This year's Animal-Friendly Kids Camp at the Sauvons nos Animaux shelter in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo hosted 240 children, with 160 of them old enough to actively participate in SnA's trainings, shelter tasks, and vegetable gardening. The ~80 others are very young and mostly get to observe (and eat lunch), but will more actively have a chance to participate in subsequent years.
The 2023 camp took place from 20 July to 2 August, starting a little later than usual because first, the SnA shelter wall (funded by Animal-Kind Int'l donors) had to be stable enough to ensure no harm would come to the kids.
Camp is a combination of lessons (always with some fun mixed in), games and craft making, and tasks. For example, the kids learn the benefits of plant-based eating and even get to practice their culinary skills, making smoothies and other treats. They learn about good animal care, including how to feed cats and dogs, that clean water is very important; they learn about grooming, vaccinating, and spay/neuter. They learn how to approach dogs and how to hold a cat. Lessons also include information about Congo's amazing biodiversity. And in general, the kids learn respect for cats, dogs, all animals, and each other.
One day at camp, Paterne and the children discussed "saying no to dog meat." Unfortunately, some children have been forced by family members to eat dog meat or have eaten dog meat without even being aware of it. Here are a few touching testimonials from the campers:
Emilie: "When I came home from school, my aunt served me a plate of meat. She said it was chicken. I ate it, but when I found out later that it was actually dog meat, I was extremely shocked and upset. I wish people would understand that animals deserve to be respected and loved, not eaten."
[Paterne explained that chickens are animals too and deserve to be treated with respect and not treated cruelly. This is a new concept for most given that chickens are raised as free-range, but then they are transported to markets in pretty horrid cramped conditions; from markets to home by foot, bike, or motorbike (usually swinging upside down-like an inanimate object), or on the top or in the boot of a vehicle (like luggage); and sold at markets, spending all day in small cages, with no shade, no water. Thinking about chickens as feeling beings can be a whole new way for the kids to think about chickens.]
Mugoli: "During a family meal, my uncle insisted that I try some meat he had prepared. I had no idea it was dog meat. When I learned the truth, I was devastated. Animals are our friends, and they should never be mistreated in this way."
Aline had a similar experience and when asked how it made her feel to have eaten dog meat without knowing what she was eating, she said, "I felt betrayed and sad to have contributed to this animal suffering."
Paterne told us, "These poignant testimonials underline the importance of informing children about respect for animals and their food choices. At Animal Friendly Kids Camp, we attach great importance to respect for all living beings. Having heard from the camp children, we'll be even more committed to promoting a world where all living things are treated with respect and compassion."
Paterne's wife Esther, a trained agronomist, taught the campers how to plant and take care of a vegetable garden. Here, along with her friend, Esther is showing the campers how to plant amaranth seeds. Amaranth greens are a popular food.
What were the highlights of this year's Animal Friendly Kids Camp? From Paterne's view, the greatest impacts and his most favorite memories are:
Familiarizing the children with the shelter's animals and their different personalities and how to live with a family cat and dog, how to protect them, and how to combat abuse.
Craft making and coloring and other fun and games was popular because these kids come from poor families, where they don't often have a chance to just have fun.
Preparing and tasting plant-based foods and how to grow a garden. This is a good practical skill that the kids can use forever.
All the kids are special, but one very smart boy stood out who we hope will continue to help out at the shelter. It only takes one to change the world.
Paterne is grateful to everyone who helped make the 2023 camp a reality. :If we didn't organize the camp, these children would be on the street begging or being used in building sites and others might be involved in abuse, because it's in the dry season that there are more cases of abuse. The only problem we have is that we don't have a shelter where the children can sit without being exposed to the burning Congolese sun."