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Teaching and learning with some flavor of compassion

"Education is an act of love, therefore, an act of courage" Paulo Freire.

Teaching and learning with some flavor of compassion... an educational adventure for our satos

The challenge of going out to work and seeing homeless pets wandering through our streets, beaches, and schools exemplifies how evident and necessary it is still to work on the animal welfare issue here in Puerto Rico. Much has been discussed about the needed change and how this country works on the issue with little results. We believe we can start working with the educational system in Puerto Rico so that change can be directed toward a more practical and viable discourse on compassion and respect for all forms of life.

In 2018, a transformative event for our foundation, PR Animals, gave us that opportunity; we signed a collaborative agreement with the Department of Education of Puerto Rico, intending to join forces to educate on the topic of the human-animal relationship and the importance of animal welfare in Puerto Rico. This effort was born from a diverse group that recognizes our communities' challenges that are reflected in the faces of all the homeless pets fighting every day to survive and who endure most of the violence to which we are all exposed in this country. The work has been intense and full of a lot of commitment to achieve coordination and the appropriate design to work on a topic close to our hearts.

We will not deny that our knees shook the first time we gave the workshop. It is not easy to stand in front of our country's educators. We are honored and very aware of the titanic work they undertake daily with the children of our country. We asked ourselves, what can we say that will resonate with them? And that does not sound like so many initiatives left halfway due to lack of support. We must admit that the acceptance was very revealing and transformed our hearts. So many educators who joined us long to be part of the solution and thus address this essential issue. The topics that we presented were diverse. Still, they focused on the human-animal relationship and their importance in our lives. We talked about our pets, how they impact our well-being, and the issue of animal welfare in Puerto Rico, emphasizing abandonment, overpopulation, adoption, and collaboration. Our focus has always been on animal welfare, focusing on compassionate education so that no abandoned pets will live under horrendous conditions in the future.

The result has been significant; so many educators spoke to us with their hearts in their hands about the animals that they can help but also about the animals that they cannot help. We shared a space full of pain and frustration but tinged with hope and optimism. We believe these initiatives, designed by teachers in their schools, endorse the human-animal relationship as legitimate and how vital they are for our children and young people's well-being. Because they are part of communities plagued by socioeconomic barriers, violence, and collective resilience, this experience allows us to share information that validates the importance of these initiatives and lets many know that they are not alone in this battle. At the same time, recognizing that most of our students live or share their lives with pets and the research done in Puerto Rico validates this.

In that shared space, we recognize that it causes us immense pain not being able to help all the homeless pets we see. We also recognized that there is still no structured and efficient system on how to work on the animal welfare issue in Puerto Rico. It is regrettable to recognize that when it comes to education, this being an essential pillar in promoting and providing access to academic discussion on the topic of animal welfare, it ends up falling on the kindness of the educators, who, with their meager salary, bet on the collective compassion of their school community to contribute to this cause. For many, the school becomes a place that provides support by offering a forum to address the problem collectively. For others, it is a space that does not yet have the openness to understand that animal welfare reflects how our communities are doing and that they could represent a healthy and balanced society. If we do not work on it, we fall short of understanding the interrelationship of everyone on this planet.

During the meetings, a space of fraternization was opened in which the anecdotes about the innumerable benefits of this human-animal relationship in the teaching and learning process of the educators who share our vision were validated. Some teachers told us they rescued poplars and now use them to raise awareness. We learned about a teacher who annually coordinates a "Pet Day" in her school, allowing students to spend the day with their pets. In the end, there is a parade where the students show off their roosters, horses, dogs, and even snakes, allowing us to break stereotypes about pets and opening communication channels about what their care represents in their lives.

On the other hand, teachers told us that they have adopted cats that purr and accompany the educational process in their classroom, especially on hot and heavy afternoons. While they try to engage students, these cats become educators who make students want to be in the classrooms. At the same time, we learned from schools that their directors had provided the space, adopting homeless pets, making them part of the school community, incorporating and integrating family members and students in caring for them, and creating strong ties between all the members involved. In addition, teachers told stories about having goats and pigs that provide compassionate teaching. In short, it was a beautiful opportunity to share with educators, and we were overflowing with gratitude for having the opportunity to connect with them. We hope they saw in each other people who think and feel alike, focusing on those things that unite us and not on those things that separate us. It is precisely this union that will achieve a change of thinking towards abandoned pets and begin to open spaces for discussion aimed at non-violence and providing effective tools to manage it.

The agreement is still in effect, and we have impacted more than 1,000 teachers. We can tell you it was quite an adventure without any reservations. We have collaborated in this feat to create educational contexts that include values such as respect, justice, and responsibility. We are betting on our island to recognize that it is not just about dogs, pigs, horses, fish, and cats. It is about a group thirsty for spaces of peace, solidarity, and healthy coexistence. Finally, we had the opportunity to celebrate our love for pets and the responsibility we feel to create a world that understands that abandonment, abuse, and neglect do not have to be part of the daily life of our country. Today, we aspire for all of us to become compassionate educators and say yes to the value of animal welfare.


Úrsula Aragunde Kohl, Clinical Psychologist, Professor and Researcher UAGM, Gurabo

Norma I. Dalmau Ramírez, Doctoral student in Counseling Psychology, UAGM, Gurabo

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