SOCIAL GOOD: A Hidden Gem, Heifer International’s Heifer Farm

SOCIAL GOOD: A Hidden Gem, Heifer International’s Heifer Farm

heifer Collage

One day I was in New York City at the United Nations among World Leaders, and the next in rural Massachusetts milking a goat. Though the two may seem totally unrelated, they are actually intertwined. It will take both the efforts of world leaders and small share farm holders for the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals to ever succeed. As a social good writer I had been to New York City for UN General Assembly week and the Social Good Summit, and then to Heifer International’s Farm located in rural Rutland, Massachusetts, where World Moms Blog had been invited to their first ever Media Day.

The new set of Global Goals are focused on sustainability which is one of the cornerstones of Heifer International’s approach. Heifer International was founded by Dan West based on his experience as a relief worker. He realized the aid work he was doing needed a new model to help those in need become self-sufficient as opposed to continually reliant on aid. As a farmer he knew that a gift of livestock was a gift that would keep on giving. A heifer refers to a pregnant cow, and in 1944 the first dairy cattle were shipped, and Heifer International born.

“Heifer International is a non-profit, humanitarian organization dedicated to ending hunger and poverty and caring for the earth. Heifer currently provides livestock, trees, seeds and training in environmentally sound agriculture to families in 30 countries, including the United States. We work with smallholder farming families and communities because we believe they are key to feeding us all.”- Heifer International

The goal of Heifer International is to help communities transform themselves through education, environmental stewardship, empowerment of women in the community, and the legacy of passing on generations of animals and knowledge. This in turn generates the accomplishment of the once recipient turning into a donor in their community.


At World Moms Blog we have written about Heifer International in the past, included Heifer International in gift guides, and followed their trip last summer to Malawi with our friends at ONE Girls and Women. We had no idea however that Heifer International had a farm to showcase their programs this close to home. As it turns out, just over an hour from where I live is this hidden gem of global education!

At Heifer Farm in Rutland Massachusetts we toured the flourishing ¾ acre farm garden where we were encouraged to pull vegetables out of the ground and taste as we went along. A delicious fresh beet hummus, with a rainbow of carrot colors I had no idea they grew in, was served.  Apparently the massive size of the vegetables grown at Heifer Farm has to do with the rich soil quality based on the farming techniques used,  the same techniques taught to small share farmers working with Heifer International around the world. After the garden tour we had lunch in Peru.

Peru is one of the eight global villages at Heifer Farm that provide experiential, hands on learning through programs ranging from day trips to week-long camps for all ages. We then meandered through China and Ghana on our way to the barn. This brings us back to milking the goat, and to the tiny baby piglets we got to hold, and all I could think was how crazy my kids would have been for everything. I can not wait to bring them back to experience Heifer Farm! Other Heifer International sites in the US include Heifer Ranch in Perryville, and Heifer Village in Little Rock, Arkansas. If you ever have the chance to visit, I highly recommend it. If you do be sure to bring the kids, after all they are the future generation who will be seeing these new Sustainable Development Goals through to 2030.  Global Goals that all stakeholders will need to be involved in, large and small.


This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Elizabeth Atalay who also writes at


Elizabeth Atalay

Elizabeth Atalay is a Digital Media Producer, Managing Editor at World Moms Network, and a Social Media Manager. She was a 2015 United Nations Foundation Social Good Fellow, and traveled to Ethiopia as an International Reporting Project New Media Fellow to report on newborn health in 2014. On her personal blog,, she uses digital media as a new medium for her background as a documentarian. After having worked on Feature Films and Television series for FOX, NBC, MGM, Columbia Pictures, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, and Castle Rock Pictures, she studied documentary filmmaking and anthropology earning a Masters degree in Media Studies from The New School in New York. Since becoming a Digital Media Producer she has worked on social media campaigns for non-profits such as Save The Children, WaterAid,, UNICEF, United Nations Foundation, Edesia, World Pulse, American Heart Association, and The Gates Foundation. Her writing has also been featured on, Johnson & Johnson’s,,, and Elizabeth has traveled to 70 countries around the world, most recently to Haiti with Artisan Business Network to visit artisans in partnership with Macy’s Heart of Haiti line, which provides sustainable income to Haitian artisans. Elizabeth lives in New England with her husband and four children.

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Background on Nigeria

Nigeria is a land of conflict and contrast. Since it’s civil war in the late 1960’s and even earlier, this country is no stranger to acts of violence and tragedy.

According to an article from CNN written by Faith Karimi , “Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation with 175 million people living within its borders. It is a key partner to the U.S., is rich in oil, and a major trading partner with China.”

According to Wikipedia, “it [Nigeria] has one of the highest economic growth rates in the world at 7.4% over the last decade, but it has retained its high level of poverty at 63% of its people living at or below $1 a day. It’s two main resources are oil and agriculture. However, oil contributes to government revenues and about 15 percent of the Gross National Product and only employs a fraction of the population. Agriculture revenues go to 45 percent of the Gross National Product but employ about 90 percent of the population.

Nigeria’s government provides Nigeria’s states and local governments with autonomy including 50 percent of government revenues as well as responsibility for public services. But, lack of stringent regulator and monitoring systems has allowed for rampant corruption. It has hindered past poverty alleviation efforts and will continue to do so since resources meant for public goods or directed towards investments (and so create employment and other opportunities for citizens) are being misappropriated.”

Add the fact of centuries of tribal rivalry and war and you can understand why Nigeria is where it is today.

Southern Nigeria

The southern part of Nigeria is made up mostly of Yoruba and Igbo peoples (Nigerian tribes). Most Nigerians in this part of the country are Christian and there are a few Muslims, and this part of the country has embraced western ways.

Northern Nigeria

In the North, there are many Hausa people (Nigerian tribe). It is a much heavier Muslim population. For the most part, the Muslim population in the Northern part of Nigeria is peaceful and follows the teaching of Mohammed and his peaceful ways. However, there is a small sect of Islamic Militants who are enforcing Sharia law (Islamic Law) over the majority through terror and violence. Unfortunately, this group is usually what puts Nigeria in the headlines. This group is called Boko Haram and their name means “ Western education is a sin.” in Hausa.

Like so many religious leaders who have called for violence under the cover of religion, that is exactly what this terrorist sect is trying to do. According to an article written by Rosie Collyer for Nigeria Report in November 24, 2011, “people manipulate the system for political and religious reasons,” she adds. “And the average person either doesn’t understand the system or doesn’t have the means [financial], required to navigate it.” (quote from Remi Atunwa, practicing Muslim and barrister in Northern Nigeria).

According to an article written by Faith Karimi for CNN entitiled “ Boko Haram: A Bloody Insurgency, A Growing Challenge”, “Boko Haram was founded 12 years ago by Muhummad Yusuf. He was killed in 2009 by the military forces. After the killing of its leader, Boko Haram became even more defiant and a new leader for the organization came to power named Abubukar Shekeu.”

As stated before, anyone can manipulate something for different reasons and that is what is happening with Boko Haram and it’s interpretation of Sharia Law. Right now, 9 states in the north are under full Sharia law and 3 states have some form of Sharia law in the Muslim population.

Some may ask, how can the people in northern Nigeria agree to these practices? Most people in the north do not support Boko Haram but there is some sympathy for Sharia law according to Faith Karimi in her article for CNN. She reports that “there is much sympathy because many Muslims in the north see it as the only way to end an inept, corrupt government.”

She goes on to report,” Poverty is prevalent in the North region. The military is trying to halt Boko Harams’s attacks but the group is winning the most important battle: Making Nigerians question government competency.” She continues to report that Boko Haram has been responsible for several attacks in Nigeria ; the most recent ones being in 2011 with a suicide bombing in Abuja (Nigeria’s capital) outside the United Nations building which killed 25 people. In November, several Christian women (pregnant and others with small children) were kidnapped and later returned. And most recently a few weeks ago, Boko Haram was responsible for blowing up a bus station in Abuja and killing 71 people.


As a result of Sharia law, this militant group believes that girls should not be educated and should be married off which led to the capture and abduction of over 200 girls from a government school in Chibok, a city in the north of Nigeria.

The fact that these girls were attending school at all meant that each day they were putting their lives in danger for something that we, in the west, take for granted. With each passing day, the likelihood of the girls returning gets smaller and smaller.

Some parents of the kidnapped girls are afraid to talk to the police for fear that their daughters will be harmed by the militant group. The fact that they are too afraid to talk to the police only strengthens what is already widely known to many Nigerians: they cannot trust the government to do their jobs. But, in turn, without cooperation from the parents to supply any kind of vital information, it becomes less likely for the police to do their job at all. And so, the cycle of ineptitude continues…

In a book I recently read entitled “Every Day is For the Thief” by Teju Cole, a Nigerian author, he says there is a saying in Nigeria that says “idea l’a need” which means “all we need is the general idea or concept.” I saw this many times myself while living in Lagos. When Lagos state instituted a law saying that all okada (motorcycle) drivers and their passengers had to wear helmets, the drivers wore mopping buckets on their heads and the passengers riding the okadas simply held a helmet, bowl or bucket over their heads (who had just had their hair done simply held a bucket over their head without it even touching their heads) because it was the idea that they had a helmet…it didn’t actually have to function. There are so many things like that which I observed happen while I lived in Nigeria.

My hope is that President Goodluck Jonathan does not take the approach of “idea l’a need”.

I hope he doesn’t think just by doing his one press conference on Sunday that he somehow fulfilled the concept of what a president should do to help his people and will actually be a functioning president to do something to get these girls back to their homes. The whole world is his stage right now, and we are all watching this performance unfold. It is time for the government of Nigeria to show the world it can function and that it cares for its people and their desperate needs. It needs to function to protect its children.

These kidnappings are a cry to the world that the people in Nigeria are desperate, and if the Nigerian government ignores the poverty and ineptness in its government too long, the people of that country will only see what they already know in their hearts. They will witness a government that is there in concept only and not really there to take care of its people.

For more information on what you can do to help, see our previous post, Standing in Solidarity to #BRINGBACKOURGIRLS.

What are your thoughts on what is happening in Nigeria? Anything you’d like to add to this post? 

This is an original post by Meredith. You can check out Meredith’s life as an expat in Nigeria and her transition back to life in the U.S. on her blog at

Photo credit to Flickr creative commons and

Articles used in the writing of this article include:


“Boko Karam:A Bloody Insurgency, A Growing Challenge” by Faith Karimi CNN April 22, 2014

“Sharia favours the Rich, Claim Nigerian Rights Activists” Nigeria Report November 24, 2011 by Rosie Collyer

Every Day is for the Thief” by Teju Cole (novel)

Meredith (USA)

Meredith finds it difficult to tell anyone where she is from exactly! She grew up in several states, but mainly Illinois. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana which is also where she met her husband. She taught kindergarten for seven years before she adopted her son from Guatemala and then gave birth to her daughter two years leter. She moved to Lagos, Nigeria with her husband and two children in July 2009 for her husband's work. She and her family moved back to the U.S.this summer(August 2012) and are adjusting to life back in the U.S. You can read more about her life in Lagos and her adjustment to being back on her blog: We Found Happiness.

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