A popular trend in philanthropy is the practice of providing live animals—goats, chickens, cows—to people in developing countries. The idea is that people in these countries use animals for food and to generate an income so they can buy food or improve their living conditions.

This is just one of the solutions that this church has engaged in for years through ELCA World Hunger  and other ministries. Many members support this work by making donations through ELCA Good Gifts, a catalog that highlights more than 50 ways to support these ministries—from sheep to water wells.

But how does this all work? Lending perspective to this discussion is Mary Marete, a native of Kenya and program director for sustainable development for ELCA Global Mission, and other churchwide program staff.

What are ELCA Good Gifts?
The Good Gifts catalog features items representing ELCA ministries in the U.S. and around the world. For all global projects, gifts are chosen based on needs identified by the ELCA’s companion churches and their communities, Marete said. Donations are combined to fund areas of work related to livestock, water or health care so each donation has the greatest impact.

What about the animals?
The animals of “God’s Global Barnyard” are the most popular gifts in the catalog. These gifts support training, education and resources to help communities purchase and care for animals and start small businesses selling eggs, meat or dairy products.

“Our main objective is to help communities build resilience and work toward a just world where all are fed. Livestock alone is rarely sufficient to create the transformation to meet those objectives. But livestock can create a great opportunity for capital growth, increased protein and cooperative access to markets,” said Dan Rift, director for World Hunger and Disaster Appeal.

How are projects with animals selected and how is it determined that this is the best answer to alleviate hunger in a community?
When World Hunger funds are disbursed to purchase goats, chickens and other animals, the recipients have requested them. “We listen to what our companions say they need,” Marete said. “We only give [grants for animals] where they are needed and requested.”

To ensure sustainability, she said staff discuss with partners such details as “How will you manage the environment? How can you use animal products such as manure to improve soil fertility or make biogas for cooking?”

Marete and other staff then review the proposal and make recommendations to improve the plan.

Do the recipients of livestock know how to take care of them?
Yes. The ELCA’s accompaniment approach to global mission also includes on-site visits to companion projects. “Most communities have technical people who can teach them,” Marete said. “The ELCA team occasionally organizes capacity building sessions to help companions plan, monitor and evaluate their projects.”

How do hungry farmers feed the animals when they can’t feed themselves?
The most popular animals—goats and chickens, for example—often don’t need special food, but graze on a little grass, sunflowers or corn, Marete said. In some instances farmers may sell their animals to make important purchases.

Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director for Global Mission, said, “In my recent travels to remote and marginalized communities in Malawi, I saw how goats are used as families’ ‘savings accounts.’ When there’s a need, a goat is sold to buy school supplies, medications and to make improvements to the family home.”

Are the animals ever mistreated?
Cruelty to animals is extremely rare, Marete said, adding, “People take good care of the animals; it’s their livelihood. They understand how to take care of them and they treat their animals well.”

Do these animals ever foster jealousy within a community?
Often the animals are raised by microfinance groups or cooperatives. ELCA companions in Malawi raise goats, whose milk is very nutritious, as part of a cooperative, Marete said. It’s a community effort where members receive training before the animals arrive and then they raise them together or at their own homes.

Many organizations now have similar programs. Why support this work through the ELCA?
The main difference, staff say, is that the church is already present and trusted: the ELCA has strong relationships and long-standing partnerships in nearly 90 countries. These partners identify local needs and solutions to support people in need and donors help make those dreams a reality.

“Supporting this work through ELCA World Hunger means yes to livestock and animal husbandry, as well as complementary agricultural efforts for food security, irrigation and advocacy, for example,” said Mikka McCracken, director for World Hunger planning and engagement. “[Our] approach addresses the root causes of poverty in collaboration with our global partners.”

See an example of ELCA Good Gifts in action here.

Laurel Hensel
Hensel, a member of St. Luke Lutheran Church, Park Ridge, Ill., is director of communications for Presence Health Foundation in Chicago.

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