thailand.

"I'm quite impressed how quickly the AVMA members responded to the program," Dr. Wollen said. "It seemed that we had a lot of support from the membership, not just funding, but also encouragement—(such as) the letters to the editor that you put in the (JAVMA)—all through the course of several months we were working together."

Hester acknowledged an interesting phenomenon during the AVMA campaign. "There was this huge viral marketing campaign that happened through your membership, where not only did members give, but lots and lots of donations came from other people. Your AVMA members really did a good job of reaching out to their friends and families, and business organizations in their area. They somehow got them copies of the form that was in the Journal and got them to donate."

The response was steady from mid-February through June. Many donors were inspired by the AVMA matching dollars, Hester said. Donations ranged from $50,000 raised by businessman Peter Appleton Jones (JAVMA, May 15) to $1 from a child. One veterinarian hosted a Mardi Gras party and asked each guest to write a check to Heifer. Various chapters at veterinary schools sent donations. Veterinary clinics in Puerto Rico set out coin canisters that Dr. José V. Arce of San Juan, the Puerto Rico VMA's delegate to the AVMA, obtained from Heifer, and the PRVMA mailed a check representing the pooled contributions.

Now that the AVMA match is finished, any new donations carrying the AVMA code are being funneled into Heifer's International Disaster Rehabilitation Fund, a savings account toward sustainable development programs in future disasters. In August, Heifer continued to receive a considerable number of donations to the AVMA campaign.

"The tsunami victims won't be doing any 'passing on the gift,' I don't think, in the next six months," Dr. Wollen said, "but we certainly will be providing livestock and equipment, and the people, then, will be working toward their first pass-on, which is really the big, exciting part of the program when we step back and look at it."