Guest Blogger, Karen Menczer (Animal-Kind International)
I first heard from Morris Darbo, Founder and Director of Liberia Animal Welfare & Conservation Society in 2012 when he sent me an email message, “Introducing LAWCS.” Morris had attached pictures of the LAWCS humane education program showing hundreds of school children gathered around a TV/VCR watching a show about animals and holding posters with sayings, “Be Kind to Animals,” “World Animals Day Celebration,” “We are all One.”
(Above: School children watch a video about animals during one of LAWCS humane ed sessions)
(Above: Some LAWCS Humane Ed classes have more than 100 students!)
I get a lot of email messages from animal welfare organizations around the world. In just the first 2 weeks of October this year, I received messages from Ukraine, Zimbabwe, India, Honduras, Pakistan, and Tanzania. They find me through the non-profit organization I started and direct, Animal-Kind International. AKI raises money for our 11 partner organizations in poor countries, mostly in Africa. Although we’re unable to support most of them, I save every message I receive with the hope that one day, AKI will raise a lot more money and be able to help many more worthy organizations.
When I filed Morris’s message away, little did I know that just a few months later, I would have the opportunity to meet him in person. I work as an independent consultant on biodiversity conservation for the U.S. Agency for International Development—which is how I first got involved—in 1991–in helping animal welfare organizations in poor countries. And now, I was given the chance to go to Liberia for a few weeks on a USAID project.
That first time I went to Liberia, I met Morris and fellow volunteer, Abraham (Abie) in Voinjama, their home village, a 5 to 10 hour drive from the capital, Monrovia, depending on whether you go during the rainy season, and on how badly the road is washed out.
(Above: Morris, left and Abie looking at the humane ed and other animal-related material I brought to Liberia)
We talked about the LAWCS humane ed program, the plans Morris had for LAWCS, and animal welfare issues in Liberia. At the time, I wasn’t sure I’d be returning, but since then, I’ve gone back to Liberia on the same USAID project in 2015 and 2016, and will be going again—annually-through 2020 (at least that’s the plan!)
During my next two visits, I went with LAWCS volunteers to see their humane ed program in action—and that convinced me—I wanted to help LAWCS grow. It was time to make LAWCS an AKI partner organization.
(Above: A LAWCS Humane Ed class at Japan Cooperative Day School in Voinjama, Lofa County: back row, LAWCS volunteers, Korpo (now deceased) and Morris, and me)
So in January 2016, LAWCS became AKI’s 11th partner organization. We raise money to help LAWCS continue their programs:
- LAWCS humane education program is now in 40 schools with over 25,000 children;
- At each school, LAWCS forms two Animal Kindness Clubs whose members are community leaders in animal care and welfare;
- LAWCS provides free plant-based meals for LAWCS humane ed classes to showcase the variety in animal-free diets;
- LAWCS holds events in communities to raise awareness about dog bite prevention and responsible dog ownership education; and
- LAWCS holds rabies clinics and provides basic care for pets, including de-worming, mange and wound treatment, eye and ear care, etc.
One highlight of 2016 was that Morris received a scholarship to attend the Humane Society of the US’s Animal Care Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada. I couldn’t imagine Morris being so close to New Mexico without visiting. So Morris spent a few days here in April: we went to the Animal Humane New Mexico shelter in Albuquerque, had a 3 hour tour of the Santa Fe shelter thanks to Ben Swan, Morris gave two presentations about LAWCS, and we even arranged for a fun day—at Chaco Canyon.
(Above: Ben Swan leading our tour of the Santa Fe animal shelter)
(Above: Morris visits Chaco Canyon, New Mexico)
One of the most striking things to me is that in Liberia, there’s a noticeable difference in the way dogs and cats are treated in communities where LAWCS has worked. You see people hanging out with their pets, children playing with their pets. That’s something you just don’t see in parts of Liberia—and in many other countries—where there’s no humane ed. LAWCS is changing the way people think of animals in Liberia, starting with the children, and AKI is doing all we can to help them.
(Above: In Voinjama, Lofa Country, kids and pets are best friends!)
One of LAWCS’s and AKI’s goals is to get Abie, LAWCS animal care volunteer, trained in basic animal care. In Liberia, there is only one vet in the whole country! And he is mainly focused on livestock. Abie received one month of training from a vet in Guinea, but needs to learn so much more to provide the care he’s requested to provide for pets from his community.
AKI is raising money to bring Abie to the US to be trained for one month at a shelter in New Mexico, and he will then return to Liberia and train other LAWCS volunteers. Spay/neuter isn’t yet a concept in Liberia (in part because it’s unavailable, but mainly because people sell puppies and some people eat dogs). So while s/n is certainly something that LAWCS will eventually introduce, we believe the first priority is to provide basic animal care and welfare. Training Abie will be a huge step in improving the health and well-being of Liberia’s dogs and cats.
To read more about LAWCS and to donate to AKI and designate LAWCS (we send 100% of all donations to our partner organizations), please visit, www.animal-kind.org (We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.)
– Karen Menczer, Founder