We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
It’s been a few days since we have written a post, but what a few days it has been. After just finishing up the Asia for Animals Conference (http://www.asiaforanimals.org/), we have to say that we are in awe. As many worldwide animal welfare NGOs attended this conference, we felt honored that we got to share the room with some of the most influential, resilient, and determined people in the animal welfare realm.
I (Sam) have to do a little self plug here. Before this conference, I can shamefully say I did not have a proper understanding of animal welfare. Not only was I am a huge consumer of meat products galore, but I was a blind consumer, purchasing meat from farms that had more potential than not of being inhumane. My love of bacon was large and my “meat footprint” was taking charge. I also did not understand the concept of ecotourism and the sad life a performance animal lives. My eyes were shut to the needs of the animals because they were so focused on helping my fellow humans. But… oh man, I feel like (excuse the irony right now) a deer in headlights. It never occurred to me how vulnerable animals are to human impact. These are creatures that cannot communicate with us. They have no rights, no way to express their thoughts, feelings, or emotions, and no ability to fight back. As humans, we feel we have the G-d given right to do whatever it takes to make progress – whether that be invading an existing species’ habitat, using bear bile for medicinal purposes, hunting elephants for their ivory tusks, or soliciting monkey’s for pictures with tourists. We have to think to ourselves, is this ethical? How can I advocate for a child who has no say but not do the same for an animal? How are their lives, their habitat, their welfare, and their well-being less deserving of happiness and fulfillment than ours?
As social workers, this brings on a lot of internal struggle. It’s a viscous cycle. We say we want to help the animals, but how does someone make the decision between human and animal welfare? After knowing the struggle of both, can you make a decision? Can you even separate the two groups, or is it best to treat them as one unit and look and advocate for general welfare for all living things? As a human-focused worker, how can we combine our efforts with animal welfare?
We also tend to forget that many of the people who are cruel to animals have their own experience and agenda. They may have never learned what loving an animal means (or loving a human at that matter), what makes up ethical practice, or may not feel as if they have another opportunity besides the animal-cruelty one they are in to make money. As we know from working with those who are “desperate” (lack of better word here), we understand that resilience is not always seen as a positive thing. People will do whatever it takes to support them and to support their family. How can we, then, take this information and re-install values, ethics, and morals and empower those people in those positions to do better?
Let’s bring this back to that single spark. Take, for instance, Animals Asia (http://www.animalsasia.org/). A single woman who found a situation and species in dire need of help has created an incredibly influential, successful, and wonderful NGO. A single woman. A single spark. Needless to say, we were inspired. Through our exploration of the city, Kelsey and I had a thought – could we imagine seeing something so awful that it changes our entire lives around? Could we imagine being so distraught in our social work career that we devote our lives to forming and maintaining a non-profit? And if we did devote that time, would it be successful? This Chinese proverb has it right… and I want each and every one of you to remember this: a SINGLE spark can start a prairie fire.”
With that being said, I will leave you with one final thought: could you imagine living in a city in which it is so polluted the fog in the air is not low sitting clouds, but pollution… living in a city where the sun is always hazy because of the pollution overcast and the weird reflection it creates? I couldn’t… At least not for longer than 6 weeks. My eyes are dry, my skin itches, and I can’t even step outside of a conference for fresh air.. not because I can’t leave the conference, but because the fake air (air conditioning) is easier to breathe in than the natural environment. In fact, as Sarah mentioned today, “sometimes it is better to just not breathe.”
I have never missed green grass, clean air, clean water (we use bottled water to even brush our teeth), and clean streets more than I do now. I have never realized how privileged I am (not just by the color of my skin) in my entire life. Nor do you realize what it feels like to be a minority.. a visible minority… until you walk down the streets of China.
Apologies for my jumbled thoughts and long rants. If any of you know me, you know this isn’t abnormal. Continue reading, learning, and responding to these posts. We appreciate the feedback and questions and are happy to share our experiences with you.
Until next time…
Sam and Kelsey
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