Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Rhianna Lynch: Advocate for the World

I don't know why it's taken me so long to get around to doing this post. I should've done it years ago! My post is not only about an amazing person, but I'm proud to say, she's my daughter too. It's about time you met Rhianna.

Rhianna Lynch

To get to know Rhianna, I'll take you back a few years, when Rhianna was fifteen. She was a quiet, but hard-working, student at school, achieving good grades and looking to be set for A-levels and university. But, then, anxiety set in - anxiety about school, friends, work, you name it she had it. She became so anxious about school, she couldn't go in. Her anxiety turned to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which became so severe she would take several hours to simply get up in the morning, get dressed and come downstairs. Then, it would take further hours to do anything, like having breakfast and readying herself to go out. School became something that just wasn't going to happen.

Even with the help of a home tutor, Rhianna found it difficult to study, and when it came to taking her GCSEs, there wasn't a hope in Hell of getting in to school, so she took the exams at home. Unfortunately, there was so much stress related to sitting them, she took very few. It looked like A-levels and that prospect of university were out. She couldn't go back to studying any time soon.

But, Rhianna, being Rhianna, was determined to be useful, She loved animals more than anything, and wanted to help with rescuing them. She wrote to many rescue centers to volunteer, but most wouldn't, or couldn't, take her because she was too young to volunteer on a regular basis. The minimum age was sixteen, they said. Turned away from one after another, Rhianna determinedly plodded through the list she had of local places, until - jackpot! - one center wrote back that, although they were unable to take her on, there was a new place in Kent which was extending out from its London base to create a new center in High Halden: The Retreat Animal Rescue.

The Retreat Animal Rescue logo

Rhianna contacted the center and was invited to visit. As it turned out, the place was so new, they had only just moved there. Many of the animals had no enclosures, so ran around the farm buildings together - what an amazing sight to see dogs, geese, pigs happily mixing with ducks, goats, chickens and turkeys! They really didn't mind. The dogs, Billy, the founder, told us, were often the breeds that people considered dangerous, even though the actual dogs themselves had never been a problem. Some of the dogs, though, had been a problem, maybe even bitten someone, but they were all equally treated with love and kindness, and the place has a no-kill policy, so no animal is put down unless in irreversible pain. Every bird and mammal had a name. Each animal was seen as unique with a right to happily live out their lives. The only thing asked of volunteers was that they respect all animals by not eating meat or animal products on the site. That was easy. Rhianna had been a vegan for some time at that point.

Being one of the first volunteers at the Retreat, Rhianna was privileged to not only watch the center develop, but be part of that process too. It wasn't long before she decided what she wanted to be 'when she grew up' - she wanted to run a rescue center like the retreat. Twice a week, she came home with stories of the animals - some happy, some sad. She loved the animals dearly, and cried when one had been so maltreated it died, or when they became critically ill with the diseases they often had on arrival. Many of these animals came to the place in a very bad shape. Some had been privately owned, but many had been kept in small cages or pens to be eaten by people. Most had sores on their skin; birds were raw where they'd lost feathers; many had foot diseases where they walked in their own muck. I was actually witness to some new arrivals once, and it was the saddest thing to see animals that had been so ill-treated, yet the happiest thing watching them run free for the first time in their lives!

The Retreat Animal Rescue, High Halden, Kent
So, two years on, and Rhianna had many a tale to tell about running such a place. There were incidents of animals getting dumped at the gate, or awful gales that blew the chicken coup into the fox run (you can guess what happened there!) or a fire that burnt a barn down, killing many of animal friends. There were happy stories too. Like when someone managed to save two thousand ducks, or a goat that would've been slaughtered slowly with a knife for some religious festival or other. The center was soon brimming with recuperating animals. Incidentally, I helped out a couple of times there, and even though I do a very manual job, which includes a lot of lifting of equipment, I can tell you, I was a weakling compared to my daughter. She could shovel and carry with the best of them!

 Unfortunately, OCD hadn't finished with Rhianna yet, and there came a bout where she couldn't leave the house again. Once she was able to get it under control again and venture back out into the world, and look for work, still wanting to work with animals, she volunteered at a doggy daycare place closer by. Why volunteer, you might ask? Well, not able to be consistent, she didn't feel yet able to commit to regular work, so considered it unfair to take the place of possibly more reliable workers. However, she still managed to go there for several days a week, getting there on her itty-bitty ('It-might-be-slow-but-it-only-takes-a-few-more-minutes-to-do-the-journey-than-you-take, mum!') moped, whilst still going back to the Retreat whenever she could on the weekend.

Animal Pen-Pals logo
It must've been sometime around then, in 2014, that Rhianna started her Twitter account Animal Pen-Pals. She wanted to raise awareness of some of the issues surrounding animals. Like the people she worked with at the Retreat Animal Rescue, she strongly believes every life has value, and no animal should suffer at the hands of people.  She started tweeting about issues close to her, about animal welfare and abuse, always adding the web address chooseveg.com to give those who feel the same way, or who are ready to take the next step, the information they need to help them. She wanted to provide information about how to do it rather than tell people they should do it.

She then did something I've always thought incredibly brave for someone suffering (on top of OCD) with diagnosed Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and shying from social interaction - she ordered a whole bunch of leaflets from animal welfare charity organisations and headed into the nearest town.

Many people have this image of vegans as hard-nosed extremists, in-your-face about the morality of every aspect of your life. I once waited for Rhianna to finish handing out the leaflets. A more different image she couldn't have portrayed. She stood quietly to the side of the road, not looking anyone in the face, so one almost didn't notice she was standing there. Not once did she push herself on someone. Not once did she go up to someone and hand them a leaflet. I've never seen anything like it. People actually came up to her and asked her for the leaflets! And they asked her about vegetarianism and veganism and why she was giving out the leaflets. If asked, she did, of course, talk to people. And there were folk who told her they would think about reducing meat, and one even chucked away the burger he was eating as he walked away. She would come home with the pile she'd taken with her gone. Each time she went out, she took more with her, and often came home empty-handed.

Me with my daughter, Rhianna Lynch
at the Climate March, London 2016
On top of this, she started braving up to support other causes she believed in. Her first ever protest was outside the New Zealand embassy with 15 other people, delivering a petition to protect the 55 remaining Maui dolphins.That was followed with protests about the cruel slaughter of the diminishing taiji dolphins and environment marches amongst other things - each time having to deal with so many anxiety issues - going out without support, catching a train, finding her way to the locations the protests/marches took place, conversing with others at these events. Every part of these things, fears and anxieties most of us learn to overcome, was a battle for her. And yet she did them anyway, such was her strength of belief, will and character. I know I couldn't have done it when I was her age.

Meanwhile, trying to save the planet and life on it, she often posted about the issues close to her on Facebook, and was overjoyed when told by a couple of friends they were going vegetarian or vegan, and by another that, because she'd re-posted a PETA article about how to help a turtle across the road, and what to do if you see an injured one, a follower was able to know what to do when he came across a turtle and so was able to save its life. What most people don't know about my daughter is that she regularly suffers from depression and suicidal thoughts, at which times she feels she is worse than useless, and that the world would be a better place if she didn't live in it. Everything she does, every life she saves, every person or animal she helps... that all gets forgotten, and she only believes herself to be a 'bad' person. I've always thought how strange it is that one of the nicest, most caring, considerate, pro-active in saving the world person could so negate everything she does!

Rhianna tells me, for every person that goes vegetarian, 30 land animals' lives are saved each month (so, fish excluded). Veganism saves more, but even doing the 'Meatless Mondays' makes a huge difference. So, for her, even if someone only cuts meat on one day a week, it's better than never changing habits. Not only does it save lives, but the environment too, not even starting on the health and financial benefits a person can gain. So, let's talk about the fish thing, and the environment, and Rhianna's latest campaign, for which she had a respectable social reach of nearly 1.5M people.

Rhianna's interest in fish, marine life and the effects of our treatment of the oceans developed further with her involvement in saving threatened mammals, such as the taiji dolphin and whales. She came to realise it wasn't only the mammals that were dying out there, but fish too. But then, who cares about fish? They're just food, aren't they? They're just insignificant creatures that swim up and down in a robotic manner, aren't they?  Not according to research, Rhianna says. She's read books and articles, watched videos, spoke to others about marine life, and became more convinced than ever that we as a human race have seriously neglected a rich part of the ecosystem. Not just the environment they live in, but the animals within it. Well, as someone who respects all life - the miracle of something actually living, breathing, reproducing, rather than being inanimate mineral - I still thought of fish as kinda stupid creatures that, if you put them in an aquarium, were quite happy to swim back and forth, because they know no better and care less. Rhianna tells me I should read a book called What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins by Jonathan Balcombe.

What a Fish Knows by Jonathon Balcome
'Honestly,' she says, 'one of the reasons I believe it would be good for people to read the book is that most people think fishes are unthinking, emotionless animals, but they are actually capable of complex thoughts and emotions, and their lives, which matter to them, deserve protection.' She started her recent #OceanDeadline Thunderclap campaign at the beginning of January 2017, and her Pledge to eat less fish or go fish-free before 2050! soon afterwards. Both aiming at raising the issues of fish in the public eye. Then she emailed hundreds of charities which might care about those issues and twenty or so big ones said they would support her and helped her develop her Thunderclap pages.

Unfortunately, it's easy to say you'll add your support, another thing to actually do it. Though some charities gave her feedback about her original page and helped her improve it, Rhianna was disappointed when none of the charities that had pledged their support followed through, even with some friendly reminders. She reduced the 'minimum needed to send out tweet' to 100, believing, without the support she had been banking on, she would never achieve her original goal. Nevertheless, she didn't give up. She continued to tweet and contact folk about the campaign. She passed 100 supporters and raised the goalpost to 150. Then 200. The supporters (she thanks profusely!) kept coming.

And then disaster struck... for her campaign at least. The whole point of a Thunderclap is to have everyone tweeting and posting the #OceanDeadline hashtag on social media, with the aim to hopefully have it trend for a while, and catch folks' attention. Rhianna picked the day - 8th June - to coincide with World Oceans Day, to tell people particularly about the fish aspect of the oceans. Of course, what can never be predicted is politicians and politics. Theresa May chose 8th June for a General Election. Well, once announced, we didn't hold out much hope for the #OceanDeadline to trend, but it had been started, and she would finish it. On the day, of course, politics understandably took the trends by storm. I knew Rhianna was waiting by the computer at home, hoping beyond hope that her hashtag would trend for even a minute. As it happened, it didn't. Even with 265 supporters, her hashtag really was a drop in the ocean of election tweets. To say she was disappointed is an understatement, after all her hard work.

But, when I got home from work, expecting to be faced with pessimism and depression, Rhianna said, 'Next year I'll start the bar at 250! It's too important a topic to give up on, just because success didn't come first time round.' Then again, how do you count success? Having 265 supporters and a social reach of nearly 1.5M is no mean feat for a campaign in its infancy. What do you think? If you think such efforts to make a difference in the world are goals worth going for, please find Rhianna at Animal Pen Pals on Twitter and give her a little support.

Proud mum of Rhianna Lynch



Rhianna with our dogs, Jazz & Sparky


No comments:

Post a Comment