Join the fight for Mother Earth with Jeana De Zoysa
By Mahika Panditha
Early last week, Happinez spoke to Jeana De Zoysa (@islandje) and got some insight on her journey with activism. To give you a bit of background before we dive into the questions, Jeana was freelancing with a Yala-based company called Ceylon Wild Safaris, which actually invests an amount of their profit into land preservation. She was also a national co-ordinator for the Sri Lankan chapter of the Global Extinction Rebellion. During lockdown, she has been taking time to both read and learn more. At the moment, Jeana manages the social media for SCAR (Small Cat Advocacy and Research). She said: “I never like to put all my eggs in one basket and get tied down.”
Jeana is passionate about wildlife and nature, and is continuously educating herself about standing up for justice and leaving any place in a better state than she found it (we love that!).
Other than that, Jeana also enjoys dancing, yoga, and tree climbing! As for goals, Jeana hopes to live in a self-sufficient, self-built home off the grid where she can grow her own food (that sounds absolutely amazing).
In the long-term, she wants to leave behind something that has made a difference, be it big or small. “I am in a sense opposed to this modern technocratic society, and the complacency, desensitisation, and perpetual distraction that have become part and parcel of this digital age…however, I am a hypocrite because I still consume these products, use Instagram and Facebook, and watch mindless TV sometimes,” said Jeana when asked what her guilty pleasure was! Last couple of fun facts before we dive right in: Jeana can actually walk almost anywhere barefoot and she is obsessed with insects!
Hi there, Jeana! Before we get started, tell us a bit about yourself.
I am 24; I have lived in a few different countries, I have travelled to 10 countries and counting; completed a Bachelor’s degree and majored in global studies. I am quite alternative-minded, impulsive, and a radical person, so lots of interesting, exciting things always seem to happen to me. As clichéd as it sounds, growing up I’ve always felt a bit like I didn’t fit in, so instead of long-standing friendships (apart from a very few) I have always drifted in and out of many different social and friends groups consisting of people of all different ages, interests, and social standings. That has been a gift in a way, as I have learnt a lot from being around different people from all walks of life; it has made me open-minded and exposed me to things I might not have been exposed to otherwise.
I love to learn but I get bored very easily and start to feel restless whenever I get too comfortable or have been in one place too long. I am vegan and engage in vegan outreach and activism. I believe in collective consciousness and the interconnectivity of all living beings on Earth; this philosophy has helped me find understanding and comfort in the fields I work in.
Tell us a bit about why you are vegan.
Quite simply, I love animals, and if I don’t want to kill them, I don’t want to pay for someone else to kill them for me. Farmed animals live very sad and painful lives and by paying for animal products, you are paying for animal abuse. Furthermore, an Oxford University study has shown that the most impactful way to reduce your carbon footprint is by going vegan. This is because on a global scale, animal agriculture is the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions; leading to climate change, water depletion and pollution, hence coral bleaching, deforestation, and biodiversity loss. On top of all that, it is now a well-known fact that human beings are physiologically better suited to a plant-based diet. Top killers such as cancer, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease, diabetes, and obesity have all been linked to the consumption of animal products that our bodies are not designed to eat.
Ultimately, vegans are healthier and not funding animal abuse, climate change, and ecological destruction. If I were to call myself an animal lover and environmentalist but still contribute to this violent and exploitative industry, that would make me a hypocrite, wouldn’t it?
What inspired you to get into activism? Was there any specific, defining moment?
I don’t think there was a specific moment. I have for as long as I can remember loved animals and nature and wanted to protect them. My grandfather has told me that when I was a baby, I used to cry when he sprayed ants, and any of my old classmates will tell you I was always that weirdo rescuing cockroaches, caterpillars, moths, and the like from the classroom and picking a fight with anyone who damaged plants. Haha! I guess my first dabbling in activism though was in school, in grade four…making me about eight or nine years old? Of course at the time I didn’t know what activism was or even that the word existed.
There was a small fish tank at school that was always dirty and I never saw the fish getting fed, and the kids in the even younger grades used to throw bits of styrofoam in there; it would break my heart and I remember wanting to do something about it so badly. I had spoken to my teacher who reassured me the fish were okay, but I saw no change. So with the assistance of my grandfather, I printed out a poster that I worded myself, which was written from the perspective of the fish, berating the school for not taking the kids to an aquarium instead of watching the fish suffer. I stuck it on the fish tank when I stayed after school for extracurriculars and no one was around. The next day, I was anticipating a change but nothing happened and the poster was taken off. From then on, each time I stayed after school, I would steal one fish with a tea strainer and put it into a water bottle, take it home, and later release it into a pond.
As I got older and learnt about the bigger injustices of the world, I have always tried to do what I can in the form of awareness and direct action.
Talk to us about the Animal Welfare Bill. What is your opinion on what is happening around Sri Lanka at the moment in regards to it?
The Bill has been drafted and redrafted since 2006. There have been numerous demonstrations and campaigns over the years by the public demanding the Bill (be passed), but it has yet to be voted on in Parliament. Until the Bill is passed, it would not be easy to prosecute those found guilty of animal abuse or neglect. We have seen various political figures taking to social media stating their support for animal welfare in Sri Lanka and committing to making a change, but in my opinion – which is what you have asked for – actions speak louder than words, and I doubt we will be seeing any concrete developments until after the parliamentary election.
Something else to note is that the animal agriculture industry has a part to play in the delay of the Bill, as the Bill covers ALL animals including agricultural animals and livestock. Despite the fact that most people are only concerned about domestic animals, pets, and wildlife, agricultural animals are also suffering immensely, in greater numbers and out of the eyes and minds of the public. The stakeholders realise the Bill being passed means a great deal of change to their industry practices, standards, and conditions, which can be costly and a disadvantage to them.
What motivates you to keep going?
To be honest, when I look at the state of the world, watch the news, and read the latest statistics, I do often feel helpless, hopeless, and depressed, and as much as I want to believe things will change, it’s hard to always stay positive and keep going…but what choice do we have really? Yet another cliché, but we have to believe that each small action is making a difference, even if we can’t see it.
When I get to detach from technology and get into nature, away from distractions and just be in the present with beauty all around me, I am reminded of how much magic and wonder there is left, and that motivates me to keep going.
What is your favourite place to be on this planet and why?
I can’t really name one single place because I have been to so many spectacular places, each where I feel like I left little pieces of my own soul because the connections I had to my surroundings were so strong…what they have in common is that they have all been in the wilderness and been around for thousands of years. An ancient place in nature that hasn’t been too altered by humankind always feels sacred and also has many stories and secrets to tell.
How do you think Covid-19 has affected the environment?
I know so many people’s perceptions of what is happening with the environment is positive, that it has “had a break”; sure, while we have seen some signs of what it COULD be like if things were to change, we can’t let some videos of dolphins in the canals in Venice and clear photos of the Himalayas distract us from the fact that nothing has really changed in the long run for the environment. All the threats of climate change, biodiversity loss, and ecological collapse are still looming and are as real as ever.
Without systemic change and moving away from a fossil-based economy dependent on ever-increasing consumption, the prospects for the environment are slim. In fact, due to the pandemic lockdown and clearance of most areas, environmental crimes such as illegal sand mining, poaching, deforestation and forest fires, gem mining and treasure hunting have been rampant in Sri Lanka.
On a global scale, this has been an opportunity to lay oil pipelines and go forward with other fossil fuel ventures that would have otherwise met resistance and protests and received wide media coverage if not for the lockdown and social distancing requirements. What has been affected I believe is people’s perspectives on how fast the planet can heal if we were to halt all our destructive behaviour, so hopefully that provides them with incentives to make individually impactful changes.
What do you hope people have learnt from Covid-19 and that they will do differently once everything has returned to normalcy?
With the hope that through the intense educational efforts of many activists, people have understood the link between animal agriculture and pandemics (that Covid-19, the Spanish flu, Avian bird flu, swine flu, MERS, SARS, which all originated because of our exploitation of animals), and actually make an effort to go vegan or at least reduce their consumption of animal products. I hope that by being isolated in lockdown and having their freedom taken away, they have reflected on the fact that those feelings are what farmed animals endure their whole lives.
I also hope that people have seen the capitalist system for what it truly is – a failure; in terms of being prepared with the capacity of healthcare equipment, workers, and space needed for something of this magnitude that history has already shown us to keep repeating; in terms of corporations profiting off people’s fear and using the opportunity to make money with little regard for people’s actual wellbeing; in terms of how governments all over the world have given massive corporates bailouts while small business owners have to close down; and in terms of how the media is used to manipulate and control us using fear-mongering and selective worst-case-scenario broadcasting and so much more. I hope they will come out of this a little more sceptical on what they choose to buy, believe, and give power to, as consumers.
Most of all, I hope that people have realised that we are all one, and that the only way to get through something like this is together, as a species, regardless of race, gender, class, and any other differences.
Do you have any advice for youngsters looking to help out?
Educate yourselves on environmental issues. Without knowing, you can’t help. In this age of information, you can learn about almost anything. Knowledge is power and ignorance is not bliss; it is a harmful choice. Once you are aware, make your family aware, and also everyone around you. Awareness is the first step to action. Speak out about issues; your platforms are your voice so use your social media for things other than just selfies and trivial stuff. Help to feed stray animals. If you want a pet, adopt, don’t shop. Get your friends together and clean up the beach, or just participate in ongoing clean-ups. Plant some trees. Go vegan! Join environmental youth groups such as the WNPS (Wildlife and Nature Protection Society) Youth Group, Earth Guardians SL, or a number of online communities for youth that will guide you in doing what you can for the environment.
Since we are on the topic of helping out, what CAN people do to help from/in Sri Lanka?
So much! A lot of which I mentioned in the previous answer. I believe changing your own habits and lifestyles is the first form of activism people notice; you set an example with your personal choices and inspire people around you to also change their habits. Go vegan. Minimise; be a conscious consumer and refuse to be a part of this consumer culture, letting material things run your world. Don’t use single-use anything! Refuse to use things with excess packaging. Don’t stay silent about issues that matter. By talking to those around us, we are helping to raise awareness, and using our social media to post about these issues, tagging our leaders and politicians, increases the chances of being heard.
Join environmental groups, follow pages that organise actions, stay updated, and attend these actions. Go for protests, demonstrations, beach clean-ups, reforestation trips, and the like that you can actively participate in, because volunteers are always needed.
If you have the means and the privilege, engage with local rural communities; a lot of the time, they are physically closer to issues or play an important role in the environmental or wildlife conflicts, and in many instances, problems can be solved by giving them a voice, providing them with education, awareness, and resources.