Special Post: Korea brings the Heifer Project full circle

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War, scars of which still remain today. In memory of that time, a major Korean media outlet has posted a series of three articles by reporter Hong Duk-hwa and a YouTube video this week about how Heifer Project, Inc., today’s Heifer International, stepped into the fray.

Korean Heifer supporter Haewon Lee tells me, “All three articles highlight how HPI and Heifer’s Seagoing Cowboys, undiscovered ‘heroes’ of the Korean War, helped to reconstruct the war-stricken Korean livestock industry and farmers.”

Google’s rough translation of the titles are: 1) “Operation ‘Noah’s Ark’ reviving the ruins of the Korean livestock industry,” 2) “The story of a cowboy driving a herd of cows across the Pacific Ocean,” 3) “When the gift of livestock is hopeful to us who have been dead…now it’s time to give.” If you’d like to take a look at the original articles with photos, the links are posted below. (You can ask Google to translate if you don’t read Korean. The translation is rough, but you can get the gist.)

HPI began its shipments to Korea in the midst of the war with approximately 210,000 hatching eggs sent by air in April 1952. Airlifts of goats and hogs followed in June with more in 1953 before the war’s end. Shipments by sea, including cattle, began in 1954, with the last shipments by air in 1976.

L. to R. Thurl Metzger, Bill Reiche of the United Nations, and United Nations Ambassador at Large from South Korea Ben C. Limb at Midway Airport in Chicago, sending the hatching eggs on their way April 1, 1952. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

Thurl Metzger, Executive Secretary of HPI when these shipments began, traveled to Korea in the autumn of 1951 to survey the needs there. After the successful shipments of hatching eggs, he said in a news release: “My recent tour of Korea convinces me that the longer the conflict continues, the greater the need. Therefore, we must not relax our efforts because [truce] negotiations seem to be at a standstill.”

“The war has brought about wholesale destruction of livestock,” he said in background material sent with the release. “Shortage of work cattle has made it impossible to cultivate many of the rice paddies and fields. The rural economy has also suffered near bankruptcy due to the fact that farmers have been deprived of their chickens and hogs which heretofore had provided significant income.” He underscored the fact that “Lack of proper animal protein in the Korean diet has also become a serious threat to public health.”

A letter of gratitude sent to Metzger in July 1968 from the Union Christian Service Center in Taejon, Korea, quantifies the value of Heifer’s gifts to Korea. “The total value of this stock and supplies, according to prices in Korea today, we estimate to nearly reach half million dollars.” This does not “consider the value of the offspring from all the livestock imported. Therefore,” the four signees concluded, “within several years, we would estimate the total help to Korea originating from your contribution as high as a million dollars.”

And today, as seen in the third of the Korean articles this week, Koreans are bringing their gifts from Heifer full circle. The article tells the story of Heifer recipient Jae-bok Lee, now a successful dairy farmer at age 83. In 1988, Mr. Lee and eight fellow dairy farmers traveled to Heifer International headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas, to share their experience. “After returning home,” the article says, “Mr. Lee collected $7,300 to buy 8 cows and donated them to farmhouses in Sichuan, China in 1989.”

Today Mr. Lee says, “I don’t know how long I will work (healthy), but I want to play a role in delivering the gift of hope to the developing countries (like us at that time).”

Heifer International’s core value of “Passing on the Gift” has come full circle in Korea, a demonstration of how giving to Heifer International is exponential.

Watch for stories here in July of seagoing cowboys to Korea.

P.S. I’m adding a link to a Yonhap News TV report with remarkable historical video footage: Not a Cup, But a Cow: Seagoing Cowboys crossed the sea to Korea