When I was little, I knew the following things to be true: Velcro shoes were amazing and saved time in the morning for Ninja Turtles and toast, ice cream birthday cake was a given, and that I loved and felt connected to non-human animals more than most kids. Growing up an only child, my siblings were hamsters, dogs, cats and horses and it felt natural to channel Dr. Doolittle most days after homework. Before I knew biology was not my strongest skill, I was convinced of my path as a primatologist taking over where Dian Fossey left off- in the deep forests of Rwanda living with and studying mountain gorillas. Attributing anthropomorphic qualities to my companion animals, I became certain from a young age that truly “the least I can do is speak for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Jane Goodall) and encourage empathy as much as possible.
Fast forward to today… just around one year into my volunteer service on this plush, volcanic and mango-dripping island, I am happy to report that I have found my path in life (at least for now). A group of Vincentians and myself initiated a non-profit organization called the Vincentian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, VSPCA. For those of you reading this on neighboring islands, I am sure you are aware of the challenges with overpopulation leading to unwanted and wandering street animals, a lack of education when it comes to non-human animal welfare, care, and basic needs, as well as an overall indifference to the conditions in which our companions live. Quite frankly, I would not be able to sanely survive in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) for 27 months without trying my hardest to improve the situation while I am here and setting up some kind of organization sustaining our hard work when I leave.
The last year has been one of extreme personal and professional growth. As a Masters International volunteer, I feel fortunate to put to use some of the skills I have recently acquired in grad school- SWOT analyses, needs assessments, mediation techniques, stakeholder analyses, and especially grant writing. As of today, VSPCA has over 150 members, 230 Facebook supporters, 100 followers on Twitter, and has not only had two very successful fundraisers, but we received two significant grant awards to assist in launching our humane education and community outreach program. We are thankful to the Pegasus Foundation and Humane Society International for their support! Due to commence in April 2012, this program and curriculum are currently being mapped out and created by yours truly and one of the only private vets on the island. VSPCA has already been invited to present to various schools and youth groups on the mainland, as well as the Grenadines. Kids have been receptive to the content and curious on how they too can become vets one day… a concept I am trying to encourage- local leadership and ownership of the first and only animal welfare organization in SVG. Sustainability is a buzz word- but looked at twice, is really the crux of our volunteer work… will our efforts for roughly two years of our lives be sustained and appreciated?
In addition to educational outreaches, VSPCA is highly focused on spaying and neutering efforts. In respect for the culture, it is imperative to not simply advocate for the operations themselves, but to clearly explain the benefits and costs to begin to control the street animal population and thereby eventually eliminate unwanted and diseased animals. No one can choose what life they are born into but all are deserve a life of freedom, love, and joy.
Besides a mobile clinic, our long-term goals (yes, I will be connected to this for my life!) include a comprehensive and holistic rehabilitation site; equipped with a clinic, staff, shelter, quarantine and adoption area, and a peaceful home for those in need. It’s a dream, right? But to so many, VSPCA was a dream- something worthy of pursuing, something desperately needed, but overwhelming and daunting to begin. But we have begun, and the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
So for the next year here, with the love and support from my three rescue pups, myself and the team will plant seeds. Some seeds will slumber, some will flirt with growth, and some, I hope the majority, will flourish into beautiful palm trees extending knowledge, creating change, and offering love to all. This is my prayer. This is my purpose.
Kiersten Anderson, President of the VSPCA & Peace Corps Volunteer SVG 11-13
Contact VSPCA at: firstname.lastname@example.org