Q. Why did you decide to become vegan, and what was the path you took?
A. About 10 years ago, I adopted a 3 month old Maltese who started me on the road of inner transformation. When I met my now 10 year and half old dog Nikita I was a happy go lucky single guy who used to work hard and party hard. I never had any responsibility for others and I was oblivious of the suffering around me. When I was forced to take care of Nikita, for the first time in my life, and yes I was forced to take him because my cousin who bought him from a breeder in New york could not keep him in her apartment, because of complaints from neighbors. I was supposed to keep him for three months until she could relocate to an apartment that accepted dogs. Well it never happened, and I was forced to adopt the little guy.
What I did not realize at the time was that a 7 lb dog that peed and pooped everywhere, that barked incessantly was to be the most important teacher I ever had. In the next few years Nikita taught me things that I never considered to be important. He taught me patience, humility, being in the moment and most of all what it means to give unconditional love. His vulnerability, his complete dependence on me for his existence made me realize how we humans wielded so much power over our 4 legged co-inhabitors. One day I was walking and I was holding him in my hands and I felt his little heart beat and at that moment it hit me. What is the difference between the little guy I was holding in my hand that I loved so much and a chicken that I eat? The realization that there was essentially no difference between the two beings started me on a a journey that I am still on. I immediately stopped eating red meat, later stopped chicken, milk, cheese and about 3 years later fish and became a complete vegan about 7 years ago. Ten years later I have 5 dogs: three rescued from the mean streets of Houston and one homeless sweet dog from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The first path I took was to delve into Buddhism, a way of life I still respect, but eventually did not fulfill me. I eventually started reading books like Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, which knocked me off my feet, because I was so oblivious of how badly we humans treat animals till I read that book, which I followed up with Eternal Treblinka by Charles Patterson, The Dreaded Comparison by Marjorie Spiegel and Unnatural order by Jim Mason. These 4 books gave me the basic philosophic underpinning and understanding of how Species-ism works and the interrelationship of all the "'isms'' that exist today. I eventually gave up leather, animal tested cosmetics etc. The transformation that started 10 years ago has led me to where I am today. A human rights and animal rights activist committed to creating a peaceful and just world.
Q. Tell us about your Foundation's work.
A. Our organization, the International Fund for Africa, formerly called the Amsale Gessesse Memorial Foundation was established in early 2007 in Houston,TX as a 501 (c) 3 non for profit organization. Our main focus has been to help people and animals in our home country of Ethiopia primarily. The idea of the foundation came about after I went to Ethiopia in 2003 for the second time in 25 years ,what I saw touring hospitals in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, and the suffering I witnessed on the streets of Addis Ababa and rural parts of the country, of both animals and people made me realize that I had to get involved and do something about it. After about 4 years, my cousin Ms. Seble Nebiyeloul and I came up with the idea of starting a foundation honoring my dead mother and her aunt dedicated to preventing, alleviating and abolishing suffering of human and non–human animals.
At present our major projects revolve around:
A) Upgrading existing neonatal and pediatric services of existing hospitals in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We are in the process of helping one rural clinic serving 67,000 people in Northern Ethiopia. We are equipping them with much needed medical equipment. In the future we plan to expand our rural work to other parts of Ethiopia and other parts of Africa.
B) Helping reduce and when possible abolish the suffering of domestic and working animals.
C) Helping Veterinary Schools in Ethiopia build a non existent small animal training program.
D) Educating Ethiopians on how to treat all animals with compassion.
E) Helping organizations in Ethiopia who are working to preserve the cultural and artistic heritage of Ethiopia.
F) Supporting different Vegetarian Societies in other African countries spread veganism.
G) Supporting organizations that are trying to protect the environment and the wildlife that depend on a safe environment.
For more information please go to www.ifundafrica.org.
A. The cave dogs are 4 dogs that were saved from a cave, or better still, a pit approximately 20 to 30 feet deep on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. The cave was called the Gido cave, and it was where locals would throw mostly unwanted family dogs (especially females and their puppies) into the caves so that they would not find a way to get back to their homes, which they never did when abandoned far away from home. The idea was to starve them to death. According to locals, this practice had been going on for at least 20 years, 20 to 30 dogs a month thrown into the pit. Over 6000 dogs have lost their lives in the Gido Cave. In June 2007 our Foundation learned about the cave with the help of a local group in Addis Ababa (HAPS). We asked them to investigate and they came back and informed us there were 4 dogs waiting to die of hunger or thirst or both. We Instructed them to rescue them, and told them that our foundation would pay for the rescue which took a week. We petitioned the government to permanently close the cave which they allowed us to do. After their rescue, they were not able to be adopted in Ethiopia so our foundation paid for them to be transported to the US for adoption. In less than a year, two of them were adopted in the Houston area and two went to Best Friends and within a few months were also adopted and are now living the "American Dream". The story of the cave dogs was featured on National Geographic in May of 2008.
Q. What can readers do to help you in this effort?
A. The most important thing your readers can do is go to our website, watch the videos, look at the pictures, read the stories and look deep into their hearts and if what we are doing resonates in their hearts and souls, let them support us, let them be members, let them donate money, even a small amount on a regular basis will help, let them volunteer. That is what they can do to help our efforts.