Heifer Project’s goodwill mission to Puerto Rico, 1945

CPSer Carl Epp and Rufus King prepare to unload Heifer Project cattle in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in May 1945. Photo courtesy of Carl Epp.

Seventy-four years ago this month, the second shipment the Heifer Project made to Puerto Rico, with 45 heifers and 5 bulls, arrived in San Juan, May 25, 1945. But why Puerto Rico? people ask. Weren’t the Heifer Project animals being raised intended for Europe?

Yes, they were. But while these cattle were being gathered in April, World War II was still in motion, making shipping across the Atlantic impossible. Heifer Project had animals ready to send and needed to find a place for them. The Brethren Service Committee, which oversaw the Heifer Project, had connections in Puerto Rico. They were in charge of the Civilian Public Service Unit #43, the Brumbaugh Reconstruction Unit. This unit was formed in December 1943 to address community needs of medical care, public health, and social service on this poverty-stricken island.

Rufus King, Director of the Unit, reported in the Gospel Messenger (May 19, 1945):

Puerto Rico is one of the most thickly populated areas in the world. It has 550 people per square mile; two million people on an island 100 miles long and 35 miles wide. Only 20 per cent of the land is owned or tenanted by individual farmers, although sixty-seven per cent of the population is rural. The result of this situation is extreme poverty, ignorance, disease and malnutrition.

Puerto Rico became the logical place for Heifer Project to send its animals. The Brumbaugh Reconstruction Unit had two projects where cattle were placed, a Brethren project in the mountain village of Castañer and a Mennonite project in the coastal area of La Plata. Both projects had built hospitals. Each project received six heifers and one bull to form the nucleus of a herd to support the hospital work and the CPS workers.

The cattle pens at Castañer, Puerto Rico, date unknown. Photo by Dean Kagarise, Tom Lehman collection.

Carl Epp and Harry Martins with Heifer Project cattle at La Plata, Puerto Rico. 1945. Photo courtesy of Carl Epp.

The Brumbaugh Reconstruction Unit worked closely with the Puerto Rican Restoration Administration (PRRA) which helped set up homesteads for farm laborers. Eleven animals from this shipment went to PRRA recipients in the La Plata area. The remaining 25 were distributed to selected Puerto Rican farmers through the Farm Security Administration.

Puerto Rican farmers receive their heifers from the PRRA allotment, May 1945. Photo courtesy of Carl Epp.

Rufus King summarizes the import of the overall work in Puerto Rico in his Gospel Messenger article:

We know we have only scratched the surface, but we Brethren must give ourselves a fair opportunity to demonstrate what can be done toward building up the body, mind and spirit of a people in one area of Puerto Rico; we must give ourselves a fair chance to see the fruits of our efforts in developing a spirit of initiative and co-operation among a people and in helping them to help themselves. This takes time, more time than the few years of the war period can afford.

Angel Perez Rodriguez with male calf born to Heifer Project cow, Castañer, Puerto Rico, 1946. Photo courtesy of Don Sollenberger.

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