Students and professors from the University of Montana learn about how people are dealing with life and livelihoods under dynamic conditions

Not a Cup, But a Cow


“Not a Cup, But a Cow”

By Rachel Dickson

ImageThe community flourished in front of me. Healthy cows and chickens inhabited HeiferCow_0398most household yards, and smiles covered faces of youth and adults. Long rods and strips of bamboo lay across the earth, waiting to be woven into baskets, chicken coops, roofs, house supports, or cattle pens. Rice dried in the sun, flowers blossomed over fences, and houses were well developed and taken care of. Everywhere we went, we seemed to be followed by multiple families inviting us into their homes.RiceDrying_649

Our trip was two years in the making. We were the first international group to visit the Heifer Project in Soc Trang province, Vietnam. Heifer International is a humanitarian non-governmental organization with the mission to “work with communities to end hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth.” Straw&Hat_0414Heifer Vietnam is dedicated to assisting poor and disadvantaged families with the intent of creating long-term sustainability instead of short-term relief. To accomplish their mission, Heifer Vietnam provides trainings, group activities, micro loans, and cows or chickens.

KhmerWomen_648There are thirty members who are a part of this Heifer community. Eighty percent of the village is Khmer, one of the main ethnic minorities existing within Vietnam. This community was chosen by Heifer International because of their previous social, environmental, and economic disadvantages. KhmerChildrenHeiferSocTrang_0436Heifer offers trainings on the environment, livestock feeding and grazing techniques, human health, common cattle diseases, gender equality, and reproduction. During our discussion, one woman who had gone through the trainings described her role as a woman as powerful, HenHeifer_0419saying that she wanted to keep learning. A majority of the community is illiterate, so the children will teach their parents by reading and taking notes at the trainings. This enables the children to learn and at the same time strengthens family connection through education.

KhmerWomanWeavingBasket_0407The program requires regular monthly meetings where every member in the project must make a contribution to create a general group savings fund. This fund can then be used by community members for investments in projects that will generate income or it can be used for emergency situations. Heifer Vietnam does so much more then supplying the community with physical goods; they also provide education, awareness, financial security, and crucial skills for farming and raising a healthy family.


RachelWeavingBasket_0413Heifer Vietnam provides families with revolving funds and an input of animals so the family has the basic support to build a lifestyle around. So far, the community has raised 200 chickens and 17 cattle. An animal is truly the gift that keeps on giving. HeiferCows&Calf_0390Heifer requires the first calf born from a family’s heifer to be given to another family within the community. That family then raises the calf and breeds it to produce a calf for another family and more calves for their own use. The internal reproduction of the cattle and chickens makes the project very sustainable and locally dependent.

Money from the central investment fund can be used to fund projects such as bamboo weaving. We visited several homes where the women wove an average of three chicken coops per day. KhmerWomanWeavingBasket_0409The community’s crafts are gathered by one person and sold at a market for a net profit that is then redistributed. This centralized collection of profit and goods is yet another way that the community continues to be strengthened by a structure focused on localization.

Heifer Vietnam is a model for future change for communities around Vietnam and the rest of the world. Internal dependence and community connectivity is extremely important in the face of a changing climate. After seeing the strength and health of this village, I now feel that there is hope for communities to survive the onslaught of climate change.


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