Heifer International: Working To End World Hunger, One Llama At A Time

bolivian farmerGot an extra $20 burning a hole in your pocket and want to make a difference in the lives of others? Buy a flock of ducks. Eighty-five dollars will get you a camel share, while a mere $48 purchases a share in a “Knitter’s Gift Basket (a llama, alpaca, sheep and angora rabbit).”

Since 1944, Heifer International has provided livestock, and animal husbandry, agricultural and community development training to over 125 countries, including the U.S. The goal: to help end world hunger and poverty by improving breeding stock, providing valuable dietary supplements such as milk and eggs, and creating viable business enterprises for commodity products such as cheese, wool, honey, or crops cultivated by draft animals like horses and water buffalo.

The livestock species used to support disenfranchised communities are diverse, but traditional to their respective regions. They include goats, sheep, honeybees, beef and dairy cattle, water buffalo, yaks, horses, donkeys, llamas, alpacas, camels, rabbits, guinea pigs and poultry.

When I was a kid growing up on a small ranch in Southern California, we used to donate our male dairy goat kids (which, if sold here, would most likely be relegated to dinner) to Heifer. Although the program no longer ships live animals overseas (it’s easier and safer/more humane to ship frozen semen), the concept remains the same: using top bloodlines to improve the quality and enhance the genetic diversity of herds or flocks in impoverished regions.

Heifer teaches the concept of the “Seven M’s: Milk, Manure, Meat, Material, Money, Motivation and Muscle.” These are the benefits livestock animals provide to people in developing nations. With the training provided by Heifer employees and volunteers, the cycle of poverty can be broken, and families and villages can thrive. During the holidays or for birthdays, I like to make animal gift donations in the name of the recipient, an especially valuable lesson for children (who, let’s face it, really don’t need another electronic piece of crap to foster their ADD and lack of global awareness).

Never doubt the power of a furry friend to change the world. To make a donation, click here.

Check out this Heifer International gallery of animals and their proud owners from around the world:

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Tokyo’s cat cafes newest trend

Tokyo cat cafesHasta la vista, Hello Kitty. Get lost, LOL cats. Tokyo’s hot new phenom are neko cafes (“neko” is Japanese for cat). At first appearance typical, cozy coffee houses, closer examination reveals live cats lounging on the furniture, in baskets, or on laps. Which, I guess, isn’t nearly as bizarre (or kinky) as Tokyo’s maid cafes. Actually, to a cat lover like me, it’s quite appealing.

CNN reports that about 100 neko cafés can now be found in Japan, with more popping up in South Korea and Taiwan. More than 50 of the cafes are in Tokyo proper, with almost 70 in the outlying suburbs. Neko no Mise, for example, is a popular neko cafe in the Machida suburb that just celebrated its fifth anniversary.

Right about now, you’re probably asking yourself, what kind of person chooses to hang out in a neko cafe? Banish the image of the stereotypical Crazy Cat Lady from your mind, because these places are a huge hit with young professionals–particularly couples (childless, perhaps?). Far from being frumpy, many neko cafe clientele are hipsters who like to take their dates out for an evening of coffee and cat-watching. Single patrons are welcome too, however, as evidenced by the proliferation of cat bloggers.

Apparently, the neko cafe craze is accountable for many a blog starring specific coffee house felines: some have their own mixi profiles, which, I’m sorry, is definitely halfway to crazytown. And I say this as one who has been frequently dubbed a CCL (yes, that is my cat wearing a sweater in the photo, and I was trying to cut my heating bill). But not everyone is on board with the concept of caffeine and kitties. A young woman named Yuko told CNN, “My sister wanted to go so badly, she took me to one. It was weird, I thought. People just hanging out there with the cats, but you’re not allowed to wake them up or pick them up, they were just watching the cats and smiling and stuff … it was a little scary.”