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Nuhad Sheikh, Founder of RefQ, Creator of the Vegan Yogi

From Roland Azar, Middle East Vegan Society
May 2024

Whether through rescues, education, adopting a children's book about empathy, or my brands 'Asante' and 'The Vegan Yogi,' which are vegan alternatives to dairy products, I sure hope I've manifested my life purpose. Or maybe more is yet to come.

Middle East Vegan Society

The Middle East Vegan Society had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Nuhad Sheikh, a vegan and animal rights activist whose motivations have changed because of her first rescued cat. In addition to being the creator of "Asante" bags—an artistic idea with opulent finishing that is created ethically and with love—Nuhad is also the founder of "RefQ," the first NGO in Northern Lebanon aimed at helping animals. Nuhad is also the creator of "The Vegan Yogi," plant-based foods for which her product, Vegan Yogi Labneh, recently got featured among Horecasho Innovations of the Year.

What motivated you to start the RefQ NGO?

Upon returning to Lebanon after spending years in Dubai, I felt the need to follow my heart and passions. Namely, my family, design, and helping animals. I believe the helping animals part was inspired by Roughy, my rescued cat. I first volunteered with Animals Lebanon as I lived in Beirut for a while. Later, when I returned to Tripoli, I felt that Tripoli needed its own NGO. I did several rescues before finally registering RefQ (which means compassion in Arabic) and later establishing a dog shelter as well. The major work to be done is on education and specifically the youth, which we work on daily.

Nuhad Sheikh
Nuhad Sheikh and her friend...

To what extent has the economic crisis in Lebanon and Canada's dog adoption ban affected your shelter?

The economic crisis has taken its toll on people as well as animals in Lebanon. BIG TIME! Pets were being dumped at an alarming rate because many people felt that they could no longer afford them. Unfortunately, the pandemic added to the fear that people had about keeping their pets at home. And we found that our small shelter was no longer small anymore and moved to a larger shelter. Canada's ban on dog adoption was a true blow! We had amazing families who gave many of our dogs the best lives they could dream of. And unfortunately, there are not that many good adopters in Lebanon. We had dogs return to the shelter after being adopted and, in many cases, dumped again. Unfortunately, the concept of a pet not being a toy constantly needs to be reaffirmed and is a big part of what NGOs are trying to convey.

Can you tell us about your TED talk, how you got involved, and how that experience was?

Giving a TED X talk was on my bucket list of things to do in my lifetime, and I'm blessed to have been given such an opportunity. When TEDX Azm University put out the call for speakers and the subject was "A revolution within," as it was shortly after the Lebanese revolution, someone gave me a call and said, I think you should submit your name and talk about your life change or revolution within. I started gathering the pieces of the changes that came to be: the diet, the NGO, the lifestyle, and I traced them back to Roughy, my first rescued cat, and thus called my TEDX talk, the cat that changed my life. I was so moved to know that it touched many people who also relate to their pets and have changed their views on animals as sentient beings because of an eye-opening encounter with one. It is still emotional to think of every cat or dog that I was blessed to cross paths with. I wish more people would widen their compassion horizons to encompass all living beings.

What was your motivation for creating vegan leather handbags? And what is your goal?

I wanted to create a handbag brand since I was in Dubai and had it on my vision board for the year 2010, the year I moved back to Lebanon. Being in the design field and loving handbags, I started "Asante" here in Lebanon, and I remember vividly the conversation I had with the artisan who manifested my designs when I said that I didn't want to work with leather. He said the alternative was PU, and it's cheap. Do you want to sell a good product or compete with cheap bags from China?

 A couple of years down the line, I was at a fair for raw materials in Milan and encountere this Italian  company that manufactures leather from plants. It was a eureka moment for me, and I started seeing the news in front of me: "Asante is going vegan". It did around the same time I did (6 years ago) and has been vegan since.

My goal in almost everything I do is to show that we have a choice. Everything we do can be done ethically or not, and the choice is ours. With the abundance that we thankfully live in, we can eat, dress, and act without the need to harm animals in the process. Whether through rescues, education, adopting a children's book about empathy, or my brands "Asante" and "The Vegan Yogi," which are vegan alternatives to dairy products, I sure hope I've manifested my life purpose. Or maybe more is yet to come. We appreciate Mrs. Nuhad Sheikh for promoting animal rights and for being a catalyst for change in the Middle East.

Through RefQ and her unwavering dedication to animal welfare despite Lebanon's economic crisis and Canada's dog adoption ban, Mrs. Sheikh exemplifies resilience and compassion. In her TEDX talk, titled "The Cat That Changed My Life," she discusses how our connections with animals can transform us. The "Asante" bags are the result of Mrs. Sheikh's seamless blend of interior design talent and commitment to responsible production. Her overarching message, reflected in her various endeavors, encourages us all to make ethical choices and recognize the interconnectedness of all living beings. Mrs. Nuhad Sheikh's impactful contributions, spanning rescues, education, and the promoti on of vegan alternatives, serve as a beacon of inspiration, urging us to embrace compassion and actively participate in creating a more humane world.

We wish you the best of luck on your future journeys, and we look forward to seeing you reach higher and higher.

Posted on All-Creatures: June 13, 2024
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