Sociologist Bob Gliner first heard about giving farm animals as gifts when a colleague told him that her daughter wanted a water buffalo for Hanukkah. ''You live in the suburbs -- where are you going to put a water buffalo?'' Gliner, a San Jose State University professor, responded.
Gliner soon found out that the girl didn't really want a water buffalo, but rather wanted one to be purchased for an impoverished family, most likely on the other side of the world, through the Heifer Project International.The idea so inspired Gliner, 62, that the award-winning documentary filmmaker wanted to find out more about the project. He also wanted to capture what happens to the impoverished recipients of the animals.
So Gliner took his camera to villages in Albania, Guatemala, Tanzania and the Tibetan region of China. The result is a one-hour film about the project called ''Heifer,'' which will air at 5 p.m. Sunday on PBS station KTEH (Ch. 54).
''I've always been into social change,'' said the Boulder Creek resident. ''But the greatest reward is the people I meet, like sitting down and having dinner with the Masai in East Africa.''
The idea behind the Heifer Project is to buy gifts through a catalog of animals that are given to poor villagers in developing nations. These gifts bring to impoverished people nutrition and income in the form of cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, goats and other farm animals.
The film was funded by a Global Studies Fellowship from San Jose State University. With the help of Heifer Project translators, Gliner donated all his labor, used his own film equipment, produced, edited, directed, wrote the script.
''The documentary is wonderful -- a slice of life you've never seen before, like taking a trip around the world,'' said Ray White of the Arkansas-based non-profit organization, whose Web site is www.heifer.org. ''The antidote to materialism is giving.''
The film opens with a woman at a shopping mall saying, ''I feel like Christmas has become a big marketing scheme. Everything is so expensive. They put little packages together: $50 for a frame and a candle.''
The Heifer Project offers alternatives, such as a flock of chicks for $20, honeybees for $30, a trio of rabbits for $60, a goat for $120 or a heifer for $500. These gifts generate milk, protein, income, gender-equity and community-building, as villagers receiving an animal pass on offspring to neighbors.
''It's a gift that keeps on giving,'' says Gliner, whose Web site is www.docmakeronline.com. ''Americans give stuff that ends up in our closets, garages and dumps. Giving a gift through Heifer really transforms people's lives.''
Working on the project connected Gliner to other South Bay residents involved in the Heifer Project, such as Sue Merrick of Los Altos United Methodist Church, which raises about $5,000 a year through Sunday school students.
''My son sent me a Heifer gift certificate for Mother's Day,'' said Merrick, 56. ''This is a way to spread the love we're supposed to be feeling at Christmastime.''
After seeing a homeless man in Palo Alto three years ago, Vito La Sala introduced the Heifer Project to his seventh-grade class at Jordan Middle School in Palo Alto.
''I told the kids, 'We're so lucky. On your deathbed, you want to be able to say you gave to this world,' '' said La Sala, 44.
Last year, his 130 students sent $13,500 to Heifer. ''I know we've changed lives'' -- around the world and at home, he said. ''I get e-mails from students saying it was the greatest thing they've ever done.''
In one e-mail from two former students, Cassie Wedemeyer and Crystal Wang wrote: ''Approximately 30,000 people die every day from hunger. It felt good that we were making a difference and saving people's lives.''
''Since 9/11,'' said Gliner, ''Americans have been living in fear. The best way to defend America is to help make sure other people have food to eat and are living in peace around the world.''
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