Pei-Feng spoke at the 2015 APHE’s National Humane Education Conference in Phoenix, inspiring humane educators from across the globe with her international work. Here she shares how she started her humane education efforts and what we can all do to support each other in our global efforts to create a more compassionate world.
Q: How did you become involved in humane education?
A: When I worked for an animal protection organization in Taiwan in 1993, I undertook a project to develop a companion animal protection curriculum for children in first through sixth grade. At the time I thought humane education was good for promoting the welfare of animals, but I did not think it was crucial. In fact, at the time I thought people who concentrated on doing humane education and not campaigning type of work were much ado about nothing! However, after working on the issue of animal welfare in China and other Asian countries for more than 20 years, I deeply felt that our movement needed to take political, social and cultural contexts into account. Therefore, the direct transfer of a western model of activism to Asia would not work and we wouldn’t be able to change people’s mindset to the necessary extent. That’s why, after being a devoted member of campaigning against animal cruelty camp for many years, I realized that we needed to take a different and more strategic approach to the problem. The result was ACTAsia, an organization that focuses on humane education, which I started with a fellow Indian activist.
Q: Please tell us about founding ACTAsia, the organization’s accomplishments and future goals.
A: While ACTAsia may have a shoe string budget, all of its members and advisors have many years of experience in the field of humane education. This, in combination with the knowledge and understanding of cultural issues, is one of the reasons why ACTAsia has been so successful in its work.
Our Caring for Life (CLE) Humane Education Course started in 2012 and, to date, is reaching more than 100 schools in China. This amounts to more than 14,000 students and 600 teachers across 10 provinces who are receiving the program and these numbers are increasing every year. The evaluation of our program shows that it is working and the attitudes and behaviors of children toward animals and the environment is changing for the better. One of the major features of our CLE program is that our curriculum is taught by the primary school teachers and they use school curriculum time to teach the 12 lessons, which span throughout an academic year. We have developed two years of curricula for teachers, so students can receive our humane education messages in Grades 1 and 2, a total of 24 lessons of learning.
With regards to professional education, veterinary information materials have been translated and distributed to all ACTAsia’s trained veterinarians. From 2013 onward, the trained Chinese veterinarians have led workshops with support from Vets Beyond Borders personnel and seven of them were selected to train other across China. A manual and DVD were translated and produced in Chinese. This means that pet owners are receiving better advice, veterinarians are providing better care for their animals and rabies prevention is being promoted more actively.
Furthermore, ACTAsia has held multiple workshops for local non-government organizations (NGOs) and hosted two Fur-Free Fashion Shows, which were estimated to reach 720 million viewers through the media! The Fashion Shows aim to educate consumers and promote a cruelty free lifestyle while simultaneously recruiting fur free designers and retailers as part of the Fur Free Alliance global scheme.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge to humane education in the countries in which you work and how are you overcoming it?
A: The greatest challenges for ACTAsia’s Caring for Life Education program include both internal and external ones.
Externally, the main challenge is that humane education is a completely new concept and we have to define it, and explain it to both authorities and teachers: what it is, why we are doing it and what we want to achieve.
In addition, the different teaching approach in pedagogy has presented some practical issues – as one class usually consists of 40-50 students with one teacher and no assistant, it is rote teaching rather than interactive. Critical thinking for children is a rare and unfamiliar concept even for teachers. As a result, teachers were initially reluctant to use our pedagogical methods in classrooms, but later came to the realization that a more participative and discussion-led way of teaching is not only possible but actually helps students more.
The final external challenge came with the need to be accepted by the Government in order to infiltrate schools. However, with persistence and evidence that Caring for Life Education can indirectly reduce violence, improve citizenship and benefit not only the youth but their families and society, our program is becoming more widely accepted by the public authorities.
Internally, the main challenges have been with finding appropriate staff. Humane education is new and so is working for NGOs. It is therefore hard for us to recruit staff who understand the concept of HE and it is very often the case that the family does not support it as a ‘profession’. The evaluation process in itself has posed a challenge due to the large amount of data collected and processed.
However, with efficient experts and volunteers, we have managed to limit the vast amount of data and use only what is specifically helpful to the evaluation we need to carry out.
Finally, as with any NGO, limited resources is an issue that is always on the table—especially when the organization carries out humane education rather than direct animal or environmental protection.
Q: How can humane educators in North America support humane education in other countries?
A: Offering expertise and knowledge across the world is a valuable help to all humane education organizations. While lesson plans, monitoring tools and any other materials always need to be adapted to fit social and cultural contexts, the sharing of knowledge and expertise is still an asset we all need. Volunteering to train other teachers through workshops is also a valuable asset and this can be done through summer or winter camps and will always include the traveling perk for the trainer!
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