Celebrating Heifer International’s 75th anniversary in Castañer, Puerto Rico

Seventy-five years ago, sixteen impoverished Puerto Rican families received the first gift of heifers donated by American farmers through the Heifer Project. This past Saturday, two historical developments of 1942 that led to these gifts were celebrated in the lush mountain town of Castañer, Puerto Rico.

October 5, 2019. A tour of the modern Castañer Hospital and its new emergency room wing started the day’s festivities. Photo courtesy of the planning committee.

In July 1942, the Church of the Brethren Service Committee opened Civilian Public Service Camp #43 in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, as part of the alternative service program established through the U.S. government for conscientious objectors during World War II. The first sub-unit of CPS Camp #43 was set up in Castañer to serve this thickly populated mountainous area in dire need of medical services. The CPS men assigned there built a small hospital out of a barrack structure and provided other social services.

The remains of the original Hospital Castañer.

After the war, the Brethren Service Committee continued the work there, including the formation of a Church of the Brethren congregation (Iglesia de los Hermanos). The hospital and congregation have both survived and thrived, exemplifying the meaning of community in its deepest sense.

1942 also marks the beginning of the Heifer Project, when Dan West’s idea of sending cows to people devastated by the Spanish Civil War was put into motion as a program of the Brethren Service Committee. With many heifers ready to ship by the end of 1943, shipping across the Atlantic was impossible with World War II underway. Already at work in Puerto Rico, the BSC chose this poverty-stricken island as the alternate destination for the first Heifer Project shipment.

CPS Camp #43 Director Rufus King worked closely with the Farm Security Administration in Puerto Rico to make arrangements. Sixteen heifers arrived in San Juan via ship July 22, 1944. They were distributed by the FSA in municipalities near San Juan to needy recipients who could support a cow. The cows offered many children in these families their first taste of milk.

The next year, on May 25, 1945, a larger shipment of 50 heifers arrived in San Juan. From this shipment, six heifers and one bull were allotted to the CPS Camp #43 sub-unit in Castañer. The heifers provided milk for the hospital and CPS workers and served as a demonstration dairy project for the resettled small farmers in the area. The bull served to improve the dairy stock of the surrounding communities.

A portion of Medford Neher’s mural depicting the history of Hospital Castañer highlights the Heifer Project shipment to Castañer of 1945.

At Saturday’s Heifer International celebration event, a roadside marker was placed near the old hospital to commemorate the site where the barn for this small dairy herd had been located.

Heifer International Vice President Jesús Pizarro; Lares, Puerto Rico, Mayor Hon. Roberto Pagán; and Church of the Brethren General Secretary David Steele unveil the marker commemorating Heifer International’s work in Puerto Rico.

In an afternoon celebration in the town square, two special gifts brought the 1942 developments of CPS Unit #43 and the Heifer Project full circle. General Secretary David Steele presented a check from the Church of the Brethren for $100,000 for the Castañer Hospital to the hospital’s Executive Director Domingo Monroig.

And in honor of Heifer International’s practice of “passing on the gift,” Steele and Heifer International Vice President Jesús Pizarro presented a bull calf to local high school agriculture student Erick Yadiel Rivera to give him a hand up in his aspirations of developing a dairy herd.

The celebration ended roundly for me on Sunday morning when I had the opportunity to meet a Heifer Project recipient at the Castañer church.

Yours truly with heifer recipient María Quiles Pérez and Jay Wittmeyer, Executive Director of Global Mission and Service for the Church of the Brethren and Board Member of Heifer International.

María Quiles Pérez was a young girl at the time her father, Benito Gonzalez Rivera, was granted a heifer. They lived in the Guyao sector of Adjuntas near Castañer. Gonzalez Rivera would have been one of the small farmers selected either by the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration or the Farm Security Administration to receive an animal. María recalls that they paid $3.00 a month for their heifer. This payment would have been through a loan from the FSA or PRRA to cover transportation costs and other expenses for the animal. For the first shipment, and likely the second, the total came to about $75.00 per heifer.

“Raising a family was hard at that time,” María says. “Our heifer was a gift from God.”

 

Happy 75th Annivesary, Heifer International!

Monday, July 14, will mark 75 years since Heifer International’s first shipment, which went to Puerto Rico. Their mission: Ending hunger and poverty while caring for the earth. Here’s how the organization looked at age 20:

An unidentified 1964 article. Courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

At age 75, with headquarters now in Little Rock, Arkansas, the basic objectives of the Heifer Project and its “passing on the gift” model remain; but the organization has matured to the point where today entire communities are transformed through Heifer’s assistance and guidance. Animals are no longer shipped from the United States; they are purchased in the region of assistance where they are acclimated to local conditions and resistant to local diseases.

To date, Heifer has helped more than 34 million families break the cycle of poverty. Their current fact sheet summarizes their work this way:

Heifer International is a global nonprofit dedicated to helping farming communities around the world lift themselves to self-reliance. We work with small-scale farmers worldwide to achieve living incomes, ensuring that they have adequate food, housing and other essential resources to lead decent and dignified lives. We assess needs at the community level and address these through inputs like animals and training that are compatible with market needs. Doing so enables small-scale farmers and farming communities to build successful businesses, thriving networks and resilient livelihoods. To strengthen our impact, we have aligned our goals with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, particularly zero hunger, zero poverty and gender equality.

One could wish Heifer International another 75 years of wonderful work, but it may be more fitting to say, “May you one day work yourselves out of a job through the achievement of your mission.” Happy Anniversary, Heifer International!

Special 4th of July Post: Heifer Project honored by German leader of displaced persons

As Americans celebrated our Independence Day circa 1960, a German newspaper reported that a resettled displaced German from World War II celebrated along with us. The translation of this inspiring story from the Heifer International archives follows (inserted photos were not a part of the article):

Thanks on the day of Independence for help in hard times

Langenhagen (a rural district of Hanover). Every year on July 4th one inhabitant of Langenhagen hoists the American flag in front on his one-family house. Already early in the morning, when the news vendors and the boys that bring the buns come, it flutters proudly at the high flagpole. Those who do not know the reason wonder and ask what that means, but the neighbors in the housing-estates street and many refugee farmers all over Lower Saxony know the reason. This flag is a symbol of thanks which one man here privately says to the American people. Thanks for 828 prolific heifers, given by USA farmers to refugee farmers in Lower Saxony in the postwar years, in order to help them to overcome their great losses.

Courtesy of Heifer International.

On July 4th, 1776, the declaration of independence of the USA was signed. Since then this day has been widely celebrated in the USA. Everybody who is in possession of a flag, hoists the flag; and thus Hans Moehrl, director of the Agrarian Department of the Confederation of Displaced Persons for the state of Lower Saxony also hoists the flag in his house at Langenhagen. “I just feel I must thank the American people for their help, and I thought I might express this thanks by celebrating with them their national holiday.”

He speaks with great emotion of the cattle gifts. Totally 3500 heifers (cows that calve for the first time) were brought into the Federal Republic of Germany. The churches of all confessions in the USA did this action jointly, and the children collected the money for the transport in the children’s services. The animals that were appointed for Lower Saxony were put up in the cattle-auction hall at Lehrte and during a festive hour they were given to the refugee farmers. Often a pastor accompanied the transport as cowboy, often the givers themselves came along and accompanied the animal as far as the new cow barn. The refugee farmers had to assume the obligation to give the first female calf to another refugee farmer, and thus a great deal of boon followed this action.

This newspaper clipping says: East Prussian farmer Hermann Kruger and his wife can, with special joy, thank their new friend, American pastor Edwin F. Riske (middle), for his gift of a heifer. Courtesy of Heifer International.

Mostly light-red Jersey heifers were concerned which are smaller than our black Ostfriesen. They also give less milk, but they distinguish themselves by a considerably higher fat content, often up to 8 percent. These cows are without horns, immediately after the birth the onsets are touched with potassium hydroxide, so they do not grow. Thus the animals become more peaceable. This is now also often done with German heifers.

Courtesy of Heifer International.

The USA farmers did not only help Germany. Since the Spanish Civil War, since 1938, they sent totally 10,112 items of cattle, 1520 pigs, 47 horses, 7744 goats, 1241 sheep, 358,162 hens, 310,657 eggs for incubation as well as many bee colonies, turkeys and rabbits, and other useful animals into 29 different countries. Every family that got an animal had to assume the obligation to give the firstborn to another person in need. Meanwhile this action has come to an end for Germany; but it continues undiminished for other countries that are in need.

Dan West – World War I Conscientious Objector

Today is International Conscientious Objection Day. There will be an ecumenical gathering this evening at the World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, commemorating those who were conscientious objectors in World War I. There was no alternative service at that time, so COs had to either serve within the military or go to prison. Dan West, the founder of Heifer International, was one of those men.

Dan was drafted into the U. S. Army in 1918. He entered service not knowing how far he could cooperate with the army. His experience became a defining moment in his life. Here is his story in his own words in a paper titled “Your Goals,” as told to a group of Brethren Volunteer Service workers years later:

       There was not any Alternative Service then, but I was a CO. After a few weeks I was transferred to the 39th Machine Gun Battalion. When I got there, I went to my new captain to get released. He cursed me hard, evidently to change my mind. But he didn’t.
A few hours later I went back with a new idea: to offer to go to the Ft Leavenworth Penitentiary. My captain did not curse me any more, but said he could not move me on then.
After a few hard weeks I was assigned to the Quartermaster Corps. There I did not kill anybody, but I felt a part of a killing machine. That still hurts my conscience, and I developed a new GOAL to work for peace-not for war. That has lasted ever since.

Dan became one of the most prominent voices for peace in the church and later became Peace Educator for the Church of the Brethren. In that role, he was selected to be the Church of the Brethren representative to a Quaker (Society of Friends) relief project in Spain during the Spanish Civil War in 1937 and 1938. Observing babies and tubercular children dying from a lack of milk while his babies back home were well fed made him determined to promote a plan to send cows to Spain, an idea hatched in discussions with colleagues in the relief project. Four years later, Dan’s plan was adopted by the Church of the Brethren District Men’s Work of Northern Indiana, then later by the denomination as a national plan which soon became ecumenical. The Heifer Project, as it was named, grew into today’s independent Heifer International.

Dan West distributes clothing to Spanish women and children affected by the Spanish Civil War, 1937. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

Would that more people would develop the goal “to do as much for peace as a soldier does for war,” another way Dan talked of his goal.

 

Main Street Elementary students have Heifer International at heart

Kudos to the Main Street Elementary School choir of Beavercreek, Ohio, for their performance last night to raise funds for Heifer International!

Main Street Elementary School concert, April 25, 2019.

 

 

With the theme “Sow it on the Mountain,” the students’ sang from the heart. Each song followed a narrative related to the history and work of Heifer International. Songs like “We Are the World,” “Happier,” “Imagine,” and “Sow it on the Mountain” all spoke of the students’ desire for a better world.

Sailor hats were donned after the telling of the seagoing cowboy history and worn throughout the rest of the concert. The students’ T-shirts highlighted the concert theme with this thought on their backs: “When we sow seeds of kindness we reap a world of peace.”

Main Street Elementary School concert, April 25, 2019.

The finale by the Main Street Pizzazz show choir included Naplan’s “Al Shlosha,” a Jewish maxim meaning “The world is sustained by three things, by truth, by justice, and by peace.” Beck’s “Best Day of My Life” wound the concert up in rousing style.

Main Street Elementary School concert, April 25, 2019.

 

The artwork created by the students to raise money for Heifer added to the charm of the evening. The choir students all had a hand in coloring in the squares on the caricatures of eight delightful animal heads drawn by the art instructor, depicting animals used in Heifer’s work.

Main Street Elementary School concert art work, April 25, 2019.

 

Kudos to choir director Anita Campbell and the choir members for an inspiring evening. And good luck to you at your competition tomorrow!

Dr. Martin M. Kaplan: Heifer International’s second seagoing cowboy delivers bulls to Greece, Part I

It was an eventful crossing of the Atlantic for seagoing cowboy and veterinarian Dr. Martin M. Kaplan. His “unusual mission” started the day World War II ended in Europe in May 1945.

With his veterinary degree and master’s degree in public health, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) hired Dr. Kaplan to accompany six pedigreed bulls to Greece. The bulls were a gift of the Heifer Project to service an insemination program of the Near East Foundation. Greece had lost 40% of its cattle during the war. The insemination program would help the Greek dairy industry recover.

After a long train ride from UNRRA headquarters in Washington, D.C., Kaplan arrived in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, the morning of Thursday, May 10, to meet his ship. However, when UNRRA contracted the Swedish vessel M/S Boolongena, the war was still on. “The neutral Swedes did not want to break rules by having a paying passenger on one of their freighters going into a war zone,” Kaplan says. So with his master’s in public health, UNRRA was able to sign Kaplan on as the ship’s doctor.

M/S Boolongena, 1952. Source: City of Vancouver Archives. Photographer: Walter Edwin Frost.

Kaplan soon met “the six crosses I would bear” and the man who had purchased them for the Brethren Service Committee, Benjamin Bushong. Bushong was to have tended the bulls until sailing, but an urgent development with the 50 heifers being gathered for Heifer Project’s next shipment to Puerto Rico pulled him away.

In Kaplan’s entertaining report to UNRRA, he says, “[The bulls] were in an isolated railroad car, 1½ miles away from the ship. All the feed and water were gone, ½ bale of hay remained, 2 bulls were completely unbroken, and darkness was approaching….After throwing this lapful at me, Bushong bid me a cheery good-bye, and assured me that I would have little trouble.”

Kaplan had the railroad car moved closer to the ship and procured feed and hay after which he endured “rain and snow for three days, a growing compost pile that assumed formidable proportions by the fourth day in the middle of the car, [and] six suspicious bulls.”

The Heifer Project’s six Brown Swiss pedigreed bulls after arrival in Greece, May 1945. Photo credit: UNRRA Photograph.

In the meantime, stalls were built under the forecastle deck, the location at the front of the ship that normally housed sailors’ living quarters. This meant having to get the bulls through a 2½-feet-wide doorway, “but it was the best location available,” Kaplan says.

Departure was set for Monday, May 14. At 6:00 a.m., two hours before loading time, Kaplan says, “I fed the animals heavily to dull the edge of their tempers for the forthcoming excitement (my drugs hadn’t as yet arrived). There was little difficulty in moving the animals individually from the railroad car directly into a horse-box, thence by means of a crane onto the deck. The delicate procedure was to lead them through a narrow doorway, up a 20 feet long wooden ramp, over obstacles reminiscent of a steeple chase, into their individual stalls.” This task fell to Kaplan when the longshoremen, normally the only ones allowed to touch the cargo during loading, “formally invited” Kaplan “to lead the bulls to their stalls. . . . I led four of them and was chased by two,” Kaplan says, “but they all ended up in their respective places with a net result of one slightly squashed finger.”

[to be continued in April 12 post]

Wayne Hostetler: Heifer International’s First Seagoing Cowboy Delivers Heifers to Puerto Rico

In this 75th anniversary year of Heifer International, I will be highlighting the seagoing cowboys who delivered Heifer’s early shipments. Find the story of Wayne Hostetler, Heifer’s first seagoing cowboy in 1944, here and here.

Wayne went on to serve the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration as a seagoing cowboy supervisor on the S. S. Bucknell Victory in February 1946, delivering 788 horses to Poland.

Next post: Heifer International’s second seagoing cowboy delivers bulls to Greece