Why give an animal this Christmas?

You might have seen some furry or feathery creatures in this year’s Gifts of Compassion gift guide. Have you ever wondered how we decide what animals to include? Well the answer is we don’t—the local churches we partner with do.

Compassion partners with local churches in the developing world to respond to the needs of individual children. We encourage these church partners to identify problems the children’s families are facing and find solutions. These church partners know their communities, they know the needs, and they know what works. Whenever possible, we encourage them to create solutions that respond using local resources. When that isn’t possible, these church partners can propose activities to Compassion International.

These activities differ according to the resources and culture of a particular community. In some communities, such as rural villages in Guatemala, our church partners have found micro-irrigation farming to be an effective way to generate food and income. In other places, such as coastal Ghana, small scale fish farming is effective in their fishing-based economy. In Ecuador, guinea pigs are a basis of many diets and are raised inside many rural homes.

In many of the East African communities where Compassion works, livestock are central to the culture, and these church partners often request livestock such as goats. These church partners also seek to find the breeds that are best suited for their environment, such as hardy breeds, low grazing animals and high milk producers. The families who receive livestock are also trained in the proper raising and breeding of the animals. In most of these families, their livestock are their most prized possessions on which their survival depends, so they treat them with great respect and care.

In many of these communities, livestock are a form of currency—if not the primary form of currency. Many of the families can build their wealth by selling milk or breeding their animals and trading up from chickens to goats to cattle to oxen. As a result, families have been able to send their children to school and provide more nutritious, balanced diets to their families.

The majority of people Compassion serves in rural areas are subsistence farmers. Having an alternate source of income and nutrition, such as small animals and livestock, serves as a life-saving cushion during years when crops fail due to blight or drought.

Quadruplets

We have seen many families prosper with the gift of an animal. When Françoise in Rwanda gave birth to quadruplets, she had no way to provide for them, especially since she couldn’t work outside of the home with four babies to care for. Compassion gave her a goat and by selling the milk, she has been able to provide for her babies’ needs.

Shimul Das sits in front of his home with his mother and his sister and their two brown cows

Shimul’s family in Bangladesh received a cow through a sponsor gift, and the children in the family now drink the milk daily. When the cow gave birth the first year, they sold the calf and bought a field where they now grow rice. The children now have plenty of rice and milk every day, and the cow gives birth to another calf nearly every year, which they sell. Shimul’s mother makes fuel sticks out of the cow dung to sell. From the money she has earned selling the fuel sticks, she has bought three hens and a rooster.

When you give an animal through Gifts of Compassion, it’s more than just a cute picture in a catalog. It can be the start of a new phase in a family’s life, in which children get more food to eat, a better chance to go to school and a long-term way to earn an income.

Field reporting by David Adhikary, Compassion Bangladesh, and Rosette Mutoni, Compassion Rwanda

Written by: Amber Van Schooneveld

Amber Van Schooneveld is the Editorial and Content Development Lead for Compassion Canada. She loves donuts, the mountains, travel, and connecting people around the world to end poverty.