Taking learners to a new level of conciousness
The Humane Education Trust was started in 1998 when it began collecting funds in order to sponsor a lecture tour of South Africa by Phil Arkow, an international expert on the link between animal abuse and human violence. He had recently co-authored a book with the amazingly long title of: Child Abuse, Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse: Linking the Circles of Compassion for Prevention and Intervention.
In 2000, at the invitation of HET, Phil Arkow travelled to South Africa and spread the new knowledge that “wherever animals are abused, people are at risk”. A year later, HET was given the go-ahead by the Safe Schools programme of the Western Cape Education Department to pilot a three-month humane education project in 11 schools that had been affected by violence. This initiative was monitored by Mr PW Roux, a clinical psychologist attached to the Department of Correctional Services. The aim of the pilot study was to prove that humane education should be incorporated, as a vital component, in the national curriculum for schools.
In his assessment of the pilot project, psychologist PW Roux said: “I think people have lost their sense of connection. We have to leave the world in the hands of people who can care for this world and I cannot think of a better way to start doing this than through humane education.” Eugene Daniels, then head of the WCED’s Safe Schools Programme, said: “Our Safe Schools Programme is not only about the elimination of crime and violence in the school environment, it’s about values. You can’t actually address crime and violence unless you look into the hearts and minds of people. In this respect, Humane Education can play a vital role.”
A 21-minute documentary entitled Caring Classrooms which monitored the pilot project and its outcomes, was launched at an education conference in Brussels, Belgium, in 2001. This documentary has subsequently received world-wide recognition.
In 2002, the Humane Education Trust became part of the National Department of Education’s NEEP programme. NEEP (National Environmental Education Project) was initiated by the then Minister of Education, Kader Asmal, and aimed to develop resource materials to support environmental and humane education in the Foundation, Intermediate and Senior Phases of the National Curriculum.
In September 2003, 125 educators, 60 of whom travelled from the far-flung reaches of Africa, converged on Cape Town for the All-Africa Humane Education Summit. Altogether, 18 African countries attended this historic event including Botswana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Lesotho, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and, of course, South Africa. Ronald Swartz, who was head of the WCED at the time, gave the key-note speech at this ground-breaking event. In his speech, he said:
“Anyone who has ever worked on behalf of animal welfare is sure to be asked, sooner or later, ‘why are you so concerned about animals’ sufferings when there are so many humans living in wretchedness?” And indeed there is some sense to this question as long as we see ourselves as being essentially separate and different from the natural environment and its kingdoms. But to think like that is to remain stuck in zero-sum thinking, where one thing can benefit only at the expense of another. And there is no need for us to stay trapped in this notion. We are not doomed to any either-or choice between treating animals better and treating humans better.
“We need to replace that zero-sum notion with the win-win realization that caring about humans and caring about animals are not mutually exclusive: they are two aspects of the same consciousness, and each one reinforces the other…
“How we treat animals and how we treat each other are two stems that grow from the same root. If there are thorns of neglect, contempt or cruelty on one, we can be sure to find them on the other. The essence of this new approach to the world is a spirit based on respect, and respect is indivisible…
“We urgently need to help our young people build a better future, a future founded on the very values that Humane Education aims to inculcate.”
Today, the Humane Education Trust has a comprehensive selection of readers, documentaries and wall charts that promote the spirit of care and respect for all life. Our resources, many of which have curriculum-aligned workbooks to accompany them, have all received Education Department approval.
Our work in developing further resources is on-going.