A dozen widows and abandoned women in India's West Bengal state are now better able to care for their families, thanks to a Southern Baptist development project that drew on $22,000 from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund.
The project focused on women in two villages who were living in desperate poverty, some with small children who were suffering from malnutrition. Because they were members of a minority religious group, many of their neighbors looked down on them and would not help.
A Southern Baptist field partner who had seen the plight of these families believed their lives could be dramatically improved if the women were given a dairy cow and shown how to care for it. Not only would the assistance demonstrate Christ's compassion for all people, but it also could be done for as little as $80 per family.
"The gift of a cow to a desperately poor family is an appropriate expression of Christian charity and a tangible demonstration of the love of Christ," said the field partner, who asked that his name be withheld for security reasons. "A donated dairy cow would significantly improve the economic viability of the recipient family. They would have little difficulty in caring for the cow and have ready access to food and veterinary care. A year-round market exists for milk and local vendors roam the area looking for villagers willing to sell milk."
Helping a poor family earn some modest income by selling milk would improve their lives and give them opportunities in turn to help others.
Working with community leaders and local Christians, the field partner identified households headed by women who had no reliable source of income and were finding it difficult to educate and feed their children. Each family was given a dairy cow and a newborn calf and shown how to care for them. The project provided food and veterinary care for the animals and, over the course of six to nine months, proceeds from milk sales reimbursed the cost of purchasing the cattle. Once that was accomplished, the family could build on their dairy business and help find other families who could benefit from the same kind of help.
Although it took longer than expected to find a reliable source of healthy cattle and to secure experienced veterinary care, the first round of the project went very well, the field partner said.
"We have seen significant poverty relief in several families," he said. "One widow with two children 'paid off' her cow quickly and used the income to set up a small shop on a nearby rail platform. One abandoned woman with eight young children now has better food for her family."
The project opens the door for new economic development that could significantly improve the quality of life and help many families understand God's love for them and His desire to give them abundant lives full of meaning and hope.
"We feel the project has great potential to impact poverty in the area," the field partner said. "Any humanitarian project takes on a richer and deeper meaning for its recipients when they participate in the results. We clearly state from the beginning that participation requires something from them, and that they will, in turn, participate in helping other members of their community."
Women who had freely received were eager to give freely to others themselves, he said.
"We were surprised by how willingly the recipients shared their proceeds with other women and families in the same condition," he said. "Some of the women learned a great deal about the care of dairy cows and now can use these skills to help themselves and other members of their community."
Southern Baptist Relief Efforts in Gaza
Southern Baptist food relief is making its way into the Gaza Strip to help people suffering in the aftermath of a three-week Israeli military offensive earlier this year.
A total of $92,000 from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund will deliver food to about ten thousand people during the course of this next year, reported Abraham Shepherd, who directs work in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa for Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization. Since Southern Baptist field partners and volunteers are unable to enter the area, the project will be conducted in partnership with local believers in Gaza.
The food distribution is part of a larger cooperative effort involving five Christian groups. The other ministry partners will provide food for the effort as well but also will distribute clothing, window glass, household goods, blankets, and other necessities that are in short supply.
"The Gaza Strip has been experiencing a humanitarian crisis for many years, prior to the war starting in December 2008," said the project's local director, who asked that his name be withheld for security reasons. "Last year, it was reported that the Gaza Strip had the highest unemployment rate in the world. More than a million people have been suffering due to drastic shortages of food, cooking fuel, medical supplies, and other essentials. The recent war has only increased the devastation and hardships for the people of Gaza."
Details are still being worked out in regard to logistics, due to the nature of the local conflict there, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response. "However, it looks as if most food can be purchased locally and distributed quickly and efficiently to those in need."
The project's leaders hope the relief effort not only will demonstrate the love of Christ for the hurting Palestinian people but also provide a springboard for long-term improvements in the quality of life for Gaza residents.
"We do not envision that Gaza will be a self-sustaining area for many years," the local director said. "It is our hope this project will lead to the development of micro-enterprises and community projects that will lead the people of Gaza to be more self-supporting."
With technical support from Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, an Internet site, Christian-relief-for-Gaza.org, has been set up to provide information about the relief effort. That site currently suggests several points at which Christians can pray for the crisis:
"Pray that the current cease-fire holds. Even more importantly, pray for a just and lasting peace," the site states. "Pray for healing for those who were injured. Ask God to make available the treatment they need. Pray for the many children whose parents were killed. Ask God to provide for them."
How You Can Help
Undesignated donations given to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund will be distributed 80 percent to international and 20 percent to domestic hunger relief projects. Designated gifts will be used as specified.
Contributions can be made through a local Southern Baptist church, a Baptist state convention, the North American Mission Board, 4200 North Point Parkway, Alpharetta, GA 30022 (www.namb.net), the International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230 (www.imb.org) or the SBC Executive Committee, 901 Commerce Street, Nashville, TN 37203 (www.sbc.net).
Visit www.worldhungerfund.com to learn more about how you can help with world hunger relief initiatives.