I have returned from Sri Lanka and have so much good news to share with you about our efforts!
Some of you have been following the details of our activities in Sri Lanka via our Facebook page, but for those of you who havenâ€™t, read on to learn about progress you made possible by your compassion for animals and generosity towards Dharma Voices for Animals.
I arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka on October 17th and was greeted by our incredibly hard-working chapter leader, Senaka Weeraratna. Senaka is a lawyer and a great champion of animal rights legislation in Sri Lanka. As a well-connected and respected lawyer, Senaka has been able to build a steady base of support for our work on behalf of animals.
My first full day in Sri Lanka was filled with the welcoming faces of Sri Lankan children, parents, teachers, and some of the top monks in Sri Lanka. I gave a talk that morning to several hundred Buddhist school children on ethical eating according to the Buddhaâ€™s teachings. I am happy to say that the talk was very well received. My sincere hope is that it inspired the next generation of compassionate animal rights advocates!
The inauguration of the Dharma Voices for Animalâ€™s Colombo chapter was later that afternoon. With television cameras rolling and a room packed with newspaper reporters and DVA supporters, our three-hour ceremony began. Among the very special people who joined us were: the Most Venerable Thirikunamale Ananda Thero, who spoke first and administered Pansil (the five precepts) which includes not taking the life of a living being; the Venerable Vajiraramaye Nanasiha Thero, former member of Parliament; and the distinguished current speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, the Honorable Karu Jayasuriya. As part of our inauguration, nutritionist, Dr. Damayanthi Perera, gave a wonderful presentation on the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet. I then gave the keynote address introducing DVA, discussing the Buddhaâ€™s teachings on non-harm to animals which includes ethical eating, and the critical importance of passing the animal rights bill that has been languishing in the Sri Lankan Parliament.
The next day, we drove from Colombo to the historic city of Kandy for the inauguration of our new chapter and meet Dr. Chamith Nanayakkara, our newest chapter leader. Several of Sri Lankaâ€™s well-known monks attended, as did the press and a large group of dedicated medical professionals. These medical professionals, along with their colleagues, have spayed and neutered 600,000 dogs! They are helping to maintain the dog population and prevent future generations of dogs from suffering on the streets. We were thrilled to learn about their work and to know that they support the work of Dharma Voices for Animals. We look forward to our growing collaboration with them on future projects!
During the next two days I visited the world renowned Temple of the Tooth in Kandy and Wilpattu National Park, where I saw monkeys, a boar, an antelope, a wide array of magnificent birds, mongoose, and a leopard and her two cubs! Seeing these animals in the wild, living and enjoying their lives, reinforced my hope that we can help make this a reality for all animals some day. They all deserve to live in peace and freedom.
Over the next several days, I met many of our chapter members and had a chance to hear about what inspires them to be a voice for animals as we developed concrete strategies for our work ahead. Another memorable event was a public talk I gave at a â€œGirls Guidesâ€ meeting. The Girls Guides are the equivalent of western girl scouts and brownies. There were 120-150 people in attendance, including teachers and parents. The audience was a diverse group including a majority of Buddhists, as well as Muslims, Christians and Hindus. My talk stressed compassion, a central teaching in all religions. A beautiful printed program in Sinhalese was given to everyone. After my talk, I autographed programs for most of the audience. I felt like a rock star for about 60 minutes! I think it is a wonderful indication that the rights of animals are truly important to an audience when attendees ask you to autograph their program.
During the trip, we also made important connections with young people who are teaching animal rights in public schools. Dharma Voices for Animals has committed to providing support for these motivated young people by providing speakers to give teachings in their program. Another critically important initiative we have undertaken is encouraging Sri Lankan businesses to expand the availability of vegan/vegetarian food options in restaurants and grocery stores.
Finally, the Daily Mirror, perhaps the foremost newspaper in Sri Lanka, published an extremely favorable editorial on the work of Dharma Voices for Animals. This was an amazing trip, which helped support our new chapters in Colombo and Kandy, spread our message on behalf of animals to schools and communities, and solidified our support for animal rights legislation in the Parliament. I love Sri Lanka. What an amazing place! My deepest gratitude goes out to you for helping to make all of our efforts possible.
With the opening of our two chapters in Sri Lanka, Dharma Voices for Animals now has 20 active chapters worldwide. Our hope is that this number will grow as people everywhere come to accept their personal power to end the suffering of animals. Our work on behalf of animals is a worldwide effort because they so desperately need us, whether they live in Colombo, Sri Lanka or San Diego, California. Thank you for being their voice.