Heifer International is one of my favorite charities. They offer you the chance to do something practical and instant that positively impacts a village a world away. Go to their site and buy a goat, or a chicken, or a water buffalo, — whatever you can afford — and you are relieving poverty for a family, and possibly an entire community. It's simple, fast, and effective. In their own words,

"Heifer International is a global nonprofit humanitarian assistance organization working to help end hunger and poverty and at the same time protect the environment and care for the Earth. Heifer provides living gifts of area-appropriate livestock and training in environmentally sound agricultural practices to families in need to help lift themselves out of poverty to become self-reliant."

When I heard that they had sent two young sisters from Los Angeles to Rajasthan, India to learn about community service in a whole new light, I was fascinated. The girls traveled to five villages, took photos, kept journals, and participated in a goat distribution ceremony. They did this all with the intention of returning home to share what they learned and to raise awareness and funding for Heifer India. These two young women learned about women's rights, economics, animal husbandry, and community building in a way they would never have at home. I couldn't wait to hear what 13-year-old Paloma had to say about her experience.

What brought you to India?

"I went with my family to visit some projects with Heifer International. They hand out animals all across the world to help people in need. We do community service projects in my school, and this seemed like a really cool way to help people and learn about how people live in another country. I took a lot of pictures and kept a journal about the trip to share on a new kids' blog for Heifer."

Tell us about some of the differences between India and the U.S.

"The houses in India are made with straw, mud, and clay, and in Los Angeles there are buildings made of concrete, and we have skyscrapers. They don't have those in Rajasthan. And the food is so different. There's a lot of rice, and sauces, and curries, and spices. They just go outside to their kitchen garden and that's what they use to cook with. And it's seasonal, so they have different foods at different times of the year. In America, we have food for every different season all the time. And a lot of our food is fried."

Anything else?

"The music was different. It was interesting to see all of the women singing and stuff in their villages. Whereas here, no one just randomly walks outside singing a big song and everybody joins in. I thought that was very nice. I liked all of their singing, even though it wasn't perfect."

Did you learn a lot about Heifer International on your trip?

"Definitely. I learned that Heifer teaches women and gives them an education. And then after some training, they get goats, and they can milk the goats and make money from selling the goats' offspring. I think that just getting that little bit of education after never having an education their whole entire life has changed their lives."

Can you explain what Heifer calls "Passing on the Gift?"

"After the women get goats, and their goats have offspring, what they do is they hand one of the goats they owned to someone else, and then another group of ladies will have someone else's goats, and it just goes on and on, and they keep on passing to different groups."

How is life different for women in India?

"In America, the women get a lot more freedoms. They can go and start their own businesses and be successful at their jobs and most of them went to school. The gender training we went to really opened my eyes to see how tied back the women were in India. They had a volunteer come up in front of the group, and the group leader tied her up with cloth, covering the parts that she had to block and keep secret when going outside of her house. They covered her mouth because she couldn't cook anything that she wanted to. She had to cook what her husband wanted, and she couldn't eat until everyone else was finished, so sometimes she wouldn't even get food to eat. It made me feel sad and realize what these women were going through, through just a piece of cloth."

Did you learn anything else that surprised you?

"How much money these people make. One lady that we interviewed at the first village was saying that they weren't making any money at all, or maybe 10 rupees a month. And then after the program, they started saving 50 rupees a month, and then 100 rupees a month. 100 rupees is only like $2 in America. That kind of shocked me because I couldn't imagine living on $2 a month. She said she had three kids and a husband, and she'd cook for all of them so I thought that was very inspiring, how she does that. It makes me appreciate my life more."

Tell us about the kids in the villages you visited.

"The kids were really sweet and they loved to have their picture taken. They'd just run right up to you. It was really cool how they made their own toys with bottles, sticks, and other things they could find. The toys were fascinating because they were so unique and creative. It made me appreciate what I have more, knowing that stuff that I have, these kids would only dream about having."

How would you compare this trip with the other community service you've done?

"Before, for community service, I did this organization called Food on Foot. It's similar to what Heifer does. With Food on Foot, the guy that runs it inspires the homeless people to go pick up the trash around Hollywood and every time they pick up trash, they earn something — like food, or bus tokens. And after they have been doing it for a certain amount of time, they start to get privileges and more stuff, and when they've done it for a while, sometimes Food on Foot will even get them an apartment and a job. I think that's kind of what Heifer does, too. Instead of having the women pick up trash, they get taught and they learn new things. After they've done all the training, they get rewards, just like the homeless people. They get a goat or some type of animal that can help make their lives better."

Why is Heifer's work important?

"Heifer shows that one goat that we hand out can change a woman's whole life. People don't realize that these women are suffering and how they live. Women who never get to do anything that they want to do or didn't get a chance to become something now get a second chance to earn money and call something their own. They also get somewhat of an education to make their lives better and their kids' lives better. I think more people should read about it and learn about it and see different ways that they can help."

What was your favorite part of the trip?

"I think my favorite part was the first village that we went to on the first day, because we got to hand out the goats. I thought it was very touching because one woman came up to my mom crying and said that she didn't think people like us would come to watch her get her goats, or to help her, and I thought that's very interesting and sweet."

What can kids at home do for Heifer?

"Kids could talk to their principals or teachers, and could maybe have a little table to collect donations. If everyone donates $10, then they could chip in together to buy goats for people in need. And after the goats are distributed, Heifer could send the kids pictures of the goats that they bought. I don't know how they would get pictures, but I think something like that might be fun or cool."

It's never too soon to impart on our kids the importance of taking care of those in need, even when they are a world away. Heifer International offers a real world solution to an overwhelming problem: poverty. By showing your young ones, teens, and tweens what it's like outside the privileged boundaries of a first-world country, it will help them become more grateful human beings. And we could all use a little more gratitude in our lives.

See more beautiful photos from this experience, and since the holidays are upon us, be sure to explore Heifer International's gift ideas.

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