Monday, 29 April 2013

Why we need home-grown expertise in Greece

By Anna Stamatiou

Greek volunteers vets working with the support
of Animal Action/GAWF. April 2013.
GAWF Animal/Action has historically relied on expertise from the UK.  Our trusted professional partners have, over the years, helped to build the image of thorough knowledge, high standards and unselfish commitment to animal welfare that the organisation now enjoys.  This is of inestimable value, and something we are justly proud of.  Vets, farriers, equine dentists, veterinary nurses and even our office staff have all to a lesser or greater extent in the past been trained in the UK.  Recently we have been deliberately moving to change this… why?
We know that in order for the way animals are regarded (and therefore treated) to change radically across every level of Greek society, the animal welfare message has to be embraced by the Greek public.  If that is to happen, we have gradually to withdraw anything that feels like “foreign” support and encourage the Greeks to take on the issues and deal with them for themselves. 

That is why we have regularly sent Greek professionals to train in the UK, honing and adding to the skills they already have, so that we can work with them when they return and allow them, through the practical, hands-on work they do, to communicate the idea that animal welfare is not something only crazy foreigners care about. 
But we can’t train enough people, fast enough.  That means we must build a local, home grown network of professionals that appreciate the need for our high standards and aim continually to improve their practice and add to their knowledge.  This is what we have been aiming for of late but the process is not without its risks and drawbacks. 

Initially good supervision and guidance are needed.  One difficulty that has been put in our way is the attitude of the Greek government towards the use of foreign vets…  Although on paper they may come and practice, there are so many hoops for them to jump through, that in effect it is not practical to use them – at least not if we want to remain within the law.  This means we cannot derive the benefit of their skills and experience while working in the field, and our Greek colleagues miss out on potential learning opportunities.
Then, Greek vets and their professional body do not want to see volunteers from overseas coming in and offering their services at low or no cost.  They believe this takes away their customers and undermines their position and their fee structures.  So they are inclined to report any activity of this kind to the authorities, in an effort to stop it. 

Now, one of the principal funding bodies in the UK, which used to support GAWF/Animal Action’s work most generously, has decided that, in the face of government and professional intransigence and lack of cooperation, it will, with immediate effect, suspend all its funding for welfare work in Greece.  That should send a loud message to the government and the professional body concerned, but in fact we do not have the impression that anyone is really taking any notice.  The way they see it, it’s just another case of the foreigners trying to tell the Greeks how to run their country. 

Nevertheless, there are also positive signs, one of which is the recent formation of an association of Greek volunteer vets, and we are making headway in building strong local partnerships that are constantly under review.  With these, we will spread our work and messages deeper than ever into Greek society until the idea of mistreating or neglecting the needs of any animal becomes as repugnant in Greece as it was to our founder, Eleanor Close, over 50 years ago.

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