Sunday, April 25, 2010

Appreciating Activists from Around the Globe

Last Monday, I had the opportunity to attend what is known as the Goldman Environmental Prize. My full-time job is with a non-profit organization called the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and we were given a couple of free tickets. This was the third time I have attended this event.

Each time I have been impressed with how this organization chooses award recipients – instead of giving awards to celebrities or politicians, the awards are given to activists – real activists. In addition to receiving an award, the activists are also given money to help them continue their efforts.

Every year the awards are given to six individuals. The recipients are also broken down by areas around the world: Africa, Asia, Europe, Island and Island Nations, North America and Central & South America.

In years past I have been touched by the stories and the campaigns and efforts of people around the globe. In particular, this year, many of the recipients were individuals who carried out their work on behalf of animals. I am only going to describe those whose activism relates to the work of the Food Empowerment Project, but I do hope that you will take the time to read about the others.

The recipient for North America was from Michigan (Lynn Henning). By doing her own investigations of water quality near industrialized animal factories, she was able to get thousands of citations filed against them. In her speech she did mention the treatment of the animals. As someone who has stopped industrialized animal factories (one 6,000 cow dairy and a 1,500 heifer farm), I can tell you that it is not an easy feat. The fact that she was able to work on this issue and be successful in a state like Michigan is very impressive. And even better, she is still doing it!

The recipient for the Island and Island Nations was from my beloved Cuba. (Humberto Ríos Labrada). His work is ironically something that I have been writing and talking about for years: “A scientist and biodiversity researcher, Humberto Ríos Labrada promoted sustainable agriculture by working with farmers to increase crop diversity and develop low-input agricultural systems that greatly reduce the need for pesticide and fertilizer, encouraging Cuba’s shift from agricultural chemical dependence.” Not only does his work promote not using agricultural chemicals, his work is why Cuba is known around the world for their organic farming. Organic farming is not only better for the planet and the people who eat the food, but is better for the workers too. And of course, having small organic farms can allow them to be more self-reliant. This concept is a focal point of the Food Empowerment Project—our desire to encourage people to become empowered by being self-sufficient and grow their own food within their own community.

The recipient for South and Central America was from Costa Rica (Randall Arauz). I believe many of you might be more familiar with him and his work which has drawn international attention to the horrific practice of shark finning. He has been leading the charge in Costa Rica on this incredibly important issue. What was even better, was being in a room with hundreds of people who many, for the first time, watched the incredibly cruel process of shark finning. As sharks are one of my favorite animals, it was incredible to finally hear people have sympathy for these amazing creatures.

I thank them all for their wonderful work on behalf of the animals and the planet. And I am so thankful that there are awards given to many of the unsung heroes who often get overlooked.

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