To sum up my experiences in China–unforgettable. This internship experience has taught me so much about the world and about myself. I have always wanted to learn more about the human-animal-environment connection and this program has definitely expanded my knowledge in this area. Not only did I learn about giant pandas and red pandas, but I learned also about the people who live with these pandas in the remote mountain villages of Western China. More than ever, I have come to realize the reality of our world and how quickly humanity is destroying what little we have left. Even from day one of the internship at the Panda Base in Chengdu, I learned the alarming reality of what we
are doing to the environment. Seeing a map of the giant panda’s present habitat in China and the few tiny dots that once spread throughout Asia was thoroughly depressing. Yet, this awareness has made me understand why I am in the field of social work and has given me even more motivation to want to do something about it. The environment is a major part of social work that is often left out. Most people would never consider that even a part of social work when, in fact, it is such a crucial part of our health and well-being.
My internship in China was based on the premise of educating people on the One Health Initiative. One Health describes the interconnection of humans, animals, and the environment. In other words, we cannot be healthy without the equal health of both animals and the environment. The goal of this paradigm is to help create awareness so that humanity can create a system to achieve a healthy balance of the three. Many people do not understand that our actions, such as pollution, overconsumption, and overpopulation, are destroying the world. Many Chinese do not realize that they are the ones causing the giant pandas to be on the edge of extinction
because their habitat is being so quickly diminished. Teaching the children about the importance of biodiversity, recycling, and animal welfare can hopefully plant the seed for future generations. Americans have much to learn in this area as well. Our American factories and businesses that are transplanted to countries such as China are causing further damage to the environment, not to mention human rights. We live in such a materialistic world that people are too concerned with buying new clothes and electronics instead of considering how to live conservatively and sustainably. We tend not to think that our actions can affect the entire world, but even China’s pollution plays a major part in our own well-being.
One of the hardest and saddest things for me to comprehend while in China is the lack of animal welfare and ethics. Even telling my family members about what I had seen and learned had me in tears. The pet markets, bear bile farms, and dog eating festivals were just a few of the horrors I learned about while here. I struggled with accepting that maybe some of these things were just part of their culture and partly because the Chinese government does not have
animal rights laws. Even if it is part of the Chinese culture, it is up to us to try and educate others on why promoting animal welfare is both necessary and humane. Teaching the Yi children, for example, that animals have feelings and also require of the same basic needs as humans to survive is information that can stick with them for the rest of their lives. I can only hope that we were able to plant seeds of compassion and understanding that will increase the intergenerational learning within their small communities. Learning about the animal welfare issues in China also led me to learn more about animal welfare in the U.S. Although the atrocities of animal abuse might be more prevalent in China, I think the main difference is that Americans are better at hiding it. I doubt many people realize that millions of animals die every few months from the pet trade alone or that the fur they are buying could actually come from someone’s pet dog in China.
Despite the sad circumstances of the environment, animal welfare, and poverty I’ve witnessed, I’ve also had the amazing opportunity to also experience the rich culture of China and the goodness of the people here. Many of the people I met have very little and live in conditions that those who are more privileged would consider desolate. Yet so many of the people I have met have shown me such kindness and willingness to help. The Yi children were proud to show me their rich
culture of colorful clothing and traditional dances. The home of the Yi people, Tibetans, and giant pandas is unique and beautiful, one that we are struggling to preserve. The stunning carpeted green mountains of Western China never ceased to amaze me. The Anlong organic farms is one example of people, such as the Gao family, who understand that environmental health is equal to happiness and well-being. The adorable pandas, deliciously spicy food, Giant Leshan Buddha, peaceful monasteries, captivating colors of Jiuzhaigou, and smiles of the people and children I met–all of these things I will never forget. I have had an adventure of a lifetime in China thus far. Over the next two weeks, I plan to travel to see the Tibetan grasslands of Sichuan, the terra cotta army of Xi’An, and the Great Wall in Beijing. The world is a beautiful place and all that I have seen and experienced are reminders of what we are fighting to save.