We are all bombarded with “bad news” everyday and I cannot allow the chance to share some of “the good” to slip by when it catches my attention. The following story is proof that WE CAN make a difference. We don’t all have to quit our day jobs to volunteer. We don’t all have to become overnight activists. If we can’t afford to donate money, we can give a little of our time. If we have no time to spare, simply sharing information via social media, signing a petition or forwarding a pre-drafted letter to someone in a position of power CAN make an impact. If enough people care, if enough voices are raised in support of worthy causes, we can change the world for the better… one small act of kindness at a time :).
I truly thought my next post would be a final Christmas 2012 wrap-up, but then I saw something wonderful on my Facebook news feed this morning and felt compelled to share it. Since October 2012 (when I was still on bed rest), I have been following the plight of Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre; a safe haven in which rescued bears who have suffered the most hideous, prolonged torture at the hands of bile “farmers” are able to recover. Since starting with my little Cupcake for Charity project, Animals Asia has quickly become one of my favourite charities, possibly due to the fact that I had only just started to support them when the following story of greed, corruption and hideous injustice made the headlines:
“On Friday 5 October, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) informed Animals Asia that the Ministry of Defence has issued an order to evict the sanctuary operation and its 104 rescued bears. This follows Mr Tien lobbying the Ministry of Defence to declare the land occupied by the sanctuary to be an area of “national defence significance”. Mr Tien has been pressuring Animals Asia to relinquish the land since April 2011. It is believed that he intends to hand it over to the Truong Giang Tam Dao Joint Stock Company, in which his daughter is part–owner. This company has submitted an application for development of a tourist park – plus wildfire park – and hotels on the site. Mr Tien and the Truong Giang Tam Dao Joint Stock Company have been lobbying the Vietnam Administration of Forestry, within MARD, to approve the real estate development. Mr Tien’s daughter is one of four founding members of the Truong Giang Tam Dao Joint Stock Company and holds 10 per cent of the company’s shares. Mr Tien has not publicly disclosed this information. Following interventions by local embassies, international organisations and European Ministers, as well as significant media attention, MARD issued a directive on 26 April 2012 ordering the park director to allocate the land to the bear rescue centre in line with the government’s original agreement with Animals Asia.
Mr Tien then spread misinformation, in an attempt to block construction of the third outdoor bear enclosure, that waste pollution from the rescue centre was damaging the environment and health of the local community. He requested that the Ministry of Agriculture close down the rescue centre and relocate the bears. Following an exhaustive investigation by the Vinh Phuc environmental department, the allegations were proved false. Mr Tien then began lobbying the Ministry of Defence to apply pressure on the Ministry of Agriculture to stop the rescue centre’s planned development. The claim that the land in question is an area of national defence significance is questionable, given that the centre has been in operation since 2005 and that the Chat Dau Valley, where it is located, has been used for tourism and other private purposes since the park opened in 1996. It is believed that once the bear centre is forced to close, the land will be declared to no longer be of national defence significance, allowing the Truong Giang Joint Stock Company to take it over for private development.
The eviction is in direct violation of the Vietnam government’s 2005 agreement with Animals Asia to fund and develop a facility on 12 hectares of the park that would permanently rehabilitate and house 200 endangered bears rescued from the illegal bear bile industry. Based on this agreement, Animals Asia has invested more than US$2 million in building and infrastructure. Currently 104 bears are being rehabilitated at the rescue centre, many after years of trauma from being locked up in small cages and painfully drained of their bile. These bears will be forced to return to cages to be relocated, which will have a major negative impact on their mental and physical well–being. It is likely to take at least two years to establish a new centre with outdoor enclosures, forcing the bears back into cages on a long–term basis.
The case will now go to the Prime Minister of Vietnam for a final decision. Animals Asia is calling on the public in Vietnam and worldwide to appeal to the Prime Minister to allow the Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre that he previously approved and endorsed to continue operations and expand in line with the government’s original agreement.”
Major newspapers and sites from around the globe started to pick up the story, celebrities hit Twitter and shared their outrage at the unfairness of the situation and voiced their support for Animals Asia and the rescued bears, people blogged about it (including myself), people shared links on Facebook… and the word spread. Hardly a day has gone by since I first heard about the eviction threat that I have not thought of those poor bears and the people who work with them.
Last Saturday we jumped online again to make a special kind of contribution to Animals Asia on behalf of our little Cupcake (who is now due in less than 3 weeks!). We decided to participate in the Animals Asia Befriend a Bear program, whereby our financial contribution will help aid a chosen bear’s rehabilitation process and, in exchange, we’ll receive a photo of our bear friend in a Befriend a Bear frame, incorporating a Befriend a Bear Certificate (to which we can add Cupcakes’s name), an information card on our bear’s unique character and a “gorgeous, plush Moon Bear toy“! This package just seems like the perfect memento with which we can one day illustrate to Cupcake the tangible impact her little life had on our desire to make the world a brighter place. We chose to befriend Jingle the bear. It was a family decision, given the official stamp of approval by 22 month-old L, whose favourite Christmas song (which he is still singing!) is “Jingle Bells”.
So, having just made our contribution to the Animals Asia Befriend a Bear program, and with the plight of the bears in Vietnam fresh on my mind, I was shocked (I still am!), relieved and overjoyed to see the following image appear on my Facebook news feed via the Animals Asia Facebook fan page and to read the following GREAT news:
“Animals Asia’s Vietnam bear rescue centre has been saved from the eviction threat that has been hanging over it since 5 October 2012. A communiqué issued by the Vietnamese government confirms that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has concluded that the rescue centre’s operation should be maintained, and that construction on the project’s second phase should continue. This decision ensures that the 104 bears living at the centre that have been rescued from the bile industry will stay, 77 local Vietnamese staff keep their jobs, and Animals Asia who fund and operate the centre will not suffer the financial losses of US $2 million as previously feared.
Animals Asia is a charity that is devoted to ending the barbaric practice of bear bile farming and improving the welfare of animals in China and Vietnam. The Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre, located in Tam Dao National Park, is dedicated solely to the rescue of previously farmed bears in Vietnam.
Tuan Bendixsen, Vietnam Director, Animals Asia commented: “We are very grateful to the Prime Minister for his commitment to the bear rescue centre. We look forward to working with the government to end bear bile farming and help conserve the bear species..”
Jill Robinson MBE, Founder and CEO, Animals Asia commented: “Our priority has been to rehabilitate these bears after their years of trauma from being locked up in small cages and milked for their bile. If we had been forced to relocate it would have had a terrible impact on their wellbeing. We want to sincerely thank the tens of thousands of supporters from around the world who wrote letters, sent e-mails and signed petitions calling for the eviction to be stopped.”
The rescue centre was established based on the Vietnam government’s 2005 agreement with Animals Asia to fund and develop a facility on 12 hectares of the park that would permanently rehabilitate and house 200 endangered bears rescued from the illegal bear bile industry. Based on this agreement, Animals Asia has invested more than US$2 million in building and infrastructure.”
I hope that in future I will remember this story if ever I am feeling small, voiceless and powerless. I hope it will remind me that one tiny light in the darkness can make a difference… and that good can indeed triumph over evil. I hope that it will serve as a warning to corrupt businesses and governments that “the people” are watching and that information can be readily shared these days. I hope that the completely unnecessary, barbaric practise of bear bile farming ceases completely and that the bears who have already suffered so horribly at the hands of greedy, ignorant men will find the peace they deserve… and come to know that human beings can be kind too.
We have recently made some other contributions to humanitarian causes to, which I will write about in the near future. In the meantime, please see:
CUPCAKE FOR CHARITY (AKA an exercise in gratitude & giving)
CUPCAKE FOR CHARITY, PART 2 (AKA changing the world DIY style)
CUPCAKE FOR CHARITY, PART 3 (AKA a time for giving)
for more details about the causes we are supporting and the stories that led to it happening.
Many, many thanks again to all those out there who care, share and make a difference !