As Kebeh walked the dirt road leading to her school in rural Liberia, she stopped to listen to a strange sound. She could just make out a tiny whimper emanating from a roadside ditch; cautiously, she investigated the source of the sound. The 12-year-old girl was surprised to find a small abandoned puppy, shivering with cold and fear. The animal had been abandoned some days before and was close to death. Kebeh knew she couldn’t leave her. Although she was doubtful that the dog would survive, Kebeh scooped the puppy in to her sweater and rushed her back home.
Only a few months earlier, Kebeh would have been too scared of the puppy to approach. At best, dogs are often thought of as a nuisance here and at worst, a very real danger. In a country scarred by the devastating impact of a bloody civil war with limited healthcare and a shattered economy, poverty and issues like rabies are still very real concerns.
But for Kebeh, a significant shift in her feelings towards animals is the recent result of her participation in SPANA’s Animal Kindness Club. Every week, Kebeh and her classmates learn about animal welfare through fun, hands-on activities that encourage compassion to both domestic and working animals in their communities. As many families here rely on donkeys for their survival, these lessons are critically important as they are inspiring the next generation of working animal owners to provide healthy and happy lives for their animals.
Since 2014, SPANA has supported the establishment of 30 clubs, reaching over 15,000 children in communities across Liberia. These students go on to champion a message of kindness to animals. By speaking to their friends, families and neighbours about animal welfare, attitudes are beginning to change.
Back at home, Kebeh washed and dried the puppy, which she named Survival. Kebeh woke up through the night to feed Survival by hand and make sure she was warm. Within days, Surival had begun to put on weight and regain her energy, devotedly following Kebeh from room to room. The little girl and the puppy soon became inseparable and Survival is even Kebeh’s constant companion at school. Although initially cautious, Keben’s classmates now welcome Survival’s presence and look forward to seeing her every day.
Kebeh uses Survival as an opportunity to teach her classmates and community about animal welfare. She explains to her friends that Survival can feel pain just like humans and needs food, water, shelter and kindness in order to survive.
Kebeh’s animal welfare teacher, Patrick, is heartened by the profound impact that these regular animal welfare classes are having on his students, saying:
The education programme has changed the way our students view animals. Children who were the main abusers of animals are now the main helpers of animals.
Kebeh seconds Patrick’s sentiments and explains how her attitude has changed thanks to these regular SPANA-funded lessons:
Every time I see Survival, I am happy because we are best friends. I am so happy that the programme is in our school and want it to continue so that all the children and adults in our town will know that animals can feel pain and suffer.