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Children's Workshop Encouraging Compassion: 'Love – Help – Don’t Harm.'

From VINE Vegan in Education
April 2024

The children clearly enjoyed learning about the ethical treatment of animals and how to live more sustainably. We asked Barbara [Polish Animal Rights activist] if she could write something about her workshops and she kindly agreed.

teaching veganism

We are thrilled to have connected with Barbara Niedzwiedzka from Poland. Last summer, our founder Michelle St John gave a presentation on VinE at an animal rescue open day in Krakow. At the event, she met Barbara and her colleagues who were running an educational workshop for children. This workshop sought to encourage children’s empathy for animals and care for the planet. The children clearly enjoyed learning about the ethical treatment of animals and how to live more sustainably. We asked Barbara if she could write something about her workshops for the ‘Grapevine’ and she kindly agreed.

Children’s Workshop Encouraging Compassion: ‘Love – Help – Don’t Harm.’

For several years, I have been running educational workshops in Poland to encourage children’s empathy and compassion for animals and care for the planet. These workshops are held at various venues including local farmers’ markets, festivals, parish events, animal rescue open days, and on international awareness days such as World Animal Day which is also the feast of St Francis (4th October)

One of our key aims is to increase children’s awareness of the needs of nature, especially the emotional and physical needs of domestic, wild and farmed animals. The workshop is entitled: Love – Help – Don’t Harm.

We want to encourage children’s respect and love for animals and nature whilst highlighting the call for the compassionate treatment of all God’s creation inherent in the Catholic faith and other religious and non-religious traditions. We also wish to educate them on the scientific evidence supporting the sentience of animals and the devastating harm done to them and the environment by the animal agriculture industry.

teaching veganism

The ecological texts of Pope Francis, especially the encyclical Laudato si’ and the Exhortation Laudate Deum, as well as the statements of previous popes, highlight the interconnectedness of living beings and humankinds’ responsibility to ensure all life on Earth flourishes. These texts incorporate modern scientific findings on the causes of environmental destruction, climate change and related social justice issues. Ultimately, these works are helping restore our sense of connection with nature which Catholics have lost over the centuries.

So, what do the children do during our workshops? Primarily we want them to enjoy expressing their thoughts and feelings through the creative arts. The children draw, select quotes or role play exercises from a prepared pool of age-appropriate resources. Sources of inspiration often include concepts taken from the encyclical Laudato si’, copies of which lie on the table for adults to take way.

We want the children to appreciate how we culturally define and use animals and invite them to think about why we treat farmed animals differently to companion animals. They learn that farmed animals have rich personalities and family lives but because they are seen chiefly as products they are not treated with the same kindness and respect.

The participants often choose to draw their interpretation or reaction to words which speak about ecological threats or our ethical duties toward animals. For example, they try to imagine what it means to be a contented happy animal such as a chicken, pig, or cow.

Let’s say the children are drawing from a theme concerning a pig, we talk about a pig’s intelligence, their family lives, their differing personalities and welfare needs. We also mention associated environmental issues that come from factory farming. We highlight that some people are vegetarian or vegan and see the pigs as friends not food.

As children of all ages come to our workshops, for the younger children we also have prepared pictures of animals to colour, including animals at risk of extinction. We talk about why these animals are becoming extinct and why we need to protect them.

Schools in Poland do provide children and young people with some idea of what it means to live ecologically, but they usually do not include any animal rights or welfare education other than that accorded to pet dogs or cats, nor do they develop a child’s sense of agency. That’s why we focus our educational work on farmed and wild animals.

We also encourage positive interactions with nature. We highlight the fact that there is beauty in an unmown lawn, and that it also provides a rich environment for wildlife. We can put out flat water containers for small wild animals in hot weather, and that every animal, even the smallest, feels pain and has a right to life.

Regarding the environment, we talk about such things as avoiding plastic products and packaging, the need to recycle, not dropping litter, turning energy sources off when not needed and not wasting water. We also delve deeper and ask children to question whether we really need so many gadgets or possessions, also how to share what we have too much of.

Moderators help the children to draw, explain phenomena and problems, ask and answer questions, and generally encourage ecological behaviour. Since the children are usually accompanied by their parents, we also can engage in more serious conversations with them.

Numerous passers-by can read the recommendations based on the encyclical, called the “Charter of the Christian Ecologist” on the blackboard. We also hang up the “Basic Principles of Good Animal Care” and an instruction on what words, and terms we should avoid as they denigrate animals such as ‘dirty pig’ or ‘stupid cow’. Those terms are equally denigrating when used to insult humans.

The drawings illustrate the children’s wonderful imagination and compassionate sensitivity. Signed by the children, they are then hung on boards so that everyone can see them, and the children often take a souvenir photo. They often want to take the drawings home with them. Thanks to sponsors, they also get small gifts to commemorate the event.

teaching veganism

Here are a few examples of quotes and tasks that inspire the children’s artwork and drama:

  • “How do you think a cow would like to live, where it would prefer to be and with whom, what do they like to eat, what can we do to make a cow feel good? What does the cow dislike, what does it fear, what gives it pleasure? Try drawing what happiness might look like for a cow and her calf.”
  • Quotes as inspirations, for example: God, like a father, loves all his creatures, and we all form a family; It is good and beautiful when in the garden and in the fields, we leave an uncultivated area where wild plants are free to grow and thrive; Man is to be a good steward looking after and cultivating the garden of the world; We save water so that there is enough for everyone; The heart is one; A good man is good to both animals and people; All creatures, including humans are connected, each must be appreciated with love and admiration, as we all need each other; All living beings form a kind of universal family.
  • A role-playing exercise for two children. This exercise asks the children to consider whether wild animals should be kept in zoos, used for entertainment or left in the wild. The children learn about the lives of lions in their natural environment compared to confined spaces.

The children are then invited to imagine they are both lions. One lives in a zoo and the other in the wild in Africa. They find out, by interviewing each other, what their life is like. Are they happy, how do they spend their time, what do they lack, what do they fear?

These workshops are always a ‘hit’. The children enjoy drawing and love the tasks and the challenges. It is often convenient for adults to leave the children in our care while they are shopping or need a moment’s break. Often, adults also get involved in drawing themselves. Taking advantage of the occasion, we talk to parents and guardians about an ecological lifestyle, what it means, and how to overcome difficulties. We talk about mindful buying, sustainable living, and the heartless exploitation of animals. A lot of adults are interested in learning more, so we direct them to educational or scientific materials and documentaries.

If anyone would like to receive a more detailed script for this workshop, I would be happy to make it available.

teaching veganism

Barbara Niedźwiedzka is a member of the Laudato si’ Movement, leader of The Christians for Animals-Poland, an animal rights activist and speaker, vegan, author of the blog and website:  

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