For the past three years I have had the privilege of leading and working for Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities (AMRRIC). A unique not for profit organisation that works with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities supporting and empowering self-determined animal management programs. As I wound up my last week, packed up my office and said my farewells I reflected on my learnings, my actions and how true I had been to my internal values during my tenure as the organisations CEO.
The organisations method for working with communities is how AMRRIC speaks its truth. There is no lip service paid in the use of words such as ‘enabling’, ‘empowering’ or capacity building. Words and statements that frequently appear on Facebook pages and within the fundraising asks of many other similarly visioned organisations.
AMRRIC does not use images of damaged or sick animals as these are seen to be visual missives of shame towards the people within the communities the animals come from. AMRRIC’s focus is on the positive, the positive work, those times when people do the ‘right’ thing – their right thing, not the right thing as determined by white Australian cultural norms. The culture of the communities is honoured, not questioned, not judged, but listened to and respected. The communities teach the visiting veterinarians and educators how to work effectively in their space. AMRRIC staff and volunteers are not the experts and do not know best.
Because of the way that AMRRIC approaches its work the communities return the respect. They know that their cultural norms will not be questioned, judged and deemed to be wrong. They will, instead, be embroidered into the design of any animal management program. This then determines the success of an individual program and the sustainability of programs in the long term.
This approach also influences positive behavioural change as people gain more knowledge and skills about options that are open and available to them in managing their companion animal populations. AMRRIC does not work with one or two animals, AMRRIC works with the entire community, the people and their animals. The interconnectedness of the animal-human relationship is such that you cannot hope to achieve change by isolating your work and focus on only one part of the equation.
What AMRRIC does is recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have their own relationship and cultural connections with their companion animals and seeks to recognise, explore and understand that connection and then work to build upon what already exists to enable people to care for their animals, their way.
Other organisations all over the world would do well to listen and learn from an organisation like AMRRIC. The model it uses works, albeit slowly, but it works. If you are serious about influencing long term, positive change for the wellbeing of people and animals then there is simply no room for white knights, no room for shaming people for not caring for their animals, or for using poverty porn pictures of hairless puppies to guilt funds from arm chair warriors, and there is absolutely no room for provocative imagery and language dripping with ethnocentrism.
I look back on my time with AMRRIC with pride and a sense of great accomplishment and leave knowing that I have remained true to my values and I have learned more than I imparted and for that I am grateful.