Sonia Waddell, QCA former committee member, writes:
I have been an Animal Aid School Speaker for some years, since I retired from my physiotherapy work in the NHS. It’s a brilliant thing to do, giving one an immense amount of satisfaction, and the feeling of doing something worthwhile. Mark you, my stress levels are always pretty high beforehand, that keeps me going, but I really enjoy things once I get started – and when it’s all over I’m on an absolute high.
The topics we speakers are asked to cover are general animal rights, factory farming, vegetarianism and its many health benefits, vivisection (talks are always geared to the age group of the students we are talking to), and currently the badger cull, but we also touch on climate change, the role of the rainforests, third world problems, pollution of land and sea and more. Last autumn term was an especially busy one for me, with an average of one school talk a week, and there was one period when I did three presentations in five days. The smallest number I have ever been asked to address was a group of eight 6th formers, while the largest was 300 primary school children; generally it’s somewhere in between. With primary schools, of course, I show nothing contentious or harrowing, but instead a delightful and humorous video of animal footage, wild and domestic, and their various interactions with us. I remember one little girl anxiously asking me if animals got married! – It was a faith school so I had to be careful in my reply, but I told her that if they loved each other then it counted as marriage!
I remember doing a presentation to one school assembly of 280 11-12 year-olds on factory farming and vegetarianism. It went well, but I particularly enjoyed the questions the students put to me at the end! The questions covered important topics such as ‘Would you mind being the only vegetarian in a restaurant?’ I told them ‘no, it might give the meat-eaters ideas on how delicious veggie food could be’. ‘If there were no vegetables (!!!), would you go into a KFC?’ I told them the sad facts about Kentucky Fried Chicken and its lack of animal ethics, and said it would do me no harm to miss a meal occasionally. My favourite comment came from one young man who, with real anguish, asked ‘But what about chicken soup!!?’
Generally the schools I visit are up to one-and-a-half hours’ drive away, which can take planning, especially in the morning rush-hour. I always allow plenty of time because on one occasion I locked myself out of my car in the school car-park, with all my notes and dvds still in the car. Fortunately, the timely arrival of the A.A. enabled me to make it to the class-room just in time.
If the talk covers vegetarianism, I often take vegetarian/vegan food, especially if it’s near lunch-time, always including my home-made vegan ‘soss’ rolls, which are amazingly popular. And, of course, there is lots of brilliant Animal Aid literature, which I encourage the students to help themselves to afterwards.
The reaction from the talks is often heart-warming: big hugs from some of the girls, cards sent me later on with lovely messages, and drawings from the little ones.
And it is always nice to be asked back again the following year!
If you are interested in giving talks to young people, please visit: