An assumption of many activists is that human cultures typically go through a kind of progression when addressing an injustice: First, having little concern for the suffering of members of an oppressed group; next, evolving to a point where there is a value for not excessively abusing members of that group; and then, finally, coming to question the society's "right" to use members of that group as a means to an end. Exploitation and abuse simply cannot be overcome until justice, and not "humane treatment" becomes the focal point of the social dialogue.
In the context of our work here at Tribe of Heart, we have often wondered what might be possible in a culture that is just beginning to engage with animal protecton issues. If citizens were to be given access to the right kind of information and encouragement right from the start, might they be able to skip one of these steps and go straight to understanding and embracing the concept of animal rights/justice?
Based on reports we received from the founders of Yêu Động Vật (YDV), a Vietnamese animal advocacy group, it seems this indeed may be possible. In March, 2013, YDV partnered with Bob Lucius of the US-based Kairos Coalition to organize test screenings of Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. What they discovered is that audience members, most of whom had limited comprehension of English, were deeply affected despite the fact that the version of the film they viewed did not yet have Vietnamese subtitles. The human and animal behaviors depicted in the film apparently were sufficiently powerful in and of themselves to allow many viewers to transcend the language barrier and grasp the deeper messages of the the film. Written audience comments reflected remarkable understanding and an embrace of the film's message, including willingness to contemplate personal change. These examples, translated from Vietnamese, were some of the most touching and thoughtful that we have ever received:
Viewer 1: The film makes me realize new feelings. Suddenly, I realize that animals are just like humans. They know how to laugh, to cry, to have fun and to show their emotions. I remember now the dishes made of meat I've always eaten, and I think about how they were killed. I wonder why they should be treated like that. I should change my diet.
Viewer 2: Watching the film, I feel my heart breaks for how animals are treated. Although animals are not as intelligent as humans, they are still beings with feelings, they know pain and sadness like we do. Let's treat them as people treat each other. Respect them, love them so that not only their life but ours is better also. They will be our loyal friends. This film also makes me aware that eating meat is not the only way to live, so I'll have more vegetables in my meals so that they can live longer.
Viewer 3: I don't know what to say right now. Too many emotions for a film. We need freedom, so do the animals. Who can give them peace and freedom? It's us! From today, I'll go vegetarian. Thank you so much for the filmmakers.
Viewer 4: I've never eaten vegetarian food before because I thought I could not and I didn't want to. From now on, I can start it. This movie has just changed me. It's so painful and real that many people just ignore and pretend not to know about it. Farm animals, as well as all kinds of animal, have souls and feelings. They deserve to live a good life. And we -- people -- owe them their life, owe them a good life with sentiment. Hope that more and more people realize it.
What this feedback beautifully illustrates is the human capacity for moral imagination. In a culture where animal rights is just beginning to gain momentum, a respectful presentation of the injustices that our fellow animals endure was enough to bring about powerful transformation. The history of Vietnam has forged an advanced understanding of the importance of human rights, which likely helps pave the way for extending the same thought process to the question of animal rights. Every era, and every human culture, has its wisdom and achievements in the realm of conscience, creating a foundation for early adopters and visionaries to build upon. And in the case of the animal issue, nearly every human culture also has a history of extreme exploitation to overcome. The weight of this monumental task becomes lighter when we share the burden. As a result, whenever we have a chance to partner with activists in other countries, we experience a sense of energy and hope. It is clear how much we have to learn from each other, and how the solution to a problem of planetary proportions can only be found in a global movement.
In the case of YDV, we have been so impressed by the dedication and intelligence of the leaders of this grassroots organization, which got its start with companion animal rescue work and has steadily worked to address more and more facets of animal rights work. They are pioneers and trailblazers, and they are laying the foundations of a movement that has the potential to impact Vietnamese culture for decades to come.
After the successful test screenings for Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home, Tribe of Heart next worked with members of YDV on a Vietnamese-language version of The Witness, which was recently completed and is now available for free viewing at Tribe of Heart's Online Screening Room along with a number of Vietnamese-language educational resources, such as slide shows about the myth of "humane" agriculture.
Eddie Lama of The Witness with Trevor DeSane (photo by www.gennyc.com)
For the Vietnamese section of the Screening Room, Tribe of Heart core team member Trevor DeSane worked closely with the YDV team, who utilized our internet-based translation system to efficiently subtitle the film, the screening room website text, and accompanying educational resources. This project required in-depth communication and collaboration, and over time Trevor built a close working relationship with YDV translators: Trurong Giang, Hong Dung, and Vi Thao Nguyen.
The subtitling work was completed and then carefully audited for accuracy. Then, an exciting premiere event was organized by YDV in September, 2013, with an encore screening to follow in December. When activist educators do all the hard work of bringing the film into their language, and then are the first ones to screen it in their country, interact with the audience afterwards, and see what a difference they have made, it can be a life-changing experience. Our translation partners get a rare opportunity to see transformation happen right in front of their eyes, change that they helped make possible. Similarly, members of Tribe of Heart's team take such inspiration from the accomplishments of our international outreach partners, who help us keep in touch with the idealism that is central to our mission and life's work. They also help us expand our perspective beyond the limitations of our own culture and background.
What is equally inspiring is that the wave of change keeps growing. When we publicize exciting developments such as the work being done by Bob Lucius of the Kairos Coalition and the YDV team in Vietnam, it inspires other people to get involved with translating our films into additional languages, and the program propagates organically. In fact, we often struggle to keep up with the requests from activists in so many countries. Further, activists and educators in the US, upon learning about these developments, experience a sense of solidarity and hope as they see the great work being done by activists in other countries and realize they are part of a global movement as well as a noble historical tradition.
Next up for the YDV team is translation and distribution of Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home, a project that has the potential to change many lives, in part by helping more people understand, appreciate and support the important work YDV is doing on behalf of animals being used and killed for human food. We feel honored to work with the members of YDV, and grateful for all the hard work they are doing to create a more just and compassionate future for us all.
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