Saturday, December 13, 2008

Interview with Jan West Schrock

On Monday, I reviewed Give a Goat, written by Jan West Schrock, the daughter of the founder of Heifer International. Give a Goat, is about a classroom in Maine who developed a school project to raise money to buy a goat for families in need.

Jan agreed to do an interview, and here are her thoughts on the book, reading, and Heifer International.

1. As the daughter of the founder of Heifer International, you've probably been surrounded by inspirational stories of giving throughout your life. Why did you choose to tell the story of the children in Maine who raised money to buy a goat? What was it about that particular story that inspired you to tell it?

JS: I was a teacher for many years. My favorite students were middle-school children. Often, they are very idealistic at this age. When a great teacher captures the spirit of giving and ties it with her curriculum, that’s a good story.

When I discovered that Mrs. Rowell captured her fifth grade students’ imagination, to help poor children go to school, and incorporated this vision with a math unit, I knew it was magical. There are plenty of stories, and we have tons of stories in Heifer’s work, about children and other cultures, but few stories about relationships between children in the US and those in the developing countries. Give a Goat establishes that relationship.

2. Give a Goat is not just about helping others in need, but it's also about a community coming together to help raise money for people all over the world. Can you talk briefly about the power of communities?

JS: A unique value of Heifer International is "Passing on the Gift," which is key not only to ending poverty but establishing sustainability for many generations. Another unique value is creating strong communities to become self-reliant.

Heifer assists once-poor communities through training and gifts of livestock. Families that have learned the importance of working in community will often stay together and expand their work beyond the three years Heifer works with them. We see Heifer communities establishing micro-credit and dairy and grain cooperatives, making sure every child is educated, bringing women into leadership roles, establishing partnerships, and continuously finding ways to insure prosperity.

We also see examples of mending the wounds of war as rural communities sometimes are comprised of both sides of civil wars. For example in Albania, Kosovo, Armenia, El Salvador, the Philippines, Cambodia, Rawanda,etc.

Communities, with the right kind of training and future visioning, can turn poverty into prosperity, work for justice, and diminish the instinct for war.

3. Give a Goat definitely has a powerful message that I think will help make a difference in the world. When you were writing the book, what message did you hope would get across to readers?

JS: Telling children and adults, for this matter, about hunger and poverty without providing a way to genuinely help renders feelings of despair and/or helplessness. Sometimes people throw money at the situation and feel removed thinking, “Those people are not us, are not our neighbors. We’re lucky we’re not them.”

But, when children, and adults too, discover an unique way to help, a relationship is established and we as educators, parents, and students become excited about assisting with whatever resources we have. Working together, often in classrooms, civic organizations, and congregations, on a project helps us make a difference amd expand our neighborhoods. Philanthropic projects, begun at an early age, help us work together to become responsible in a world of great need. The “I-Me-Mine Generation ” can become a “We-and-Us-Together Generation.” This is the way to turn greed into compassion and usher in a new age of world citizenship.

In writing Give a Goat, I wanted to lift up the joy of children working together to make a difference for other children in our world.

4. I'd like to switch gears for just a minute and talk about reading. The mission of my blog is to help parents, teachers,etc. instill the joy of reading in the children in their lives because I firmly believe that knowing how to read and also LOVING it can change lives. Are you an avid reader, and if so, what are some of your favorite books?

JS: Recently I’ve been reading books focusing on agriculture and food systems: Michael Pollan’s books, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto.

Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, Lester Brown’s, Plan B: Rescuing a Planet under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, and Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest accounts for how collectively we must, we can, and are, changing our environment and our world.

Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Kingsolver’s book reminds me of our sustainable farm in Indiana during my childhood.

Elizabeth Gilberts’ Eat, Pray, Love is inspiring as she describes her very personal year-longjourney in turning from helplessness and dependency to empowerment and caring for others. It’s a personal story very similar to the enlightenment of a Heifer community.

5. What were some of your favorite books growing up?

JS: I read all of the biographies written for children I could find at the library. They were either orange or blue books, a whole row of them at the library: Florence Nightingale, Thomas Edison, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Baker Eddy, Jane Adams. I especially loved the stories of women.

At Christmas time, before TV, we’d huddle around the fireplace as my father read Christmas stories. Our mother would peel apples in a blue bowl and give us slices as we, my four brothers and myself, listened.

6. As a mother yourself, can you offer any advice for helping parents reach out to reluctant readers?

JS: I taught students with learning disabilities for several years. I would introduce a story suggesting the student look for things that would happen. At times, I’d read along with them, one sentence or one paragraph at a time. Sometimes we'd stop and draw a picture. I would also encourage them to tell their own experience stories and would write as they shared their story.

7. The thing I like the most about Give a Goat is that instead of just talking about the importance of giving to others in need, it actually offers real-life, doable activities. What are other ways kids can getinvolved with their communities and give?

JS: Two eleven-year old girls enticed their congregation to give to a Heifer campaign from Feb. to November raising over six thousand dollars. Their parents and outreach leaders assisted them with their dream. The biggest event was an all-congregation talent show with proceeds going to their fund.

Many children request gifts be given to Heifer instead of for birthday presents at their party. Many children request Heifer gifts for their consecration ceremonies, Bar mitzvah and bat mitzvahs.

The librarian at the Great Salt Bay School, Damariscotta, ME, challenges the whole school to participate in a reading incentive program. Her students take then read like crazy during the harsh winter months. A big celebration ensues in the springtime.

Teachers gather in community support of civic organizations, local businesses, and homes for the elderly to support a reading incentive program. The whole community becomes invested in students’ reading and students become educators about Heifer International’s work, a community endeavor.

Youth in a congregation made dinners of soup, home-made bread, salad and desert for pre-subscribed take-out orders for their local community. They raised over five thousand dollars and had a grand time using the church kitchen, cooking together, and marketing.

Schools in Hong Kong participate in Heifer education and raise funds for Heifer’s work inChina. High school students filmed Heifer’s work in Yunan province and shared the story with their parents and community. This past year they raised over two million dollars.

Youth in 4-H club in Poland learned the care of goats and production of cheese and yoghurt. They marketed to the villages for special events. The funds earned were donated to purchase equipment for a children’s hospital.

In Armenia, a Heifer project provides training in animal husbandry in after-school youth programs. Young people learn to raise goats, primarily. They then will pass-on their gifts to youth in Heifer projects in bordering nations,Georgia and Azerbaijan, an amazing combination of skills acquired, meaningful work, and working for peace.

Many classrooms and whole schools embark on Heifer education and reading incentive programs throughout the US and in several international countries raising funds for Heifer’s work. Learning about what students can do to help other children while they read is a real joy. Learning and reading is the work of children and if they can be assisted to turn their work into a reality and make a difference in our world, they become both philanthropists and motivated students!

Heifer’s work in providing training and livestock, as well as the pass-on requirement, creates prosperity and instills a spirit of giving. Many youth become aware of a wider world and their role as responsible world citizens.

8. With the economy causing people to tighten their purse strings, a lot of families may not have as much money to give to charities as they have in the past. Do you have any suggestions for ways people can help out without having to give a lot of money?

JS: Our project partners have said, “Thank you for the gift of a fishing pole. Our families are no longer hungry and poor. But look around the pond and see thousands of people waiting for their fishing pole. Do you also notice that the water is polluted and running out of the pond? Until you educate yourself and your children about the root causes of poverty, you are not making the big difference.” Heifer International has heard this message and has created a strong education program. We know that it is very important to educate our children about the issues of hunger, poverty, and the environment and their role in restoring a healthy world. They can learn about Heifer’s work through films, stories, and activities, which we supply. They might raise money like the children did in “Give A Goat” or in many other creative ways, and they can also share these stories with others in their school and community to help raise awareness.

9. Do you have plans to write any other books?

JS: I’ve been thinking about writing a children’s book in the context of Heifer’s twelve cornerstones, our values, which are required in every proposal. Our cornerstones and our Values-Based Planning Model are the key components to successfully ending hunger and poverty and caring for the earth. Our cornerstones and our planning model insures sustainability.

10. Do you have any final thoughts?

JS: I wish all children, parents, and educators would embrace Heifer’s methods of creating prosperity. Working together in community is powerful and fun. I love seeing schools create gardens as part of their curriculum. This fall, a school in Maine created a garden and greenhouse to raise produce for their school lunch program and for the education of their students and their parents! Here’s a community working together in a very exciting way. It reminds me of the Heifer way.

Thanks Jan. It was an honor and pleasure!

*All photos used with permission by Tilbury House Publishers.


  1. Thanks for this interview. I love Heifer International. I first learned about them when a friend, who lost a premature baby wanted people to donate to Heifer International in her baby's name. I love learning more about the program and the suthor of Give a Goat.


  2. caribookscoops,
    I'm glad you liked the interview. I enjoyed hearing all that Jan had to say. I really like Heifer International and think it's a fun way to get kids involved in charity work. I'm sorry to hear about your friend's baby, and it's really nice to hear that she helped others in need in her baby's memory.