The Vegan Compassion Group (VCG) has recently begun sending regular monthly donations to vegan organisations in Ukraine. Initially, we funded meals for refugees fleeing west from the war zone to Lviv. Next, we donated towards food parcels for the military and later for those still living in the heavily bombed city of Kherson. More recently, our sponsorship has centred on refugee centres in the cities of Kolky and Dnipro respectively. In all, upwards of 2000 nutritious meals have been provided.
In some ways this focus on Ukraine goes against the charity's primary aims, because our preference is to support longer-term projects that offer the prospect of alleviating economic poverty, enhancing educational opportunities and improving local environments. Our school feeding programme in rural Ethiopia is a prime example. For several years, we have enabled more than 100 struggling families (currently 124) to receive nutritionally balanced monthly food parcels containing locally grown grains. Each parcel contains enough to help whole families, though the emphasis is on providing for students. As a consequence, school attendance and achievement have both improved, enabling better educational prospects and a reduction in stunting a common health problem in economically poor countries such as Ethiopia. All the food for this programme is purchased locally, creating a stable and guaranteed market for local farmers and providing employment for two women who make up and distribute the parcels. So it is an initiative with advantages beyond benefitting students in the present (and potentially in the future too).
Sometimes, however, in times of emergency, forward planning and policy preferences just have to be put on hold. The war in Ukraine is an obvious example where help is needed here and now. While there may be countries even worse hit by war and disaster (there are plenty to choose from and comparisons are pointless), it is the one that currently feels most pressing to most of us living in Europe, seeming as it does so near and immediate. The desire to help in some small way runs deep. For this reason, we have been delighted to assist two groups involved in vegan humanitarian work in recent months.
After we helped to fund vegan meals at a centre for displaced people in Dnipro in March, our brave partners in Ukraine sent us some photos of the distribution and what they described as a 'heart-warming' thank you video. Little more than a minute long, it featured several elderly Ukrainian woman at the dinner table, wrapped in warm clothes and with empty plates in front of them. It was obvious that they were saying 'thanks', but as they spoke only in Ukrainian that was as far as our understanding stretched! To solve the problem my partner and I asked Victoria one of the refugees who now lives in our small seaside town to translate. She explained that in addition to voicing gratitude for the food, the women were saying how good it was to receive a nourishing meal. They described the food as unusual but very healthy. They added their appreciation for the volunteers who had fed them and had been so friendly.
Victoria herself seemed visibly moved and thanked our charity warmly on behalf of her country.
'What about you?' I responded. 'How are you settling down and do you have your family with you?'
'I have my daughter with me and at least it is safe here', she said. 'My husband was killed in August'.
'Fighting in the war?'
Now it was our turn to feel emotional. It brought both the horror and the desire to help sharply into focus.
On Saturday 23rd April, the vegan community in Ukraine is planning to hold a festival. Similar to vegan festivals here, it will combine entertainment comedy and music with food stalls and tastings and talks (though unlike here, one of the main subjects under discussion is women's experience of serving in the military).
When we first discussed the possibility of funding this event, I was sceptical about the VCG's involvement. While I could appreciate the value of such a gathering, it didn't seem like the sort of direct humanitarian aid we specialise in. Strong as our commitment to veganism is, we do not exist simply to improve life for vegans.
Yet the further my fellow trustees and I looked into it, the more we began to see the logic of becoming a festival sponsor. For one thing the event is partly a fundraiser: any donation we give is expected to provide considerably more funds than our original investment. All money raised will supply vegan women soldiers with food parcels and animal-free clothing. Additionally, we wanted to recognise the triumph of spirit behind the festival brave young people prepared to promote and celebrate their non-violent values amongst carnage and destruction. Nor could we put a price on the expecting benefits to mental health and morale for attendees, particularly but not exclusively amongst the vegan community.
While the US-based Vegfund has given a grant for roughly two thirds of the organising costs, funds were still needed to ensure the Vegan Weekend takes place as planned. We are therefore delighted to have become co-sponsors, supporting the irrepressible organisers in their mission to promote kindness and compassion in these dark days for their country.
Mark Gold, VCG Founder, April 2023