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The Steak Holder


An awkward moment passed as glances were exchanged between two Zimbabwean men. Hillary, the Area Development Manager, turned and looked at the farmer who had just spoken. Acting as a translator you could see that Hillary didn’t know exactly what to tell us about what the farmer had just said.

I don’t know exactly how to translate what was just said. Please give me a moment.” Our team, 10 Americans visiting a Heifer Project beneficiary waited patiently, each wearing our traveler smiles as tension silently built, filling the air energized by an incoming deluge of rain.

After conferring with Hilary, another man from the community broke the silence a few seconds later, “What he said is hard to translate as it’s more a concept than something that can be translated directly.” We all closed in closer as the curiosity peaked.

He is saying, “Before I received the calf from the World Vision program I had a low position in the community. But now that I have cows my voice is heard.”

It wasn’t just that the cow would provide milk to the family. (Which was needed as they were hungry.) It’s that receiving the cow helped him gain status among the other men in his area. Men with cows were seen as stakeholders in the neighborhood who were consulted about community decisions. But men without cows were seen as less important to consult with. Receiving the cow meant the other men saw him more legitimately.

In the States we might compare this to owning a business. Of course, those of us with voting privileges all technically carry the same weight in a community. But we all agree, in a shared and unspoken social contract, that business owners have more at stake, so they should be consulted about decisions which may impact their business.

For the farmer we met today receiving the cow was an invitation to businessman-status in his neighborhood. This brought internal and external benefits as he both thought of himself as a stakeholder and other men looked at him as a stakeholder, too.

Surely the cow provided some measure of food security and the ability to gain financial stability as the heifer grew. For instance she could bear calves which could be sold or traded. And if she provided milk abundantly extra milk could be sold, etc. But the intangible difference is that a cow-less family was somewhat less valuable than a cow-owning family.

What a difference a cow makes!

Who Needs a Cow in Your Life?

Tonight we debriefed this story as a team. Amos said, “It makes me think of my students. Some of them have no status whatsoever, socially. I wonder how I can give those students cows?”

Question: Who needs a cow in your life? And what would giving them a cow change tangibly and intangibly?

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