Humane Education is Where it Begins: Featured Changemaker: Alison Flaherty

 "I am honored to be learning with an amazing group of changemakers and taught by compassionate, encouraging leaders; true pioneers in Humane Education. I am confident that with IHE, I will continue to build a powerful framework for my role as a Humane Educator." ~ Alison Flaherty, IHE M.Ed. student, Dubai, UAE

I distinctly remember evaluating the steak on my plate at the age of 9. Where did it come from, how did it get there and why was I eating it? That was the day I became a vegetarian. This was also the beginning of my journey to humane education.

When the volunteer position in the Rescue and Rehabilitation department at New England Aquarium became unavailable, I was placed as a volunteer in the Marine Mammal department. My volunteer work led to a full-time position as a Marine Mammal Trainer. Six years later, with a heavy heart, I traded in my wet suit for a business suit and accepted a cabin crew job with a U.S. airline.  I was eager to see the world and determined to take advantage of those travel benefits! 

This career change led me on countless adventures, including Beijing, China, teaching English to orphaned children, and to Mother Teresa’s orphanage in India to continue the same. Traveling extensively and living overseas, I have witnessed firsthand the worldwide need to cultivate a connection between people and the natural environment.

Five years ago I moved to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates where within my circle of friends I became known as The Cat Whisperer for my involvement with feline rescue, necessitated by Dubai’s transient population. An unexpected opportunity arose when construction began on the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, and I was offered the role of Education Manager. It was in this current role that I became an advocate for environmental stewardship, developing and leading a conservation team and generating awareness amongst a team of educators.

My relationship with IHE began with an Internet search for graduate programs.  I was interested in pursuing a higher degree in one of many concentrations, including animal behavior and welfare, culture and conflict resolution, environmental education, and counseling. Furthermore, I was looking for a program that would offer an almost exclusive online option.  Enter the IHE website, which led me to Zoe Weil’s TEDx talk, which led me to an extensive phone conversation with IHE’s Operations Manager, the lovely Amy Morley. 

I was just in time to register for the Summer Institute. An excited phone call to my mother revealed a great coincidence; at the Common Ground Fair in Unity, Maine, she too had been introduced to IHE. A few weeks later we were celebrating her birthday together, on day one of the Summer Institute in Surry. 

I was moved and changed by what I learned at the Institute.  I realized that the numerous graduate programs for which I was searching had been neatly packaged, tied with a bow, and labeled Humane Education. I completed my application once I returned to Dubai and am now working towards my Master’s degree.

I am honored to be learning with an amazing group of changemakers and taught by compassionate, encouraging leaders; true pioneers in Humane Education. I am confident that with IHE, I will continue to build a powerful framework for my role as a Humane Educator. 

I found an anonymous quote many years ago to which I refer often in my position as Education Manager: “If they know what we know, they’ll care as we care.”  I was influenced by this quote once again when discussions at the Summer Institute led me to better align my beliefs with my choices, resulting in a more vegan lifestyle.

Cultivating and encouraging a thoughtful relationship between humans, animals and nature is imperative.  I believe that Humane Education is where it begins.
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