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When Was the Last Time You Gave Someone a Water Buffalo?

11/27/2007 03:47 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

I ended this year's Head Butler Holiday Gift Guide with four charities I admire.

One was the Heifer Fund, which takes donations and buys farm animals for the rural poor around the world. And to get attention to the eccentricity of the holiday guide, I put "When was the last time you gave anyone a water buffalo?" in the subject line of my newsletter.

A few hours later, one of my readers wrote to say that wasn't a rhetorical question.

His brother --- Robert Thompson, an American violinist living near the Chinese-Tibetan border --- had done just this.

The story: Robert had read a blog post by Philip Greenspun, arguing that the gift of a water buffalo through a charity just might be "the worst Christmas present ever." Why? Because you don't really buy a buffalo -- your donation goes into a common fund.

Robert Thompson decided to see what would happen if you actually gave a water buffalo to a farmer who desperately needed help in his fields.

Greenspun offered some money. And, on January 6, 2007, Thompson made an eight-minute film of the purchase and presentation.

The farmer is so poor. His family is so sad. As for the gift, there's a lot I could say about individual magnificence and the power of direct, local action --- but this film doesn't need any editorial support.

And then, if you're like me, share it with everyone you know.