Passing the gift of self-reliance to farmers

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Passing the gift of self-reliance to farmers


There is a distinct similarity between the goats that were sent to South Korea in 1954, after the Korean War, and the goats that the Korean youths donated to Nepali youths in Dahding District, Nepal, on June 17. [HEIFER INTERNATIONAL, CHOI SEUNG-SHIK]

Sixty-nine years ago, on June 25, 1950, the Korean War (1950-53) broke out following a surprise attack from the North, deluging the Korean Peninsula in blood.

According to the Institute of Military History of the Ministry of National Defense, a total of 876,636 soldiers from both sides, excluding kidnapping and disappearances, were killed, and the civilian casualties from the North and South combined reached 2.49 million including injuries, kidnapping and disappearances.

But it wasn’t just people that were affected. Livestock including cattle, pigs, chickens, goats, dairy cows and sheep were also nearly wiped out as a result of the war.

According to the “Report on 70 Years of Agriculture and Rural Areas,” published by the Korea Rural Economic Institute, the number of Korean native cattle, or Hanwoo, dropped sharply from 610,000 in 1949 to 390,000 at the end of the war, and the number of dairy cows decreased from 1,006 to 780, respectively.

The Korean dairy industry, which began with the first arrival of 20 Holstein dairy cows in 1902, collapsed as the result of the war. It was in 1962, nine years after the war ended, that the government introduced policies to boost the livestock and dairy industry.

With the establishment of Namyang Dairy Products in 1964, and Maeil Dairies, formally known as Korea Dairy Processing, in 1969, the dairy industry began to rebuild slowly. By 2017, the number of Hanwoo and dairy cows also increased to 3.42 million and 400,000, respectively. Per capita consumption of milk increased from 1.6 kilograms (3 pounds 8 ounces) in 1970 to 79.5 kilograms in 2017, and the consumption of meat increased from 3.6 kilograms in 1957 to 49.1 kilograms in 2017, the level of a developed country.

However, even though it is true that the Korean government and farmers made great efforts to revive the livestock industry that was virtually destroyed during the war, not many people are aware of the fact that a helping hand from overseas made a great difference.


Left: Heifer International sent cows to Korea in 1972. Center: Eight Korean Farmers including Lee Jae-bok, back row fourth from left, visited Heifer headquarters in 1988 to express their gratitude. Right: Lee Jae-bok and his son Lee In-ho, continue his father’s legacy in Andong. [HEIFER INTERNATIONAL, CHOI SEUNG-SHIK]

Not a cup, but a cow

Dan West (1893-1971), a Christian farmer born in Ohio, witnessed the devastation of war while volunteering during the Spanish Civil War of 1939, where his job was to provide weary refugees with a cup of milk. After returning from volunteer service, he searched for ways to help the hungry.

West founded Heifer International, a charitable nonprofit relief organization in 1944. He believed that helping impoverished farmers to become independent by raising livestock, instead of simply providing a free glass of milk, was a more effective way to end world hunger and poverty.

This “not a cup, but a cow” thought is the founding philosophy behind Heifer, whose name literally means a female cow. He put the maxim “teach a man to fish” into practice. Sharing Heifer’s philosophy, former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Microsoft founder Bill Gates are active supporters.

Heifer, responding to requests for aid, pooled its resources to help the Korean Peninsula devastated by the war. With the United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency, Heifer planned the “Hatching Eggs for Korea” project and on April 4, 1952, the first shipment of 210,000 fertilized eggs arrived in Korea and all of the eggs were distributed to various hatcheries around the country. Hatched chicks grew into hens, and they in turn laid more eggs which fed the war orphans.

By 1954, Heifer sent 331 pigs, 222 goats, 70 chickens, 500 rabbits and 200 beehives to Korea.

From 1952 to 1976, Heifer, in 44 shipments, sent a total of 3,200 livestock to 17 regions around the nation. Among them were 897 dairy cows and 58 oxen, including one sent by former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, shipped in the early 60s.

According to the internal data obtained through Heifer headquarters, the livestock were sent to places like Aeawon Orphanage and Isabelle Orphanage in Busan, and Aeriwon Orphanage in Masan, South Gyeongsang. Some were also distributed to animal husbandry farms and Yonsei University.

These livestock were treated with extra care and shipped to Korea on navy transport ships bearing the names of past U.S. presidents, reminiscent of the Noah’s Ark scene in the Bible.

Revival of the livestock industry

In 1976, Heifer pulled out from Korea. The decision was based on Heifer’s assessment that the Korean livestock industry had recovered to the extent that it could be sustained on its own.

Coincidentally, for the first time that year gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of South Korea, which was $807, surpassed that of North Korea, which was $772. Korea and the United States were not only security allies who fought and shed blood together during the Korean War, but also “economic allies,” rebuilding the livestock industry together to deal with the hunger and poverty of the postwar era.

Lee Jae-bok, an 82-year-old farmer from Andong, North Gyeongsang, still remembers Heifer.

“The Heifer missionaries taught young farmers livestock farming techniques at an agricultural and livestock academy run by the ‘Union Christian Service Center’ established in Dajeon in 1949,” said Lee. “The farmers, geared up with the training, essentially became the driving force behind the revamp of the livestock and dairy industry.”

Lee also went back to his hometown and attained his livestock insemination technician license in 1969, and entered the livestock industry in 1973 with two dairy cows donated by Heifer sponsors.

“Thanks to Heifer’s gift, I was able to escape poverty,” he said.

In 1988, eight Korean farmers, including Lee, visited Heifer in the United States to express their gratitude. In 1989, they collected and donated a total of $7,300, the amount needed to purchase a single dairy cow, to a rural village in Sichuan Province in China.

Lee said, “Heifer Executives at the headquarters were quite moved.”

He further recollected, “They said they would never have imagined Korean farmers who suffered from the war would one day return the gift they received to a poor village community in a neighboring country.”

“Because of the Korean War, both humans and livestock suffered greatly,” Lee told the reporter. “However, thanks to Heifer sponsors who sent us animals, we were able to rise again from the ruins and rebuild the Korean livestock industry.”

He added, “We must remember the gift we received. We drink milk like water these days, and we have plenty of meat to eat. As we received the Heifer gift, we must pass on the gift to poor neighboring countries.”

Lee’s remarks reminded the reporter of the old Korean saying that one must “think of the source of the water while drinking the water.”

In fact, South Korea received approximately $12.8 billion via official development assistance (ODA) from the international community over the 50 years since the end of the Korean War in 1953 to 1999.

With the help of ODA, Korea was able to graduate from the World Bank loan status in 1995.

And in 2010 Korea officially joined the advanced nations’ assistance club, transitioning from its former aid recipient status to being recognized as a donor nation. Nepal is a key partner country that the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) works with. The Korean government’s ODA to Nepal amounts to $13 million per year, and NGO projects are over 8 billion won annually.

Practicing gratitude in Nepal

The reporter recently accompanied Korean youths who went to Nepal as volunteers to help children and farmers in rural areas. They were members of “Hope for Nepal,” a non-profit organization that Justin Won-young Chang, a 19-year-old freshman at Dartmouth College, established following the 2015 Nepal earthquake with the aim to help the disaster stricken Nepali children. They brought donations raised through their schools. Seoul International School students sent $5,000 through Heifer’s “read to feed” program, and students from Saint Paul Preparatory Seoul raised $2,000.

On June 16, the group visited a school in the district of Chitwan, a southern region of Nepal, and met 10 Nepali girls and presented a scholarship and a school bag to each of them filled with school supplies. The girls who received the gifts were shy but could not hide their joy. Ajina Chepang, a 13-year-old girl in sixth grade, dreams of becoming an English teacher.

She wakes up at 4 a.m. and gets ready for school. Every day, she walks 4 hours down from her house located high up in the mountains and reaches school at 10 a.m. She has classes until 3 p.m., and then walks back 4 hours up the mountains to her home.

Her older sister, currently 17-years-old, had to drop out of school when she was Ajina’s age because their family didn’t have enough money to send her.

Regeena Regmi, an associate communications officer at Heifer Nepal, said, “Nepali girls must continue schooling in order for them and their families to have a future.”

Lim Soo-bin, a member of Hope for Nepal, said, “I am guaranteed of learning opportunities. I never truly appreciated what I had. For Nepali girls, that is not the case. I am going to study hard and will continue to help people in need.”

On June 17, the reporter visited Chapkhola, a Nepali mountain village located 1,000 meters (3281 feet) above sea level in Dhading District, and met farmers who were fighting hard against poverty.

In August 2017, Heifer Nepal donated 50 goats to 25 farmers as part of the “Passing on the Gift” program. Since then, the farmers have increased that number to 213 goats, which they donated to four neighboring villages.

On the day of our visit, the Passing on the Gift celebration took place. Villagers from the Origin Group passed on the goats to the Passing on the Gift group of the neighboring village. It was a monumental moment when self-reliance and independence evolved into cooperation and partnership. It was truly a moving scene, a testimony to the spreading of “dandelion puffs of hope.”

The per capita GDP of Nepal, which has a population of 29.3 million as of 2017, is only about $1,030. However, the Nepali economy grew by approximately 3.6 percent over the past three years. Their goal is to leave the ranks of least-developed countries by 2022, and to become a middle-income country by 2030.

As was the case of Korea, if the Nepali government works toward building a sound economy while the global community extends the support it needs, there is no reason why Nepal cannot achieve the growth Korea achieved and become the second Korea.

Kwon Huck-ju, a professor at the Seoul National University’s Graduate School of Administration and president of the Korean Association of International Development and Cooperation pointed out that, “OECD member countries spend 0.3 percent of their gross national income (GNI) on ODA, while Korea accounts for 0.14 percent as of 2017. We need to increase the amount to 0.25 percent as we promised the international society at the time of joining OECD.”

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