Why did you start an animal sanctuary?
Since I was a little girl I loved animals, and like many young kids I dreamed of having a big place to save all the animals in the world. With my heart fixed on this big dream I started to sell cakes and chocolates at my school and throughout my young adult life, saving every penny I could until by 2009 I had saved $30,000. A small farm became available for purchase at that time, and with an additional $30,000 loan from the bank I was able to secure the property and realize my dream of an animal sanctuary. I called this project Paramatma Animal Sanctuary, which is a Sanskrit word that means, “God in the heart.” Through my efforts I wanted to teach humans to honor the spiritual equality of all beings. My plans were finally unfolding, but then the person I purchased the farm from committed suicide and his family took legal action to take the farm away from me. Over the next five years a legal battle ensued and then I learned that I had lost the case and had to move off the land. This later turned out to be false information, but in any case, we decided to start afresh and get a new property, we are renting, at some point we have to buy this, but this is what we have today.
Do people in Colombia have a good regard for animals? Do you receive good support from people in your country?
Colombia is a country with many problems; there are many poor people and we have many civil wars, so the last thing the government or people have on their mind is animal welfare. However, there is a very small group of people working hard for animals, but it’s not easy. There are some dog and cat shelters, but my farm is the only animal sanctuary (farm animals) in the country.
Fortunately, the capital city of Bogota has a decent mayor who is trying his best to advocate for the welfare of animals, but sadly there are still no animal protection laws, and to get one passed costs a lot of money which most people are not willing to put up.
Furthermore, if you want to start a charity here for animals or humans, you are not going to get support from the government like you would in Australia or USA. Any person wishing to help the “innocent” has to do so with money from their own pocket.
What is the vegan movement like in Colombia?
Veganism is very new here compared with other countries. We have a few vegan restaurants in the capital city, but they are very small. We also don’t have such a wide array of vegan products in our supermarkets like you’ll see in Australia or USA, but we do have a good assortment of fruits and vegetables that are much cheaper compared to Australia or USA.
Some vegans here are still ignorant about animal-derived ingredients in food, so even though they profess to be vegans they are actually not. But people are working hard and trying their best to live the ideal of a vegan diet, and of course things are far better here now than when I first became a vegetarian some 27 years ago (I have been a vegan for the last 8 years). Colombians need more education and that is part of my mission: to educate people about real veganism by sharing what I have learned from many experts around the world.
Can you share with us a story about your interaction with your animals? Have they taught you anything by their actions/gestures?
Wow! It’s not easy for me to describe all the amazing experiences I have had over the years. I’ve had very close interactions with animals ever since I was a little girl. I’m going to say something that may sound crazy…be ready!
When I was a little girl I would literally talk with animals. I can actually hear them perfectly; what they are saying and their basic language. Over time this ability became more refined and I was able to talk with animals about specific things. For example, some animals would tell me their favorite color, or if they liked to use a sweater or not, or what they thought about some people or other animals. Initially I thought I was going crazy or this communication was just part of my wild imagination, until one day we rescued a young cow from the slaughterhouse. She looked into my eyes and told me: “Your family hurt me; your family killed my family; your family has caused me so much pain. I don’t like you. I don’t like your family!”
When she said that to me, I was in shock and thought, “Oh my, she is talking with me and she is really upset!” So I said back to her: “What family? My family never hurt you!” (Because I was thinking that she was talking about my maternal family). Then she replied back: “The ones who look like you and talk like you.” You can’t imagine what I felt right then. “My family, humans, the ones who look like me!!!” In that moment I realized this conversation was not in my imagination and I cried. The cow was so upset while talking with me and I could hear her perfectly. I apologized to her that day, but 7 years later she is still very upset with humans to the point that she is still very hard to get close to.
From that day I started paying more attention to what animals were saying. It’s not like Dr. Doolittle, I really don’t know how this communication is happening, but all animals have a very basic language that I can understand, and they are aware of everything.
I witness amazing behaviors of animals that us humans can benefit from if only we took the time to allow them to teach us. For example, animals can be very humble, loyal and loving.
Why did you go vegan?
I was lacto-vegetarian since I was 6 years old. When I bought my first farm to save animals it just so happened to be next to a farm belonging to one of the biggest dairy companies in Colombia.
I didn’t know about the dairy issue at the time, so I was totally ignorant. One day, I decided to visit the cows in the next farm. They were milking the cows by hand and I was watching when suddenly one cow came over to talk with me. Her name was Camila and although the milkman called her she didn’t want to go to him. This made him frustrated and so he screamed at her, but she continued to stay with me. This made him so upset that he took a rope and hit her in the face violently. So strong that she lost her eye! Her eye fell from her face! I was overwhelmed with pain and fainted. I don’t remember anything else, but when I finally opened my eyes I said to my friend and co-founder of Juliana’s Animal Sanctuary, Ekala: “I will never again consume dairy!” I was scarred for life and finally came to realize the atrocities of the dairy industry.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you very much for this opportunity. Animals in Colombia and in fact in all of South America don’t get the kind of support people see in USA, Europe and Australia. Most people are just trying to make ends meet so they don’t have extra money to help animals. I sincerely want to help as many animals as I can. I want to educate people about the moral justification of veganism and inspire them to respect all animals. I want people to fully understand that we are all equals and that animals deserve the same love and respect humans do. I want to be a ray of hope for animals, an instrument of love.
I‘ve been doing this mostly alone for 9 years now, and if I can do it alone, imagine what I could do with more support! We just don’t have a culture of animal welfare in my country. Sadly, Colombia has been stereotyped as a drug culture, when in fact it is not at all like what Hollywood portray. People here are working hard to raise their children, give them good education and food, but the economy is so bad that a culture of self-preservation has taken over.
I am begging people from all countries with better options to please help me to continue this work. We have animals here with far less options and there are no animal protection laws in place to protect them.
I want that everybody knows about our project. I have initiated a new IndieGoGo campaign to support my animal sanctuary and if it succeeds we can do so much more here.
Every dollar is like gold here. For example, the basic salary in my country is just $8 dollars a day. Imagine? While in most other developed countries the minimum wage is $10/hour.
As a result we have to work doubly hard to be effective here. However, if everyone helped even a little we can do so much more.
I recently authored the very first vegan cookbook in Colombia. I also have the first vegan beauty and personal care line of products in my country and I am one of the few vegan chefs in my country. Each part of my life, each move is for the sake of animals and I want to continue working hard for this.
Thank you very much for this interview. You are doing amazing work for the animals too, thanks vegans are cool.
Check out the IndieGoGo campaign: http://igg.me/at/julianasfarm
The website: www.julianasfarm.org