Last year Ivy and Liat, students at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, connected with Mandy Schmidt, an IHE M.Ed. student, to develop a humane education summer camp for students in Hefei, China.
Ivy (Chang) He, is an international student from Heifei, and founded the group Humaneness 101.
Liat Yael Kastner is studying environmental studies and political science at Reed. She’s also the sustainability coordinator and a peer health advocate there.
And Mandy Schmidt, who has degrees in animal behavior, ecology, and conservation; anthropology; and anthrozoology, hopes to “one day teach humane education subjects in a college setting, and help advise students with their own humane educator paths.”
Fresh from the success of their first humane education summer camp, with 27 students, we asked them to share a bit about their experience.
IHE: What led you to the path of humane education?
I was actively looking for a way to use my strengths and passion to contribute to the causes I care about. In education, I am excited to find the most effective and phenomenal tool to raise awareness and empower people to take action regarding important social issues. I care about animal welfare, environmental justice, and human rights. I think society needs more compassion and mindfulness. I believe in humanity and education. Humane education is the perfect combination of everything I care about and believe in.
Last November, I attended a workshop taught by the Portland program director for HEART. Claire demonstrated how ethics can be reflected in curriculum and incorporated into the classroom. She guided us through a visualization about how we would answer a child who asked us what we did to make the world a better place. I was not satisfied with my answer, which was nothing; so I decided to do something. The decision to bring humane education into China was made before the workshop was half over.
For my undergraduate degree, I mostly focused on evolutionary processes and anthrozoology (the relationships between humans and other animal species). But I began to really think about how humans exploit other species, and I became a vegan.
I came to IHE because making vegan choices wasn’t enough anymore. I needed to do more to help animals, and I believed that was through public outreach. Since becoming an IHE student, I’ve learned about a plethora of new interconnected topics, and I’m eager to help create change for them through humane education.
I always believed that the answer to the world’s problems lay in the power of education. If we educated everyone, of all genders and ages, surely inequalities, cycles of poverty, and discrimination could break. The idea of encouraging empowerment and individuality is beautiful and heartwarming. And in a way, it seems obvious: when you treat an individual as a sacred part of this Earth, and give her the tools and confidence necessary to shape her own opinions and solve problems she finds important, how can that be bad?
I founded Humaneness 101 from the ground up, and we just successfully completed our first summer camp in my hometown Hefei, China. A lot of people learned about it from our fundraising and promotional events. Twenty seven students, ages nine through 17, joined us for the camp. They came from four provinces and seven cities in different parts of China. We also had a team of 12 volunteers, consisting of high school and college students, as well as an adult teacher. Humane education was so new to everyone at the beginning of the camp. During the six days, they experienced humane education together, and all of them had some valuable takeaways.
Humaneness 101 has been a challenging yet rewarding experience. First, Ivy and I took on the daunting task of starting a humane education camp from scratch. My determination to make the camp happen really wavered at times; I feared I wasn’t knowledgeable, and at other moments I doubted that we could raise enough money and support. But the very fact that the camp happened, that I had the guts to come all the way to China and work 24/7 with almost 30 children and 10 helpers, makes me feel really accomplished. The fact that my love for humanity and my faith in humane education kept me going is wonderful proof that this type of education is powerful. Sometimes I got frustrated with the children, but I really saw them work through issues and deal with the discomfort of learning about the world’s problems. The camp was so powerful.
In the past seven months I went through a lot of effort: completing grant applications, fundraising, cultivating partnerships and doing community outreach, developing curriculum, promoting the camp, etc. The idea that supported me along the way to completing this very difficult task was that I couldn’t not do it. I couldn’t stand to watch all the problems we currently have grow worse, knowing about the powerful tool of humane education. I know that my determination and actions were also inspiring to others. The fact that an individual can gather together a group of people with the same passion and ideals is the best proof of the power of being a solutionary.
Here’s one specific success story: At our camp, I took students and volunteers on a field trip to visit a local dog shelter; it was overcrowded and in poor condition, because of the lack of professional staff, sufficient funding, and proper management. Many students and volunteers were worried that they would get injured by the dogs. Their concern increased as we arrived at the front gate of the shelter, hearing almost 150 dogs barking at the same time. However, things went very differently five minutes after we went inside. Students learned that most of the dogs were friendly and safe to approach, despite the fact that they were homeless and did not get enough veterinary care. Our students and volunteers played with the dogs and gently petted them. Some of them also brought dog food and used clothes to donate. Most students interacted with the homeless dogs with care and empathy. They became so attached that we stayed there for longer than expected and almost missed dinner. A volunteer asked about adoption on the very same day, and a student asked for the address so that she could bring her family to the shelter and adopt a dog.
At the end of our first camp, many of the students told me that they very much appreciated this camp, that they learned a lot, and that they would love to participate in our future activities. Some older students even expressed their interest in joining the movement of advocating for humane education. During our promotional presentations after the camp, students told me that they had been interested in one or two of the humane topics for a long time, and that it was great to learn about institutions that work on these issues and to better understand the connections among issues.
IHE talks about planting seeds. I didn’t go into Humaneness 101 thinking that the new ideas I would be teaching would grow into a tree overnight. I think having a humane education summer camp in China is success enough in and of itself.
Throughout the week there were excellent instances of seeds taking root and sprouting. By the end of the week during our morning English enrichment session I got to talk with one of our young girl campers, Sherry. Sherry had had some problems with attention, focus, and her eyes (regarding their desire to frequently roll at us when introducing new material) during the beginning of the week. On that last day however, I asked her what she had learned this week, and if her life would be different in any way after leaving the camp. She had considerably good English and was always eager to talk, usually about her favorite boy band. She told me: “I learned so much this week, that the oceans need better care, and that I should eat less meat. I feel changed, I am a different person.” A huge tree had somehow sprouted and grown within just that week, and I will never forget that moment.
My students encouraged me to push Humaneness 101 forward, so that’s my plan. I’d love to enrich our curriculum and extracurricular opportunities by thorough research, dedicated preparation, and by expanding our team and building partnerships.
I hope to team up with some fellow IHE colleagues and create an introductory course for undergraduate students. Eventually I think it would be amazing if there was an entire undergraduate degree for humane education studies!
I want to keep on shaping and improving Humaneness 101. It was a phenomenal camp, but after having that experience, I have all these ideas bouncing around that I would love to implement. I am excited to see what the future of Humaneness 101 is, and I am super excited to be a part of that future. In addition, as a student, I will continue to keep humane education in mind with all my studies, and when carving out my career and future.
IHE: What gives you hope for a better world for all?
We all have issues and beings we care about. We argue for gender equality if we don’t want our daughters to be mistreated. We fight for clean air if we want our children to live a healthy life. We might not always be perfect or compassionate, but the humaneness and care that are rooted deeply in our hearts give me hope for a better world. Human beings naturally want to strive to create a better world, and that can be achieved with enough inspiration, encouragement, and positive enforcement through humane education.
I got to participate in IHE’s student residency before heading to China. I met the most incredible group of people and was so fortunate to learn from them about humane education. That experience fostered so much hope for what I can do in this world, especially as an individual. Then I traveled to China, literally across the world, and I met another amazing group of individuals, as eager and devoted to teaching youth about humane education as my colleagues and friends from residency are. This experience instilled so much hope on a greater scale. It made me believe that systemic change for the world is possible, when thousands of miles apart, people are united in a common goal and idea; and it only leads me to believe that there are many more people out there in between the thousands of miles with the same sorts of solutionary-based aspirations. From these experiences, having hope comes naturally.
Those little interactions that bring out sunshine in individuals. You know, it would be so wonderful to make large-scale changes in a couple swift moves, but I know it does not happen like that. I have had small encounters, little conversations with students and peers, and I see their confidence rise as the wheels in their mind turn and turn. The way the little things adds up is beautiful, and it makes it all worth it to me.