Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Compassion VS Sentiment

I just read the very personal account of a lady who just started her blog about Orangutan charity work and it made me think about my own views, and how much they have changed over time. 

I feel that as I get older I toughen up. I  used to drive 40 miles with a little bird to the vet clinic in the hope that they could save it - what they couldn't - and I was devastated, mainly about the fact that the little one died alone in a scary car, rather then being surrounded by familiar bird voices, in a place it knew. These days I see death in an amazingly cool way. I have seen it a few times now, and on quite some of those occasions I was the cause of it.  It brings things into perspective. I killed mice to be able to feed them to an injured owl, I killed birds and mice with injuries from cat bites, I strangled a rabbit once, I called the vets to put down two of my cats when they were starting to suffer, and once I didn't and stayed with the little fella till the end. And the bothersome thing about it is not death, but the decision that I have to take. This is the hardest choice which life is throwing at us, this one split second when a decision is to be made for or against life, suffering, or death.

And do not believe that you can chicken out. I don't know a single person who didn't come across death during a lifetime, and not taking a decision can be the worst of all choices: On our way to a family visit my husband and I passed a run over cat and although this is about a quarter of a century ago I am still blaming myself that we didn't stop to see if there was hope.

Those are decisions to be taken on behalf of another creature, and one only can hope that all the facts needed to take this decision are in place. For this fraction of time one has to have a christal clear mind, and for that one cannot allow sentiment, but only compassion. Love for the creature? Yes!... Pity? Certainly not! ... Pity for oneself of having to perform the sad task of deciding? Even worse!

So why am I telling you this in the Charity section? If you would translate the word 'charity' back and forth in a German dictionary you would end up with the word 'compassion', while 'sentiment' very easily brings you to 'mawkishness', but never to 'charity'.

The suffering that one is hoping to soothe through charitable work often is a bit further away from home,  at least for me it is, and the more I feel it necessary to pursue the quest to keep a clear mind, or to get one in the first place. Charity work by it's very nature has a huge emotional stake, but I am no good to any charity if I am breaking into tears when strength is needed. 

So you will not see me forward all too gruesome pictures and articles, and I do not look at them even. Firstly, I know how cruel the world is, and I do not need to have it visualised to become involved. The more that I don't believe that having seen pictures will help prepare me, should I ever get into the real life situation.  Secondly, they trigger an emotional response that I don't find helpful. To be able to strike back, one needs to understand the opposition, and that requires an open and clear mind.

Hence I decided to treat charity like a business. I could just do my bit, scrape the few pennies I own and donate them. Feel good factor achieved, and off the hook.  I could easily donate the money for my eco-tourism Sumatra trip to charity and would even lower my carbon footprint. Or I could do the trip, add a bit of income to this village community that I am going to visit, admittedly would have a good time, and I could learn, I could take pictures, I could write stories, I could create art, and I could use all that to spread the word and hopefully  create more money, and most importantly more awareness for the charity.

Do I sometimes sound harsh in voicing those business point of views in regard to charity? Probably, and I am not saying that this approach is suitable for everybody. It is my way, and when it is my time to kick the bucket I am hoping that the judgement will be gentle, and that there will be somebody taking the right decisions for me.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Orangutan Land Trust

OLT - Orangutan Land Trust is the new charity kid on the block. In a previous post I said: '... nursing Orangutans back to health until they can go back into the wild again.' Problem being: There is not a lot of 'wild' left over where they could go. And the bit that is still there is destroyed at the speed of light.

So Michelle Desilets who a good 10 years ago founded BOS-UK just recently set out to tackle this problem and founded Orangutan Land Trust. Her aim is to raise money to secure the land for the charity and to make it untouchable. Just $5 one hectar of forest can be preserved for 20 years.

One has to remember that palm oil is big money, and big money can buy everything. Governments might declare a plot as safe, but if cash is needed, they only care little about Orangutans or whether or not global warming will kick our bums. So far the places Lone Droscher-Nielsen, Michelle's partner in Borneo running the Nyaru Menteng sanctuary, managed to release Orangutans into, are almost inaccessible so not very interesting for the logging companies. It however costs immense effort and money to reach these places with boxed up Orangutans.

Nevertheless, in September 2009 46 Orangutans went back into the wild - 46 of 600 that is: Just to give you an idea about the dimensions we are talking about. Those 600 are living in Nyaru Menteng, which is the biggest rescue operation in the world, but there are many more living in other projects.

So history repeats itself a bit: While Lone is keeping things together in Nyary Menteng, Michelle is doing the fundraising, just this time with a bit of a different focus.

But not just that: Additionally OLT is to provide a platform for Orangutan organisations around the world to work together towards a common cause.

For me all of the above is a good reason to put Orangutan Land Trust up on our menu board, and of course I met her on Twitter (@orangutans)

PS: In October 2009 I decided to make OLT Incredible Ladies main charity. On occasion and on request we will take action on behalf of other charities as well, but my personal focus will stay on OLT.

Leap Spiral - The holistic approach

LEAP Spiral: I met Cynthia Ong the founder of LEAP on Twitter (@gaiksuan) and was fascinated by her energy. On reading through the LEAP website I just liked all the stuff they are doing. She has been tweeting pictures of the sun bear enclosure and reporting about the meetings she had with high ranking people to raise funds and ensure the future of the projects. Her pragmatic but persistent approach is quite to my liking. Like the others listed above: A truly incredible Lady!

Jane Goodall Institute - Chimpanzees

Oh well, she started it all. Diane Fossey who did for Gorillas what Jane is doing for Chimpanzees might be better known to the public because of her tragic end, but for me Jane is the godmother of animal field research. I got her book about her life between chimps when I was about 15 years old and it never left me. I even did a seminar talk for my biologie class at school when my chimpanzee language skills of that time were much apprechiated by my school mates; luckily by my teacher as well - I still have the book. Jane now has lifted her work onto an higher level and is promoting a more holistic approach. Please watch her talk on TED. She will explain it better than I will ever be able to.

So up she goes to our board on behalf of all Chimpanzees and humans. BTW: she is a Tweety (@JaneGoodallInst)

Borneo Orangutan Survivial Foundation - BOS UK

BOS - Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation I initially chose for the cute Orangutans. I had seen the Orangutan Diaries on the telly featuring the Nyaru Menteng Project and was hooked. Then it got a bit more complicated:

There is BOS International on their website called 'Save the Orangutan' and then there are independent charities which are affiliated to it like BOS UK called 'Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, Orangutan Outreach in the US and in Australia it is getting completely confusing with BOS Australia and The Australian Orangutan Project which is supporting the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation.

This is quite a bit of Orangutan, Survival, Borneo and Foundation going on, isn't it? And we haven't even touched the fact that there are Orangutans on Sumatra as well. Then I met Grainne McEntee on Twitter who is posting for BOS (@savetheorang) who got me started in my research.

And this is what I found out: There are several Orangutan projects going on in Malaysia and Indonesia and all the BOS affiliates are raising funds and supporting those projects. Their main focus is to give injured, starved and orphaned Orangutans a home and nurse them back to health until they can go back into the wild again. Additionally they are campaigning against use of palm oil which is not from sustainable sources and the destruction of Orangutan habitat, in particular illegal logging.

It however seems to be difficult to donate to a specific project. I for example was so attached to the Nyaru Menteng project featured by the Orangutan diaries, but I wasn't sure which of the BOS affiliates to use. I now know that BOS UK is sort of the fund-raising equivalent of Nyaru Menteng. While Lone Droscher-Nielsen was running the project in Indonesia, Michelle Desilets founded BOS UK to get the much needed financial support. This all started ten years ago and now the first of the hand reared orangutans are ready to go back into the wild. As if that weren't a huge challenge in itself it is made so much harder by the fact that the 'wild' is something that hardly still exists. Now Michelle founded a new charity 'Orangutan Land Trust' to preserve the land .

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Many a little makes a mickle!

Charities! What a subject to cover...

History of IL and charities
First of all: Whatever happens at ILP charity wise is absolutely non-commercial, private and voluntary. It was clear from the beginnings that one of the purposes of the website would be charity work. So in 2007 I did my first single Race for Life run, and in the two years that followed we had IL teams doing their best until we hit the brick wall, not being able to increase our impact anymore. A new strategy was needed!

A Critical Note: How to Charity?!
Although the 2009 Race for Life season was as much fun as usual I feel that we have to re-think our approach to charity, and on discussing the matter I found an open mind with the ladies.

Thing is: We did it twice now, everybody knows that we can do it, and 5k (3miles) is not considered a worthy challenge anymore by many sponsors.

There are so many charities out there competing for less funding available, so that unfortunately many sponsors want to see some pain and sweat delivered for the money they donate and the stakes are higher than ever. Even 10k are not considered a lot anymore, it has to be at least a half marathon, and the newest thing seems to be a track to the South Pole.

Although I like all the media via which news are spread so quickly, I nevertheless feel that in this case they contribute to undermining the humble efforts of normal people. So many celebrities are taking on challenges involving severe physical effort like hiking to Kilimanjaro, or walking 1000 miles in 1000 hours for which skilled teams are needed to bring them through the experience safely. Those events have strong coverage in the news and the internet and they are starting to become the norm.

These are fantastic challenges, great causes, huge amounts are collected, and they are once in a lifetime opportunity for the people doing it. Just that the bit regarding the supporting teams, the medical help the sponsors who pay for just that, gets easily forgotten.

Another way to raise attention is to become a bit frivolous. Just mix up the Midnight Walk and the Moon Walk and you might be ending up in very different kind of event.

This might all sound a bit petty, but this year’s experience with the Race for Life fund raising is supporting my new insight. One person I asked to sponsor me put it quite bluntly and I am sure there are others who think the same, but are just too polite to say it: ‘You are doing it again? Why? We all know by now that you can do it!’

I can’t argue with that!

And the next question I cannot answer either: What makes ‘Cancer Research’ better than ‘Heart foundation’, or ‘Alzheimer’s Research Trust’?

I don’t know; apart from the fact that I have committed to the one and not the others, nothing I guess. They are all important and as long as there are people out there collecting money for each of them they all will live.

However, in order to be successful, one has to take into account the ways people think. It clearly doesn’t work for our sponsors that we are doing the same thing over and over again.

They need variation – They will get variation!

It is just a matter of how to achieve that. I personally cannot take on challenges which stretch my physical capabilities to the limits. And I will not push others to do so. How can I promote a healthy lifestyle - pushing the envelope: ‘Yes! But not in a way that it is harmful for the body’, and then announcing participation in charity events which will most likely will kill my joints and do all sorts of harm. That just doesn’t go together.

If someone from the IL gang would like to do something like this I am happy to support her in any possible way, but it is not for me.

Three years of Race for Life have been a wonderful learning curve. I never will forget that it was Race for Life encouraging me to ‘get my bum up’. But now it seems that it is time to move on.

Moving on to environmental charities
Well, in my eyes this is the subject that needs to be addressed with highest urgency as otherwise we will not have to worry about the rest anymore. Once I stared diving into those charities I was baffled by the number of different organisations. That was the moment to follow my heart and I chose two main charities which are interrelated: OLT - Orangutan Land Trust and
BOS-Borneo Orangutan Survival. The sport and challenges blog 'Bloody Hell... ' tells the stories about the activities and ideas I am following up on to support those.

And then there are some others which I think do wonderful work. It is charities driven by the most inspiring women I know, and hence they deserve articles here to spread their word.

BOS-Borneo Orangutan Survival

UK Branch - Grainne McEntee

OLT - Orangutan Land Trust

Michelle Desillets

Land Empowerment People

Leap Spiral

Working for great apes and humans

Jane Goodall

Raw Wildlife Encounters

Jessica McKelson