This blog post is part of a series highlighting the 13 Music For Good charities and their spotlight artists (read others here). Subscribe to our blog (enter your email on the right) to stay up-to-date on future posts!
When American rancher Dan West was serving in Spain after the Spanish Civil War in 1944, he became frustrated at being forced to decide how to allocate the very limited rations of milk to refugees. So then the idea hit him: “They don’t need a cup of milk; they need a cow.” West’s “Give not a cup, but a cow” set the example for what would become Heifer’s sustainability model, which includes Passing on the Gift. Today, Heifer International gives out gifts of livestock, seeds and trees and extensive training to those in need.
We talked to Rich Cason, the organization’s New Media Director about West’s vision and how the charity is helping end poverty and hunger in a sustainable fashion:
“The way Passing on the Gift works is folks that do receive gifts of livestock are required to pass on gifts, such as the first female offspring, to another family in the community,” said Rich. “By passing on the gift, not only are we lifting families, but we’re also helping communities get out of poverty through sustainable livelihoods.”
Heifer International has now helped more than 15.5 million families (79 million people) in more than 125 countries, including various African countries, Peru, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, and Nepal. They’re currently working to scale their projects to East Africa, where Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given Heifer a grant of over $51 million total to help at least 179,000 smallholder East African dairy farmers.
SUPPORT HEIFER INTERNATIONAL: Click here to sell or buy music
We had the opportunity to talk on the phone with both Rich Cason and Curtis Hildebrand, the organization’s Spotlight Artist and lead singer of California-based rock band Stillwood Sages. Well, truthfully, they interviewed each other and we just took notes on the side They discussed Heifer’s involvement with Music For Good, their goals and what they have to say to their supporters.
Rich: Curtis, how did you first learn of Heifer?
Curtis: I’ve been working with ReverbNation for a long time. I knew another band that was also supporting you guys through Reverb’s Music For Good program, I thought it was cool so I went ahead and signed up to you guys. And KM, Stillwood Sages’ bass player, encouraged me to support you as well. We have quite a few artists under my label Sunny Dragon Records that are going to start sponsoring your organization too.
Rich: I hope some of the bands under your label play similar music to you guys. I think you’re a well-kept secret!
Curtis: We’re trying not to be! [laugh]
Rich: My daughter banned me from playing “Tower at the Crossroads” in my house! She said “Dad, you’ve listened to that 20 times already!” [laugh]
Curtis: Yeah man, I’m really happy to hear that. I was looking at my ReverbNation dashboard the other day and I was like “Wow, we’re actually getting some donations out to you guys right now!”
I think what Heifer is doing is amazing. That’s where my heart is at, you know. I spend a lot of time in the music world and there are times that I just wanna pack my bags and go to Africa to build wells and farms to people. It’s just a complicated world out there… it’s hard to find an organization that’s going to really take that money from donations and apply to something positive. But what you’re doing is exceptional. I really like it.
“It’s hard to find an organization that’s going to really take that money from donations and apply to something positive. But what you’re doing is exceptional. I really like it.”
Rich: Thank you for bringing that to the conversation. I think one of the changing moments for me was when I had the privilege of visiting one of Heifer’s projects in Zambia. What was so eye-opening and life-changing for me is I did two visits in counter-chronological order… I first visited a family in a village that was six years in where the children had clothes and medicine. It was thriving environment. This individual was able to hire others to work on the farm.
And then I saw a project that was only a year and a half old where they were just starting to have calves, just starting to make progress, really, and they were so hopeful. I realized that making the resources available is just so critical.
I just saw the hope in the eyes of people who had nothing except for the hope of the Heifer program coming. The difference in five years from having a sustainable livelihood in the future was just so incredible. When you see this and you’re able to shake hands with the children and the farmers, it becomes your passion and your life-calling.
“And then I saw a project that was only a year and a half old where they were just starting to have calves, just starting to make progress, really, and they were so hopeful. I realized that making the resources available is just so critical.”
Curtis: I get a little choked up about stuff like this. To be honest, I’m not really big on being a rockstar — I wanna be a well-known artist but what really matters to me is to be able to positively affect other people’s lives.
Rich: I was thinking about everything that goes into fundraising… For me, you know, I have a passion for doing that but at the end of the day, what matters is seeing the results from the projects and seeing that people’s lives have been changed forever. That’s the reason that an organization like Heifer exists and it’s incredible to work with a bunch of passionate folks. When I have the opportunity to speak with someone like yourself who definitely gets the sustainability piece, I think I can speak for all of us that we’re very appreciative of that.
“At the end of the day, what matters is seeing the results from the projects and seeing that people’s lives have been changed forever.”
ReverbNation: That’s very inspiring. Rich, why did Heifer decide to participate in the Music For Good program?
Rich: Music is universal. Music is inherently good and used for good purposes. When we were approached with the concept, it just seemed like a great idea. Here’s up-and-coming artists who music lovers can support and a percentage of that goes to one or several great causes. To us just seemed like a natural fit to share the joy of music while helping someone else in the world.
One of the things that has been very helpful is when we do the Spotlight Artist (Note: each charity picks one artist or band every month to be highlighted on ReverbNation.com and on social media). We see an increase dialogue between our followers and the artist, I like that connection because it allows us to in turn follow the artist because we’re very appreciative of their support.
Curtis: That’s cool, I’m going to follow you guys and start tweeting too! Here’s the thing, Rich. You’re talking to a guy who built his first house when he was 15 and has been on his own pretty much since then. I put myself through college and graduated from AirForce with honors. I changed my life through the love of others and God. I believe in changing people’s lives. So I’m here for Heifer, man!
Rich: I appreciate that! That’s what Heifer is all about. There are young women and men who have all of the potential in the world that would go untapped. With our collective efforts, we can get people to come together and make this transformation become a reality using technology and music. It’s a beautiful thing.
Again, it’s all about having access to resources. Once folks are given the training and exposure to Heifer’s cornerstone values, they become self-sustaining leaders in their communities.
You hear stories of how a young woman in India, who was told to stay home and work while she watched her brother go to school everyday, learned to read on her own until she became part of a Heifer project at the age of 25. She went to being illiterate to a leader in her community. It just brings you to tears!
That’s what it’s all about: it’s having that love, compassion and the willingness to get others where they need to be.
“You hear stories of how a young woman in India, who was told to stay home and work while she watched her brother go to school everyday, learned to read on her own until she became part of a Heifer project at the age of 25. She went to being illiterate to a leader in her community. It just brings you to tears!”
ReverbNation: To wrap it up, would you like to say anything to your supporters?
Curtis: We support the cause and encourage others to do the same. I’m really happy I was able to run into this program.
Rich: We’re all very excited to be participating on the platform and we’re thankful for ReverbNation for coming up with the idea. Although in a small way, buying music through Music For Good leads to big changes. That’s one way we can collectively work to change the world.
Curtis: Yeah! What ReverbNation is doing makes me feel good working with them.
ReverbNation: We’re trying! Thank you both for your time. And keep up the great work!
SUPPORT HEIFER INTERNATIONAL: Click here to get involved!
To learn more about Heifer International, please visit their website.
To buy music from Stillwood Sages and help support Heifer International, please visit their ReverbNation profile.