Officially, the Little Rock, Arkansas River Trail Trolley is described as "Replicas of vintage trolleys [that] transport people between Little Rock and North Little Rock downtowns. Attractions being serviced include Verizon Arena, the Statehouse Convention Center, the River Market, hotels, restaurants, the Historic Arkansas and Discovery Museums, Robinson Center Music Hall and Riverfront Park and Amphitheater. Also en route is the Clinton Presidential Center and Heifer Project International World Headquarters."
Our main interest in the trolley this afternoon was to rest our weary feet after a lengthy walk through the River Market area of Little Rock. As we climbed off the trolley at the end of the line, we realized that we were just across the street from the World Headquarters of Heifer International.
Heifer International is one of our favorite charities which we have supported since we were small children. In those days, it was called Heifer Project and was a very small program of the Church of the Brethren, our church family. Its philosophy was to help the poor and hungry of the world help themselves. The practice of the organization was to give a poor family a live animal instead of a hand-out. The only requirement was that they "pass on the gift," that is, donate the animal's first offspring to a needy neighbor.
The program is now known as Heifer International. Since the 1970s, it has become an independent, ecumenical, and worldwide development agency with International Headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas. Although we have supported Heifer International generously over many years, we had never visited its offices. We decided it was high time we did so, so that became Stop # 13 in our summer journey for 2013.
This sculpture near the entrance walk begins to orient the visitor to the purpose, philosophy and practice of the agency. A woman, carrying a lamb, peacefully walks with three other sheep across a bridge. Heifer's original purpose and philosophy have not changed. The agency is still committed to fight hunger and poverty by the donation of live animals, but their practice has expanded well beyond the original program.
The types of animals donated now include sheep, goats, pigs, horses, guinea pigs, honey bees, llamas, camels, and water buffalo as well as cattle. Instruction in proper care is given with each animal donated.
Heifer International's attempts to eradicate hunger and poverty has branched out into several other areas of development as well. Health care and disease prevention, including immunizations, has become a major focus. Another is nutritional education and guidance and the provision of pure drinking water. An emphasis on sustainable agriculture emphasizes planting or re-planting of trees where forests have been cut and the use of animal waste for crop fertilizer.
Perhaps the major emphasis in the international development efforts of Heifer International is education. They provide "schools in a box" for children in third world countries without access to public education, and encourage the education of girls and women in many countries where this is not available.
But perhaps the greatest challenge for Heifer International is to educate those of us who do not personally experience poverty, hunger, malnutrition, disease or lack of education and sensitize us to those realities. For millions of the world's citizens those conditions are a daily reality but there are ways we can help to improve their lives. Financial support of self-help charities like Heifer International is one way.
What an exciting and informative day for us in Little Rock, Arkansas.