Hannah Murray

Hannah Murray

“I think I’ve always had a strong sense of right and wrong and felt like I wanted to dedicate my time on this planet to making things better. Whatever that looks like, and wherever I can contribute my skills.” ~ Hannah Murray

Grantwriter Hannah Murray enjoys a little cuddle time with rescue cat Tomasito in her home office. Photo by Victoria de Martigny / #unboundproject / We Animals Media
When Hannah Murray was about to turn 30, she packed a backpack and booked a one-way ticket to Buenos Aires to pursue a dream she’d spent years aching to fulfill: to travel, and maybe even live, in South America. While in Argentina in May 2003, she received an email from a former colleague at the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), the California-based organization working to protect the environment and human rights.

RAN wanted to give funding to grassroots activists and organizations based in Patagonia working to combat deforestation. Would she be interested in traveling there and helping them identify candidates? Murray immediately said yes. But before she started this project, she traveled back to the U.S. to pick up her 12-year-old companion cat, Peanut. Then the two of them set off for Argentina in the austral spring, traveling by plane, bus, and car across Patagonia.

“I was sent down there with a handful of names,” Murray, 48, told the Unbound Project.

“I traveled from the northern part of Patagonia and worked my way down to the southern tip of South America. I met with all the groups and then worked with them to help them present what their funding needs were to the foundations. And they all got funding!”

Two days before she was scheduled to leave South America, Murray landed in a town called Punta Arenas in the southern part of Patagonia, Chile. She was there to meet with the last contact on her list — an occupational safety manager-cum-environmental activist named Nelson Sanchez Oyarzo. He’d later become her husband.

Besides helping her find her life partner, Murray’s time in Patagonia led her to the work she does now as grant specialist. Her most recent appointment was with the Humane League, a U.S.-based NGO, where she managed a multimillion dollar grant program for the Open Wing Alliance (OWA), a coalition of groups working to end the abuse of chickens in factory farms. During her three years and three months at OWA, Murray helped about 50 animal welfare organizations receive funding that would allow them to flourish.

“I love being able to connect people with resources to people who are in need of those resources. I focus on really listening to the grantees and trying to hear what they’re communicating — what their hopes and dreams are, what they need, what would make their lives easier.”

Grantwriter Hannah Murray sits at her desk and shares some insight on the need for trust-based philanthropy as a way to increase equity for groups who have traditionally had less access to funding. Photo by Victoria de Martigny / #unboundproject / We Animals Media

A key component of Murray’s work has also been the implementation of trust-based funding principles that incorporate multiyear funding. This type of funding has helped groups receive the resources they need without jumping through unnecessary hoops or needing to undergo tedious administrative processes that can reduce time with their charitable work.

“I feel like all my experience being a grant seeker has made me more sensitive to just the power dynamic issues. Because there are power dynamics — you’ve got someone who’s sitting on the money and someone who needs money.”

Murray says she developed an interest for animal welfare back when she was about eight years old and had gone fishing with her family.

“I just remember the fish flopping around in the bucket afterwards, and I thought, ‘That suffering is not necessary,’” she said. “It was very upsetting to me and I stopped eating fish immediately. It just made me feel sick.”

Once, when she was outside of a circus, she also encountered a group of protesters who helped her “see animals in a different way, instead of just as entertainment.”

“I’ve had a decades-long career in activism and people are always like, ‘Do you really think you can change people just standing around with signs outside? And I’m like, ‘Yes, you can!’” Murray said with a laugh. “I have been changed by several signs at different points in my life.”

Being a grant specialist isn’t the only hat Murray has worn. She’s also a forestry expert with a master’s degree in forestry from Yale. She’s a skilled cook who once ran a food business in Punta Arenas, Chile, selling vegan burgers, falafel and mayo to non-vegan sheep ranchers. She’s also fluent in several languages, including Spanish and Portuguese.

“I don’t have a very linear career trajectory, but I’m OK with that,” Murray said. “I’ve just followed what I’ve been interested in.”

But whatever she’s done, Murray has made sure her work is helping nonhuman animals, the environment, or underrepresented peoples.

“I think I’ve always had a strong sense of right and wrong and felt like I wanted to dedicate my time on this planet to making things better. Whatever that looks like, and wherever I can contribute my skills.”

After spending many years in Patagonia as well as California, Murray and her husband moved to Rockland, Maine, in 2018, with their two rescue cats, Tomasito and Emily Noelia.

“It felt like Patagonia in a way,” Murray said. “Obviously, the landscapes are different but you have this rocky coast [in Maine], you have lots of forests, and you’ve got lots of areas to go hiking.”

While she and her husband feel very settled in Maine, Murray keeps a photograph of a car cruising down an unpaved road towards the Cerro Fitz Roy mountains in Argentine Patagonia — the very mountains that became the logo for outdoor clothing company Patagonia.

“I just like remembering that there’s always an open road ahead, even if you get bogged down by your work. It just reminds me that life can be anything.”

 

Written by Elizabeth Claire Alberts
Photographs by Victoria de Martigny

Miyoko Schinner

Miyoko Schinner

“Why am I making cheese out of cashews and legumes? Because it’s all about the animals. They are entitled to a life of their own, to live life according to their wishes, and that’s a story we want to tell.” ~ Miyoko Schinner

Miyoko Schinner is the founder of the animal sanctuary Rancho Compasión and of Miyoko’s Creamery, a multi-million dollar vegan cheese and butter company.

Vegetarian since the age of twelve and vegan since the mid-1980s, Schinner has dedicated her life to advocating for animals. Her sanctuary, with compassion at the heart of its name and mission, provides a lifelong home for rescued farm animals and strives to change public perception about animals typically viewed as “food.” In the video featured here, see Schinner at the sanctuary as she proudly shows off the “Phenomenally Vegan” tattoo she got on her 60th birthday.

Continuing with her compassion-centered theme, Schinner focused her skills as a chef on bringing compassion to the table with dairy free cheeses, spreads, and butters. Miyoko’s Creamery products are all 100% vegan, lactose free, GMO free, palm-oil free, and cruelty-free. Schinner invented the category of artisan vegan cheese, and she is often referred to as the “Queen of Vegan Cheese” or as the woman on a mission to revolutionize the entire dairy industry. Schinner’s mission to create the creamery of tomorrow also sees today’s independent dairy farmers as allies who can play an essential role. Her company works with them to grow plant milk crops and thus, transition to the prosperous world of plant-based dairy. The Miyoko’s brand promise, reminiscent of her tattoo, is to be “phenomenally vegan in everything we do.”

“From our humble beginnings with four employees in Miyoko’s home kitchen, to a 30,000 sq ft. state-of-the-art facility in Sonoma, we’re leading the way in transforming the future of the creamery. In just a few short years, our products can be found in 1,000’s of stores and our ‘cheese’ wheels are on the road to global distribution in the near future. We’re changing perceptions of vegan food, to inspire people from all walks of life to enjoy a phenomenally vegan lifestyle.” ~ the Miyoko’s Creamery website

In 2021, Schinner’s company continued to attract millions of dollars in capital investments and won a lawsuit to maintain the right to refer to her products as “butter.” With food as a powerful form of activism, the Miyoko’s Creamery mission continues on, striving “to create the blueprint for the animal-free dairy food system of tomorrow, for the urgent salvation of our planet and all that we share it with.”

Video by Henry Hopkins

 

 

Yumin Chen

Yumin Chen

“My job is to do everything, wherever there is animal suffering.”

Directed by Kelly Guerin

Yumin Chen is known by many as one of the most beloved and hard-working animal advocates in Taiwan. With over 25 years of experience, she is a long-time animal advocate and the Director of EAST (Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan). Her work involves inspecting farms to help enforce welfare standards, advising on the development of these standards, leading campaigns against animal cruelty, and petitioning corporations and government bodies to implement anti-cruelty practices.

Shih Chao-hwei

Shih Chao-hwei

“We must always check with ourselves to know if we are, in fact, being conquered by our fear.”

In their capacity to suffer, Buddhist nun Shih Chao-hwei sees little difference between humans and animals.

“Buddha could not bear to see sentient beings suffer,” she notes.

So when she began learning about a new craze in Taiwan, a brutal “sport” called fish hooking, Ven. Chao-hwei, who had given up meat years before, was agonized.

“I thought fishing was cruel enough,” she says. “Fish hooking is an activity that does not use bait but instead deploys double or triple hooks to hook fish and tear them out of pools. It’s not hard to imagine that fish were panicked and tried to avoid these hooks.”

Starting with an article headlined “Nightmare of Aquatic Beings” that she submitted to a Taiwanese newspaper, Ven. Chao-hwei began advocating against the cruelty. It eventually worked, with Taiwan’s then-premier demanding a fish hooking ban.

That was in 1992. Ven. Chao-hwei has been working to protect animals ever since, on top of her impressive efforts on other social justice causes, namely gender equality and LGBT rights. In 2012, Ven. Chao-hwei attracted international attention when she presided over Taiwan’s first same-sex Buddhist wedding. On behalf of animals, she has played a key role in many important legislative victories, including a ban on horse gambling across Taiwan and passage of the island’s Wildlife Conservation Act and Animal Protection Act.

While many of her colleagues and fellow Buddhists in Taiwan and beyond have shied away from such activism, Ven. Chao-hwei views it as essential to her religious practice.

“Many people in religious communities are reluctant to give voice to their views on controversial topics. They fear that to involve themselves, to speak up about them, or even just to think about them, makes them lose their peace of mind. This seems to conflict with their initial purpose of practicing a religion,” Ven. Chao-hwei says in Mandarin.

“Nevertheless, how would you expect to gain true peace if you don’t do this? The path of speaking out is not necessarily more difficult. For those who remain silent, observe them in the meditation hall and you will often see that they are under extreme torment and affliction. I often encourage people not to worry about the breakdown of superficial harmony and serenity. When you take action, slowly you will discover deeper, greater, more profound and more powerful serenity and peace in your heart.”

Ven. Chao-hwei was born in Myanmar in 1957. She was eight when her family moved to Taiwan and in her early 20s when she decided to become a Buddhist nun. She regards Buddhism as more of a profound philosophy than a religion, with its emphasis on experience over pure faith, and remembers being intrigued as soon as she began learning about Buddhism.

“Critical thinking and the freedom that arises from democracy are highly valued in my heart,” Ven. Chao-hwei says. “The notion of this superior power, a single God to whom we must be submissive, for whose salvation we wait, and at whose hands we will endure all manner of cruelty if we are not obedient to him—this is all quite challenging to my rebellious thinking.”

Today, Ven. Chao-hwei serves as both a professor and as dean of the Department of Religion and Culture at Hsuan-Tzang University. She was the university’s head of Humanities until stepping down to make more time for her research, which has focused on Buddhist philosophy and ethics. She has published more than two dozen books and many more research papers.

“When participating in social movements, I have supported my viewpoint with moral studies and ethical discourse,” she says. “The basis for my position on these topics lies in my study of Buddhist ethics.”

Her work to end fish hooking turned out to be a catalyst. The next year, with a group of friends and colleagues, she founded an organization called Life Conservationist Association to take on other animal protection causes.

“Many people began to pass information of animals’ plight to me. Thousands, millions, billions of economically valuable animals such as pigs and chickens are slaughtered all the time. One person alone cannot save all of them,” Ven. Chao-hwei says. “Their lives have to be saved through a variety of different methods, not solely through media exposure as in the case of fish hooking. I realized to do this meant to step on a long, challenging road of social movements. Therefore, I gathered friends with similar ideas and aspirations from many different communities, including entrepreneurs and religious people of diverse ideological backgrounds—pastors, priests, monastics.”

Like those who choose to avoid the discomforts of activism, Ven. Chao-hwei says, she fears the negative consequences her work can bring. But she strives to overcome fear, which she calls “the foremost enemy in one’s life.”

“I am a normal person, so I am not free from fear,” she says. “I might be insulted, slandered or excluded. However, should I allow myself to be stopped by these possibilities, or conquered by these circumstances? We must always check with ourselves to know if we are, in fact, being conquered by our fear.”

One emotion she doesn’t contend with, she says, is frustration.

“Someone once asked me if I ever feel frustrated with all these movements. It seems that frustration has never occurred to me. The reason is because these movements are like wars, one after another. It is normal that sometimes we win and sometimes we don’t. If your focus is solely on victory and loss, when you win, you are overjoyed, and when you lose, you are frustrated.”

Overcoming this to become the most effective activist one can is “a different kind of practice” in Buddhism, Ven. Chao-hwei says.

“Practice means to keep transcending beyond self to eventually be liberated from pain. Ultimately, the so-called Enlightened Ones are people who have finally realized self as an illusion. If we can regard these matters from this perspective, it is actually a decent path of practice. Rather than spending a great deal of time in the meditation hall, you are dealing with circumstances that change all the time, and you should be ready at any moment for the next attack. There is no buffer available, things can happen at any time, like a huge wave suddenly arriving. In this case, purity of mind matters immensely. If your mind spends too much time looking out for yourself, or indulging in self-pity, self-love or self-blame, then you will be filled with emotions high and low, which is not a state that benefits us much in our lives.

“I believe what is really helpful to our mind is that we are fully focused on doing the work—in this case, the movement—itself. You concentrate entirely on the work and only seek to improve the chances of its success. When you evaluate the gains and losses of this process, it involves consideration of how this movement relates to all beings, instead of only the gains and losses of oneself. This is another kind of training for selflessness.

“In my opinion, it doesn’t matter whether it is the animal protection movement or the gender equality movement. They are both good means of practice.”

 

Interview, photos, and video by Kelly Guerin. Story by Corinne Benedict.

Leah Garcés

Leah Garcés

“Thinking of the biggest target that we can move the furthest.”

Leah Garcés - Mercy For Animals

When Leah Garcés was in college, she wanted to be a veterinarian. She had grown up in the swamps of Florida and was fascinated by the wildlife in her backyard. She knew from a young age she wanted to help animals and, after watching PETA’s pioneering documentary “Meet Your Meat,” she became vegetarian at age fifteen. After completing college however, a mentor took Garcés aside and told her: “You don’t want to be a vet, because vets fix animals once they are broken, and you’re curious about the root of the problem.” He was right, she says. “My whole career after that was looking at pieces of the root, at all the ways we cause suffering on the planet.” It has been that desire, to get to the root of animal suffering that has led Garcés down an impressive path of animal advocacy, working with World Animal Protection, Compassion in World Farming USA, and today, as the first female president for one of the largest farmed animal advocacy organizations in the world, Mercy for Animals (MFA).

“You don’t want to be a vet, because vets fix animals once they are broken, and you’re curious about the root of the problem.”

By age 30, Garcés had travelled to 30 countries through her work overseeing global campaigns and programs for World Animal Protection (known then as World Society for the Protection of Animals). “Stray dog control in India, bear bile farming in China, stopping dolphins being transported from Fiji to Mexican dolphinariums,” she says, exposed her to animal exploitation on a global scale from early on in her career. But while she felt she was tackling important pieces of the problem, she still sought to dig deeper toward the true foundation of animal suffering. And today, Garcés says, her work with MFA is getting her there. “It’s the place where we can have the most impact, where I can do the most good, for getting to the root of that problem, of solving and ending factory farming, ending the exploitation of animals for food.” And at that root, Garcés explains, is a complex intersection of many social justice issues.

Garcés says her inevitable move to veganism was inspired by her three kids. “I went vegan because of them,” she says, explaining how it was through breastfeeding that she finally made the connection to the exploitation of dairy cows. “I thought, that bond that I had with my son was the bond that the mother and the calf have, and – what am I doing? This isn’t necessary.” She did have fears however, as so many vegan parents do, of social ridicule and closeminded pediatricians. But now, only a few years later, she says her perspective has changed. She says she considers herself as working to change that dominant narrative in society, “the more I come forward that my kids are vegan, and they are super healthy, and fantastic. It’s consistent with my principles and morals and values, and it’s very a natural thing for a kid to recognize and understand.”

True to that nurturing nature, for Garcés, the fight to end the exploitation of farmed animals also includes fighting to end the exploitation of people. By taking an intersectional approach to animal rights as a social justice issue, Garcés believes we can all gain both a broader picture of the suffering inherent in factory farming, and a stronger united voice to fight it. “Workers’ rights is a big area, and especially latinx women who are in the [US] processing plants,” she says. “Let’s call them what they are, they are slaughterhouses; they are violent and bloody and fast and cold, and the labour force that is there is being abused as well, and they can’t speak up,” she says. “They are also voiceless.”

“And that’s America’s favourite food, favorite protein: chicken. And it’s built on the back of these humiliations and abuses.”

Increased kill-line speeds in the US is one example of an issue Garcés says animal rights and workers’ rights activists can and should unite on. “Line speeds right now are sped up to 175 birds a minute. Not only is that horrific for the animal – a horrible death where they end up scalded alive – the women have to do these repetitive motions, where they can’t even leave to go to the bathroom. If they leave their station, the whole thing falls apart, so they wear diapers or pee in their pants, and that’s humiliating,” she says. “And that’s America’s favourite food, favourite protein: chicken. And it’s built on the back of these humiliations and abuses.”

Garcés takes a similarly intersectional and empathetic approach to her work with animal farmers and animal product producers. In September of this year she will publish a book entitled Grilled: Turning Adversaries into Allies to Change the Chicken Industry, which will detail her experiences working with farmers, suppliers, and restaurant chains to seek an end to factory farming. Listening to industrial farmers can be an important strategy for animal advocates, Garcés says. “At worst, you’re going to find out something that helps you with your movement. But at best, you’re going to find some common ground to build on.” Go in with the mindset, she adds: “that you don’t know who they are and why they made their choices, and that you need to learn that to solve the problem.” That’s how to get to the root, she says. “Why did a farmer make that choice to become a factory farmer? Go back and back and back, and we get to the point before they made that decision and tackle it there; which is poverty in rural America, and lack of job choices. So, we need to find jobs for them, and then they won’t choose factory farming.”

“Go back and back and back, and we get to the point before they made that decision and tackle it there.”

Garcés’ holistic approach to animal protection has also led her and the MFA team to now shift focus to include much broader targets. “Institutional change is the most important use of our resources and time right now,” she says. “Thinking of the biggest target that we can move the furthest.” So as Garcés and MFA move forward, their sights are set on putting pressure on companies and government, “to make big meaningful steps, that we can hold them accountable to and we can measure.”

Seeking to find what lies at the root of animal suffering has allowed Garcés to truly see the whole problem, to empathize with all individuals exploited by institutionalized animal cruelty, and to set her sights on the powers that be. As the first female president of one of the biggest players in the global animal advocacy movement, this strategy is set to have a profound impact.

 

Photos courtesy of Mercy For Animals and Charlie’s Acres Farm Animal Sanctuary. Interview and story by Jessica Scott-Reid.

Jessica Scott-Reid is a Canadian journalist and animal advocate. Her work appears regularly in the Globe and Mail, New York Daily News, Toronto Star, Maclean’s Magazine and others.