Meet Meena Alagappan, Humane EducatorPosted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on January 31, 2014
One of the best ways to make a more compassionate world for all living beings is through humane education. At the 2013 Animal Law Conference at Stanford Law School, co-sponsored by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Center for Animal Law Studies, ALDF had a chance to sit down with Meena Alagappan, executive director of Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers (HEART). Meena was a panel participant in “Creative Employment Opportunities,” and she presented her expertise in humane education to discuss potential rewarding careers in animal law and ways to help animals as attorneys. But her expertise also comes in the form of humane education for young people.
As director of HEART, a New York, Portland, Indianapolis, and Chicago-based public charity, Meena guides the humane education programs through free instructional services for students K-12. The primary goal of HEART is to promote compassion and respect for animals (human and nonhuman) and the environment by educating youth and teachers. The broad scope of HEART addresses the interconnections between animal rights, human rights, and care for the environment. “Our approach is to encourage young people to think about their responsibility to the earth and each other, and to think more about global consequences.”
After learning about animal-overpopulation issues, for example, students have a chance to participate in hands-on activities like designing public-service announcement posters and participating in shelter drives—to allow students to explore their creative side and demonstrate the need for spay and neuter campaigns. After learning about factory farming, students might raise money to sponsor and protect a farmed animal. “We do these workshops primarily in inner cities. It’s a big deal for these kids,” says Meena. “In one case they created a map of local, green, organic markets in the area.” Projects like these create engaged students and active memories and motivations that last forever.
A long-time advocate of humane education and animal rights, Meena has served on the American Bar Association’s Animal Law Committee and the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Legal Issues Pertaining to Animals, and she serves on the Board of Directors for the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, and the Pioneers for Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). She consistently champions the important intersection of law, science, education, and animal protection, and is co-author of “A Note on Pedagogy: Humane Education Making a Difference” (Journal of the Institute for Critical Animal Studies). Meena herself was trained at Cornell University, Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, and Northwestern University School of Law. She has been an attorney member of ALDF’s Animal Law Program since receiving her J.D. degree.
Meena has been with HEART since 2005, and helped restructure the organization to provide teacher training and help raise awareness about legal issues. For example, she points to a New York law that requires every publicly funded elementary school to provide some degree of humane education, section 809 of the education code. “A lot of educators aren’t aware of the law or the benefit in providing humane education,” she says, and this is where Meena steps in, as HEART partners with humane organizations, shelters, and sanctuaries to connect the needs of children with the needs of animals.
“Our goal is really to empower children by informing them and giving them the tools to make compassionate choices,” she says. “We don’t advocate any one particular agenda. At the end of each lesson we ask them to brainstorm on how they think they would like to help animals.”
“I think that children have a natural affinity for animals. They’re very open to learning, they’re eager to act, and to take ownership of their passions,” says Meena. “They are interested in not only fixing the problem but in preventing it, and that’s really what I think humane education can do.”